What does it mean for a team to express interest in a player? I’ve been writing about hot stove issues for five years now and I still don’t have a clear definition. Did they call his agent? Did they sit in a conference room and ponder the possibilities? I’m sure it means different things to different people, too, which makes it harder for us to determine a team’s intent. In today’s Daily News Mark Feinsand and Peter Botte write that, “the Yankees have expressed interest in lefthander Jorge de la Rosa.” It’s an interesting thought — a plan B should they lose out on Cliff Lee — but I’m not sure de la Rosa fits with the Yankees.
The first thing that stands out about de la Rosa is his walk rate. In his career he has walked 4.55 per nine, and that number has come down only slightly in recent years. In the last two seasons he has a walk rate of 4.05 per nine, which is still quite high. For comparison, A.J. Burnett’s walk rate was 4.22 per nine in 2009, which was the second highest mark of his career. It was 3.76 per nine this year. I imagine Rockies fans often uttered, “throw strikes!” in earnest when de la Rosa was on the mound.
The Burnett comp can be taken a step further. Before signing with the Yankees Burnett boasted a strikeout rate of 8.4 per nine innings. That’s the rate at which de la Rosa struck out batters in 2010. His career rate is 7.98 per nine innings, though he did see a considerable jump when moving from the Royals to the Rockies in 2008. The problem is that when Burnett came to the Yankees he saw his strikeout rate take a dive. After striking out 9.56 per nine in 2007 and 9.39 per nine in 2008, Burnett struck out just 8.48 per nine in 2009 and 6.99 last season. The last thing the Yankees need is another high strikeout, high walk pitcher who loses his strikeout stuff.
The Yankees need a pitcher who can give them length. CC Sabathia can go deep into games, but everyone else in the rotation has issues. Phil Hughes didn’t have many eighth inning appearances in 2010, and forget about it with Burnett. In 2009, when de la Rosa pitched a career-high 185 innings he averaged just a sliver more than 5.2 innings per start. Burnett averaged 5.2 innings per start last season. All those strikeouts are nice, but if they mean de la Rosa is regularly turning the ball over to the bullpen in the fifth or sixth inning, I’m not sure it helps the team all that much.
De la Rosa’s low innings totals should also raise a red flag. Not only has he topped out at 185 inning, but after that he hasn’t pitched more than 130 innings in any season. Part of this involves his injury history. From 2006 through 2010 he has spent 164 days on the DL, each time with a hand or arm in jury. True, one of them was a non-recurring fingernail tear, so perhaps we can write that off as a fluke. But we can’t write off an elbow strain that caused him to miss 41 days in 2007, nor can we look the other way when we see that he missed 74 days last season with a strained flexor band in his middle finger. He also ended the 2009 season with a strained groin. In fact, if you head to Baseball Injury Tool you can see that he’s had five separate hand injuries. I’m not sure if that bodes poorly for his future, but I can’t imagine it bodes well.
What does de la Rosa bring to the table, beyond strikeouts? He does get a decent number of ground balls, and posted the highest rate of his career in 2010. I’m not sure that’s sustainable in any way — I’d definitely take his career track record over a 121 inning sample. He also could stand to benefit from leaving Coors Field; his HR/FB ratio is consistently high. Then again, Rockies pitchers in general don’t have a higher than average HR/FB ratio. If changing stadiums helps bring that rate down, though, de la Rosa could be a quality pitcher. He has produced xFIPs of 4.06, 3.76, and 3.77 in the last three years. His numbers have trended higher, at least in part, because of that HR/FB ratio.
In writing this post I’ve tried to look for the positives in de la Rosa. I remember when the off-season started I thought he might be a decent addition. But then I started researching him a bit more, and nothing really impressed me. If his strikeout rate takes a hit in the transition from the NL West to the AL East, he has even less worth to a team. The Rockies tried to retain him, but it appears as though he’s seeking the biggest payday. Let another team sign him to a four or five year deal. The Yankees might be short on pitchers should they lose out to Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte retires, but even then I’m not sure I’d get on board with signing de la Rosa. He just has “bad experience” written all over him.