Colorado Rockies deny roster construction as cause for pitching success
MILWAUKEE — There’s a narrative going around the internet surrounding the Colorado Rockies right now. Simply put, it’s untrue and was quickly debunked by Rockies players on Friday.
The Colorado Rockies had a red-hot July where they paced for the third-best month in club history at 17-6. The Denver Nine has climbed back into relevancy and the playoff race, and it’s all because of their play as of late. Since June 19, they’ve gone 24-12, highlighted by a 3.55 ERA from their pitching staff (fourth-best in Major League Baseball) and a 3.42 ERA from their starers (second-best in the National League).
If you go back to that time before this torrid stretch, the Rockies were reeling and, at one point, had even lost eight straight games at home. On June 12, they made a bold call to activate a third catcher and have kept all three on their roster since — said for a short paternity leave. Although at one point the rotation only had four starters for about a dozen games, most of this odd-roster juggle has come with the already handicapped four-man bench.
The four-man bench has been a staple of Bud Black‘s two-year tenure in Colorado and the skipper likes that because it allows him to have an eight-man bullpen. Why? One, it helps to have more pitchers for when games get out of control in Denver … which happens quite often. Two, altitude affects recovery time negatively and it’s harder to sleep in high-altitude environments so having one more reliever than most teams is supposed to hide guys who are resting.
But having two of your four bench players be catchers also limits position versatility and makes it harder for your position players to get a day off. Granted, Ian Desmond and Ryan McMahon have played several positions in the purple and Tony Wolters has shown he can step from behind the dish and be a capable middle infielder.
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Catching has a profound impact on pitching and that’s why so many teams are okay with their catcher hitting below the Mendoza Line. The backstop is the one spot on the field where the defensive aspects of it are so grueling that the offense is often an afterthought.
Having a trio of catchers has allowed the Rockies to keep their backstops fresh … but it’s also prevented them from consistent playing time.
Some have gone to another step and credited the Rockies’ sick pitching success not with the pitchers themselves but rather credited having three catchers at once. Simply put, this is jumping the shark. Yes, the Rockies have never constructed their roster like this and they’ve never pitched like this so there is a surface level connection. However, correlation doesn’t equate causation here.
To ignore the fact that the rotation is more talented than it has ever been before as the root to the success of the Rockies is to ignore the quintessential key to baseball: pitching.
“How would that help?” Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta questioned while responding to this notion of three backstops helping at all the success out on the hill.
“Probably not,” Kyle Freeland told Rox Pile. “Chris Iannetta has caught 21 of my 22 starts. The correlation is that they’re all intelligent.”
The real help of the trio has been allowing the veteran Iannetta come off the bench as a pinch hitter without feeling like the club has burned its only protection in case of an injury. The call-up of Tom Murphy in mid-June also came at a point when Colorado’s other two masked men were struggling to hit.
As for picking which of the triumvirate to play on a given night, Black has found it rather easy.
"“There are a lot of things that go into it,” he said on Friday. “A lot of is the opposing pitcher and the matchup we like and there’s a component of who is pitching for us. We’ve stuck Iannetta with Freeland and Murphy with Gray.”"
As for any reasons other than those listed above, Black shook off that there were any other benefits.