Colorado Rockies need a struggling Chad Bettis to find answers
Chad Bettis of the Colorado Rockies began the 2018 season looking to add another chapter to his amazing comeback story.
On May 5, after seven starts, the Rockies pitcher’s ERA was 2.05. That was sixth in the National League and easily the best on the Rockies rotation. Opponents were slashing just .205/.276/.335 against him.
But I’ll be honest: As far back as April, I was worried about Chad Bettis.
Bettis doesn’t strike out a lot of batters. He is averaging 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings, easily the lowest on the Rockies rotation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — Bettis has never been a strikeout pitcher — and it wasn’t an issue early in the season. But his batting average for balls in play (BABIP) was .224, which is unsustainably low and suggested luck was on his side.
The real kicker was his Field Independent Pitching (FIP), a statistic that approximates a pitcher’s ERA assuming league average outcomes on balls in play. Bettis’s FIP was 4.07 on May 5, nearly twice his ERA after seven games. That made Bettis a prime candiate for some brutal regression to the mean.
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And when regression came, it was unforgiving.
In eight starts since May 11, Bettis has an ugly 8.57 ERA. His BABIP is .349, as he’s allowed 10 home runs and never made it through six innings of work. His Coors Field starts are especially discouraging, including on June 23 against the New York Mets when he gave up eight runs on nine hits and five walks in just 4.2 innings (the Rockies came back to win 10-8).
Combining the two halves of his season, Bettis has an ERA of 5.23 to go with an FIP of 4.96. The Coors implosions seem to have corrected for the early successes.
Searching for Answers
So what exactly is going wrong with Bettis?
Batters are going to make contact with Bettis’s pitches, but his four-pitch repertoire (he throws his fastball just 42.6 percent of the time) is supposed to induce soft contact and easy outs. Unfortunately, Bettis is badly missing locations and serving up some extremely hittable breaking balls. He’s allowing a hard contact rate of 35.1 percent, which is his highest ever as a starting pitcher. Of his fly balls, 16.9 percent are going for home runs.
The ugly, five-run first inning on June 15 against the Texas Rangers is a prime example of what’s ailing Bettis. After issuing a walk, Bettis served a curveball in the middle of the zone to Jurickson Profar, who smashed a line drive home run. Two straight batters then took advantage of poorly located changeups. Finally, Bettis left a slider belt-high to Joey Gallo, who blasted a home run to center field.
Even with Bettis’s arsenal of pitches, he didn’t have a single go-to pitch.
But after the Rockies miraculously took back the lead, Bettis went on to allow just two more hits in 4.2 scoreless innings. He was finding locations and getting outs from soft contact and ground balls.
Unless Bettis has total command of the zone, he’ll give up a fair share of hits and runs. It’s about limiting the damage and giving the Rockies offense a chance. Like other Rockies starters, he needs to figure out what is giving him fits in the first inning. His first inning ERA is 11.40, and opponents are slashing .388/.455/.716 against him. After the first inning, he is suddenly an above-average pitcher (his sixth inning numbers are also poor, but that’s a much smaller small sample size).
Next: Why are the Rockies carrying three catchers?
Bettis has come back from real-life adversity. Can he recover from this brutal stretch of starts to help the Rockies make a desperate push for contention?