Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Chad Bettis should be much better than he looks. He should be. He was a 2nd round pick in 2012. He vaulted through the Rockies minor league system in just three years, making the final leap from AA Tulsa this season to join a struggling major league rotation. He was a top 100 prospect (#66 by MLB.com) prior to 2012. He at times throws three different fastballs and six total pitches! He has to be better than he has looked. Just has to be.
But sometimes reality doesn’t equal “has to be”. And for Chad Bettis that is exactly what 2013 has turned into. On a bad swing of luck he even got no-decisioned in his “should be” first major league win — a crushing come from behind loss in Philadelphia in a game where we lost our closer Rafael Betancourt as well. So the real question that fans have to ask is simple : Is Chad Bettis really a pitcher that can succeed in the major leagues, or is he yet another young arm the Rockies front office has failed to develop?
The first thing to look at is Bettis’ career FIP trend. I love Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) as a base metric to get a feel for just how effective a pitcher is, as many of you know. Bettis, over his minor league career, stroked a 2.79 FIP — that is fantastic. Anything under 4.00 is deemed “average” and anything under 2.90 is “Excellent”. However (sorry, there is always a but…) Bettis’ worst FIP year came just this year at AA Tulsa, before being called up to the major league club. In 12 games he posted a 3-4 record with a 3.66 FIP. His ERA was also inflated, at 3.71, which is much higher than it was at any previous level in the system.
This is troubling to me mostly because I have come to find that the best competition under the major leagues is usually at the AA level as opposed to the AAA level, due to the major league carousel taking up a lot of the AAA roster. More often than not you’ll see older players, or injured players, getting time in at AAA. At AA, it is usually the most raw talent taking their cuts. If you can’t hack it there, or if you can’t dominate there, it is seemingly hard to see you being successful at the major league level. So what does it take to look like you’ll be successful?
As a side study, let’s look at the likely NL Rookie of the Year (no, not Yasiel Puig) and the Mets future — Matt Harvey. He had his worst statistical effort while at AA Binghamton, posting a 5-3 record in 12 starts, with a 4.53 ERA but just a 3.23 FIP.That’s really not a ton better than Bettis’ 3.66 FIP, but really Bettis is not Harvey. How about looking at a few other very successful pitchers efforts while in AA? Detroit Tiger’s stud Max Scherzer posted a 3.46 FIP in 14 games at AA. Rays pitcher David Price posted a 3.92 FIP in 9 games at AA. Clayton Kershaw posted a 5.02 FIP (!) while playing just 5 games at AA. So you can see that a 3.66 FIP for Bettis, while a little discouraging compared to the rest of his rise through the minors, is comparable to how some other success stories fared.
I would never want to venture to say that Bettis is in the same category as any of these fellas, I am just pointing out that the AA doesn’t have to be dominated (even though Price posted a 7-0 record in those 9 games!). Also it becomes glaring obvious that a legitimate sample size just isn’t there. Most rising pitchers spend <20 starts at the AA level before climbing the ladder. That just means we have to further take these stats with a grain of salt. But you can begin to understand why Bettis got a call-up, aside from the fact that the Rockies pitching depth is pretty shallow. So why hasn’t he been successful, yet, with the Colorado Rockies?
I was looking through his game logs this evening and I stumbled onto something that I found interesting. For pitchers, release point tends to be a huge factor in effectiveness. Take a look at these three snapshots of Bettis’ release point in three different games (data from FanGraphs).
Bettis has changed his release point three times already in 5 games! No, it didn’t move a monumental amount, but it doesn’t take a scientist to see that it is definitely shifting around. It is extremely probable and likely that Bettis is working on his delivery mechanics through these first few games at the major league level, shaking off the nerves and adjusting his game. Even better, it appears that he may have finally found the groove that propelled him to the position he is in, as his last outing was his most successful.
In the past he has kept the same delivery point for two games before monkeying with it. We’ll see how his next outing goes (currently scheduled for Tuesday August 27th against the San Francisco Giants) to see if he has truly unlocked the key to success. Because as disappointing as he has been so far in 5 games, it seems certain that success should come for this young arm.
Let’s also not overlook that in his two losses, he had just one bad inning in each — pitching effectively through the rest. And even his 8-run outing (only 2 earned) against the Orioles was mostly drawn out due to a rare Troy Tulowitzki error. Those things shake and rattle a rookie, and as Bettis develops confidence, both in the reason he is on the 25-man roster and in his pitching, we should see a nice middle of the rotation starter that will go a long way toward helping Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, and Tyler Chatwood in 2014.
Because yes Rockies fans, there is always next year.