DENVER, CO - AUGUST 29: Pitching coach Bo McLaughlin #40 of the Colorado Rockies visits the mound to talk with pitcher Will Harris #48 and the rest of the infield during the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Coors Field on August 29, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The strategy visit proved unhelpful as Harris gave up a grand slam to the next batter as the Dodgers went on to defeat the Rockies 10-8 to avoid the three game sweep. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
The Rock Ock?
The Rockies experiment in pitching collectivism deserves a collective nickname, and Troy Renck's description of the 2013 plan as more of an octopus than the seven plus headed hydra we've watched in 2012.
No team in the league has seen as much improvement in their pitching over the last month as the Rockies, but before you put too much into that, remember with how bad the team's pitching had been prior to this month that it's kind of like saying that the bum on the street had the largest improvement in net wealth when he picked up the quarter from the sidewalk. The Rockies pitching has improved from "an epic disaster of historical proportions" to merely "below average" in August. The last two weeks, even after including yesterday's Drew Pomeranz setback, have been better still, though, and may actually be turning the corner to "average" or even "good" which is obviously where fans would like the team to be heading into 2013.
Early in the month we had a few pundits prematurely cite the Project 5183 experiment as dead in the water without considering the Rockies assertion that it was the personnel and not the plan that were flawed. A little over three weeks later, we see that once the Jeremy Guthrie's and Jonathan Sanchez's of the rotation are excised, it starts to function. If you'll allow me to piggyback on yesterday's Rockpile, I just want to reiterate some points from one of the links Jeff gave, this Grantland post by Michael Bertin:
Last year at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Greg Rubin, then an MBA student at NYU, presented a paper on something called paired pitching. The idea was that, if you were willing to abandon the currently entrenched model where a starter (hopefully) gives you six-plus innings before you turn it over to your bullpen, you could put together a pitching staff that was more efficient, would save about 95 runs a season, and cost less than half what Cole Hamels alone will run the Phillies for the next few seasons.
Bertin goes on to explain that basically this plan is what the Rockies Project 5,183 is, but rather than being lauded as on the cutting edge of Sabrmetrics and forward thinking in the sport, as say would happen if Andrew Friedman said that the Rays were going to this model, the Rockies are pilloried as kooks on the fringe. The thing is, however, this paired pitching idea seems ideally suited for Colorado for the following reasons:
1) This plan is normally problematic for asking ace starters to give up their egos that say using bullpens is for weaklings, albeit the Rockies were never going to attract the top free agents to pitch in Colorado anyway. We've seen it frequently over the last few seasons, where at best, the Rockies get used as a leveraging tool to raise the offers from teams where a free agent pitcher really wants to go.
2) The Rockies really can't afford the prices that these pitchers go at. Consider that the Angels still owe C.J. Wilson $65 million over the next four seasons after 2012 or that the Marlins owe Mark Buehrle $48 million over the next three years. If either of those contracts were here, they'd handcuff the team to make further improvements while only providing marginal improvement over this season's woes. Denver's just not a market that can sustain that kind of rotation investment and still maintain a competitive team. This paired system actually makes free agency mistakes like overpaying for Mike Hampton or Denny Neagle less likely to occur in the future.
Therefore, it makes economic sense for Colorado to focus on thrift and efficiency when signing free agent pitchers, and the most cost effective pitchers will be middle relievers and damaged good starters. These pitchers also happen to be the most likely to benefit from a paired pitcher model as relievers will be able to pick up lots of wins in the system while starters will be able to regain their MLB value without adding much further wear to their arms or while recuperating.
Also, if there is anything to the theory that Colorado pitchers are more injury prone and will recover between starts slower than average due to altitude, the limits on use this model demands may be beneficial to young starters. If the Rockies do manage to develop an ace from this group, it will be a welcome dilemma to adjust the model to increase his innings accordingly, but frankly I think we should worry about crossing that bridge when we actually get there. In the meantime, I'm pretty much sold that this OctoRock pitching plan will eventually work.