These are exciting times, friends. Especially if you live in the Greater Denver Area, and are a baseball enthusiast.
Right now, today, at this very moment, the Colorado Rockies are conducting the most radical baseball experiment since ... Well, it's hard to say since when. Other things have been done with pitchers. Tony La Russa did a bunch of them. In 1972, White Sox manager Chuck Tanner essentially used a three-and-a-half-men rotation all season. But all of those things were more like evolutionary (or de-evolutionary) steps, rather than radical experiments.
For truly radical experiments, you have to consider Herbie Washington, and the Cubs' "College of Coaches", and the Dodgers' signing of Jackie Robinson. The last one of those experiments happened 37 years ago. And now we've got the Colorado Rockies and their four-man rotation with 75-pitch limits and piggyback relievers. That, my fellow baseball enthusiasts, is radical.
And we're all in luck, because they're going to try it again next year.
From Troy Renck (via The Denver Post), who's been doing a great job at Ground Zero, covering this saga:
Sixty-four games later, the Rockies have shown enough improvement that they will continue using a form of the four-man rotation moving into next season, according to general manager Dan O'Dowd.
The Rockies are motivated to do so for several reasons: finding more consistency from year to year with rotation members pitching at altitude, improving the health of their pitchers and perhaps creating a competitive advantage through matchups, specifically by not exposing starting pitchers to the middle of the lineup a third time.
Rather than four starters and three "piggyback" relievers, the Rockies ideally would like to employ an octopus: eight arms.
Oh, and another refinement: With four and four rather than four and three, the Rockies can go right-lefty and lefty-righty in each game, which will play havoc with the enemy managers' platooning strategies.
Which would have been more useful before this age of long bullpens and short benches. Still, you have to grab the edges where you find them, and alternating the pitchers will lead to more platoon advantages for the Rockies' pitchers.
Renck ran some numbers for The Experiment. Before it began, Rockies starters posted a historically horrific 6.28 ERA; since, they're down to 5.61 (still terrible). Before it began, Rockies relievers posted a 4.00 ERA; since, they're up to 4.52. So the results are mixed, and we have to figure the starters would have regressed (in a good way) even without The Experiment.
But it's only 64 games. That's not long at all for an Experiment. Not a big one, and this is a big one.
It might not work. It probably won't work. In the long run, it's going to be very difficult to keep good starting pitchers happy when they know they'll have very few chances to actually win games. As Renck points out, the Rockies will eventually be limited to young pitchers with lots of ambition and zero leverage, and veterans just trying to hang around for another season or two. It's hard to win that way. Maybe almost impossible.
But let's give management a huge amount of credit for trying something radical. Whether it works or not.