Early promotion of Peter Lambert backfiring for Rockies’ future hopes

Aug 2, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies catcher Tony Wolters (14) talks to starting pitcher Peter Lambert (23) in the fourth inning against the San Francisco Giants Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

A lot is reliant on the pitching arm and mind of Peter Lambert. The hopes of a rotation that boasts four solid arms needs the youngster involved.

Two early starts provided evidence that the right-hander might have found the fast track to success. Since then, the Colorado Rockies have continued to send him to the mound without positive results – something that could ruin his confidence for the foreseeable future.

The latest ravaging came off the bat of Joc Pederson and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He only tallied five outs and allowed six earned runs. In turn, Lambert’s season-long earned run average rose to 7.19.

Bud Black’s walk to the mound and Lambert’s subsequent sulk away from it told a lot. The start once again wasn’t what either wanted.

“We didn’t see the overall execution of pitches throughout the course of the evening,” Black said. “Location is imperative for Peter.”

It’s a continuing trend for Lambert. Across his last seven starts, he’s allowed three-or-more runs in six of them. Only two of the starts stretched past the fifth inning.

The underlying results are similarly alarming.

Lambert has allowed an expected batting average (xBA) of .300. Opponents’ weighted on-base percentage (wOBA) is .401. For comparison, J.D. Martinez has a .402 wOBA. Simply put, each hitter against Lambert has turned into a Silver Slugger – if only for a few at-bats.

Both marks signify that little about the rookie’s results are a fluke. They’re also in the bottom-five percent of the league’s hurlers according to Statcast.

To make matters worse, Lambert’s walk percentage has steadily risen since his first two starts against the Cubs. After walking three in the pair of starts, he’s walked three-or-more hitters in five of his next 14 starts.

His strikeout percentage – also in the bottom-five percent of the league – of 13.9 percent has failed to counter the free passes.

“It’s been difficult,” Lambert said. “That’s baseball. It’s always going to be a grind… I want to keep pitching.”

The problem goes beyond the stats. Kyle Freeland’s failure to build on a breakout year forced the hand of the Rockies’ front office. Season-ending surgery for Tyler Anderson and a demotion to the bullpen for Chad Bettis also played a role.

The factors added to a lack of other available decisions for Jeff Bridich and company. On the date of Lambert’s promotion, the Rockies were 32-29 and looking for a leap forward. A season-long, eight-game win streak preceded the move.

The hot streak dissipated and so did the Rockies’ playoff hopes. Once the club had their worst month in franchise history – 6-19 in July – the demotion likely could’ve been helpful. The problem was Lambert’s 4.64 ERA amongst the turmoil. It finally looked like he’d turned the corner, even if his teammates failed to follow suit.

It’s hard to put an exact date on when Lambert’s demotion should’ve come. Letting him struggle through the rest of the year is the team’s plan, but the same plan existed for their former failed prospect, Eddie Butler.

“It’s important for (Lambert) to grow,” Black said. “This is a great learning experience… baptism under fire.”

In his first two years, Butler started 19 games and registered a 6.04 ERA. Similarly, he struggled with walks and seldom missed bats. In Black’s words, “baptism under fire.”

Butler was originally thought to be the other piece in a 1-2 punch with Jon Gray. Instead, he faltered and has been traded twice since his debut. The difference in maturity between Lambert and Butler is vast. The results are not.

The older philosophy of allowing pitchers to battle through struggles is different in today’s game. Social media has changed the way bad starts are perceived. Constant ridicule can be detrimental.

September enables the Rockies to make a move, without optioning the youngster to Triple-A Albuquerque. The Isotopes’ season is over and Rico Garcia could become the latest pitcher to get another chance.

Against Lambert’s wishes, the team could choose to sit him for an indefinite stretch. Picking spot starts against lowly offenses could go a long way towards rebuilding the confidence that he possessed after shutting down the Cubs in back-to-back bouts.

For now, it appears the Rockies are fine with Lambert’s current trajectory. The risk involved can’t be overstated.

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