Over the weekend I had the opportunity to interview Geoff Young, a writer for Baseball Prospectus (the website) who focuses on the NL and AL Western divisions and a contributor to Baseball Prospectus 2013 (the book), the premier guide to the 2013 MLB season. Geoff is the founder of Duck Snorts, a prominent Padres blog, and he's the writer of the Rockies, Padres, and Reds chapters in the book. In this portion of the interview, we discuss the 4 man rotation.
Jeff Aberle: ESPN had their future power rankings out in the last couple of days...and it pains me to see the Rockies ranked 30 out of 30. It's been a tough time to be a Rockies fan. 2012 was a Murphy's Law type of season for us - we had a lot of injuries to key players, not necessarily in DL days but in turns of WAR lost, it was pretty significant with Tulo especially.
Geoff Young: Yeah, losing Tulo was big.
JA: And our starting pitching decided to start being terrible - not that they weren't below average before, but they really took it to another level. It was a confluence of an unusually hot and dry summer at Coors Field (causing the park to play even more extreme than usual), combined with a very young pitching staff that couldn't throw strikes and the aforementioned worst defense in the league. That all lead to the Rockies being the worst pitching staff in the league - it was a terrible, terrible year and I'd prefer not to speak too much about it, but I think I have to for this interview.
The Rockies made headlines this year with their four man rotation and a 75 pitch limit...which of course led to Jeff Francis leading the team in innings pitched with 113. As you pointed out in a BP article, that's the first time since 1891 that this has happened - or as you say in the book, since the Benjamin Harrison administration. I guess my question to you is, what are your thoughts on A) how it was implemented, B) the thought process behind it, and C) do you think it has any lasting value?
GY: What I liked about it was that the organization was thinking in unconventional ways. That's a flexibility in thought process that you don't often find at the major league level. In MLB people are pretty conservative - you don't really see a lot of innovation happen. This sort of reminds me of Tony LaRussa batting the pitcher 8th - it struck me as a really odd thing to do. I don't think that it's the best way of going about it - and I would argue that the results bear that out - but I like the fact that they were thinking about it.
I wonder if the thought process behind it will end up leading the Rockies or another organization innovating in that way with their pitching staffs - this could be a thing that 10 years from now a team will say, "Remember when the Rockies went to that 4 man pitching staff? They didn't quite get it right, but maybe if we tweak it, we might end up being successful with it."
From a completely non-Rockies fan perspective, it was interesting to watch and I'm glad they tried it just because nobody else had the guts to do anything like that. That being said, I don't think that it was a particularly good idea.
JA: The novel part of it was really the 75 pitch limit - the 4 man rotation was the norm 20-30 years ago. The result of the combination of the 75 pitch limit and the 4 man rotation really was that more innings were being given to long relievers.
GY: In terms of protecting your investment in young pitching and trying to limit their exposure to high stress pitches late in games - I think that was a noble cause, a good goal. The downside to that is when you're actually trying to compete in ballgames, like you say, all of a sudden you're giving innings to guys who aren't good enough to start and not good enough to close.
They're your second tier pitchers...I'm just making the numbers up here, but when you're knocking 10% of the innings away from your starters, who are theoretically the best pitchers on the team, and giving them to middle relievers, you're creating a problem for yourself in terms of competing in games in a day-to-day basis. As a short-term goal it (the pitch limit) was pretty lousy, but the effort to protect your investment in young arms over the long-term...this is a trite way to say this, but I think their heart was in the right place, but their head wasn't.
JA: I think the most frustrating thing for me has been how they've leaned on Coors Field as a crutch - and when I say they I mean the Rockies' front office. As recently as 2009 (and 2010 actually) the Rockies lead the majors in WAR from their pitching staff...so they've been successful in putting together a good pitching staff before. The fact that the front office is innovating is great, but I think that they're looking too far afield when the solution was closer to home in terms of getting strikes, working all areas of the zone, and having a good Ubaldo Jimenez - that would have helped.
GY: You hit on the huge difference there - the personnel are not the same. Losing (Jorge) De La Rosa, (Juan) Nicasio, and (Jhoulys) Chacin and bringing up young pitchers to replace them - I happen to be a fan of (Drew) Pomeranz, but you didn't know what you were going to get, which is fine, but there's a lot of uncertainty there. Having a good Ubaldo would have been nice.
Tune back tomorrow for Part 4, which will discuss Colorado's offseason machinations