Sunday Rockpile: Debunking some of the four man rotation myths

Sep 07, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Colorado Rockies pitcher Carlos Torres (59) delivers to the plate during the seventh inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies defeated the Rockies 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Troy Renck goes after the four man rotation again in a story today. Leaving aside the fact that the Rockies haven't really had a four man rotation for a couple of weeks now, I do want to quibble with a few of the points he brings up. I think that there are some valid concerns that have been expressed about the system, I just don't think that a lot of what Renck brings up here qualifies.

First, I do like that he distinguishes that the period we'd be talking about doesn't include the post-roster expansion month of September, sometimes the complaints have been that this can't work over baseball's full 162 game schedule, but it's really the 130 or so games that come during the 25 man roster period that are at issue. After that, there will be enough reserves on hand to make almost any pitcher use experiment feasible.

At any rate, let me tackle some of Renck's other concerns:

However, their appearances get locked in, meaning that Josh Roenicke gets burned on a night when the team doesn't have a great chance to win.

Renck's now speaking of the piggyback relievers in the same hallowed way some baseball people talk about closers. I don't know when Josh Roenicke became Mariano Rivera, or at least Rafael Betancourt, but this argument seems silly. The answer would be tough cookies. Suck it up and deal. If you have eight strong bullpen arms, which is what you want ideally, then there are going to be some times when good pitchers get burned in losing causes. The issue in this case wouldn't be the bullpen use or "wasting" Roenicke at all, but the quality of the starter going before him, and that remains the Rockies biggest question mark heading into the off season, not whether this four man piggyback system will work or not.

Piggybackers are left to bat..,

The assertion here would be that a piggyback reliever is a worse hitter than the starter who'd presumably be batting instead. Jeff Francis has one hit in 32 plate appearances and -61 OPS+ in 2012. For his career he's at a -18 and he's easily the worst hitter on the team to get more than 20 PA's this year. Anything to take the bat out of his hands, even if it's a piggyback reliever, is a considerable improvement. With the other starters it's a wash, which would be the general point, pitchers don't hit well whether they're relievers or starters.

I think, though, that Renck might be going with a somewhat false impression that this system cuts back on pinch hit appearances, and so far that hasn't been the case. The Rockies are actually on a pace to have 259 plate appearances by pinch hitters, which is within range of what they've usually had, and would actually be the most since 2006 which also had 259, but I think that's another sign that the quality of the starting pitching just hasn't been good this season, particularly early in the year.

What if, for instance, the Rockies go extra innings? It has happened twice since the Rockies went to the four-man. It's a dangerous spot because the piggybackers aren't available, leaving the Rockies facing the real possibility of running out of pitchers or throwing the next day's starter.

For some context, the two extra inning games mentioned were against Washington on June 28 and San Diego on July 21, and Colorado won both games. Including those two extra inning wins, the Rockies went 7-9 overall in the spans between the extra inning game and the team's following off day. That's a losing record, but remember that this is a losing team we're talking about, so my point here would be that there doesn't seem to be as much bullpen damage from the somewhat rare event of an extra inning game as there is benefit to be had with having starters go through a lineup only twice. Worrying about the 1 in 20 occurrence over the 19 in 20 occurrence makes for bad policy decisions in general. If there is a fatigue concern in these situations, that's what the Rockies extended depth at AAA should be used for.

A New York Times Q and A with Raiders running back Darren McFadden found in a Rockies Google search revealed something that I didn't know about Carlos Gonzalez, that he's part of a joint venture with McFadden, skier Lindsay Vonn and basketball player Kevin Love in something called Playmaker Nutrition, which makes sugar-free chewable vitamin supplements. Pro athletes sometimes make some very unwise investment decisions, sometimes they make very lucrative decisions, and sometimes, as is the case with Jason Giambi, they make some decisions which seem bound for legal trouble from the start, but this one seems like a pretty decent risk for Cargo to take with a portion of his money as long as he's got more security elsewhere in his portfolio. I'll be curious how the venture turns out.

Troy Tulowitzki will be returning to the Rockies this week, but he's got an elimination game to play today in his Tulsa rehab as the Drillers forced a game five by winning last night. That initial link this paragraph about Tulo's return also indicates that Adam Ottavino and Jhoulys Chacin may be in line to be part of next Spring's WBC as well as Cargo and Tulo. I would assume Rafael Betancourt would be part of that impressive Venezuelan squad too, but I haven't seen anything for certain on that yet.

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