September 11, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies pitcher Jhoulys Chacin (45) sits on the ground after slipping while fielding a bunt during the fourth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE
This Friday, Bill Geivett announced to the team that they'll be scrapping the 4-man rotation concept this upcoming season. This was well received by the team and by a lot of fans, in the process.
The reasons given appear to be the following:
1. Recovery - 3 days of rest didn't seem to be vibing well with the pitching staff, especially Drew Pomeranz, whose regular sore arm troubles caused a reasonable amount of pitching rearrangement during the 4-man experiment.
2. Development - Typically, there's a day of rest or two, a side session of variable length to work on mechanics, then some more rest, then another start. These side sessions are where McLaughlin and Wright are able to work on guys like Pomeranz, White, and Chatwood and get them to better throw strikes and stuff.
3. Flexibility - When the Rockies need to reorganize the pitching staff due to a short term injury (soreness, etc), they need to call upon the AAA Sky Sox to fill the role (typically). Should the Rockies implement this plan for another season, they'd need to also have AAA be on a 4-man rotation so pitchers coming up and going down won't have their rest scheduled screwed with. As a result it'd be harder to find rested pitchers.
See, all of these reasons are good reasons to scrap a hastily put-together plan. I'm personally disappointed that the team was willing to take a pretty absurd risk to try and find a way to fix Rockies pitching, but athletics at altitude seem to have inherent problems anyhow. It's not that I 100% was on board the plan, I certainly had reservations, but the thinking isn't entirely off base. Not necessarily in terms of player development, but in terms of buying innings on the cheap.
So basically, Moneyball.
I've been likening this pitching system to Moneyball, as a lot of other people have also suggested. In Moneyball, the Athletics lost Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen, and needed to find ways to replace them on a very limited budget. The basic idea is that the Athletics needed to buy Wins on the cheap, so they went after the Scott Hatteberg type players on the FA market/trade that were going to play for league min but provide production to the A's in non-conventional ways (essentially, OBP).
In a similar fashion, the Rockies can't get quality pitching in Coors Field due to any number of reasons (and yes, draft and development failures do play a part in this), and inefficient spending is the only way to acquire "known" commodities.
The A's needed to replace the wins lost in Giambi, Damon, and Isringhausen. The Rockies need to find a way to buy innings.
This is where the piggybacker model makes sense to me. Every team wants a pitcher who can throw 6-7 innings every time they take the mound. That's not necessarily an easy task. It takes simultaneous successes in player acquisition and development for this to happen. The solution, as we saw it, was to take 2 pitchers and pitch those same 6-7 innings in more of a "relief" mindset, where you have a workload, go do your best to accomplish it. This season, that took the form of Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, and Tyler Chatwood going 4 innings and then having Josh Roenicke, Adam Ottavino, and Carlos Torres throw the next 3. All at league-minimum.
It seemed that the Rockies kind of had something going during this short-lived experiment. The piggybackers, while not always glamorous (see: Ottavino's Sunday Implosion), were generally effective during their 3-inning outings. This is where the real payroll effectiveness would come in: failed starters from other organizations who are really long relievers, but because of the stigma of "long relief" being a "punishment" of sorts, there just isn't room in the majors for these fellows. So you sign them to a minor-league contract, stash them in the Springs for a little while, wait for a long reliever to show that they aren't up for the task, and then swap them out with another league-min guy. "Sustainability."
But you've heard all of this before. From a personnel standpoint, yeah, there's a chance that White, Chatty, Pom, Christian Friedrich, whoever, would have their development screwed up by the truncated pitch count and such. If the Rockies were to make this work, they'd basically have to completely turn the system on its head. Given the feedback from Jim Tracy and the players themselves, this wasn't going to happen.
Essentially, my stance was that the Rockies had an intriguing model, an interesting strategy to try and fix the problems. It lasted about 2 months. Now it's over. Whether or not it worked is an entirely different question. 2 months of data was hardly enough to really be able to tell if this system was going to work or not. It sounds lot like the "data" was "Well, we took so much flak for it, it didn't seem worth it anymore."
I get that, it's a real thing. If your team is pissed off at being part of an experiment, you might not get the performances you'd like out of your players. I'm disappointed that they didn't stick to their guns, but to really get this to work, you'd need to go through almost an entire rebuild of your organization's pitching system, and that seems like something the Rockies don't want to do right now.
So next season's "piggybacker" rotation is really a 5-man rotation on a 90-100 pitch count, 3 piggybackers, and then a normal relief corps. Or in other words, a pretty standard pitching staff with insurance built in for young pitchers not getting the length the team needs. It's not the same thing. For some, that's a relief. For others, it's a disappointment. Either way, we're back to hoping on health and development, just like the other 29 teams.
Jorge De La Rosa has 'strong chance' of pitching soon for Rockies
I, for one, am looking forward to seeing DLR back with the team, come Good Jorge or Bad Jorge. And Good Jorge likes tacos.
R.I.P., 2012 Colorado Rockies - CBSSports.com
Well guys, we've already been slated for last in 2013 as well. As a result, Purple Row will be shutting down for the next season.