Can the Orioles learn from the Rockies?

June 28, 2012 | James Finn

Sports is a world of copycats.  Success is often followed by competitors trying to emulate your formula for success.  2008, when Ronnie Brown and the Dolphins found success with the “Wildcat” offense, 31 other NFL teams were trying to figure out a way to work that into their plan.  Tony LaRussa is credited for creating the 9th inning “Closer” role, now standard for all teams.  Even with R.A.Dickey’s success with the knuckle-ball, I’ll bet dimes to dollars there is a former pitcher in his mid-40’s trying to learn that pitch, to maybe return to the league to collect his 300th win (I’m looking at you, Mussina). Imagine Basketball without a fast-break offense, Football without the Forward Pass. Tthe Mighty Ducks without the Flying V.  Maybe I’m getting carried away.

Truth be told, everyone is looking for something that works.  Those willing to be the scapegoat for something new toe the line of risk/reward.  And ultimately, if your new way works, expect someone else to steal your method for their own gain.

The Orioles and Rockies have a direct connection this season.  They traded away veteran hurler, and all around good guy, Jeremy Guthrie for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom.  Then, earlier this month, acquired former Oriole Jamie Moyer after the Rockies put him on waivers.  The birds seem to be the winners in the trade, as Guthrie’s struggles have relegated him to the bullpen, while Hammel, despite last nights outing, has been a standout in the rotation, and Lindstron, prior to injury, had a microscopic 1.29 ERA out of the bullpen (he was reactivated yesterday afternoon). Moyer, after a trio of starts at Norfolk, was released, as there wasn’t room on the 25 man roster for him.

Perhaps the Orioles, and every team for that matter, should look a little closer at what the Colorado is doing with their pitching staff.

The Rockies have begun an experiment where they are working with a 4-man starting rotation. Granted, a 4-man rotation is not something new, as it was the standard will about the 1980’s. But their approach to carrying 4 starting pitchers is unique,  where each starter would be held to a strict 75 pitch count, after which, they would rely heavily on the Bullpen.  When they made this move on June 19th, the Starters were 3-30 with a 6.28 ERA, compared to the bullpen, with a 12-10 record , 4.00 ERA.

The execution behind this radical idea is that with the limited pitch count, the starter would have reduced wear-and-tear, and be able to go every 4th day.  Guthrie, always know as a pitcher who can eat a lot of innings, alongside Guillermo Moscoso, would come in for long-relief stints, keeping short relievers fresh.  The Rockies are 3-6 since announcing this change, and while it’s too soon to see the long term effects, you have to commend them for trying to salvage their season.

The Orioles, however, are statistically the best bullpen in baseball.  Johnson is unstoppable, Strop is a future big-name closer, and situational relievers O’day, Ayala, and whatever other moving pieces come in and out of the pen have just worked.  Rick Adair has done a stand-out job managing his boys this season. Our staring pitching, however, has been laughable at times. 3 of our starting pitchers from this season have ERAs in the bottom 5 of the AL.  With only 2 of our starters (Hammel and Chen) being consistently effective, maybe it’s time for Buck to think outside the box.

Should this method work, we could see Chen and Hammel take the bump every 50% of the time.  Sooner then later, we could have a healthy Zach Britton promoted to the 25-man roster. Arietta and Matusz have shown they can be effective early in games, but as picth counts escelate, the crumble quickly. Theoretically, a 75 pitch count should take a starter to the 5th inning, as 15 pitches per inning is optimal, 4 innings of relief is about on par with how our pitchers have worked this season.

Granted, the long term effects of this could be catastrophic.  Damaging our young arms with an untested experiment would not be a popular decision around town.  And all it could take is another Extra Inning game to throw everything out of whack. But what if it works?  What if all that thin air in Colorado cleared their minds, and allowed them to see the next evolution in the way pitching is done in the big leagues, and we jumped on the bandwagon too late. This could fail miserably, or, could be the greatest thing since the “Flying V”.

What are your thoughts?