The other day, the Rockies decided to try something the likes of which baseball has never seen before. Possessing horrific starting pitchers (6.37 ERA, 5.27 FIP) and solid relievers (4.01 ERA, 3.65 FIP), a bunch of whom can go multiple innings, the Rockies have decided to switch to a four-man rotation like baseball had in years past, with every pitcher going on three-day’s rest except for when there are off-days. Here’s the catch: each starter is limited to 75 pitches per start so they can handle starting every four days instead of every five. With this system in place, the Rockies have lost their first 2 games, most recently here. But with the right personnel, could this strategy work?
We have seen through Wade Davis that sometimes pitchers who struggle at the back end of a rotation can thrive in the bullpen. On Wednesday, the Rockies got 3 shutout relief innings from ex-Orioles ace Jeremy Guthrie. If your organization is filled with back-of-the-rotation type pitchers like the Rockies’ is, the idea of sticking them in the bullpen does make some sense. But the issue is the four-man rotation with the 75-pitch limit. But that can work as well- if you have the right type of pitchers.
Strikeouts and walks make pitch count soar. So in order to maximize what you’ll get from your starters in 75 pitches, you need sinkerballers with good control who will force contact early in the count. You need good defense behind them who will turn the groundballs into outs, something the Rockies don’t have right now (and probably neither do the Rays, at least with Evan Longoria out). And if you have soft-tossers in your rotation, or at least pitchers who work more off of finesse, hitters will be in for a rude awakening when you send in relievers who hit the mid-90’s with their fastballs. I think this idea could really work- but not with the Rockies and not with any team in baseball right now.
Because of the Rockies’ current roster, this attempt to turn around their ballclub is unlikely to help them at all. But don’t be overly surprised if, after the Rockies’ experiment ends in a couple of weeks, we hear in a couple of years about a team seriously trying this again. Don’t instantly chastise them- with the right pitchers and a good enough defense, this idea could help a team maximize the ability of its pitching staff. Come postseason time, though, if a team with this strategy could make it, you’re going to need actual starting pitchers, and this idea would fall flat on its face.