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Rockies will keep four-man rotation, 75-pitch limits for 2013

Aug 30, 2012, 11:19 AM EDT

pomeranz getty Getty Images

Colorado’s switch to a four-man rotation with starters on 75-pitch limits hasn’t exactly worked wonders, but the Rockies are sticking with that setup for the remainder of this season and plan to continue using it next year as well.

Troy Renck of the Denver Post reports that they’ll make a slight change, essentially pairing each starter with a “piggyback” reliever who’ll be expected to throw around 50 pitches. And in theory 75 pitches from the starter and 50 pitches from the reliever would get the Rockies deep enough into games to then rely on more traditional bullpen usage.

Coors Field and pitching at altitude has made it extremely tough for the Rockies to get consistently good or even decent starting pitching for basically their entire existence, so experimenting makes some sense and pairing pitchers is an interesting concept. Of course, it’s worth noting that the switch to a four-man rotation hasn’t really done much good so far.

Before the switch Rockies starters had a 6.28 ERA and since the switch Rockies starters have a 5.61 ERA. So they’ve been better but still really, really bad and the extra stress placed on relievers has caused the bullpen ERA to rise from 4.00 before the switch to 4.52 since. Basically all the improvement with the rotation has been canceled out by the bullpen getting worse (and throwing more innings).

Overall their team ERA was 5.38 before the switch and is 5.04 after the switch.

  1. stex52 - Aug 30, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    Well, creative thinking was certainly in order. I don’t know if the four-man rotation is such a terrible approach. But the piggy-back assumes an awful lot of near-starter depth. I think most teams will not have eight pitchers of that quality.

    It reminds me of a scheme I had for the Astros’ 86 playoff with the Mets. They had three fire-balling right handers, two soft-toss left-handers, and a solid reliever with a good changeup. It seemed like a piggy back system might keep the Mets permanently off balance. They didn’t try it though. Almost won anyway.

    • thereisaparty - Aug 30, 2012 at 12:08 PM

      Depth of this quality shouldn’t be a problem. Pitcher performance decreases with each time thru the order. It is reasonable to expect that a mediocre starter can turn into an effective longman, and there is abundant evidence to support this. Rockies just need near replacement level arms to go thru the lineup once following the starters removal. Having defined limits, Rockies pitchers can now expend energy more efficiently (expect an increase in velocity). This experiment looks to be a solid plan for minimizing runs with a staff full of low-ceiling arms.

      • natslady - Aug 30, 2012 at 12:18 PM

        Good points. Davey does that, he has a left-handed long guy (former starter Tom Gorzelanny) and a right-handed long guy (former starter Craig Stammen). Gorzy goes when an RH starter gets pulled early and Stammen usually goes after a LH starter, on the theory that the opposing manager has set his lineup platton (if he has one) for the starter. It’s not exactly the “piggy-back” idea but similar. Seems to work pretty well, so far.

      • stex52 - Aug 30, 2012 at 2:11 PM

        I’m not against trying new ideas. They have a problem. They need originality to address it. I still see depth as an issue. How many teams have five starters and three long relief men now? Long relief is generally the weak point of any team, because there just aren’t that many quality MLB pitchers floating around. And now a long man who goes down with an injury is not a problem you shuffle around; you have to address it every four days. You will need a deeper staff than almost all teams have.

        Besides, to date it doesn’t seem to have changed things much.

      • thereisaparty - Aug 30, 2012 at 2:59 PM

        Longmen are nothing more than replacement level pitchers and the easiest need to address. The depth is just organizational depth. The current makeup of all other 29 staffs is irrelevant here. And long relief is the weak point because it is the least useful for winning games – the job is to eat low impact innings to save the arms of better pitchers. There are a plethora of cheap options for the type of middle inning (5th-6th) relief that the Rockies will need. The quality of arm needed is below that of a 5th starter.

        The Rockies staff will have to be deeper in that it will have 8 pitchers (of 12) that can go multiple innings, but it is an easily replaceable depth with a very low ceiling.

      • stex52 - Aug 30, 2012 at 3:09 PM

        Yes, long relief men are replacement quality because they are the least integral to team wins now. Is that true if they are piggy-backing every four days? I think it raises the quality they have to pitch at. You want bad feed back? Pull a starter who is cruising after five for a long man who quickly gets pounded.

        But the experiment is worth trying to them. I am sympathetic. You and I can speculate (nothing wrong with that, I enjoy it) but this will require data to resolve.

  2. dgatz - Aug 30, 2012 at 11:31 AM

    Doesn’t it also remove any real shot at a SP making it 5 innings and qualifying for a Win? These poor bastards run into 1 bad inning and they’re toast.

    • thereisaparty - Aug 30, 2012 at 12:10 PM

      Why do the Rockies care about their starters’ pitcher wins? They only care about what gives the team the best shot at winning,

    • natslady - Aug 30, 2012 at 12:19 PM

      It gives the starters incentive to pitch “efficiently.” Not nibble around the edges, go to 3-2 counts, walk guys etc. Have the starters walks gone down since the Rox implemented this?

  3. blabidibla - Aug 30, 2012 at 11:33 AM

    And I’m sure big name FA starting pitchers are lining up to be a part of this experiment too? Not that they were many quality arms hoping to go to CO before, but I don’t see how this helps that cause.

    • thereisaparty - Aug 30, 2012 at 12:13 PM

      Rockies look to be rebuilding in 2013, and seem to be more than a big FA starter away from sustained success. This plan will allow them to determine the quality of arms currently in the system and hopefully maintain competitiveness.

