There have been some common traits among the best Colorado Rockies teams over the past three decades. First and foremost, at least to everyday observers, has been a prolific offense. The Blake Street Bombers, the Todd Helton/Matt Holiday/Troy Tulowitzki World Series run, and finally Nolan, Charlie, DJ, Trevor and the first group to make the post season in consecutive seasons.
The second common denominator has been outstanding defense. The 2007 Rockies set an all-time record for best fielding percentage. If you think that doesn’t matter…well then, you’ve obviously never set foot on a pitchers mound.
A third, and often overlooked trait has been stellar relief pitching. The 1995 playoff team had a great – if not overworked bullpen – and so did the World Series team of 2007. That team had starters like Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis and others, but when push came to shove it was the relief pitching that held things together.
And as we’ve seen over the past decade or so, the role of the starting pitcher all across MLB has been diminished. You can count on two hands the big league starting pitchers that are asked to pitch more than five or six innings on a regular basis.
We used to call it “Five and Dive” when a starter departed after barely recording enough outs to qualify for the win. In essence, if you only went five innings, then you were counting on the ‘pen to pitch about half the game. That worm turned in a hurry. By the time the Kansas City Royals were winning the 2015 World Series, the idea of a starting pitching just six innings, followed by a seventh inning guy, an eighth inning guy, and a closer had taken root. It’s been like that – and worse – since.
This year’s Rockies are thin in the starting rotation. Kyle Freeland and German Marquez will be counted on to lead a rotation that will also likely include lefty Austin Gomber, trying to rebound from a poor 2022, second year righthander Ryan Feltner, looking for consistency, and veteran journeyman José Ureña. Antonio Senzatela may be back from a leg injury for the second half of the season.
This doesn’t exactly conjure up thoughts of the 1971 Baltimore Orioles. (Google it.)
On the other hand, the Rockies bullpen figures to feature the following group of better than average righthanders, including Justin Lawrence, Jake Bird, Tyler Kinley (when he comes back from injury mid season), newly acquired Pierce Johnson and closer Daniel Bard. Add lefthanders Brett Sutter and Lucas Gilbreath to that group and you’d think holding a lead after the fifth inning would be doable more times than not.
Could the strategy going into this season be to limit the number of innings the starters are asked to pitch and relying instead on what should be an above average bullpen?
Might be the best strategy, actually.
A few years back when Freeland and Marquez had Jon Gray, a healthy Senzatela plus Chad Bettis and Tyler Anderson contributing as well, starting pitching was seen as a strength – perhaps the strength of that postseason team. And even though everyone outside of Colorado thinks it’s all about the offense here, aside from Arenado, Blackmon and couple of others, the Rockies offense was just okay that season. Pitching and defense got them to the playoffs.
Unless – or even if – this year’s team returns to bashing the ball all over Coors Field, the pitching part of the “pitching and defense” formula will likely be a standout bullpen instead.