DENVER, CO: Starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie #15 of the Colorado Rockies reacts after giving up a solo home run to Cliff Pennington #2 of the Oakland Athletics in the third inning during Interleague Play at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
6 Total Updates since June 19, 2012
9 months ago Article 31 comments
It's hardly been an unqualified success, but the Colorado Rockies plan on sticking with their four-man rotation next season, with some slight adjustments.
11 months ago Article 7 comments
The Rockies are 10 games into a radical experiment with their pitching staff, and the early results aren't real encouraging.
11 months ago Update 0 comments
The Colorado Rockies recently demoted Jeremy Guthrie from the starting rotation to the bullpen, which wasn't an unusual move, given Guthrie's 7.02 ERA at the time. The Rockies elected to replace Guthrie in the rotation with no one, which was more of an unusual move.
Jim Tracy, of all people, announced a plan to use a four-man rotation, with a rough 75-pitch limit. It was a daring maneuver, and the early results have been poor, with the Rockies losing twice. Josh Outman retired 13 batters before getting pulled, and Alex White retired 11 batters before getting pulled. Of course, the Rockies have lost 12 of 13 games, so it's not like losing is a sudden, recent phenomenon. They made a crazy change in large part because of the losing.
Anyway, we'll see how long the Rockies' rotation experiment lasts. In the meantime, at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron thinks about how things could be made even crazier. He begins:
Yesterday, we talked about the four man rotation experiment that the Rockies are currently trying out, and while I expressed some skepticism that it is going to work in their specific situation, I do applaud the effort to try something new. What we know about the relative of performance of starters and relievers suggests that teams could theoretically get better run prevention by getting more innings to their relievers, or at least pitchers working in a role that looks something like a reliever.
It’s not a plan without costs, but it is also a plan that I think could allow a team to improve their run prevention simply through better controlling usage patterns, and would come with the side benefit of allowing them to spend more money on position players rather than pursuing highly coveted pitchers (who would have no interest in pitching for your team anyway). Is anyone crazy enough to try it? Probably not, especially given how well pitchers are doing under the current system. We might need to see a shift back towards expanding offensive prowess before anyone tries something this different, as the “don’t fix what isn’t broken” mindset has a powerful hold. However, the Rockies abandonment of the five man rotation shows that MLB teams are thinking about new ways in which to use their pitchers, and perhaps we’ll see a team try some variation of this before we die.
In the middle are several words, proposing a plan and highlighting its costs and benefits. This is basically just a thought experiment. No team in the near or even reasonably distant future is going to start doing what Cameron suggests a team could do. But this is Thought Experiment Thursday, after all. I didn't make that up. How better to honor the day than by honoring the day very literally?
11 months ago Update 6 comments
Tuesday night in Philadelphia, a Grand Experiment began.
No, the Phillie Phanatic didn't spurn slapstick for political comedy.
Manager Jim Tracy's Colorado Rockies are switching to a four-man pitching rotation. Which is, at this point in the season, exciting news.
Of course the four-man rotation isn't exactly new.
In one sense, it's quite old. In the 1960s, with fewer rain delays and fewer double-headers, managers realized they could generally start their four best starters every four games.
In 1966, for example, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Claude Osteen and rookie Don Sutton started 154 of the Dodgers' 162 games, and most of the time they were going on just three days of rest. In 1971, the Orioles featured four 20-game winners and most of the time they were going on three days of rest. For a few decades, that was the paradigm. The starters themselves might change, due to injuries or ineffectiveness. But you wanted your best starters going as often as possible, and that meant once ever four games.
But the four-man rotation essentially died in the 1970s. Which makes it quite old.
In the 1970s, there were 46 pitcher-seasons that included at least 40 starts.
In the 1980s, there were two: Jim Clancy in 1982 and knuckleballer Charlie Hough in 1987.
In the 1990s, there were none.
In the 2000s, there were none.
No pitcher has started more than 36 games in a season since 1991 ... when Greg Maddux started 37.
In one sense, it's new. If you can't remember something, it's new. In a sense.
Ah, but you probably can remember four-man rotations. Because they happen every spring, when teams have more days off than later in the season. Which allows starting pitchers to start every fourth game, but with four days of rest. When the off-days diminish, though, it's back to the standard five-man rotation. Until perhaps the end of the season, in a pennant-race situation. But that's for just a brief stretch, and just rarely.
The last time a team semi-committed to a four-man rotation for a long stretch was 1995, when Bob Boone's Kansas City Royals did it. I say semi-committed because it was never a strict four-man rotation. But in the first half of the season, Kevin Appier, Tom Gordon and Mark Gubicza did often start after only three days of rest. Boone -- or "the Boy Genius", as I used to call him -- junked the idea in the second half of the season.
Since then, teams have been roughly as serious about the four-man rotation as they've been about the three-man rotation (Tony La Russa's A's, 1993) and the six-man rotation (Ozzie Guillen's White Sox, 2011).
Ultimately, everybody always winds up where they started, looking for five pitchers who can start once every five games. Which is where Jim Tracy's Rockies will almost certainly wind up, too.
That said, Tracy is trying something new. I believe this is the first time that a manager has linked a four-man rotation to a 75-pitch limit. The argument against the four-man rotation for the last 30-odd seasons has been that (most, or many) pitchers can't stay healthy and effective unless they have four days of rest between starts. But that was based on the notion that starting pitchers would, ideally, give you at least 100 pitches when starting every five games.
But if the goal is only 75 pitches, maybe they can stay healthy despite pitching every four games?
Tracy's just guessing, of course. And there's another, perhaps larger issue. If Tracy sticks to that 75-pitch limit, he'll routinely be turning to his bullpen in the fifth and sixth innings. Now, if managers are crying for relief help with starting pitchers on 100-pitch limits -- as they do, routinely -- what's going to happen with 75-pitch limits?
Theoretically, it could work. Tracy's starters have been terrible, so he's been going to his bullpen early in most games, anyway. The hope, I suppose, is that Tracy keeps going to his bullpen early, but with his starting pitchers allowing fewer runs than they have been. It's a lot better to call the bullpen when you're ahead 4-3 than when you're losing 6-4.
So this should be interesting. For a week or two. Which, if history's any guide, is how long this experiment will last.