The Colorado Rockies have seemingly adopted the Kansas City Royals playbook when it comes to pitching.
The philosophy is simple: Your starter gives your team six or seven solid innings and then you turn it over to the bullpen, with key pitchers slotted into inning-specific roles in order to get you the win. It’s becoming not only a trend throughout Major League Baseball but also quickly morphing into the Rockies mantra.
Last year in the postseason, the World Champion Royals didn’t have a starting pitcher who averaged more than six innings per start. This year, heading into Wednesday night’s game at the St. Louis Cardinals, Rockies starters have thrown 210 innings this season in 38 games, ranking them 25th out of 30 MLB teams in terms of number of innings thrown. That equates to about 5.5 innings per game.
Certainly, some of those outings are skewed thanks to shorter outings by starters earlier in the season, including the last two outings by Jorge De La Rosa, who totaled just five innings in those starts before landing on the disabled list. Still, it’s been very clear this season that throwing six or seven innings each outing is exactly what the Rockies want to see.
A perfect example of where the Rockies have gone and hope to continue going with their pitching philosophy was shown on Tuesday night in a 3-1 win at St. Louis. Chad Bettis went 6.2 innings before handing the game over to (in succession) Boone Logan, Carlos Estevez and Jake McGee, three pitchers in whom Walt Weiss has a great deal of confidence and has repeatedly shown that confidence early in the season.
Part of the Colorado Rockies pitching strategy is having faith in the bullpen to close the game … but also knowing that Colorado’s core pitching staff has yet to show the ability to go deep into games and finish on their own. It’s also a sign of the change in attitude toward pitchers throwing high numbers of pitches during their starts.
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Eddie Butler tossed a season high of 92 pitches on May 8.
Jon Gray tossed a season-high 105 pitches in his last outing on May 13.
Bettis threw a season-high 114 pitches on April 25.
Continuing to use Bettis as an example, here’s a look at his ERA by innings. It’s another good reason why the bullpen comes into play around the sixth or seventh inning of each start.
First – 2.00
Second – 7.00
Third – 1.00
Fourth – 0.00
Fifth – 3.00
Sixth – 6.48
Seventh – 23.62 (2.2 IP, 7 ER)
That’s right. In innings one through six, Bettis has a cumulative ERA of 3.21, giving up 19 earned runs in 53.1 innings. In the seventh, that number explodes.
The philosophy has worked well so far this season for the Rockies. Of course, it depends strongly on the starter and reliever each doing his job. But, unlike previous seasons, that’s exactly what Colorado pitchers are doing as the Rockies continue to stay relevant in the chase for the National League West’s top spot.