The long winter of staying cozy and warm by the fireplace has long at last come to an end. Our purple-laden dreams have faded into reality. Jeff Bridich through his quiet off-season work bluntly showed, to the dismay of the rabid Rox fans, that there will be no nuclear rebuild.
Instead the Rockies have determined that using any good pitcher pitch at altitude is not the answer as shown in the franchise’s 23-year history. Bridich determined that the quality of non-fastball pitches deteriates significantly one mile above sea level. But the quality of the FBs are still the same at any altitude. He also figured that there will always be extra base runners due to the vastness of Coors Field from mishit balls that land somewhere safe. To compensate for that, he wanted pitchers with great control which is measured in the BB/9 stat to lighten up traffic on the base paths. So he cleaned house of pitchers that walk too many batters and started collecting pitchers with great FBs.
Bridich let John Axford and Rex Brothers walk for an obvious reason (BB/9 too high). I did a quick research and saw what Bridich has been doing since he became the general manager of the Rockies. He has not only been collecting pitchers with good velocity (95+ MPH), but with great FB grades. All the prospective pitchers he drafted or traded for all had FB grades of 60 or better. (50 = average, 60 = above average, 70-80 well above average; the grade goes from 20-80) Jairo Diaz had the best FB grade at 80. Others with well above average FBs were Jon Gray(70), Miguel Castro(70), and Carlos Estevez(70). The long list of Rockies prospects with 60 or 65 grades include Jeff Hoffman, Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, Sam Moll, Jesus Tinoco, Mike Nikorak, Antonio Senzatela, Peter Lambert, and Ryan Castellani.
Jake McGee, who the Rockies acquired in the Corey Dickerson trade, throws FB about 90% of the time and he is still successful at the top level. I’m a big believer of pitchers with low BB/9 rates. My acceptable stat is less than 3.0 BB/9 which is required to pitch at altitude to compensate for mishit base hits. The two off-season acquisitions, Jason Motte and Chad Qualls, have very low BB/9 rates. I should note that Justin Miller (2.97 BB/9) and Christian Bergman (1.98 BB/9) stayed up at the top level most of the season in 2015 because they won’t beat themselves. I also to a smaller extent consider WHIP a important stat since it shows the capability to strike out the batters and keep free passes to a minimum at Coors Field. (Ks take away the chance of mishit balls falling safely in the vast Coors Field.) If we go by the stats that I consider important (FB grade, BB/9, and WHIP) Jairo Diaz has a chance to be a very good pitcher at altitude. He had 1.16 WHIP and 2.84 BB/9 to go along with his 80-grade fastball.
I purchased the 2016 Baseball Prospectus book and I read about Tampa Bay’s model. Tampa Bay is a smaller market with cheap owner similar to the Rockies. Remember the Rockies’ 75-pitch limit experiment for all starting pitchers? The idea was good in concept but it was attempted in the middle of the season in which Dan O’Dowd admitted was a bad idea to try mid-season. We are far away from the Tampa market that we are probably unaware of Tampa Bay using almost the same model as the Rockies’ failed experiment. If Baseball Prospectus is close to being accurate, their model is quite simple. Starting pitchers often are limited to two or three times through the lineup so the hitters cannot adjust to the starter. Then Tampa will empty the bullpen as needed while not afraid to be shuttling relief pitchers between the MLB and AAA to keep the bullpen fresh.
The Rockies’ coaches and front office will be wise to listen to Jason Motte’s advice at the RockieFest. He said closing is overrated as most, if not all seamheads, know. Motte added that the most important pitcher is one who can come in at any point of the game (in earlier innings) to snuff out a big rally by the opponent.
If the Rockies think like me and the offense as measured by the “lift factor” are going to be bad, the Rockies will be wise to go to 13-man pitching staff and follow Tampa Bay’s model in some form without explicitly saying, “75 pitch limit” and keep five-man rotation. If Bergman with his 1.98 BB/9 breaks camp and go north, it might be a hint that the good guys are trending toward the Rays’ model of pitching in a small market.
If you are a Rockies fan that drinks purple Kool-Aid and wear purple shades like me, save yourself the frustration of a long summer. I have adjusted the way I watch the Rockies play in 2016 to avoid the build-up of frustration. Expect the Rockies to win between 63-72 games. Stay focused on the future as the pipeline of prospects are getting closer to knocking the doors down. Real sports fans know that pitching (or defense) are always consistent and will win games more often than not. See Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ Super Bowl game – all defense and just enough offense. 2016 will be the year Bridich experiments with his own version of pitching at altitude template. As a real baseball fan who is not into the waves at the stadium, I would enjoy 100 4-3 losses far more than 10-2 losses. I ask for only one improvement over last year; we had far too many games where we start off behind 3-0 and it’s no fun playing catchup. So just stay within one or two runs the entire game. One run is easy to overcome for a bad offense; walk, stolen base, and a RBI base hit ties the game just like that.
I will be down in the Phoenix area from March 5th until March 12th. I plan to see the games from the 6th thru the 11th. Since the NRI list was announced, I have been looking forward to next week since I will see close up on how the prospects are progressing, especially the pitchers. The players I will watch closely are from the Purp 30 list that Purple Row polled recently. I will pay close attention to the pitchers as I should assume that we may lose three or four SPs and a couple of BP arms over the long summer. So we need 10 SPs ready and 5 BP arms ready to arrive at Coors on a moment’s notice. I’m hoping to see Marquez, Matzek, Butler, T. Anderson, Freeland, and Hoffman pitch in the Cactus League games. Special attention will given to Ryan McMahon as he is fast-tracking to the majors with his bat but he’s being blocked by Nolan Arenado at 3B. So McMahon will get a lot of work in at 1B to keep the path to the majors clear for him. Another factor is Tyler Nevin might be moving up and could be blocked by McMahon at AA. Moving McMahon will keep the trail clear for Nevin. Dom Nunez is a NRI and I would like to see him do well so we can have two shots (with Tom Murphy) to hit the jackpot at catcher.
I will consider the Rockies’ season a success if we have a staff ERA of 4.30 or better and a staff BB/9 of better than 3.25. Even if we go 0-162 but we meet the two goals we have a real future pitching at altitude. Play ball!