Saturday, June 21, 2014

Time for the Colorado Rockies to change their model

Coors Field isn't an easy place to pitch.
Classic Coors Field.

That is what many people say after yet another football score at Coors Field. The Colorado Rockies lost to the Milwaukee Brewers by a field goal on Friday night, 13-10. It was the type of score that has been seen at Coors Field for the past 20 seasons.

When the weather warms up, the balls dry up and the air and altitude combine for the perfect run-scoring scenario. There is no denying that Coors Field is a phenomenal place to hit the baseball, and a very tough place to pitch.

For years, the Rockies have built their team around the idea that the pitching, no matter how talented, won't be great because of the conditions of their home park. However, their offense will thrive, regardless of talent level, because of the conditions that serve the offense.

That idea has shaped the construction of the ball club. The Rockies have always been a hit-first, pitch-last type of team. They try to simply outlast their opponents, knowing that the guys on the other side are dealing with the altitude and the ballpark perhaps just once per season, not knowing completely how to deal with it.

The problem is, while Coors Field is a great place to hit, the way the Rockies have built their teams has added to the mystique that the ballpark is impossible to pitch in. In fact, over the years, many pitchers have shown that it isn't a terrible place to pitch and that getting outs is more difficult, but not impossible to do. Look at Jorge De La Rosa. The Rockies lefty is a much better pitcher at home than he is on the road, and his road numbers aren't too shabby. Aaron Cook never made excuses about pitching at Coors Field, and Jason Jennings won a Rookie of the Year award calling Coors his home.

The reason that the ballpark has such a terrible reputation for football-type of scores is because the Rockies have always fielded a team full of miserable pitchers. With all due respect to Christian Bergman, Colorado's starter on Friday night, the Rockies haven't exactly pumped out dominant pitchers in their history. Is that because of Coors Field, or is it because they haven't had the ability to develop really strong, talented pitching?

See, the problem seems to be that the Rockies, as they do with nearly everything else, have found a way to make their ballpark an excuse, just like they use injuries and just like they do when they talk about their market size.

I am not crazy enough to actually think that the Rockies have avoided drafting or signing quality pitchers. I realize that they are trying actively to do that, and may have been successful with Eddie Butler and Jon Gray. However, it might be time to shift things around with how they build this team. It seems that they build the lineup first, then use whatever is left to fill the pitching staff.

What if the Rockies focused on their starting rotation first, overpaying for free agents who get ground balls and are up to the task of pitching in a hitter's ballpark, then finding quality, hard-throwing relievers who can either blow the ball past guys or get ground balls, then, allowing the remaining money to go to the starting lineup, even there, emphasizing the need for strong defenders with plus speed.

Would Coors Field help those poor offensive players to become at least average? If the Rockies had starting pitching that they could rely on, starting pitching that goes beyond the first two guys like it currently is, would the Rockies be a team that could be like the Giants?

Go down the Giants lineup. Is there a single position in which a rational baseball mind would give the edge to the Giants over the Rockies? First base, with Brandon Belt healthy, would probably be who would be picked over Justin Morneau. Buster Posey would certainly get the nod over Wilin Rosario, and Hunter Pence would have the spot in right field. However, the Rockies offense holds the edge in at least five of the other positions, and with Belt injured, six.

Yet, the Giants continue to win. They continue to play baseball well above .500. The answer to why they play so well might be because even with an inferior offense, they are able to go to the plate knowing that if they scratch out a few runs they might pick up a victory. When their starting pitchers are beyond reliable, it gives the offense the ability to be selective and take a deep breath when they are at the plate. It makes sense why, beyond the series this past weekend, the Rockies always seem to lose late in San Francisco.

Of course all of this is easier said than done. Baseball draft picks, especially pitchers, are a crapshoot. To get the right guy is as much luck as it is evaluation. The Rockies are certainly always looking for very good pitching. However, it still seems like the Rockies focus on the lineup first, and pitching is an afterthought.

Follow me on Twitter @RockiesReview. Like me on Facebook, search "Rockies Review"

1 comment:

  1. With the exception of a few players the Rockies management has always rewarded mediocrity. It's long overdue to demand excellence from all positions.