A look at free agent Jorge de la Rosa

For the first time in ages, the Mets will not be heavy hitters in free agency. Instead of chasing high-profile players like Cliff Lee or Carl Crawford, the Mets instead will be bargain hunting this offseason. With Jon Garland and Javy Vazquez already taken off the market, let’s look at a player the Mets should definitely be interested in if the price is right: Jorge de la Rosa.

Strengths

The best thing a pitcher can do is strike batters out. In his career, de la Rosa (DLR) has a 7.98 K/9. The last three years, his K/9 has checked in at 8.36, 9.39 and 8.86. DLR throws in the mid-90s but his best pitches are his slider and changeup. Scouts always liked DLR’s stuff but he bounced between the majors and minors for four years before hooking up with the Rockies and noted pitching coach Bob Apodaca, who helped him reach his potential.

The next best thing a pitcher can do is get ground balls. In the two years prior to joining the Rockies, DLR posted GB% of 40.8 and 40.6 percent. In his three seasons in Colorado, DLR’s lowest GB% was 44.7 percent and last year he got a grounder 52.3 percent of the time. Ground balls are nice because they generally do not turn into home runs and rarely even turn into doubles. They can also turn into double play balls.

Weaknesses

Walks have always been an issue for DLR. Last year he had a 4.07 BB/9, which is a troublesome mark. A pitcher with a high strikeout rate can survive a high walk rate (see Francisco Rodriguez) but it will always be a tightrope act. For his career, DLR has a 4.55 BB/9, although he has been below that the last four years of his career. In his last season before joining the Rockies, DLR had a career-best 3.67 BB/9 in 130 IP with the Royals.

Last year, DLR was hurt by the home run ball, as he posted a 15.8 HR/FB mark. For his career, he is slightly above average with an 11.7 HR/FB rate. However, a move from Coors to Citi could help in this regard. But, in his three years in Colorado, DLR gave up a HR every 34 ABs in home games compared to a HR every 33.7 ABs in road games.

Perhaps the biggest concern about DLR revolves around durability. In seven years in the majors he has never reached 200 IP and his high is the 185 IP he logged in 2009. His next highest is 130, which he posted in both 2007 and 2008. Last year he was limited to 121.2 IP due to an injured middle finger on his pitching hand.

Outlook

DLR has an interesting mix of strengths and weaknesses. With the Mets looking for a SP to help ease the loss of Johan Santana, DLR is an interesting gamble. He has enormous potential, as the second half of 2009 shows. After the All-Star break that year, DLR went 10-2 with a 3.46 ERA. But he has never done it over a full season, which ordinarily would help keep his price down. Rumor has it that he is the back-up plan for several teams who are targeting Lee, including the Yankees and Nationals. If true, this clearly will push DLR out of the price range for the Mets.

But it would be a mistake not to see what the asking price for DLR is, as SP who consistently strike out eight or more batters per game do not grow on trees. DLR’s 8.36 K/9 tied him with AL Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez last year. Back-loaded contracts are a risky proposition, but if the Mets were to become players for DLR, they would have to get creative with a long-term offer to win his services.

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