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February 1, 1999

Pitcher Usage and Result Patterns: Colorado Rockies

Focus on 1998 Rockies starting pitching

by Jeff Bower and Christina Kahrl

When half of your team's schedule is played in a ballpark that increases run production by fifty percent, the manager has to be able to adjust his thinking to account for that distortion. As the Colorado Rockies' manager since their inception, Don Baylor has been the only man who has had to operate within this skewed reality on a daily basis. This altitude-induced twisting of the truth shows up in the data for their starting pitchers. For example, at first blush, their quality start percentage of 40% seems unacceptably poor, and certainly ranked near the bottom of the league. However, breaking that number into a home/road split, we find that the percentage of quality starts was 49% on the road and 30% at Coors Field. Figures like this further reinforce the idea that the 1998 Rockies sunk to the depths of the National League West primarily because of their inability
1998 Overall Pitcher Use Patterns
Days rest -> 2 3 4 5 6+ Totals
Starts 1 3 107 36 15 162
QS 0 0 46 12 6 64
%QS .00 .00 .43 .33 .40 .40
BQS 0 0 7 1 2 10
%QS+BQS .00 .00 .50 .36 .53 .46
Avg # pitches 47 74 98 97 92 97
to score runs, not prevent them. So how did Baylor manipulate this underrated staff, and what can new manager Jim Leyland learn from the man who survived six years in the harsh pitching environment of Planets Coors? Let's examine Baylor's tendencies starter by starter:
  • Marquee free agent Darryl Kile left the pitcher's haven of the Astrodome and signed with Colorado during the off-season. Baylor put him on display often, as Kile's 35 starts tied for the league lead--heck, Baylor even used him once as a reliever. He was regularly moved up in the rotation in place of an injured or struggling teammate when an off-day presented the chance. Kile is still not economical with his pitches, and on six occasions Baylor allowed him to exceed the 125-pitch mark. But it wasn't Baylor's heavy usage that caused Kile to resurrect memories of Brian Kingman--it was Coors Field. Kile posted an excellent 72% QS+BQS on the road versus 35% in Denver.

  • Pedro Astacio pitched very well after joining the Mile High Club in mid-August 1997 after a trade from the Dodgers, which led to high expectations for 1998. Those expectations came crashing down when Astacio had only one quality start in his first eleven trips to the mound. Baylor used him in the same way that he used Kile, which enabled Astacio to toss nearly 210 innings despite his ineffectiveness. Although Astacio had the misfortune of making 19 of his 34 starts at home, this doesn't help to explain his poor campaign. He was equally unproductive home and away (42% QS+BQS at Coors, 40% on the road).

  • Despite being only 23 years old, 1998 was Jamey Wright's third season in a Rockies uniform. As in his previous seasons, Wright was plagued by inconsistency. He was most successful when working on four days' rest (52% QS+BQS), which may have encouraged Baylor to use him more than he should have. Wright was even chosen (along with Kile) to work on three days rest while Baylor mulled over bringing somebody up from the minors to replace the disabled John Thomson. While Baylor should be commended for keeping Wright's pitch counts lower than those of his veteran starters, Wright still finished the year with over 200 innings pitched--too many for such a young arm.

  • John Thomson was arguably the Rockies most effective starter in 1998. Of course, he benefited from having 15 of his 26 starts closer to sea level, where he threw 9 of his quality starts. The 24-year-old redhead was especially sharp in the middle of the season--from late May through mid-August he had 9 QS in 11 outings despite missing nearly six weeks with a finger blister. As with Wright, Baylor generally kept Thomson's pitch counts low. However, unlike Wright, Thomson was never moved from his slot in the five-man rotation because of off-days. Baylor monitored him carefully, as evidenced by his zero blown quality starts.

Baylor gave the first two opportunities at the five-spot in the Rockies' rotation to a couple of guys with a dangerous combination--historically weak peripheral numbers and recent shoulder surgeries. Mark Thompson opened the season following rotator cuff surgery in 1997. He admitted that his shoulder was still weak after not logging a quality start in his first six tries. The weakness was eventually diagnosed as a partially torn shoulder muscle, ending his season. Fear not, riding to the rescue was Colorado's all-time leading winner, Kevin Ritz--fresh off of surgery for a torn labrum. Baylor apparently didn't notice the 13-0 shellacking that Ritz suffered in his last rehab start in Triple-A. Ritz was pathetic in two outings before also complaining of shoulder weakness, which finished his year. Now 34 years old, Ritz' best chance of getting back on a major league mound is a door-to-door sales position in suburban Seattle.

