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Can the Rockies get clever with strikeout development?

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, October 13, 2020

With a pitching staff that struck out a league-worst 16.8 percent of hitters in 2020, the Rockies could certainly afford to strike out some more opponents.

In the most volatile ballpark in the entire league, missing barrels could be more important than anywhere else.

Mike Petriello of MLB.com wrote on Wednesday about the importance of home runs in the postseason this year. At the time of publishing, the teams that out-homered their opponents held a 19-1 record in the 2020 postseason. Petriello acknowledges how the adage against teams that “live and die by the home run” has been “refuted over, and over, and over.” If the MLB run-scoring environment is continually progressing toward home run exclusiveness, it would certainly de-emphasize the ‘pitch to contact’ prophecy.

In a run scoring environment like Coors Field, pitching to contact can quickly become dangerous. Colorado is thereby left facing innate challenges: does the team spend money on established pitchers and hope they can keep their strikeout rates in Denver, or do the Rockies bring in new minor leaguers and hope the resultant pitchers are favorable for strikeouts at altitude?

What about neither?

A canceled minor league season this year makes it difficult to implement new development practices, but with an expanded instructional league setup, it appears the Cincinnati Reds are taking full advantage. Rapsodo units have been spotted all over their fields in Goodyear, Arizona, on both bullpen warmup and in-game mounds (in addition to Trackman use in their scrimmages). The Reds certainly seem to embody the Rapsodo motto “Measure to Master” as they have not only proven to collect all of that data, but also an ability to use it for their benefit.

2020’s highest strikeout percentage belonged to the Cincinnati Reds.

It is extremely important to note that there is no amount of Rapsodo units, Trackman plates or Edgertronic cameras that can replace a knowledge for what those devices can teach. The Reds appear to be fulfilling all facets, however, which might explain their recent ability to put hitters away.

Invest in the bright minds that can shape the pitches.

Perhaps the Rockies shouldn’t put the priority on purchasing pitchers, or hoping that a new collection of prospects can raise their current farm system ranking. Maybe the investment should be made on the players that are already there, and the people that tell them how to improve in the modern developmental landscape.

Invest in the minds that can interpret the data and shape the pitchers. It can be extremely challenging to create an altitude-responsive arsenal for arms to come, but given the elevation in both Albuquerque and Denver, the training opportunities are there. If Germán Márquez is indeed the “perfect pitcher for Coors Field,” it might be possible to generate pitch profiles for others along similar guidelines.

(A basic example: a pitcher may lack movement in Denver, but they might be able to capitalize on a deceptive pitch profile that doesn’t move where a hitter thinks it will. Such a profile can be derived from adjusting spin rate, true spin, gyro angle or spin direction—hopefully without the use of a foreign substance.)

An investment in data-driven development not only encourages high-level player growth, but it also puts players in an intellectual environment where they are able to understand how they can reach new heights. The psychological benefits are extra: you can end a training session with a pinpoint understanding on how you’ve improved and what needs to be done.

In such an unpredictable game, it is perhaps the best way to rationally evaluate players. It no longer becomes a shoulder shrug and a Coors Field nonchalant dismissal, but rather a basis on the pitch metrics themselves.

Colorado’s best single-season ERA came in 2010 (4.14); the pitching staff recorded the sixth highest strikeout percentage in baseball, which suggests it is at least possible that Coors Field can house a strikeout-heavy pitching staff. The best ERA pre-humidor came in 1995 (4.97), and the Rockies’ strikeout percentage that year ranked 18th.

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Colorado Rockies: Looking back on three trade rumors for Nolan Arenado last offseason | RoxPile

The 2020-21 offseason might be leading off right where the 2019-20 offseason ended. Noah Yingling of RoxPile goes over three Arenado trade rumors from last season, detailing how each could be applicable one year later.

Rockies Have 39 Players on Instructional League Roster | Sports Illustrated

39 players will participate in the Rockies’ closed-to-the-public instructional league action at Salt River Fields this fall. Tracy Ringolsby shows the full list and details the new provisions for 2020 action, including an increased number of games.

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