Major League Debuts and Unwritten Rules

(Photo: Doug Pensinger Getty Images)

Series Recap – June 9-12, 2014

Atlanta Braves at Colorado Rockies

The Rockies have been decimated by injuries. As so often happens in these scenarios, the minor league depth is tested, often forcing a team to call on young players who don’t necessarily instill confidence (see Wheeler, Ryan; the entire bullpen), unless you’re talking about some top prospect (more on this in the coming weeks). Well in the past week the Rockies have done something no team—not even the ghastly 2012 Rockies staff—has done since 1986: they had 3 starting pitchers who were making their MLB debuts pitch in 6 days. The first of those was Eddie Butler (for the love of all that is good and right in this world, can’t we have nice things?!) who was disappointing last Friday but clearly has the brightest future of the bunch. The other two were Triple-A guys who, coming into the year, were intriguing, but not seriously thought of as options for this rotation.

Big Debuts

While everyone was paying attention to the vaunted Tulsa Drillers rotation (RIP Daniel Winkler’s UCL), the Colorado Springs rotation was quietly impressing in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League, due in large part to Christian Bergman. There were several folks advocating for his call-up and they were proved intelligent. Bergman’s final line:

June 9 IP H R ER BB K Pitches Strikes GB/FB
Christian Bergman 6.0 6 2 2 2 4 89 59 5/15

A phenomenal debut, and more than the Rockies could have asked for or expected. Our own Scott Fults broke down the start beautifully already so I’ll be brief.  It is important to note that he had a 15/5 Flyout-to-Groundout ratio, which is not something you necessarily want to see from a Rockies pitcher. But don’t think about that: think about how awesome this lady is:

Tyler Matzek’s start gave Rockies fans everything they could have hoped and dreamed for. Twitter was awash with excitement all #Matzekkah over this kid. His final line of the evening: Fun facts, statistical lines, and impressive command.

June 11 IP H R ER BB K Pitches Strikes GB/FB
Tyler Matzek 7.0 5 5 2 0 7 81 60 7/12

But that doesn’t even tell half of the story. Matzek retired the first 13 batters he faced and the next 2 hits allowed—a liner just off Morneau’s glove and a grounder into the space vacated by Josh Rutledge covering second base—prove just how little control pitchers have over hits allowed, sometimes.  His fastball was humming around 92-96, his slider was biting, and was in complete control for most of the game.  He carried the shutout into the 8th inning—territory nary a Rockies starting pitcher hath dared explored in many moons—and left to a well-deserved standing ovation. However, the most interesting thing that came out of this start were the walks. Matzek has (famously) struggled with his command in the minors, averaging 6 walks per 9 innings—which isn’t good. Go back and look at that line up here. Here, I’ll just show you the interesting part:
June 11 Walks
Tyler Matzek ZERO

This is the first time this year that Tyler Matzek allowed zero walks in a start. What a time to do it. The reason this is so significant is because of the history Matzek has with walks.  Take a look at the following table charting the number of walks per nine innings allowed over his minor league career.

Year, League, Team, BB/9

2011, A+, Modesto Nuts, 12.5

2012, A+, Modesto Nuts, 6.0

2013, AA, Tulsa Drillers, 4.8

2014, AAA, Colorado Springs, 4.2

While 4.2 BB/9 is still not great, those numbers are definitely trending in the right direction.  So for Matzek to give up zero walks in his major league debut is very encouraging indeed.
In a season that is clearly going downhill fast and a stretch where wins are rarer than trips to the disabled list, these performances—sandwiched around a classic Coors Canaveral (aka pre-humidor-esque) 13-10 game that saw the offense score 7+ runs for the third time in a week without a win to show for it—offer us a glimmer of how to enjoy baseball.

Unwritten Rules are Stupid

These kinds of things seem to be happening a lot around baseball this year.  So instead of talking about the regression of the vaunted Atlanta staff, the second straight bounce back outing from Jhoulys Chacin, or the Rockies offense that exploded for 28 runs in 3 games, like we should be, the main story coming out of the final game of this series is the Unwritten Rule-fest of the 8th and 9th innings.

Catching is a tough position; the equipment is often called “the tools of ignorance.”  Over the course of a season, you’re bound to take some dings.  In the 8th inning, with Braves Catcher Gerald Laird behind the plate catching David Carpenter, Corey Dickerson  foul tipped a 95 mph fastball off Laird’s mask and it nearly knocked him off his feet.  He stayed in the game but two pitches later he got hit again on the backswing of Corey Dickerson.  This one seemed to actually knock him out and he was down for a few minutes before leaving the game under is own power.  See, it’s a scary job.

The Braves, however–Guardians of the Unwritten Rules as they are–decided the young outfielder needed to be taught a lesson, and so they threw at him.  Home Plate Umpire Jordan Baker immediately ejected Carpenter as the Rockies bench got hot and bothered.  It’s no secret the Rockies have been fighting injuries this year and so to intentionally throw at someone is completely asinine.  Fortunately, manager Walt Weiss–who showed some Hulk-like emotion for the first time in my memory–stepped in and helped prevent Dickerson from getting tossed, and got run for his trouble.  For good measure, Nick Masset hit Braves replacement catcher Evan Gattis with a pitch in the top of the ninth and, since both benches were warned, got ejected himself (Tommy Runnells, filling in for Weiss, was thrown out as well, which is kind of funny to me for some reason).

Walt Smash (Photo: David Zalubowski, AP)

Walt Smash (Photo: David Zalubowski, AP)

Look, this whole thing is dumb.  Part of the reason it is dumb is because the “unwritten rules” seem to apply differently to every team (for more on this, check out former major league reliever Dick Hayhurst on the subject–profanity warning), so the Braves took it upon themselves–or Carpenter took it upon himself–to “teach this young punk a lesson.”  There’s been too much of this already in baseball this year and, personally, I’m hoping this creates enough of a conversation that they start talking about it in the clubhouse and end all this posturing before someone gets hurt.

Looking Ahead

Colorado Rockies Record: 31-35

Games Behind, NL West: 11.5

Games Behind, NL Wild Card 2: 3.5

Run Differential: +12

ESPN Playoff Odds: 18.0% (down 1.2% from Monday)

Games Left: 96

Next Series: 3 games @ San Fransisco (43-24, First in NL West)

If you take out the stupidity from the end of the final game, this was a very solid and very encouraging series for the Rockies.  They showed some signs of life by coming back and scoring 10 runs after being down 7 before they came to bat on Tuesday.  They had two pitchers make their major league debuts and confound the potent feast-or-famine offense of the Atlanta Braves.  The slumping offense broke out for 29 runs in the 4 games against a pitching staff that has been carrying this Braves club.  Other than a few (okay, a lot) different names, the play from the Rockies more closely resembles what we saw in April than what we’ve seen for the past month.  It’s not over yet, folks.

About Adam Peterson

Born and raised in Denver, I stopped playing baseball in high school due to a lack of what some would call “talent,” but then my passion for the game, and the Rockies, only grew. I went to the University of Colorado at Boulder to study Civil Engineering, where I picked up a minor in Applied Statistics. After college I took a job in suburban Memphis, over 1,100 miles away from Coors Field. While my Rockies-loving wife and I enjoy spending time out and about in Memphis, any free time spent not doing something baseball-related is a rare moment indeed.
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