Rockies go radical: Four-man rotation, 75-pitch limit

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If there was ever a team that should be trying something different, it’s the 2012 Rockies with their 25-40 record and their 6.28 starter’s ERA. Still, this doesn’t seem like a great idea.

Manager Jim Tracy revealed this afternoon that he plans to go with a four-man rotation and limit all of his starters to 75 pitches per outing.

“We had to do something that was unconventional,” Tracy said.

Jeremy Guthrie, who is expected to be traded in the near future, was moved to the pen to set up the new arrangement. The Rockies will go with a rotation of Christian Friedrich, Jeff Francis,  Alex White and Josh Outman for now.

Rockies starters have been the worst in the NL this year, and it hasn’t helped matters that Coors Field is back playing like it did in the early part of the last decade. Of the 10 pitches to start games for the Rockies this season, only one has managed a sub-5.00 ERA. That’s Drew Pomeranz, who was sent back to the minors after going 0-2 with a 4.70 ERA in his five starts. The best ERA of the pitchers currently in the rotation belongs to White, who is at 5.56 after eight starts.

It will be interesting to see just how this affects a bullpen that has already been overworked this season. Tracy will often be getting just four innings from his starters, so he’s going to have to treat relievers Guillermo Moscoso, Matt Belisle, Adam Ottavino and Guthrie like long guys. If he starts yanking those guys out after an inning of work, he’s going to have big problems within a week or two. However, if he’s willing to let some of them throw three innings, take two days off and then come back out and throw two or three innings again, maybe the experiment will survive until the All-Star break anyway.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.