Desperate for a fifth starter, Baylor turned to chronically wild southpaw Bobby Jones (that's Bobby M. Jones), who began the season as the twelfth man in the bullpen. Jones found the plate often enough to earn 3 QS+BQS in his first three attempts, thereby solving Baylor's pitching dilemma. Before his season ended with a sprained knee in mid-September, Jones was the surprise of the Rockies staff, finishing with 55% QS+BQS (including 8 of 9 on the road). Perhaps Baylor should have watched him more closely, as Jones weakened in the late innings and led the team with four BQS.

Both Mike Saipe and Mark Brownson logged a couple of starts with the Rox while Thomson was on the DL. Each had one quality start (Brownson's was a complete game shutout over the Astros) before being shipped back to Colorado Springs when off days enabled Baylor to skip the fifth starter's spot. Although neither had much Triple-A experience prior to 1998, seasoning shouldn't be used as an excuse as to why Baylor didn't give one or both a longer look later in the year. The D-backs weren't exactly threatening the Rockies stranglehold on fourth place.

The Rockies rotation made 111 starts on four or fewer days' rest--the highest total of any team looked at so far. The core starters (Kile, Astacio and Wright) primarily shouldered the burden, as they were consistently shifted up in the rotation when the schedule permitted. Baylor tried to reconcile this by generally keeping pitch counts reasonable and by pulling his starters when they showed fatigue--10 BQS doesn't seem like a bad number for a team based on Planet Coors. It was discouraging that Baylor didn't attempt to plug-in any of his minor league moundsmen towards the end of the campaign, but he may have been engaging in a vain attempt to save his job. Free agent pitchers are beginning to use Colorado as nothing more than a bargaining chip at the negotiating table due to prior disappointments in Coors (Swift, Saberhagen, Kile). The reality is that pitching at 5000 feet isn't a great career move, so the development of young arms takes on extra importance in the Rockies' organization. Advice for Jim Leyland: (insert Santana soundtrack) "You've got to change your evil ways."

Kile               Days rest                 Thomson            Days rest
                     3    4    5   Totals                         4    5   6+   Totals
Starts               1   26    8       35    Starts              16    6    4       26
QS                   0   12    5       17    QS                  10    1    3       14
%QS                .00  .46  .63      .49    %QS                .63  .17  .75      .54
BQS                  0    2    0        2    BQS                  0    0    0        0
%QS+BQS            .00  .54  .63      .54    %QS+BQS            .63  .17  .75      .54
Avg # pitches       66  106  101      104    Avg # pitches       92   94   99       94

Astacio            Days rest                 Wright             Days rest
                3    4    5   6+   Totals                    3    4    5   6+   Totals
Starts          1   24    8    1       34    Starts          1   23    8    2       34
QS              0    7    3    1       11    QS              0   11    2    0       13
%QS           .00  .29  .38 1.00      .32    %QS           .00  .48  .25  .00      .38
BQS             0    3    0    0        3    BQS             0    1    0    0        1
%QS+BQS       .00  .42  .38 1.00      .41    %QS+BQS       .00  .52  .25  .00      .41
Avg # pitches  89  100  103  110      100    Avg # pitches  68   98   89   85       94

Jones              Days rest                 Thompson           Days rest
                     4    5   6+   Totals                         4    5   6+   Totals
Starts              12    3    5       20    Starts               4    0    2        6
QS                   5    0    2        7    QS                   0    0    0        0
%QS                .42  .00  .40      .35    %QS                .00  .00  .00      .00
BQS                  1    1    2        4    BQS                  0    0    0        0
%QS+BQS            .50  .33  .80      .55    %QS+BQS            .00  .00  .00      .00
Avg # pitches       99   99   96       98    Avg # pitches       71    0   69       70

Ritz               Days rest                 Saipe              Days rest
                     4    5   6+   Totals                              5   6+   Totals
Starts               1    0    1        2    Starts                    2    0        2
QS                   0    0    0        0    QS                        1    0        1
%QS                .00  .00  .00      .00    %QS                     .50  .00      .50
BQS                  0    0    0        0    BQS                       0    0        0
%QS+BQS            .00  .00  .00      .00    %QS+BQS                 .50  .00      .50
Avg # pitches       70    0   95       83    Avg # pitches            92    0       92

Brownson           Days rest                 DeJean             Days rest
                     4    5   6+   Totals                    2    3    4    5   Totals
Starts               1    1    0        2    Starts          1    0    0    0        1
QS                   1    0    0        1    QS              0    0    0    0        0
%QS               1.00  .00  .00      .50    %QS           .00  .00  .00  .00      .00
BQS                  0    0    0        0    BQS             0    0    0    0        0
%QS+BQS           1.00  .00  .00      .50    %QS+BQS       .00  .00  .00  .00      .00
Avg # pitches      100   85    0       93    Avg # pitches  47    0    0    0       47

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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