Series Preview: Colorado Rockies

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The Rays take on the Colorado Rockies and the red hot Dexter Fowler.

The Rays will take on the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field this weekend and although the weather will not be warm and balmy it will most certainly be better than the cold damp windy rainy snowy conditions the Rays faced on Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon in Kansas City.

The Rays are coming off two disappointing losses and are stuck in the unenviable position of being 3-games under .500 with a record of 12-15 while the Rockies have enjoyed the high life thus far in 2013 posting an unexpectedly good record of 17-11 and sit on top of the standings in the NL West.

The Rays will send Matt Moore (5-0, 1.13 ERA) against Jeff Francis (1-2, 7.29 ERA) on Friday evening at 8:40, David Price (1-2, 5.21 ERA) vs Jon Garland (2-2, 4.64 ERA) on Saturday evening at 8:10, and Alex Cobb (3-2, 2.55 ERA) vs Tyler Chatwood (1-0, 3.00 ERA) on Sunday afternoon at 4:10.

The 2012 season was a struggle for the Rockies because much like the Rays they were hit by injuries to key players. Troy Tulowitski only played in 47 games, Michael Cuddyer 101, Todd Helton 69, and Ramon Hernadez 52. Injuries hit the pitching staff as Jorge De La Rosa only made 3 starts and Juan Nicasio 11. There was also a lack of performance and growth as Jeremy Guthrie was 3-9 with a 6.35 ERA before being dealt to the Kansas City Royals for an equally struggling Jonathan Sanchez. Drew Pomeranz who had caused great expectations with an outstanding spring training went 2-9 with a 4.93 ERA and Alex White went 2-9 with a 5.51 ERA.

The Rockies front office went under somewhat of a reorganization mid-season as GM Dan O'Dowd now had to share some of his duties with assistant GM Bill Geivett who was promoted to Vice President of Baseball Operations. Then there was Project 5,183 named after the altitude of Coors Field which focused on utilizing a 4-man rotation and limiting pitch counts for starting pitchers to 75 per game. By the end of the year the Rockies had lost a franchise record 98 games and Jim Tracy resigned as manager walking away from $1.4MM in salary.

The replacement for Tracy was a bit of a surprise the team hired Walt Weiss to a 1-year contract to manage in 2013. Weiss had worked within the organization years prior but while the Rockies were struggling in 2012 he was coaching varsity baseball at Regis Jesuit High School to a Calorado 5A state semifinals. He beat out former Rockies first baseman/pinch hitter Jason Giambi and Arizona Diamondbacks third base coach Matt Williams for the job.

As for the roster reconstruction the Rockies were rather quiet in the off seaon. They traded pitcher Matt Reynolds to the Arizona Diamondbacks for infielder Ryan Wheeler, sent pitchers Alex Gillingham and Alex White to the Houston Astros for pitcher Wilton Lopez and cash, and acquired infielder Reid Brignac from the Tampa Bay Rays for cash or a player to be named later. On March 24th they signed Jon Garland after he was let go by the Seattle Mariners.

They were nearly as acitve after opening day as they were in the off season as they traded catcher Ramon Hernandez to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Aaron Harang and cash and then sent Harang and cash to the Seattle Mariners for pitcher Steven Henley. Yesterday the club announced the signing of veteran pitcher Roy Oswalt to a minor league contract. On May 1st Chris Nelson was traded to the New York Yankees for a player to be named later or cash.

The Offense:

(C) Wilin Rosario, (1b) Michael Cuddyer, (2b) Josh Ruteldge, (SS) Troy Tulowitski, (3b) Nolan Arenado, (LF) Carlos Gonzalez, (CF) Dexter Fowler, (RF) Eric Young, Jr.

(C) Yorvit Torrealba, (IF) Jordan Pacheco, (IF) Ryan Wheeler, (IF) Jonathon Herrera, and (IF/OF) Reid Brignac

Something to keep an eye on: The Rockies have hit 36 home runs on the season but only 5 of them have come against left handed pitchers. They average 1 home run for every 25.3 plate appearances against right handed pitchers and 1 home run for every 65.8 plate appearances against left handed pitchers. The Rays will send both David Price and Matt Moore against the Rockies this weekend.

Teams have seemingly have been very active in attempting stolen bases against the Rays and the Rockies are 3rd in the National League with 20 stolen bases.

Much like when the Oakland Athletics came toTropicana Field the Rockies have their own red hot hitter in Dexter Fowler. He is hitting .303 with an on-base percentage of .410 and a slugging percentage of .606. He has hit 8 home runs and stolen 4 bases. Keeping him under control will certainly be a key to the series.

Another player to watch is rookie 3b Nolan Arenado who entered 2013 as Baseball America's #63 rated prospect. He has recently joined the Rockies.

The Trainers Table:

Notable players on the disabled list include 1b Todd Helton (forearm) and P Jhoulys Chacin (lower back).

