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Rox foster fastball-first approach in rotation

MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

DENVER -- Not that Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster has been swayed the least, but watching the breaking ball star this postseason has kept him entertained.

Foster admired how Mickey Callaway's emphasis on the breaking ball as the Indians' pitching coach led to his being hired to manage the Mets. Foster marveled as Lance McCullers Jr. put the Astros in the World Series by baffling the Yankees with 24 straight curveballs to end the American League Championship Series.

DENVER -- Not that Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster has been swayed the least, but watching the breaking ball star this postseason has kept him entertained.

Foster admired how Mickey Callaway's emphasis on the breaking ball as the Indians' pitching coach led to his being hired to manage the Mets. Foster marveled as Lance McCullers Jr. put the Astros in the World Series by baffling the Yankees with 24 straight curveballs to end the American League Championship Series.

Yet, Foster leads a young, power-based Rockies pitching staff that threw the prime power pitch, the four-seam fastball, harder than all but two teams this season. Colorado's starting rotation threw it more frequently than all but one team and the most of a team that participated in the postseason.

Part of it is the youth of the rotation and part of it is Coors Field, where breaking balls can be unpredictable. But the biggest part is, well, it's what the Rockies do.

After making an unexpected trip to the postseason using four rookie starters and no one older than 28, Colorado hungers to throw the heater.

"We have a different philosophy than the Houston Astros," Foster said. "We have a different philosophy than the Cleveland Indians. We have a plan just as they do. We believe in seeing the plan through. Be willing to die for it. In other words, be willing to lose.

"If you have a plan, you're going to be more successful than not. That's what I believe. That's what we believe."

Video: NL WC: Gray whiffs Mathis to end the 1st inning

The numbers, according to Statcast™, back that belief.

The Rockies' starters and relievers averaged 94.3 mph on the four-seamer this season. Considering five of the top eight teams in velocity participated in the postseason, it's clear that velocity plays in the Majors. And the Rockies loved working it.

For example:

• Rockies starters averaged 94.2 mph on the four-seamer this season, second in the Majors to the Pirates' 94.5. The next hardest-throwing postseason rotations belonged to the Nationals and Indians, tied for seventh at 93.1.

• The biggest difference between the Rockies and other clubs is how often Colorado used the four-seamer, leading the Majors at 47.5 percent of the time, well above the 33.5-percent Major League average. The postseason qualifiers with the next-highest four-seam frequency among starters were the D-backs and Red Sox, tied for eighth at 37 percent.

• At home, Rockies starters used the four-seamer a whopping 51.8 percent. The Rays were a distant second at 46.9 percent.

Individually, among those who threw 1,000 or more pitches as starters, the Rockies had the top two in the Majors in four-seamer frequency -- right-handers Antonio Senzatela at 72.5 percent and Jeff Hoffman at 66.1. Righties Jon Gray and German Marquez were 19th (54.3) and 31st (51.3), respectively, and lefty Tyler Anderson was 56th (42.3).

Video: Harding discusses Gray's performance in 2017

Lefty Kyle Freeland seems the outlier at 25.7 percent. However, add in the 35.7 percent use of his two-seam fastball, which depends on sink more than velocity, and his overall fastball frequency is 61.4 percent.

"Your personnel dictates what you do," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "And this particular season, we had a lot of younger pitchers in the rotation who have good arms and have velocity, and their strategy is centered on the fastball."

Neither the personnel nor the strategy are accidental.

After the 2014 season, Jeff Bridich -- who had just completed his first season as general manager -- hosted director of pitching operations Mark Wiley, Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster and bullpen coach Darren Holmes, vice president of scouting Bill Schmidt, player development director Zach Wilson, and Darryl Scott and Doug Linton (now operating pitching coordinators) for a pitching summit at Coors Field.

The result was putting together a staff that fit a fastball philosophy.

"It's who we are," Foster said. "It's the intent behind the scouting. It's the intent behind who we trade for. It's the intent when a guy goes to the mound. Our catchers go into games knowing the intent, our philosophy."

Anderson, a first-round Draft pick in 2011, and Senzatela, signed out of Venezuela the same year, were in place before the current emphasis, while Gray and Freeland were first-round Draft picks in 2013 and '14. Bridich made 2015 trades for Hoffman, in the Troy Tulowitzki deal with the Blue Jays, and Marquez, in the Corey Dickerson deal with the Rays.

Video: Harding on Marquez developing into starter in 2017

The fastball-based program received a boost when Black, who pitched for the Indians in 1990 when Wiley was pitching coach, was introduced last Nov. 7 to replace Walt Weiss as manager.

This is not to say secondary pitches are neglected, even at Coors.

Gray has incorporated a curveball since late 2015. Marquez learned a slider this Spring Training. Gray, Senzatela and Freeland could benefit from adding workable changeups. Hoffman's secondary pitches will be enhanced once he consistently controls the zone with the fastball.

Righty Chad Bettis, who returned from testicular cancer to pitch the final two months, at his best has a pitch mix that the others want to emulate.

"The opposing hitters will adjust to these fellows, and for them to become the best they can be, the changeup and the good use of their secondary pitches will have to [improve]," Black said. "They may not have to use them more, but when they do it's got to be a quality pitch."

But the four-seam fastball is first and foremost.

"I still think the best pitch in baseball is a well-located fastball," Black said.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Colorado Rockies, Tyler Anderson, Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray, Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez, Antonio Senzatela