Ok Dan O’Dowd, I’ll give it to you. You saved face. In what could end up being the biggest and most underrated signing of the season, the Rockies brought in Roy Oswalt on a minor league deal last week. You may not have even heard about it as most of the press coverage has been a timid 1-2 paragraphs long. But this move is much, much bigger than that. These are big words coming from the same guy that berated the front office for horrible signing after horrible signing or lack thereof in the past few months. But in reality this could be the move that propels the Rockies into a legitimate playoff contender.
Ugh — I didn’t want to type that. I don’t want to be the hyped up fan that can’t be objective. But everything I see out of the Rockies so far, including being tied at the top of the NL West into May, gives more and more hope that the Rockies can be a threat. The question around the Rockies’ success has always been tied to pitching, there is no debating that. So then it is no surprise that the pitching is a huge reason the Rockies have 18 wins in 30 games and sit on top of the division. The whole staff has been downright stingy allowing a measly 3.80 ERA so far. The bullpen went 38 straight innings without allowing a run before Friday night against the Rays. The pitching staff has given the Rockies 3.8 WAR already this season. These are impressive stats from any MLB staff. Now let it sink in that this Rockies staff has Wilton Lopez still in the regular rotation, a struggling Matt Belisle, an out-of-control Juan Nicasio, the roller coaster that is Jeff Francis, and has lost their ace, Jhoulys Chacin, for two starts.
There is nothing I can do to make this pitching staff make sense. Call it luck, call it good timing, but you are almost forced to call this pitching staff good. Now enter the wily veteran Roy Oswalt. Rockies fans, this is not another washed up signing. This is not another old man project, a la Aaron Cook & Jamie Moyer, to try and revive. This is a pitcher who saw innings with the Phillies in 2011 and the Rangers in 2012, both teams in the midst of a playoff hunt. So how did he fall to the Rockies in 2013? Again you can call it luck or call it good timing, but somehow Dealin’ Danny landed the big fish. Why do I believe that Oswalt could help the Rockies push toward the playoffs? Consider this:
Roy Oswalt has a career FIP of 3.28. That is an All-Star level number. Anything less that 3.75 is “above average”, anything below 3.25 is “great”. I don’t need to remind Rockies fan’s that the Rox until now didn’t have anyone under contract with a career FIP less than 4.00, or “average”.
Roy Oswalt is a winner. He has pitched over 2000 innings in a 12 year career, and when normalized to 162 game seasons all he has done is put up an average 16-9 record — per year. He has only not pitched 100 innings one time in his career, and that was with the Rangers who needed him more from the bullpen. Oh by the way, Roy has given teams nearly 50 WAR in his career a tick above 4 WAR/season on average. No big deal.
Roy Oswalt enjoys Coors Field. Oswalt and Coors just get along. He throws a sinker at 90 mph, induces ground balls at nearly a 50% clip, and strikes out 20% of batters he faces (7.8K/9IP — in case you were curious). Oh sorry, that is all away from Coors Field. How has he faired in his new home park? Oswalt has never lost while putting up a 4-0 record in 5 starts accompanied by a 2.25 ERA. He is not afraid of Coors.
So what is the downside to this signing? Oswalt struggled a little bit to find his groove in Texas last year. But he was admittedly unhappy with his role with the Rangers being used mostly as a reliever. That’s it. That’s really all the downside I can find. He is a competitor, and the Rockies give him exactly that chance — to compete from a starting role. Oswalt is not coming off any major injuries and the contract is very incentive laden from what I have read which puts little risk on the Rockies and a lot of risk on Oswalt. He’ll have to earn whatever he gets paid. If Oswalt flops, where does that leave the Rockies? Right where they are: a 70-80 win team that just couldn’t quite capitalize. If Oswalt regains his form? The Rockies could truly be a 90 win team come September and threatening to pick up a NL Wild Card spot.
The roster moves are still to be worked out as someone from this rotation has to be sent down right now. With Chacin set to pitch the rubber match against the Rays today, and Tyler Chatwood proving his worth in Chacin’s absence, I would expect the struggling Nicasio to be sent down today. Oswalt was assigned to extended spring training and then will probably join the AA Tulsa Drillers for a spell before he comes up, but he has been keeping in shape so I wouldn’t expect him to take too long to get up to speed. I would say Chatwood gets at least one more start and so will Francis. If Oswalt is ready at that point he should get to replace whoever struggles more — at this point probably Francis. At any rate this signing has made the Colorado Rockies an even more intriguing team for the 2013 season.