The Bullpen:

Rafael Betancourt (closer), Matt Belisle, Wilton Lopez, Rex Brothers (LHP), Edgmer Escalona, Adam Ottavino, Josh Outman (LHP)

The Rockies bullpen ranks second in the National League in innings pitched, (101), 2nd fewest BB/9 2.41, 3rd lowest ERA at 2.85 and 2nd lowest FIP at 2.80. Rafael Betancourt is 1-0 with a 1.46 ERA and 8 saves in 12.1 innings pitched. Matt Belisle has worked in 14 games (16.1 IP), Wilton Lopez 13 games (11.2 IP), Rex Brothers 15 games (13.1 IP), Edgmer Escolana 10 games (16.1 IP), Adam Ottavino 9 games (13.2 IP), and Josh Outman 5 games (8 IP).

The Starters:

Jeff Francis was a great story this spring. He worked 29.1 innings and held opposing batters to a .263 batting average and had a very nice Arizona ERA of 2.76. As we have found out year after year a great spring training really doesn't mean much. Thus far in 2013 Francis has a record of 1-2 with an ERA of 7.29. He has made 5 starts and worked 5 innings or more in only 2 of them. He has been worse on the road (1.114 OPS against) in his 2 starts than he has at home (.947 OPS against) in 3 starts at home. He primarily relies on a sinker (55%), changeup (26%), and curveball (15%) to keep hitters off-balance and to generate a lot of groundballs. There is around a 16.5 mile per hour separation between his sinker (87 mph) and his curveball (70.5 mph). The Rays need to be ready for a steady diet of breaking balls.

Update From Ian Malinowski:

Jeff Francis was once an interesting pitcher. He was on the front of two different movements. The first one was the "Hey, I'm a pitcher who's able to not be completely horrible in Colorado" movement. He did this with an average strikeout rate, a slightly above average walk rate, a good groundball rate, and some batted ball look in 2006. The second movement that Francis was on the forefront of was varying his fastball. Once upon a time, pitchers usually had only one fastball. When one said fastball, one meant four-seam. Francis never had much velocity, but he was unusual in that he basically never threw a four-seam fastball. He threw a sinker (two-seam), and he threw a cutter. The sinker rises on a little (which makes it appear to dive) and runs arm-side. The cutter also rises only a little, but runs almost not at all (which actually makes it look like it's cutting in glove-side). Now, after a string of injury-troubled years, Francis is back in Colorado, and he's basically the same guy. The rest of the league has caught up, though, and almost everyone throws a sinker and a cutter. Still, Francis persists with his mxied approach. He's nothing special, but then neither is Dallas Braden.

Jon Garland is a great story returning from shoulder surgery which caused him to miss the majority of the 2011 season and all of 2012. He went to spring training with the Seattle Mariners but did not make the team and was signed by the Rockies. He has made 5 starts and posted a record of 2-2 with an ERA of 4.65 and delivered 31 innings. In his career he has used a four seam fastball (32%/90.83 mph), a sinker (30%, 90 mph), cutter (19%, 85 mph), changeup (12%,81 mph), and curveball (7%, 77 mph). Like Jeff Francis his goal is to get hitters off-balance and induce ground balls. Thus far this season he has a GB% of 55.2% which is well above his career norm of 45.2%. In his return from injury hehas lost a little velocity and changed his pitch selection slightly (table from Brooksbaseball.net):

Garland_medium

Update From Ian Malinowski:

If you're glancing over Jon Garland's stats now and thinking that you see a pattern in Colorado's approach to starting pitchers, you would be correct. Garland also doesn't strike out a lot of batters, but he doesn't walk them a whole lot either. What he does do is--you guessed it--get ground balls. His stuff is a lot like Chatwood's but with less velocity and more interesting movement. Watch out especially for a mid-80s hard slider (or extreme cutter, not sure what it is) that he leans on, especially against righties. Against lefties, he's all sinkers and curves. He doesn't have the biggest of career splits, although looking at his stuff, I would expect him to struggle against lefties (he's completely abandoned his changeup).

Tyler Chatwood has made 2 starts this year for the Rockies and is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA working a total of 12.1 innings in his two starts. He will throw a four seam fastball (26%,94.11 mph), sinker (47%,93.67 mph), curveball (15%,78.81 mph), changeup (6%, 82.43), and slider (5%, 85.08). He is another one of the Rockies starters that attempt to generate a ton of ground balls.

Update From Ian Malowinski:

In some ways, Tyler Chatwood is the antithesis of Francis. He throws hard (fastball averages around 94 mph), and while he does throw a sinker and a four-seam, their movement is pretty ordinary. Chatwood also throws a changeup, a slider, and a curve, and all of them have decent ground ball rates, giving him, like Francis, an overall groundball rate around 50%. He doesn't strike out a lot of batters though, and his control has never been great, even in the minors. He's the type of pitcher Matt Joyce should eat alive, which probably means that a golden sombrero is in the works.
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