Sunday, September 16, 2012

Colorado Rockies theory bites them again in loss to Padres

Adam Ottavino may have hit his wall on Sunday.
If it's been said once, it's been said 1000 times. The Colorado Rockies pitching theory simply doesn't work.

It might work in one particular game. It might work over the course of a week, but the reality is, it simply doesn't work over the course of a season.

Maybe the Rockies deserve credit for thinking outside of tradition, one of the great things about baseball that often becomes its biggest handicap. While the Rockies are trying something outside the box, they have to admit that the long-term effects are more damaging than they anticipated.

On Sunday, the Rockies reaped the consequences of what happens when the theory is played out for the better part of a season without a fall back plan. Adam Ottavino, one of the bright spots in a bad season for the Rockies, saw his ERA jump from 3.56 entering the game to 4.38 when the day was done.

After another four inning performance from Alex White, the Rockies went to piggyback man Ottavino. With a 5-3 lead, Ottavino proceeded to give up seven runs, all earned, on six hits and a walk. After 2/3 of an inning, Jim Tracy finally pulled the trigger, going to the mound to remove his piggyback man from the mound without a backup plan.

The issue is that Ottavino, who has logged 74 innings despite not making his Rockies debut until nearly a month into the season. The theory demands that the piggyback pitchers eat far more innings than a traditional reliever. When a starter only gets through three or four innings, the piggyback man is lean upon heavily to get the game into the 6th or 7th inning because the corp behind him is limited. With two other piggyback men, the bullpen is short and bridging the gap to the end of the game is very difficult.

As has been discussed in the past at length, the theory disregards the marathon that is a Major League Baseball season. The sheer number of games means that arms are going to get worn down, especially those arms that are in the piggyback role. Pitching 50 to 60 pitches every third day is eventually going to take it's toll. That seemed to be the case for Ottavino on Sunday, when he didn't look sharp and was very hittable.

The entire theory hinges on the success of those piggyback pitchers. If they can't get the job done, games will simply blow up, requiring huge, unlikely comebacks just to be in the game.

As the season progresses, the wear and tear on the bullpen is going to create outings like Ottavino had. When he has to be removed after just 2/3 of an inning, the domino effect begins and the rest of the bullpen is forced to go further than they are used to just to get through the game.

The Rockies have been very fortunate that their long men have been so good. The work of Ottavino and Josh Roenicke, specifically, has been phenomenal. Those two guys have been unsung heroes for a team that's starting pitching should have made the Rockies have an even worse record than what they are going to finish with.

On Sunday the Rockies showed their heart, coming back from the backbreaking 5th inning, only to get heartbroken in the 9th inning when Matt Belisle balked the winning run into scoring position and then gave up a hit to left that was just enough to give the Padres the walk-off win.

In spite of the loss, and the disappointment that is proving to be the Rockies theory, this team continues to show heart. Josh Rutledge, mired in his first big league slump, broke out in a huge way, belting his first career grand slam to tie the game in the 8th inning. Matt McBride launched his first big league home run and simply put, the Rockies never quit.

The fact that they came back was a huge sign of encouragement. However, the overarching issue is that the Rockies are getting burned by their theory. Hopefully they are taking notes and learning lessons.

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  1. players are being misused...........
    owners are to blame.....
    simply not baseball people with a committment to winning.
    very serious doubts about Mr.Tracy.

  2. Pitchers are human. Some days they have it...some days they don't.
    What this philosophy does is increases the odds of finding the pitcher in you bullpen who doesn't have it
    versus leaving one it that is pitching well.
    It's not rocket science.

  3. What this "piggyback" system is to cover up the fact that GM Dan O'Dowd can't bring pitching talent to Colorado. Drew Pomerantz was the jewel of the Ubaldo Jiminez deal, but he should be pitching in the minor leagues, learning his craft. Alex White also. I also never bought into Jeremy Guthrie being an "ace". He was at best a fourth or fifth starter, and without the pressure of being an ace, he might have pitched decently. What no one talks about is the future - no free agents will come to Colorado on this system and I suspect many top pitching prospects will decline to sign with the Rockies. And I agree with the earlier post that when you have a pitcher pitching well, you leave him in. Maybe the Yankees can do that with Mariano Rivera, but there is only one Rivera. Betencourt has been good but will never be confused with Rivera.