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.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.