Whenever a team has terrible starting pitching sooner or later someone will write a column on how they should start the game with their closer on the mound to let the game settle into its groove, and then bring in a pitcher designed to go three or four innings. It is one theory on how to solve the issue of bad starting pitching. Most starting pitchers are bad because they give up runs when facing a line-up for a second or third time.
The Rockies weren’t getting good starting pitching and their starters weren’t going deep into games, so they did something equally as radical as starting the game with a closer. The Rockies ended their struggles to find a fifth starter by going to a four man rotation and then capping the starter at 75 pitches. In order to have this work and then still effectively use a bullpen that has been one of the best in baseball the Rockies have a second pitcher also on a rotation who will come in after the starter and throw 50 pitches. It is an odd experiment, but the Rockies weren’t winning the in the conventional manner which put them in the perfect position to do something radical.
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In 1992 the league average K/9 was 5.6, in 2002 it was 6.4, and in 2012 so far it is 7.5. That is an increase of almost two strikeouts a game over a 20 year span, and the big thing is offensive output hasn’t changed much. In 1992 a league average team scored 4.12 runs a game and in 2012 the league average runs per game is 4.30. It is a slight increase in offense but not that much.
It is expected that in 20 years time the game would change somewhat and fluctuate a bit. In order to understand the increase in strikeouts there are two important factors. The first might be that nearly every team has a rotation that is multiple pitchers deep and the back end of bullpens are better and better used than ever. Nearly every team has that bullpen Ace they can call on to get a much needed strikeout late in the game, and for batters the strikeout has become just another way of making an out with the reward of a big swing much greater than the risk.
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My freshman year of high school I was a very different person. I was aware of baseball as a sport but had no team to follow and even though I did try to follow Baltimore for a bit I found it impossible as I could make no emotional connection to that city. As a freshman in high school I had not yet found my joy for baseball but because of an assignment in my freshman drama class I was about to be exposed to a bit of Washington baseball history.
I don’t remember if I knew at the time that Washington DC had once had a baseball franchise or if this was the first time I had heard about it, but this assignment was to watch a play and review it. When I told my father of this he saw it as an opportunity for a good family outing and looked to see what was playing at the Kennedy Center. It just so happened that soon a production of Damn Yankees staring Jerry Lewis as Mr. Applegate was on the docket.
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This past Sunday Tom Gorzelanny recorded a win in relief. Now we all know that wins are the best way to judge how a pitcher is pitching so now let us recount exactly how Tom Gorzelanny was pitching. Tom Gorzelanny was in this game mainly to face the two powerful left handers in the Red Sox line-up in Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz. His strategy was simple. He would lull them into a false sense of security and then get them out. It worked on Gonzalez as he fell behind 3-0 and then Gonzalez was so shocked to get three strikes in a row that he popped the last one up.
Against Ortiz the strategy may have worked as Gorzo once again fell behind 3-0 missing wildly but Ortiz was able to hit a single off of Gorzo. Of course this may not have been a single if the fielders had been as smart as Gorzo and been able to know exactly where his pitch was going to be hit. Against Saltalamacchia, Gorzelanny decided on a new strategy. After having seen him missing all over the place against the first two batters Gorzo knew that Salty would be expecting him to be wild to him, but this was not the case as Gorzo got ahead and then struck out the confused Saltalamacchia on a 1-2 pitch.
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It was labeled as the must watch game of the evening. It was Bryce Harper’s first game in one of the oldest and proudest baseball cities on the east coast, and all he did was go 3-5 with a double and a homer. In other words Bryce Harper inhaled the pressure and put on a display the likes of which won’t soon be forgotten.
This is Harper’s reputation. All throughout his life he has been the one who wants to play on the biggest stage and have the bat in his hands with the game on the line. Harper doesn’t want to avoid the spotlight or the pressure of being a major league baseball player he embraces it and relishes the attention that surrounds him. With a chance last evening in front of a large media contention and the eyes of national media turned on this series Harper delivered what may be his best performance to date.
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It hasn’t happened yet for me this season. There have been chances. Lidge twice in games I was at blew the lead and not the game, but the Nats were not able to come back in the bottom of that inning to win it. Both of Lidge’s blown saves ended up being vulture wins, and when Henry Rodriguez has blown saves for the Nationals he has also blown the game and it has been on the road.
In Tuesday night’s twelve inning affair against the Mets Stammen blew a save but then was removed and not allowed to finish the inning and the Nationals weren’t able to come all the way back in the bottom of that inning either. Tuesday was a strange game and there is a large part of me the relishes in the stranger aspects of baseball and as time goes on I will appreciate having been at that game a little more. For now though I have a hunger to witness a blown save, win in person. It has been far too long and the Nats strong starting staff and resurgent offense is denying me the opportunity.
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