ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 05: Alex White #6 of the Colorado Rockies pitches to the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on September 5, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Did you know that over the past 30 days, the Rockies have the 13th lowest ERA in MLB? A 3.93 ERA over the course of 30 days is a far cry from the best in baseball, the Rays, at 2.58, but it's also a far cry from the worst, Boston, at 5.64. Our starters are 18th in that same timeframe at a 4.37 ERA, but unsurprisingly, the relief staff is 12th with a 3.49 ERA.
Rockies piggybackers and traditional relievers have combined to pitch 121 innings over that span, the most in the majors by over 20 innings. This makes perfect sense, as Rockies' starters are dead last in the majors for inning loads, at 124, over 20 fewer than the next worst.
This is all by design, of course, as the goal of the paired pitching system is to lessen the starter workload and increase the bullpen workload in the form of the piggybacker.
Here's the problem we're facing right now: the Rockies' starters are 5th from last in MLB in strikeout numbers (K/9) and 2nd worst in the majors in walks per 9. The low-ish ERA is certainly nice, but it also shows a lack of "good" pitching, as evidenced by those nasty peripherals.
The Rockies rotation throws more pitches per inning than any other rotation in the NL (2nd to the ChiSox), and there's a distinct dropoff in the ratio of strikes thrown to balls from the 2nd worst in MLB (Toronto) to Colorado (roughly 3 strikes for every 2 balls, and remember that a batted ball is counted as a strike).
Unsurprisingly, Alex White tops the list on most inefficient, throwing merely 5 strikes per 4 balls, or 56%.
None of these numbers are terribly encouraging, but on the flip side, the only seriously horrifying numbers belong to Alex White.
Here's the problem as we've all seen it: The starters STILL aren't going over 4 innings a game recently, with the exception of Jeff Francis, who has thrown 5 innings or more in 4 of his last 5 starts. White and Pomeranz are the most guilty of this, followed by Chatwood, and I'm hoping Jhoulys Chacin's shortened start on Thursday against Atlanta was a fluke.
I still think we need to be seeing 5 innings out of our starters on a normal day. There's no reason why a generally competent MLB pitcher should not be able to get through 5 innings on 75 pitches. So maybe the problem is that we still don't have MLB pitchers in the rotation.
These guys are all going to need to be approached differently, given their different profiles, etc. Personally, I think it's about time that we bump Alex White down to the piggybacker role, give him 2-3 innings to work with, see if maybe he can dial in with his Fastball/Slider and figure out how to better work in his sinker as something he can throw for strikes. Actually, scratch that last half of the previous sentence; let's get him to work on throwing ANY of his pitches for strikes.
Should White not adjust to piggybacking, send him down as a starter (and by "send him down", I mean to start 2013) and keep him down until his K/B rates start improving drastically. Should they not improve after a reasonable amount of time (and hopefully no back-and-forth I-25 jerking around), then it's time to start exploring White as a more traditional 1-inning reliever.
Pomeranz, in my estimation, is "fine" where he is as a starter, at least for another game or two. I don't hate the idea of sending him down as a starter, either, but if AAA doesn't make enough sense for Colorado, then definitely use him as a piggybacker and again, get him to dial in on his fastball/curve combo as pitches to be thrown for strikes, and then go from there once he's starting to actually pound the zone.
I suppose the point of this whole article is just to suggest that Colorado start to use the piggybacker role as a focus-development tool for some of our pitchers. The bullpen just has a different mentality than the rotation, and it's showing results. Jason Hammel credited a lot of his turnaround with Baltimore to Jim Wright and the time he spent in the Rockies' bullpen. Guillermo Moscoso, if we can excuse that one shellacking he took against the Nationals (he was taking a bullet, he should have been yanked pretty quickly in there), he's been downright decent from the bullpen, even, dare I say it, good. Hell, even Jeremy Guthrie showed some signs of life in relief.
Either it's the role of a relief pitcher or it's Jim Wright or a combination of both, but moving to the bullpen has really helped Colorado get some better results out of some of their pitchers. It may not be the best course for everyone, but maybe a change in perspective could serve to improve some of this strike/ball inefficiency we've been seeing out of the young Rockies pitching.