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Colorado Rockies experiencing heavy bullpen usage

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The 'pen is tired, but is this year that different from any other?

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

It's pretty easy to see that a lot of the guys coming out of the 'pen are tired. Let's take a look a usage in 2015 as well past years in an effort to see how the Rockies usually compare to the rest of the league.

2015

Thus far, Rockies' starters have tossed just 71.2 innings through 14 games. That cumulative total puts them ahead of only five other teams: the Marlins (71.1), Rangers (69.2), Indians (69.0), Orioles (68.0), and Braves (67.2). The Indians and Braves, however, have each played 13 games. Unless something tragic happens, it's a fair bet that Eric Stults and Corey Kluber will pitch enough to leave the Rockies ahead of only the Marlins, Rangers, and Orioles.

The Giants, A's, and Padres each have played one more game than Colorado, but even if Kyle Kendrick goes nine innings tonight, their cumulative innings pitched by starters will still be higher. Let's take a look at how our starters have done so far.

Game #/Result Starter IP H R ER BB K Season Era
1 — W 10-0 Kyle Kendrick 7.0 7 0 0 0 6 0.00
2 — W 5-2 Jordan Lyles 6.0 5 2 2 1 2 3.00
3 — W 5-4 Eddie Butler 5.2 4 2 2 4 5 3.18
4 — W 5-1 Tyler Matzek 4.0 4 1 1 3 4 2.25
5 — L 9-5 Kyle Kendrick 5.0 8 8 8 5 3 6.00
6 — L 6-5 Jordan Lyles 6.0 5 3 1 3 3 2.25
7 — W 2-0 Eddie Butler 5.1 5 0 0 6 1 1.64
8 — W 4-1 Christian Bergman 4.0 4 0 0 2 4 0.00
9 — W 4-2 Tyler Matzek 6.0 5 1 1 1 3 1.80
10 — L 7-3 Kyle Kendrick 4.2 7 6 6 4 6 7.56
11 — L 6-3 Jordan Lyles 6.0 5 4 4 5 5 3.50
12 — L 7-0 Eddie Butler 5.0 6 2 2 1 4 2.25
13 — L 14-3 Jorge De La Rosa 2.0 9 9 7 1 3 31.50
14 — L 7-6 Tyler Matzek 5.0 4 2 2 6 3 2.40

Now let's look at each pitcher's total pitch count, excluding Bergman's spot start.

Player IP Pitches Pitches/Inning
Eddie Butler 16.0 267 16.69
Tyler Matzek 15.0 261 17.4
Jordan Lyles 18.0 272 15.11
Kyle Kendrick 16.2 299 18.46
Jorge De La Rosa 2.0 53 26.5

What're some takeaways from the two tables?

  • The total innings pitched by starters is low, but a lot of this can be attributed to a spot start by Bergman, who did well in the role asked of him, and JDLR's awful outing
  • While those two instances do skew the numbers, it is important to note that the Rockies' numbers regarding innings pitched are still a lot lower than much of the league
  • Only Lyles is averaging 6 innings pitched a game. That's not a good sign

Naturally, the less innings pitched by starting pitchers, the more pitched by the 'pen. The Rockies bullpen has thrown 52.1 innings so far, behind only the Boston Red Sox (55.0) and the Rangers (58.0), who've both played 14 games. The Rangers, for their part, have split those 58 innings among ten different pitchers. The Rockies and Red Sox both have used nine pitchers so far. Finally, the Rockies bullpen has 49 "games" under its belt. That's near the top of the league, behind the Giants (50), Rays (50), and tied with the Marlins. Taking it all into account and looking at what the data tells us as a whole, it suggests what we pretty much already knew. The guys in the Rockies 'pen are being called upon more often than most of their counterparts in the league and are being asked to throw more innings than their peers. While the Red Sox have had their bullpen throw more innings than the Rockies, they've also called upon guys less often. Alternatively, while the Giants bullpen has logged a cumulative 50 appearances, its pitchers have been asked to throw less innings.

It's tough to really see too much of a difference from the limited data and even more difficult to try and extrapolate these numbers over a full season given how many variables exist, so let's look at 2014.

2014

Team IP by Starters IP by Relivers Total Apperances
Nationals"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Nationals 1002.1 468.1 458
Tigers"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Tigers 1007 447 473
Indians 955 513.1 573
Dodgers"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Dodgers 975 489.2 496
Rays 954.2 509 494
Cubs"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Cubs 927 536.1 537
Yankees"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Yankees 951.2 501.1 475
Braves 1014.1 440.2 472
Angels"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Angels 942.2 540 543
Mets"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Mets 985 478.2 489
Cardinals"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Cardinals 969.1 479.1 485
Athletics"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Athletics 996 467.1 441
Astros"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Astros 970 468.2 438
Padres 951.1 487.1 481
Blue Jays"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Blue Jays 958.2 484.1 449
Mariners"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Mariners 952 498.1 496
Royals"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Royals 986.2 464 451
White Sox"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">White Sox 970 471 453
Reds"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Reds 1023.2 422.1 428
Giants 977 472 475
Phillies"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Phillies 1013.1 455 461
Brewers"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Brewers 992.1 465.1 478
Marlins 947.1 510.1 487
Orioles 953.2 507.2 479
Twins"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Twins 913.1 521.2 491
Pirates"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Pirates 971 485.1 452
Diamondbacks"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; wrap-strategy: 0; white-space: nowrap;">Diamondbacks 937.1 507 488
Red Sox 970.1 495.1 493
Rangers 918.2 507.2 476
Rockies 905.1 525.2 547

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Rockies finished dead last in innings pitched by starting pitchers. As a result, they finished only behind the Angels and Cubs in innings pitched by relievers. They also finished only behind the Indians in total appearances from the bullpen. So, this year seems to be going the same as last, albeit in a very limited sample size.

Of course, just because the numbers from this year don't indicate a departure from last year doesn't mean something good. Actually, because last year was so bad, we really want this year's data to be completely opposite. We need our bullpen called upon less frequently and we need to ask them to pitch fewer innings when they do pitch. This all comes back to our starters' apparent inability to go deep in games. Why is that? In general, starters aren't pitching as many innings a game as they used to, but the Rockies are getting less than six innings per start on average. That's unacceptable and a major reason why our bullpen has struggled so much in past years.

There are a number of factors that possibly play a part. When pitching at Coors, do pitchers try to pitch around guys more than they do elsewhere because they're afraid opposing hitters will barrel up the ball and therefore throw more pitches outside of the zone, with the result being shorter outings? Have the Rockies arbitrarily put a limit on the number of pitches a starter throws that they enforce no matter the situation? Is it simply that the Rockies are unable to attract the quality of pitchers that other teams do? I honestly don't know for certain the answers to these questions. I'm sure there's data looking at splits for pitch-counts home and away, but I'm unsure of how to find/analyze those numbers for significance, especially as those numbers would have to be regressed upon the deviation of league-wide numbers. There's definitely been a lot of talk about the Rockies imposing pitch counts, but I think that's something a number of teams do. To the last issue, while the Rockies might not be able to attract those top-end pitchers, there are a number of guys out there who should be able to be signed who can eat innings. Look no further than Kyle Kendrick, a guy who has been consistently able to throw at least six innings a start. He's theoretically the type of guy who the Rockies should be targeting, but he's struggled to go deep in games thus far. Again, all this comes with the limited sample size caveat, but still.

The bullpen has a chance to be very good this year, especially as guys return to health, but that's contingent on the starting pitchers being able to do their job. Bullpen usage is going to be near or at the top of the league once again if our starters can't go deeper into games. Food for thought.