I always talk about how baseball is constantly changing right before our very eyes. The endless game of cat and mouse between hurlers and batters carries the sport from one era to the next, each advance made by a side leading to a quick response from the other. When the strikezone was taller, the high heater was a permanent fixture in the game. Then, in the mid-90’s, the bottom of the zone went from right at the knees to below the knees, and pitchers started countering the relatively flat bat path that was common at the time by living at the bottom of the zone.
It took the hitters some time to adjust, but by roughly the mid 2010’s, the average batter was now capable of taking those pitches at the knees and lifting them in the air for big damage, and pitchers quickly responded by bringing back a classic offering. The high fastball was back with a vengeance, as increased technology (and possibly a fair bit of substance abuse) made the high-spin rising four-seamer the most defining pitch in baseball, the perfect weapon to counter hitters aiming to lift the ball.
Why write all this? Well, baseball is experiencing another revolution when it comes to pitch usage.
Whoa. Contrary to what you might think, we’re seeing a massive rise in cutter and sinker usage. I grouped them together, by the way, because they’re both rising at similar rates. There are still a lot more sinkers than cutters being thrown, of course (15.7% to 6.9%), and they’re still behind the four-seamer in terms of usage, which has remained steady through the past twelve years. MLB teams have seemingly embraced the whole “I don’t care how the ball moves, but it has to move” philosophy, and they’ve seen solid results as a whole: cutters and sinker combined have a .341 wOBA against, to a .347 wOBA against four-seamers. Of course, there is one team that doesn’t follow this philosophy. Can you guess which team it is?
The Rockies, of course!
Yup, that’s the Rockies down in the bottom right corner, all by themselves in terms of pitch usage. The Rockies throw cutters and sinkers just 7.1% of the time, less than three times as often as the MLB average of 22.5%, and less than half as often as the closest team (the Giants, at 14.9%). But why on Earth does this happen? Shouldn’t the Rockies, a team that often attempts to pitch to contact, a team that often attempts to get groundballs, use the pitches that do so most successfully? Why aren’t they using cutters and sinkers?
Well, altitude, altitude... and altitude. As it’s been pointed out before, altitude severely affects pitch movement, as I’m sure you’re all aware. The Rockies have failed before with pitchers who heavily depended on fastball movement to get outs (see: Mike Hampton, Bryan Shaw, Wade Davis, Tyler Anderson to a certain extent, etc), and I think those past failures stick out so much in the organization’s collective mind... that they’ve decided to put the cutters and sinkers on the shelf, and instead use the four-seamer as a sinker or a cutter.
That’s how you get the Rockies throwing their four-seamers about as low as any team in the Majors. That’s how you get the Rockies having the lowest launch angle against four-seamers in the Majors. Is it functional? Well, the Rockies have a top ten rotation in MLB, but their bullpen has been bottom five... They get more grounders than just about any other team, but are bottom three in strikeout rate... Hmmmm...
My final answer? I have no clue if this works long-term or not, but at least it’s different, and also entertaining as a baseball fan. The Rockies are always so weird. Lovingly so!
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Do they re-sign Jon Gray (or at least try to do it)? Does the pitcher who recently passed Ubaldo Jiménez on the Rockies’ all-time strikeout list get traded in about a week? Also, the Rockies have more walk-off wins (10) than road wins (9). Yeah. Oh, and Austin Gomber is close to returning to action.
This is the kind of stuff they make movies out of. Exactly one year after beating cancer, Connor Joe hit his first career MLB homer:
Joe! Joe! Joe!— RoxGifsVids (@RoxGifsVids) July 21, 2021
Connor Joe's 1st career home run!
441 ft, 103.9 mph, 27° pic.twitter.com/1BmyypI0vd
Just incredible. Not much else to say here, really.
On The Farm
All four Rockies affiliates took the field on Tuesday.
A shootout that ended in a walk-off win for the Isotopes, with both teams combining for 13 runs on 24 hits. That’s despite tons of missed opportunities from the Skeeters, who went 3-for-16 with RISP. Isotopes starter Frank Duncan (5.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R/3 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 1 HR) outpitched his mound opponent, as Albuquerque knocked Sugar Land starter Nivaldo Rodríguez around for four runs in four innings, but couldn’t get the win after a blown save in the top of the ninth. Ultimately, however, the bats delivered the winning run in the 10th. Some standout offensive performers included shortstop Alan Trejo (the Nº 40 PuRP went 3-for-5 with a homer and a double), second baseman Taylor Motter (2-for-3 with a homer and two walks), and Nº 43 PuRP, catcher Brian Serven (3-for-5 with three RBIs). The Isotopes record now stands at 27-38 on the season.
A much-needed good outing for Nº 11 PuRP Karl Kauffman, who got his first win at Double-A with a legitimately good outing (5.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R/1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 HR) and the backing of a balanced offense that put the game away with a five-run fourth inning, a frame that featured back-to-back homers, two more hits, and even a steal of home. The bullpen held on the rest of the way after Kauffman’s exit, and the Yard Goats (now 21-45) took the opener of the six-game set against the Baysox. Worth nothing: Rockies Nº 7 prospect (according to MLB.com) Elehuris Montero went 1-for-3 with a homer and a walk, and is currently slashing .274/.366/.513 as a 22-year-old at Double-A, showing much-improved plate discipline.
Nº 7 PuRP Chris McMahon dealt for five frames (5.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R/0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 0 HR), but a sixth-inning bullpen meltdown (as soon as the starter left the game, which sounds familiar) cost him the W, and the Spokane bats couldn’t quite muster up enough offense to compensate. The Indians had just one extra-base-hit all game (a double from first baseman and Nº 4 PuRP Michael Toglia), and that usually spells doom. The other standout performer for Spokane was Nº 6 PuRP Aaron Schunk. The third baseman was 2-for-3 with a walk and a RBI, getting on base three times from the second spot in the order, but Spokane fell to 30-37 on the season despite it, dropping the opener of the series at Tri-City.
The Fresno Grizzlies just keep on winning, folks, and they keep showing they can do it in a multitude of ways, as this 2-1 victory over Modesto proves. Starter Tony Locey went four shutout innings (4.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R/0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 0 HR), setting the stage for a combined five-hitter, as five Grizzly hurlers combined to allow just one run. One run was all they could’ve allowed, too, as Fresno’s bats were held in check by a terrific outing from Josias De Los Santos (7.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R/1 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 0 HR). The Grizzlies had such a tough time scoring that no hitter on the lineup had an official RBI... because both runs scored on separate wild pitches! Nº 2 PuRP Zac Veen extended his hitting streak to seven games despite the scarcity of hits, and he’s now hitting .333/.429/.733 on July. Yeah. He’s pretty good, folks. The Fresno Grizzlies are also pretty good, sitting as they are at 46-21 on the season, with a 10-game winning streak going, and a two game lead in the Low-A West division.
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