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Monday, July 02, 2012

Neyer: Rockies’ Grand Experiment: The Sad Update

Not sure even discovering the God particle can straighten this one out.

the Colorado Rockies are doing something with their pitchers that no team has ever tried: a “four-man pairing rotation” with the starters limited to (approximately) 75 pitches, and pre-set “piggyback” reliefers taking over, and those “understudies” limited to 50 pitches.

How’s it going so far? From Troy Renck’s studied treatment:

Through the first 10 games of the grand experiment, the Rockies’ rotation, on a flexible 75-pitch limit that will grow if the starters become more effective and more durable, posted an 8.56 ERA, compared with a 6.28 ERA for the starters in the season’s first 65 games. The relievers’ workload has increased, as expected, with the bullpen absorbing nearly five innings per game as opposed to slightly less than four with the conventional five-man rotation.

1. It’s only 10 games.

2. I’m surprised it’s lasted 10 games.

I mean, in the face of such brilliant failure, most teams probably would have given up already. So I admire Jim Tracy and Dan O’Dowd for their tenacity. Or their stubbornness. Or whatever you want to call it.

The Rockies do have three things to lose here:

- games
- credibility
- pitchers, to injuries.

Well, also pitching coaches and they already lost their first pitching coach. Now they have two of them. It’s just another part of the Experiment, I guess…

I admire the Rockies for trying something different. They’re probably wrong and the Conventional Wisdom is probably right, because the Conventional Wisdom is usually right.

The District Attorney Posted: July 02, 2012 at 09:17 PM | 21 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: rob neyer, rockies

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: July 03, 2012 at 12:10 AM (#4171855)
with the bullpen absorbing nearly five innings per game as opposed to slightly less than four with the conventional five-man rotation.

Yikes! Anything approaching 640 relief IP for a year was already a lot. In the NL last year, Pitt had the most with 526. Even with a 4-man rotation and a 9-man pen I don't think you can get much beyond 650 or so relief IP. They could use some better starters.

OK the numbers in the article are wrong. The Rox lead the NL with "just" 291 relief IP in 78 games. So they are on pace for about 600. That's still too many but that's not what I think of as "slightly less than four".
   2. boteman Posted: July 03, 2012 at 12:32 AM (#4171865)
...because the Conventional Wisdom is usually right.

Why is common sense so uncommon?
   3. Wins Above Paul Westerberg Posted: July 03, 2012 at 12:49 AM (#4171872)
...because the Conventional Wisdom is usually right.


Some things never change
Nothing's gonna change that
Some things you can't explain
Like why we're all embracing conventional wisdom
In a world that's just so unconventional
   4. Tom Nawrocki Posted: July 03, 2012 at 12:54 AM (#4171874)
The Rockies do have three things to lose here:

- games


So what? What difference does it make if they lose 92 or 97 games this year?
- credibility


Well, that's an argument against trying anything novel at all, isn't it?

- pitchers, to injuries.


Pitchers get hurt. I don't see how pitchers throwing 75 pitches every fifth day are any more susceptible to injury than pitchers throwing 100 pitches every sixth day.

I don't think most people understood the reason behind the experiment. The Rockies were having trouble finding five guys worthy of starting - or even three guys worthy of starting - and their bullpen was pitching very well. They also wanted to send Guthrie to the pen to see if he could get straightened out. Nobody ever thought this was going to win them the pennant.
   5. McCoy Posted: July 03, 2012 at 01:29 AM (#4171880)
So what? What difference does it make if they lose 92 or 97 games this year?

Don't tell that to the Cubs fans here on this board. That's 5 extra days of happiness you're talking about throwing away.
   6. Matt Welch Posted: July 03, 2012 at 02:48 AM (#4171895)
Why not just have an entire staff of two-inning relievers, and pinch-hit every time up? You could do it with 9 relievers going every other day and 1 extra-innings long man (preferably a knuckleballer!); split the staff between lefties and righties to maximize platoon advantage, and upgrade your 4 plate appearances in the 9-hole from like .132/.169/.167 to .239/.316/.380. Or maybe sign a Haren/Zambrano type to take every fifth (or fourth!) start. I would totally do this in Coors....
   7. Jim Wisinski Posted: July 03, 2012 at 02:50 AM (#4171896)
and their bullpen was pitching very well


The problem there is that the best way to ensure that your effective pen will stop being so effective is to force them to throw more innings. Unless you have seven highly effective relievers (very unlikely) then any step up in innings thrown is going to force more usage of the lesser arms (and make it more likely they'll be needed in close games) plus the extra wear on the better guys' arms is likely to show at some point in the season.
   8. Bhaakon Posted: July 03, 2012 at 03:01 AM (#4171898)
Pitchers get hurt. I don't see how pitchers throwing 75 pitches every fifth day are any more susceptible to injury than pitchers throwing 100 pitches every sixth day.


I think it's more about the bullpen being asked to absorb a boat load more innings than the starters, who aren't really seeing much of a change in total workload.
   9. stanmvp48 Posted: July 03, 2012 at 10:45 AM (#4172033)
Re: #6 above. Earnshaw Cook proposed something like this in Percentage Baseball about 50 years ago. This was before the DH began. I assume it would add about 1/2 RPG. Not sure how the pitching would work out.
   10. Russ Posted: July 03, 2012 at 11:09 AM (#4172063)
Why not just have an entire staff of two-inning relievers, and pinch-hit every time up? You could do it with 9 relievers going every other day and 1 extra-innings long man (preferably a knuckleballer!);


But your relievers would not be of the same quality.... why would you want to give so many innings to your worst guys who are not as good as your best guys?

