Earlier this week, my Rox Pile colleague, Olivia Greene, wrote an article about the first-inning woes suffered by the Colorado Rockies this season (see the link to her article near the end of this article). But let’s break that down a little further and see what we find. Spoiler alert: It isn’t pretty.
Heading into Monday night’s series opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Coors Field, Colorado Rockies starters have been the worst in baseball through the game’s first 15 pitches. Through those first moments of the game, the Rockies rotation has posted a 4.91 ERA, hitting the absolute bottom in the category in Major League Baseball. The 1.45 WHIP ranks 27th while the 53 home runs surrendered are the sixth-most of all MLB teams. Opponents are hitting .273 during this stretch.
In pitches 16-30, it gets worse. The ERA shoots up to 6.82 (worst in MLB) even though the WHIP slightly decreases (1.40, ranking the Rockies 25th) as does the opponent’s batting average (.258).
All of this equates into a 7.70 ERA in the first inning for Colorado, easily the worst in Major League Baseball. The Baltimore Orioles rank 29th with a 6.59 ERA, more than a run better than the Rockies.
However, in pitches 31-45, it’s a completely different story. The Rockies have a 2.98 ERA (seventh-best in MLB) and their 1.10 WHIP is seventh-best in the league as well.
So why are the Rockies so bad so early? What is it about those first 30 pitches that have tripped Colorado starters up all season?
Our friend Thomas Harding of MLB.com talked about it in June with manager Bud Black and some of the Colorado starters in this article. In it, Black said that he expected to see the trend change. So why hasn’t it? More than one month after Harding’s query, I asked Black about the curse of the first 30 pitches before Monday’s game.
“We’ve addressed it in a lot of different ways, trying to solve that for sure” Black said. “On the road, we’ve gone from a bullpen mound to a game mound and all the things that go with that. It’s just something that I hope that things come back to the mean. You would think this can’t happen like it has been in these next 50 games.”
It happened again on Sunday as Jon Gray surrendered a home run to Milwaukee’s Travis Shaw on his 12th pitch of the game. It was one of very few mistakes on the day from Gray, who has a 6.00 ERA in the first inning but a 3.86 ERA in the second inning. He told me in an exclusive talk inside the Rockies clubhouse that the thought process behind the game can change from the first inning on.
“I’ve had a lot of trouble with that in the past,” Gray said of early scoring by the opponent. “There are times when I’ve had to take a different mentality, almost like I’m going to close out the first inning and then pitch after that. Sometimes that can help in some areas because you’re giving your best stuff right away and you feel more comfortable after that and you feel like you can locate better.”
Gray also said the change from pre-game to game speed is something that often doesn’t get the adjustment it should.
“I think a lot of it has to do with just not being ready to compete at pitch one. You may throw your bullpen but there’s not a hitter in there. Things aren’t really game speed until you get out there. If you can prepare yourself better for that, that’s going to give you the best chance in the first inning to not give up a crooked number.”
“Any pitch can be hit out against these lineups,” Gray continued. “Mistakes definitely don’t need to be made early on, but I think a lot of it has to do with the pitcher not getting his feel early.”