Thursday, May 28, 2009
Colorado Rockies Review: Clint Hurdle Takes The Blame, But Bob Apodaca Deserves His Fair Share
At the end of the 2008 season Rockies manager Clint Hurdle sat down with general manager Dan O'Dowd to discuss what would need to change in order for the team to succeed in 2009.
Two conclusions were made during the meeting. First, the Rockies needed to get back to basics. They needed to be disciplined and move runners over instead of swinging for the fences, they needed to not swing at bad pitches in bad counts. Basically, they needed to get back to the fundamental baseball that helped them reach the World Series for the first time in 2007.
The second conclusion was that the coaching staff had become too buddy-buddy with the players. Hurdle believed that his coaches were too quick to defend the players when something went wrong, instead of challenging them to get better.
The second conclusion resulted in a turnover of almost the entire coaching staff. Hitting coach Alan Cockrell, bench coach, and long-time friend of Hurdle, Jamie Quick, third base coach Mike Gallego, and even bullpen coach Rick Mathews were all fired.
The surprising part was not who was fired, but who was not fired.
The 2008 squad struggled mightily on the mound. They gave up big innings and struggled to make good pitches when it counted. That should have cost Bob Apodaca his job. However, he missed the ax and was retained by the club.
It was speculated that Apodaca was kept because he was not a "player advocate" meaning that if the player struggled, Apodaca did not try and give them excuses. He would let the player face the adversity himself instead of having the heat taken for him.
So the Rockies were left with the same pitching coach who led his men on the mound to a finish in which they gave up the second most number of hits in the National League, the third most runs, had the second least amount of strikeouts and ranked in the bottom third in walks allowed.
Clearly the approach did not change as the Rockies rank nearly the same in every category so far in '09. The same problems plague the pitching staff. They are unable to get outs in big situations, which causes them to give up big innings.
Some may say that Apodaca is working with less talent than most teams. That could not be further from the truth. Even with Jeff Francis out for the year, the Rockies rotation begins with Aaron Cook, an All-Star a season ago, then a pitcher who arguably has more potential than any other in the league in Ubaldo Jimenez, followed by a five-time double digit winner, Jason Marquis. The fourth and fifth men are not too shabby either, in Jorge De La Rosa, and for now, Jason Hammel.
The problem for the Rockies year in and year out is that their veteran pitchers have figured out how to win, but the young pitchers struggle to find consistency. This is the case again in '09. Cook and Marquis seem confident on the mound and are able to get people out.
The veterans have been around long enough to know what to take in from a coach and what to throw out. They know their mechanics better than anyone and can make immediate adjustments.
Jimenez and De La Rosa, however, are prone to the big inning. They have as much talent as can be expected. Jimenez throws a fastball that touches triple digits, and De La Rosa is a hard-throwing lefty with a great slider. They both routinely struggle.
At some point their struggles cannot be blamed on being young. 2009 is Jimenez's third season in the big leagues. He has pitched well in big games and pitched out of tough situations. There has to come a time when a player goes from "someday he will be a star" to "he is a star." That has yet to happen with Jimenez.
Other pitchers have struggled such as Manny Corpas, who was lights out in the run to the World Series. He was so good that he took the closers job away from Brian Fuentes, the Rockies all-time saves leader and three time All-Star.
Corpas' struggles have been as much about his mentality as they have been about his mechanics. He seems to lose confidence and his slider straightens out and becomes a pitch that hitters salivate over.
While every pitcher struggles, Corpas' struggles have lasted for over a year at this point.
Young pitchers need confidence. Major League Baseball is possibly the most difficult league to survive in. When Apodaca strolls to the mound to calm down his pitcher, take notice. Never once will the pitcher talk. The catcher will not say anything either. The conversation is as one sided as the come. There is no confidence builder, there is no asking how the pitcher is feeling or what they think is going to work against the upcoming hitter, it is simply a lecture, which seems to always be followed up with a pitch drilled into the gap, worsening the damage that Apodaca was trying to minimize.
While Coors Field is no pitchers heaven, the excuse that it is too hard to pitch there is no longer valid. Since the advent of the humidor, balls fly out of the yard far less often. Also, with new parks being built as tiny as possible, such as Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, or Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia, Coors Field is no longer out of the norm as far as great places to hit.
While Clint Hurdle has made moves on the field in 2009 that may cost him his job in the next week, the move that gets him fired may have come far before the season ever began, when he decided to keep Bob Apodaca as the pitching coach.