I've always thought that teams should go the opposite route.... go to a real four man rotation (which in the old days was 3 guys plus a swing man) and have a remarkably fast hook. Figure out where the information is in a start... can you figure out whether someone "has it" by the end of the second inning? The third? Anyone who isn't absolutely cruising by the end of 5 should get yanked for one of your three good long men. Anyone who doesn't "have it' before the end of 5 gets replaced by the knuckleballer or some bullpen cannon fodder to get you to your relievers. 3 good relievers who rotate through 2 on, 1 off throughout the season.

This is a much better way to maximize the innings that your best pitchers throw.

   11. Greg Maddux School of Reflexive Profanity Posted: July 03, 2012 at 11:33 AM (#4172096)
I think it's more about the bullpen being asked to absorb a boat load more innings than the starters

Except it's not "the bullpen" in any meaningful sense. Guthrie, Roenicke and Moscoso are effectively part of the rotation, so their innings should be treated as such. By that measure, Colorado's "starters" are pitching 6-7 innings every game, save yesterday's.
   12. Joey B. Posted: July 03, 2012 at 11:50 AM (#4172113)
The experiment is idiotic. The problem with the Rockies pitchers this year is that they suck, and a bunch of crappy pitchers are going to be a bunch of crappy pitchers no matter which silly way you juggle them around. That's why Apodaca said "to hell with this nonsense".

Ironically, I've heard people in the last couple of weeks talking as though it's basically impossible to pitch well for the Rockies. But their pitching overall wasn't bad last year, and it was very good two years ago!
   13. just plain joe Posted: July 03, 2012 at 12:23 PM (#4172159)
They could use some better starters.


Yep, I don't pay any attention to the Rockies but better starting pitching would solve a lot of their problems.
   14. Tom Nawrocki Posted: July 03, 2012 at 12:33 PM (#4172176)
Guthrie, Roenicke and Moscoso are effectively part of the rotation, so their innings should be treated as such. By that measure, Colorado's "starters" are pitching 6-7 innings every game, save yesterday's.


Roenicke has always been a reliever, but the idea was the Guthrie would be able to go 2-3 innings a couple times a week, which would go a long way toward sopping up those extra bullpen innings.

The most telling comment on the Rockies pitching this year is that Jeremy Guthrie, who was expected to be the ace, instead got demoted to the bullpen before the end of June. That says it all.
   15. Matt Welch Posted: July 03, 2012 at 01:01 PM (#4172214)
why would you want to give so many innings to your worst guys who are not as good as your best guys?

1) Don't pitchers generally perform better as relievers than starters? Isn't it easier to pitch two innings instead of six? I presume you would get at least some boost from improved per-inning performance of your starters.
2) I reckon you can still do some leveraging, favoring your best arms in the most important situations, and giving the 9th guy in the pen mostly mop-up duty....
   16. Tripon Posted: July 03, 2012 at 01:07 PM (#4172219)
Too bad Jamie Moyer didn't last enough with the Rockies for this experiment. I actually think he would have done better than you'd normally think.
   17. Steve Treder Posted: July 03, 2012 at 01:10 PM (#4172226)
1) Don't pitchers generally perform better as relievers than starters? Isn't it easier to pitch two innings instead of six?

Yes and yes. However, they also do better when pitching one inning instead of two, and that has a bearing here too.
   18. Joey B. Posted: July 03, 2012 at 01:24 PM (#4172243)
Too bad Jamie Moyer didn't last enough with the Rockies for this experiment. I actually think he would have done better than you'd normally think.

Seriously? I think he would get lit up like the skies on Independence Day.

I don't think slow-pitching junkballers can be very effective in Colorado. I think they need serious power pitchers who can strike guys out even more than the average team does. Balls in play there become base hits at an enormous rate. If the power pitcher has really good downward sinking action and can keep the ball on the ground a lot, that's an even bigger plus.
   19. The District Attorney Posted: July 03, 2012 at 01:44 PM (#4172261)
I didn't even realize that there were:
pre-set “piggyback” reliefers [sic]
I thought they were yanking the starter after 75 and just winging it. It does seem better to have a SP-turned-long-reliever set. At least that way, you know that second pitcher can stay in there, and you're not using eight guys per game every game for a week.

Still, I think the more logical approach would be to start looking to pull the SP around 90, with more flexibility in the decision.

The alternative to that, if any, would seem to be post #6, always pinch-hitting for the pitcher. At least that way you know for sure you're getting some kind of advantage. You kind of need a bigger roster, though, as you need both more pitchers and more pinch-hitters. (Or, I suppose, finding two-way pitchers like Owings, Willis, etc. But those are both hard to find, and you'd be giving up a lot of the pitching edge you're trying to get.)

In any event, none of this should be a reaction to "we have a bunch of rookie SP who all suck, so let's do something crazy and maybe they'll get better." It'd ideally be incubated in almost the exact opposite situation: you have four good veteran SP, but no fifth starter. The thought process behind starting this experiment at this time, with this team, is extremely weird.
   20. Steve Treder Posted: July 03, 2012 at 01:51 PM (#4172272)
The thought process behind starting this experiment at this time, with this team, is extremely weird.

Agreed, I don't think the concept is necessarily nutty, but the implementation of an "experiment" on this scale as a sudden mid-season reaction does come off as kind of nutty.
   21. KJOK Posted: July 03, 2012 at 06:32 PM (#4172649)
Right - I normally love it when baseball management tries something innovative, but for something of this magnitude you really need to plan it in the offseason, get the organization on board, talk to the players likely involved to get their buy-in, etc. or else it's very likely to fail, even if it's a good concept.

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