BY DAVID MARTIN
Sorry Rockies fans, it looks like you are stuck with it.
Despite the public outcry, despite the national experts’ mockery, despite conventional wisdom suggesting it is a bad idea, and despite mixed results at best, the Colorado Rockies announced this week that they would stick with their paired-pitching experiment into the 2013 season.
The quasi pitching system has been anything but a success. The limited amount of better pitching that the Rockies have seen could easily be correlated to Bob Apodaca being moved to a different spot within the organization rather than their crazy pitching experiment.
However, Dan O’Dowd, seemingly shooting for the next Hollywood movie made for him, has deemed it a success, telling Troy Renck of the Denver Post that the club will head into 2013 using the system. However, there will be a twist. Instead of four starters with three “piggy-back” relievers, there will now be an equal number of “piggy-backers,” meaning the Rockies can pair a righty with a lefty, guaranteeing awkward match ups for the opposition.
Hand this much to the Rockies, they are trying. The issue, however, is that they are trying too hard. They are so desperate to figure out how to win at Coors Field that they have begun to over think it. Instead of pushing better development and better fundamentals, the Rockies have stretched their thinking to believe that they have to come up with a convention-defying theory in order to win.
The reality, however, is that the way the Rockies are going about exploring their theory simply won’t work. Starting pitchers will hate it. They must be nearly perfect in order to qualify for a win, and ERAs will be bloated due to a lack of innings.
The other issue that won’t work is the bullpen. The Rockies have been extremely fortunate to have three quality relievers who have been able to shoulder huge loads for the club out of the bullpen. Without the work of Josh Roenicke, Matt Belisle and Adam Ottavino, this team would be in huge trouble. Those three relievers have absolutely nailed down the backside of many games and have been O’Dowd’s saving grace with his theory.
When push comes to shove, the Rockies may think they are headed down the right road, but there will be many speed bumps along the way. Good luck luring a free agent pitcher to Denver. Coors Field already had a bad reputation, but many pitchers were willing to give it a try. Now, the chances of a starting pitcher, regardless of quality, coming to Coors Field are slim. If a free agent has an offer from the Rockies, and even one additional team, he is likely to take the other offer simply because of the weird situation in Coors Field.
Young pitchers aren’t going to want to spend the first few years of their careers, when they are establishing their value, pitching three to four innings on average and never winning games. Their agents will be screaming for a trade.
So, if the Rockies are set on defying traditional baseball, they need to go all out.
The Rockies should simply ditch the idea of a starting pitcher. Instead of having four starters and four “piggy-back” relievers, the club needs to sign only relief pitchers. They should carry 12 pitchers, with each pitcher going one, possibly two innings per game, and giving at least three pitchers the day off. This system guarantees off days for a quarter of the bullpen on any given night, and allows the flexibility for a manager to mix-and-match every single inning. If there are two lefties coming up in the second inning, the lefty specialist can be used at that point.
If the idea is that a pitcher starts getting hit hard the third time a batter sees them, then why even let it get close? Maybe the batters shouldn’t see that pitcher even twice.
The move would allow for a happier pitching staff. Relievers are less focused on quality starts and wins than a starting pitcher, and are conditioned to throw one inning per game. If one reliever can’t get through his inning, the next guy can come in and finish off that inning, and get through his, then be guaranteed the next day off.
If the team wanted to, they could carry 13 pitchers, giving relievers a little more time off, and putting a buffer in the bullpen if someone needs to come in for a one-batter match up late in the game.
Using nine pitchers in a game may sound crazy, and it is, but the reality is, what the Rockies are doing isn’t fair to starting pitchers, and it isn’t fair to relievers who are forced to throw day-in and day-out for multiple innings.
If the Rockies are going to do something unconventional, they should go all out and give free agents a reason to be a part of the plan.