|Rockies' Experimenting is Good for the Game.||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on August 29, 2012
But the game evolves. That’s why the Rockies experimenting with their pitching is a good thing. Of course not all experiments work, but when they do they can change the world and create a new paradigm for the game.
Photo by Chelsea Nesvig, used under creative commons license.
Being an innovator is hard work and challenging the orthodoxy of the game is often mocked. How many folks laughed and derided Billy Beane and the A’s when they tried the system that has become known as Moneyball?
Moneyball worked. Because of that there is no team in the game today that doesn’t crunch numbers and look at statistical analysis. Beane largely relied on finding on-field market inefficiencies when it came to hitting and fielding and used and maximized the use of statistically favorable plays to create teams that were contenders for an organization that had little money and few resources.
It changed the face of the game today. So did the invention of the closer, the set up man, the DH and so many other things. That’s why the Rockies should be applauded for plan 5183, named after the altitude of the playing field at Coors, instead of excoriated by writers like Steve Henson over at Yahoo. After all they were a team with a dearth of talent in certain positions and have tried to do for pitching what Moneyball did for offensive team-building.
Maybe the experiment really is a failure or maybe the Rockies just don’t have the right talent to make the system work, but they had nothing to lose by trying. Clearly by May the front office understood that this wasn’t a playoff team. And while the dynamics of Coors Field are different from anywhere else, finding a way to exploit the inefficiencies of the pitching market could transform any team for a number of years.
In this case, the impetus might well be the high cost of premium arms in the Majors today. When top pitchers are commanding in the neighborhood of $20 million per year, most small market teams simply can’t afford one as a free agent or afford to keep one should they develop one.
The Rockies tried to find a way around that. Hardly something worthy of scorn, if they succeeded they would have transformed the game.
Every single one of us has seen that pitcher who can throw brilliantly the first five or so innings and who can be counted on to blow up sometime just after that. The Rockies thought they had found an inefficiency in those guys most teams in baseball would dismiss as an innings eaters or mediocre starter because of that fifth or sixth inning.
System 5183 was designed to take advantage of the excellent prior innings and to remove the pitcher before he reached that fateful inning where things traditionally went to hell. The concept was to use a bridge pitcher, an upper tier middle reliever to transition the game to the guys who’d finish the game.
In theory, no pitcher would throw a lot of innings; in theory instead, of needing just to work every five days -- or every two or three in the case of a middle reliever -- you’d have better rested starters and a mechanism which could generate the equivalent of a quality start from a small group of pitchers time after time.
For the Rockies, the system didn’t work. That’s not to say that it couldn’t and that with the right group of pitcher it wouldn’t. In this case a bad team tried an experiment. Had it worked it would have turned baseball on its ear and created a new and affordable blueprint for small market pitching for the next decade.
Bravo for trying. It’s still an interesting system. Maybe with a little luck it will work another day.