Saturday, July 28, 2012

Colorado Rockies victims of their own theory

Christian Friedrich has shown some flashes of serious talent.
The Colorado Rockies should apologize to Christian Friedrich and the rest of the starting pitching staff.

On Saturday night at Coors Field, the rookie took the mound against the hottest team in baseball, the Cincinnati Reds. The lefty pitched his way through the first inning in just eight pitches, looking like he had his best stuff.

When the Rockies offense scored three runs in the bottom half of the 1st inning off of Johnny Cueto, it looked like Colorado might be in pretty good shape. Then came the home run barrage by the Reds.

In the top of the 2nd inning, Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier both hit no-doubt home runs. Ludwick's landed on the pavilion above the left field bleachers. In the top of the 3rd inning, Drew Stubbs joined the action, knocking a solo shot of his own.


The three home runs were sandwiched between six outs. Friedrich, despite giving up the home runs and the lead, wasn't pitching all that bad. The lefty retired the Reds in order in the 4th, then got into trouble in the 5th.  A single, a walk, and sacrifice bunt and two more singles gave the Reds two more runs. Suddenly, 55 pitches into his outing, Friedrich was done.

With one out, Josh Roenicke came to the mound and immediately gave up a two run double to Brandon Phillips. A night that looked so promising for Friedrich was over, and it wasn't pretty. In all, he gave up seven  earned runs in just 4-1/3 innings. His ERA ballooned to 6.17.

The problem for Friedrich and the rest of the young starting pitchers is that the Rockies front office, headed up by Dan O'Dowd and trickling down to Jim Tracy, have made it very clear that they don't believe it is possible to pitch effectively at Coors Field. They haven't said that privately, they have been very clear that they think it is so difficult that they have to come up with a gimmick, out-of-the-box, crazy theory to try and be effective there.

The issue with that is, when a young pitcher is already in over his head trying to learn to pitch at the big league level, someone who is trying to gain the confidence that nearly every rookie needs to gain, the last thing they need is for someone to whisper in their ear that the mountain that they have to climb is an even more difficult one because of their home park.

If the words weren't bad enough, what the 75-pitch limit does to an ERA should make sure the pitcher has no confidence remaining.

On Saturday Friedrich only reached 55 pitches. However, if there was no crazy pitch limit, it would be easy to believe that he would make it to 100. If he had more than 20 pitches left to go, the odds are that Tracy wouldn't have gone to his bullpen in that situation. He would have known that Friedrich had at least two more innings in his arm and would have allowed him to either give up the runs himself, or get out of the inning.

Instead, he only gets 4-1/3 innings to divide into the amount of earned runs he gave up, sky rocketing his ERA.

If he is left in the game, he might give up another run or two, but if he has another couple of clean innings, which is entirely possible based on the overall way he was pitching, suddenly he has a few more innings to divide those earned runs into and the ERA is significantly better.

It has been beaten to death how bad this experiment is for the Rockies. The numbers have shown that it doesn't make any sense. The sample size is big enough to know that it simply isn't working. The issue isn't the altitude that the Rockies play at, the issue is the guy who didn't bring in enough talent in the offseason to compete in the big leagues.

As many flashes of great pitching Friedrich has shown, he has shown enough bad moments that it is clear he probably needed a few more months to develop in the minor leagues. However, due to a lack of talent, he has been forced onto the scene. He has done his best with the position he has been put into, but it is not his fault. He is pitching as well as he can, especially considering he is being handicapped by pitch counts and crazy theories.

The time is here for the Rockies to abandon their theory. It isn't working. It isn't saving pitchers arms, and it isn't convincing anyone that pitching for four innings at altitude is more effective than pitching seven innings.

The problem isn't the park, the problem is the talent. The talent isn't underperforming, they are giving the team what they have at the present moment. These guys might be good someday, but that day isn't today, and it probably isn't tomorrow. It is O'Dowd's job to have Major League ready talent ready for today, while the future prepares somewhere else for tomorrow.

Instead, the Rockies continue to ruin the confidence of their young pitchers under the guise of some crazy theory that no one believes except for them.

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