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Starting pitcher workloads are a tale of buildup or burnout

Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, May 31, 2022

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The Rockies have currently used 11 total relief pitchers in 2022. This remains the fewest across the entire league.

The dog days of summer await, and it’s time to monitor starter workloads as we get closer. The reliever safety net in Colorado is thin, and it could be reason to keep starters working deeper in games.

We can only hope the coming months of production are a result of starter buildup, and not starter burnout.

Antonio Senzatela was placed on the injured list after a start on May 16. He was able to pitch two innings but was pulled with a lower back strain; in the seven innings of remaining bullpen work, the Rockies allowed seven runs in a 7-6 defeat. This is a slim case study, of course, but the bigger picture will reveal the Rockies are the only team right now with a bullpen ERA above five.

Park factors and misfortune have inflated this a bit (the combined reliever xFIP is 4.30), but even with key variables factored out, it’s clear to see Colorado pitching is best when a starter can eat a huge chunk of innings.

The bigger question becomes this: Are the Rockies throwing their starters deeper than the league average by design, or is it by necessity?

The above chart is simple in nature: innings divided by starts will show the average workload per game that the Rockies’ bullpen works around. Colorado is slightly above league average when it comes to the inning contributions from starters — but — even a simple chart like this one comes with a lot of noise:

  1. The MLB total at 5.0 does not factor out openers, a strategy practiced now more than ever. The Tampa Bay Rays are perhaps most known for this, and the consistent use of a two- or three-inning opener can shift the league data immensely.
  2. Rockies manager Bud Black, a pitcher himself, has to be aware of the ERA performance of his relievers. If the bullpen were performing better, there wouldn’t be a need to keep starters in as long.

Long story short: there are no glaring outliers to the above chart, and that alone should serve as a primary takeaway. Colorado starters are relatively on par with workload compared to the rest of the league, and a 4.94 ERA with half-time at Coors Field is (loosely) decent when compared to a 4.02 league average.

The Modern Game

Starts are becoming shorter and shorter, which has led USA Today’s Gabe Lacques to believe the starting pitcher is “nearly extinct.” Workloads are rightfully monitored while average fastball velocity continues to climb, and the continual path of velocity and starter workload means one thing for certain: more reliever work can be expected across the board. Denver is no exception.

Latest Injuries: What To Expect

Kevin Henry of Rox Pile published an injury report on both Senzatela and Kyle Freeland on Monday, stating that Senzatela is set to be activated from the injured list in time for a start on Wednesday. Freeland landed awkwardly on his foot during Sunday’s game against the Nationals but X-rays came back negative; he is scheduled to make his next start later this week.

This doesn’t make it wise to throw caution to the wind, however. If lingering injuries are at risk, shorter starts could be a necessity for the Rockies to play the long game through 2022. Extra labor in the early summer could magnify other injury risks down the road, and the current state of the bullpen isn’t ideal for a starter setback.

2022 Could Be Worse

Colorado’s rotation this year needed somebody to fill the shoes of Jon Gray, both in his ability to keep runs off the scoreboard and his ability to work around the 150-inning mark in most seasons. In Gray’s career with the Rockies, he posted 5.49 innings per start.

In 2021, the Rockies were forced to begin the season with Kyle Freeland on the injured list. Peter Lambert was recovering from Tommy John surgery and both Ryan Rolison and Ryan Feltner were not deemed ready, so the Rockies turned to veteran Jhoulys Chacín in a signing just one day before Opening Day. Chacín would act as a spot starter but turned to full-time relief shortly after Freeland’s return.

In 2022, Feltner has established some big league norms. They were on display more than ever on Monday.

To further avoid the Chacín chapters of 2021, the Rockies brought on both Chad Kuhl and Ty Blach for a full spring training. Kuhl has claimed the fifth starter spot while Blach has filled in primarily as a long reliever. This has supported some depth where Colorado previously lacked.

If the expectation is reaching the sixth inning for Rockies starters, we’re left to hope there isn’t any burnout from their work in the spring, however. Kuhl and Blach may have needed to fire themselves up in March fighting for jobs unlike before, and the result might see them getting tired down the stretch of 2022.

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Here are the Power Rankings through May | MLB.com

The Rockies have dropped from 21st to 22nd in the latest MLB.com power rankings, ranking 11th of 15 in the National League. The Dodgers have reclaimed the first-overall spot with 17-4 current odds to win the World Series.

Sánchez hits longest HR of ‘22 with 496-foot moonshot | MLB.com

It’s tough to do anything but marvel over a bomb just four feet shy of 500, even if it’s against your team. Miami’s Jesús Sánchez blasted a solo shot at 114.7 MPH into the third deck at Coors Field, now a clear frontrunner for longest homer of 2022. It is tied for the third-longest home run in the Statcast era (since 2015), trailing a gold-medal-holding 504-foot blast by Giancarlo Stanton.

Ryan Feltner tossed 5 13 scoreless innings after Sánchez’s home run, so make sure you’re showing some love accordingly.

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On the Farm

Monday, May 30: League-wide off day for all minor league affiliates

New series starting today:

Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes (COL) Sugar Land Space Cowboys (HOU)

Double-A: Reading Fightin’ Phils (PHI) at Hartford Yard Goats (COL)

High-A: Spokane Indians (COL) at Vancouver Canadians (TOR)

Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies (COL) at Modesto Nuts (SEA)

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