  4. ningenito78 - Aug 30, 2012 at 11:50 AM

    Nothing like compounding a stupid idea. How, exactly, are these young pitchers supposed to develop like this? And like the one post said- good luck ever signing a decent free agent.

    • thereisaparty - Aug 30, 2012 at 12:13 PM

      How exactly is this stifling development?

    • DJ MC - Aug 30, 2012 at 1:22 PM

      Earl Weaver used to start all of his young starters in the bullpen when they arrived in Baltimore. Flanagan, Boddicker, McGregor, Martinez; critical starters on World Series teams.

      But yeah, no reason why something crazy like that could work.

  5. ningenito78 - Aug 30, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    I have an idea! We’re going to lose 100 games this year so let’s do the SAME EXACT THING next year! Genius!

    • paperlions - Aug 30, 2012 at 2:31 PM

      They aren’t loosing 100 games because of the idea, they are losing 100 games because they are a bad baseball team.

      I’m not sure that this particular idea is a good one….but kudos to them for trying something different to try to develop and maintain effective pitching at Coors.

  6. dondada10 - Aug 30, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    The Rockies are the most putrid defensive unit in the Majors, coming in at -37.1 UZR as a team.

    You can go to whatever sort of rotation you want to, but with friends like those you don’t need enemies.

  7. Gobias Industries - Aug 30, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    I think tag team pitchers is an amazing idea. Who knows, maybe someday the duo of Drew Pomeranz and Adam Ottavino will be good enough to take back the Tag Team Championship from The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. U-S-A!!! U-S-A!!! U-S…wait, what were we talking about again?

  8. ningenito78 - Aug 30, 2012 at 12:58 PM

    How does it stifle development? How does it help? If the idea is to have a staff full of long men great. And the idea that this will help them pitch more efficiently is a joke. What the hell is wrong with letting them learn to pitch efficiently on a normal pitch count? So the team that’s going to lose close to 100 games came up with this idea this year. How is repeating it smart?

    • DJ MC - Aug 30, 2012 at 1:32 PM

      1) If you don’t want to listen to what the history of baseball tells us about the effectiveness of pitchers, that’s fine. But you also shouldn’t act like you know better that actual historical results.

      2) They came up with the idea mid-season when it was already clear they would lose a lot of games, and they already realize it will be the same in 2013. So they are trying a different idea than the one they were using to lose these games, and which also gives them a better opportunity to evaluate whether their pitching prospects can pitch at all in the major leagues.

      When something isn’t working, you try to do something that does. The Rockies realized that their strategy wasn’t working, so now they are giving an extended opportunity to something different. Baseball teams tend to fear change, so seeing if something different works-especially when the team already stinks-is never a bad thing.

      • thereisaparty - Aug 30, 2012 at 1:42 PM

        Looks like you beat me to it DJ MC. Sorry for double-posting

    • thereisaparty - Aug 30, 2012 at 1:42 PM

      I never said it would help, per se. You specifically asked how it would these players could possibly develop. I struggle to see how development changes at all. The pitches throw less and get less rest. Why should we expect this to alter a young pitcher’s development?

      What is your explanation for relievers throwing harder than starters? If the task is clearly definied, the player can better manage his energy expenditure (this is what I mean by efficient)And without a doubt the starters will perform better not having to go through the lineup one more time.

      And lastly, how is it that you can come to terms blaming the 100 loses on this experiment when RA has decreased since the switch?

    • nightman13 - Aug 30, 2012 at 1:48 PM

      You said staff full of long men

  9. MattJanik - Aug 30, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    Didn’t the Cardinals do this with some of their minor league teams a while back (or maybe they still do it now, for all I know)?… They’re not exactly terrible at developing arms… Maybe an extreme park like Coors needs an extreme solution… Either way, you can’t possibly know if it’s working or not until you have a sample size quite a bit larger than half a season.

  10. randygnyc - Aug 30, 2012 at 2:37 PM

    It’s easier to require long relievers (aka failed starters) on the FA market, than starters. This allows them to shop around the edges, too. Colorado isn’t going to attract any front line starters, but this could attract those who have had success in the past looking to resurrect their careers. Could be viable too, to those coming off injury. This approach doesn’t make sense for guys looking to cash in and make a mark, but could work for those looking to hang on/catch on.

  11. bigleagues - Aug 30, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    At a minimum, to give this a legit go at it . . . I think the Rockies need to have a minimum of 13 arms on the ML roster at all times: 4 SP, 4PbP (yeah I’m coining that abbreviation) and 5 RP – then have Colorado Springs stocked with high upside retreads to funnel in and out of the big league bullpen when needed.

  12. jimtron11 - Aug 31, 2012 at 2:21 AM

    In other words; Jim Tracy has slapped a “kick me” sign to the 2013 Rockies. It’d be one thing if this four-man rotation revelation were actually a success, but Rockies starters are getting clobbered as much as ever (Drew Pomeranz’s 4.78 is best among current Colorado starters). There’s no denying that Tracy does a number of things than no other professional manager would consider. The optimist would deduce from the aforementioned statement that Tracy is a creative, outside-the-box, ‘thinking man’s’ skipper. The realists deduces this; Tracy deserves to be banished from the Rockies organization before tomorrow’s 8:40 ET first pitch, never to sniff a big league bench again.

  13. mazblast - Aug 31, 2012 at 4:07 PM

    I get the feeling that the Rockies top brass is trying to pre-excuse another lousy year by doing the same things that have been unsuccessful this year. Maybe ownership should clean house and start over with someone who knows what the heck they’re doing.

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