The Critical Importance of the #2 Starter

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Who matters more than the ace in a starting rotation? Quite a lot of people, it turns out.

It’s a snowy Sunday in Colorado, and I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing that I was in Scottsdale watching workouts. I generally enjoy the season of winter very much, but I also love baseball, and it’s hard to imagine our guys taking the field when the snow is falling this relentlessly.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about pitching lately, and most recently discoursed on Eddie Butler‘s chances of making the 2015 Rockies rotation. While I agree with those who say Butler might not have anything left to learn in the minors, I think there is still something to be gained there in terms of stamina, conditioning, and experience. And I also believe that the pressure of a call-up when we NEED Butler, or Jon Gray, might be their undoing. Better to bring them up when the rotation is going strong and they can ease their way in. Which brings me to today’s topic: the #2 guy.

Much has been said and written about aces over the years, and many people believe that teams who don’t have bona fide aces, like the Rockies, can’t win in the playoffs. Looking at the most recent World Series winners, it would be easy to say those people are right. And plenty of teams have their ace ready to go for 2015 (or, in the case of the Washington Nationals, three aces). But what happens when that ace goes down? It’s the thing you hope will never happen, but when it does, the strength of the guys behind him suddenly matter so very much more than they were initially intended to.

Taking a look at the last four Rockies seasons, in each case, our own version of the ace disappointed in one way or another. In both 2013 and 2014, we thought Jhoulys Chacin would take this rotation and run with it. Last year, he was injured before the season started and didn’t even make it through the first half once he did finally start pitching. The year before, Chacin made it through to the end, but his 14 wins were eclipsed by Jorge De La Rosa‘s 16. Chacin’s numbers throughout the season are more impressive than De La Rosa’s (especially his 126 K’s), but those two wins matter.

In 2012, the year of which we should not speak under any circumstances, I think we can safely say we all hoped Jeremy Guthrie would be the ace. And you know what happened there. And 2011 was the year of Ubaldo being abruptly traded on deadline day in the middle of the season. Ubaldo wound up only starting 21 games for us, and was eclipsed by none other than Chacin on all statistical levels, a guy we weren’t expecting to need in that capacity yet.

So all of this is to say that depth in the rotation is really what wins championships, not a single ace. Because of his consistency over the last couple of years, De La Rosa is the clear choice for #1 starter in 2015. But what if he gets injured, or for whatever other reason just isn’t good? Behind him will be Chacin, who I still think will step into the #1 role before too much longer. He needs to get through at least one more whole season without major injury or meltdown before it will officially be his. But if something happens to De La Rosa, I am not upset about Chacin taking his place. Behind them are Jordan Lyles, Tyler Matzek, and Kyle Kendrick, all at varying levels of experience and reliability. And in back of them, Butler and Gray.

Nobody’s rotation is going to be as good as the Nationals this year, but forgetting about them for a moment, who is prepared in the event that their ace goes down? The Rockies have had depth in the past, but I feel better about numbers two through seven than I have in a long time.

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