It's Not Math Class; Don't Get Caught up in Spring Numbers
The numbers don’t add up, but nobody is panicking.
The Rockies are confident that they will have a strong rotation again in 2018, confident that the young arms that were so critical to them claiming an NL wild-card spot last year won’t merely repeat the efforts of 2017 but will improve.
Spring training results be dammed.
A year ago, there was a microscopic evaluation of the four rookies who eventually stepped up and filled key roles for the Rockies. They were basically unknowns at the big-league level, and when camp opened the Rockies were thinking that one, maybe two, would be promoted to the big-league staff.
By mid-season all four rookies had arrived and had an impact, combining to start 93 of the Rockies 162 regular-season games and to win 48 games, the fourth highest total for rookies in a big-league rotation since at least 1913, which is as far back as the Stats, Inc., data base goes. They were among eight starts the Rockies used all season, equaling the fewest in franchise history.
Nothing has changed in the expectations this year – other than they are a little higher considering the experience from a year ago and the desire to get past the wild-card play-in game that marked the end of their season a year ago.
Plenty, however, has changed in the approach to spring training.
This time it isn’t about whether the Rockies feel the likes of Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela and German Marquez can join with the “veterans” of the Rockies kiddie corps in which Chad Bettis, who will pitch at the age of 29, is the elder statesman.
This is about what will transpire to make each of them better at the big-league level.
“They are a year older, a year more mature,” said manager Bud Black. “Anytime you can add things to a talent pool it is going to be a plus. They will try things you might now see in a big-league game, but they need to do it down here.
“They need the repetition of spring training to get that comfort level to take these things forward. You are looking for quick adjustments, quick learning.”
This time it is about looking for ways to help every member of the rotation get better. That means some hard knocks in the process when the pitcher takes the mound in a spring training game working on a new pitch or change in mechanics.
“For the most part the things we talk about are improving their game consciousness,” said. “When you see the results, you might not be sure, but you are pleased with the instruction. The relationships have created a high degree of trust. You have to have that to get players to buy in.”
That’s why the fact the seven players who arrived in spring training in the running for the five spots in the rotation combined in the first 22 games for a 6.46 ERA has created a sense of concern for the Rockies.
Not even the fact Jeff Hoffman has been sidelined by some shoulder tenderness and won’t be ready to be on the Opening Day roster has the Rockies overly concerned. They have been assured the shoulder problem is minimal, and besides they still have six pitchers with a decent track record to chose from in filling out the five-man rotation.
“Hoffman is playing catch today,” said Black. “We want to be sure the shoulder had clamed down (before taking the next step). He didn’t pick up a ball for a week, 10 days, to allow the swelling to go down.
“He is going to do things on a measured basis, so his body is ready to go.”
Black knows, after all, that while Hoffman won’t be ready to pitch on Opening Day there will be a time during the 2018 season where the Rockies will need help and they see him as someone who can provide that help in the rotation.
Consider the Rockies equaled a franchise record in 2017 when they used only eight pitchers to fill out the five-man rotation over the course of the season. They also used only eight in 2010, and used nine starting pitchers in 1999, their only other season in single digits.
By contrast they used 15 pitchers in both 1993, the first year of the franchise, and 2014. In 1994, when a mid-August strike limited the Rockies to 117 games they still used 11 starting pitchers, and the next year, when the strike forced a late start and limited the season to 144 games the Rockies had 12 different pitchers start.
“We know in our sport with 162 (regular season) games there are going to be changes in the roster,” said Black.
It comes with the territory.