Rockies right-hander Antonio Senzatela’s simple philosophy matches the Rockies’ pitching m/o: Double plays mean less work. “I just try to get the people out in as few pitches as I can,” Senzatela said.
The Rockies went into Tuesday night leading baseball in double-play grounders induced with 19, two more than any other club. It’s one of the reasons for the club’s strong start. Senzatela and lefty Kyle Freeland were tied for sixth with three apiece. According to Stats Inc., the Mariners and Orioles were the only teams with two pitchers in the top-16.
Interestingly, the Rockies’ pitchers and their coaches and analysts also have looked at double plays not turned. It’s possible some of those can become two-for-ones when they arise in the future. The pitchers, manager Bud Black and third-base coach Stu Cole, who works with the infielders (as well as first-base coach Ron Gideon with the outfielders), review the data used in positioning. But pitchers have authority to reposition fielders based on how they’re pitching them and, in some cases, to make turning the double play or a force less awkward.
Here’s how it could work: On April 14, Freeland and the Rockies were down 4-2 in the sixth when Ian Happ stepped up the plate batting right-handed. The infield was shifted to the left, but Happ grounded an RBI single right where second baseman Brendan Rodgers would have been in a normal alignment. Freeland said he hadn’t faced Happ enough to know he would change the approach. If he sensed what would happen or knew from experience, he would have made an adjustment.
“Us being in the league for quite some time, especially in the division, we understand how we’re going to pitch certain guys,” Freeland said. “If we want to shift our infielders or a certain infielder because that’s where they’re trying to hit the baseball, or we’re trying to get them to hit it there, we have free rein to do it.”
While shifting has been so effective that Minor League Baseball is experimenting with shift adjustments, sometimes the shift creates a difficult double play.
Colorado’s 13-0 loss to Detroit on Saturday was a perfect example. In the first inning, Austin Meadows hit a slow grounder to Rodgers, who failed to turn the double play with shortstop José Iglesias, who was positioned on the second-base side of the bag. Had Iglesias been on the shortstop side, his momentum would’ve taken him toward first base, creating an easier double-play opportunity. The Rockies got one out instead of two and Rodgers made an ill-advised throw later in the inning. Senzatela ended up yielding four runs in an inning that he could have escaped scoreless.
Senzatela, who said Meadows’ grounder didn’t result in a double play because hit was hit “too soft,” said a pitcher has to be careful about moving a fielder. Being in position for a double play does no good if you’re out of position for a grounder in the first place.
“I just try to make a pitch,” Senzatela said. “When we are in a double-play situation, we look behind us and see where the fielders are, and that helps us with where to pitch. But it’s good for us to lead the league in double plays. We need that.”
The double plays are important because other than right-hander Germán Márquez, the starters are more adept at forcing grounders than striking out hitters. While working above the strike zone is in vogue throughout the game, the way the ball flies at Coors Field increases the potential for a home run even when the higher pitch is not hit solidly.