Monday, July 28, 2014

GUEST POST: History in Denver suggests that altitude shouldn't be an excuse for the Colorado Rockies

The Rockies use the altitude as an excuse.

The Denver Bears and Denver Zephyrs played baseball at altitude and played the game with success.  The City of Denver (as far as I know) has not shrunk in height over the years, as some older people do.  It is still the same altitude now as it has always been.  

The climate has probably changed since the Denver Bears and Denver Zephyrs played baseball.  But, hey, climate change, that is for the politicians to debate till they are blue or red in the face.  I am not going to get into the climate.  I am not a politician, in fact I hate politics.

The facts are:  22 years prior to the Colorado Rockies being born here in Denver, the winning percentage for professional baseball in Denver was .525.  The Colorado Rockies winning percentage (including up to 7-27-2014) is .470.  That is a huge difference folks.

During the time span of 22 years (same amount of time the Rockies have been here), the beginning of 1971 to the end of 1992, the Denver Bears won American Association Playoff Championship 5 times; 1971, 1976, 1977, 1981, 1983.  They also won the American Association Western Division Championship 6 times; 1971, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1981.  

Within this 22 year time span, the Denver Zephyrs finished first place in American Association 2 years; 1986, 1987.  The Zephyrs also finished second place in American Association 3 years; 1985, 1989, 1991 and finished third place in American Association 3 years; 1984, 1988, 1990.  The Zephyrs had playoff appearances in 1984, 1986, 1987, 1991 and was League Champion in 1991.  In the 22 year span, The Denver Bears had 7 playoff appearances and the Denver Zephyrs had 4 playoff appearances.

The Colorado Rockies (in their 22 years of history) (I know this season is not over, but does not look like a Rocktober) have had 3 playoff appearances.  In the prior 22 years of professional baseball in Denver the teams had 11 playoff appearances (7 for the Denver Bears and 4 for the Denver Zephyrs).  Eleven compared to three is a huge difference folks.

Some people may say that this is comparing apples to oranges, or the minor leagues have different talent level, or the regular season schedule is shorter, etc., etc., etc.  The minor leagues do have different talent level.  The fact is that all the minor league players are striving to move up to the majors.  The fact is that the opposing teams have the same playing conditions; the pitchers have to pitch “at altitude”, both offensive teams play in the same environment.  The fact is that baseball in Denver before the Colorado Rockies had a much better success rate (given the playoff appearances).  

Those teams of the Denver Bears and the Denver Zephyrs were doing something right (just look at the winning percentage and the number of playoff appearances).  To play at altitude and have a respectable record, those teams had to do things right.  They had to have the right scouting, the right player development (especially for pitchers) and the right leadership in the front office to make it all succeed.

Now the Colorado Rockies brass just might learn a whole lot by studying what these former Denver teams did right to succeed.  Who says a team cannot win at altitude?  It has been done here in Denver before, just look at the records. 

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  1. This is exactly right. Not to mention - the Springs SkySox (moved here from Hawaii in 1989) had four consecutive winning seasons and a PCL championship in 1992 before they were forced to affiliate with the Rockies instead as part of the expansion.

    One PCL championship and three other playoff appearances in their entire four-year pre-Rockies existence.

    One PCL championship and one other playoff appearance in the 21 years since.

    The problem isn't altitude. The problem is the Rockies.

    1. It sure is a disappointing trend with the Rockies organization both in the majors and minor leagues

  2. The tricky part is it's quite possible they have studied the Denver minor league teams, but since it's hard to tell what goes on behind closed door, it is unclear whether they are drawing the correct conclusions on what to do or not.

    1. I think it is deeper than that. The Rockies draft strategy seems to me to be a lottery ticket type strategy (even if the draftees themselves tend to be college players). Where the team only really cares about the 3-5 each year who make it to the majors (and who don't really need much 'development' anyway) and they don't really care if the rest flame out in A-ball.

      The downside of that is a)it is actually more expensive to run the high minors teams (minor league FA's cost more than controlled draftees) and b)draft classes tend to be really streaky and hard to adjust the MLB roster (esp since we rarely trade prospects) and c)the MLB team has no depth at all in case of injuries.

      AND 'altitude'.

    2. R.Bergstrom - "it's hard to tell what's going on behind closed doors, it's unclear whether they are drawing the correct conclusions..."

      Re - No, it's quite obvious the Roxs FO and development are failures. Doesn't matter "what goes on behind closed doors" or the varied justifications for their decisions. The primary problem is independent to any of this - that there's no cure for "the dumb" and they have a terminal (see: incurable) case.

      Since nothing has been done to replace the FO-on-down, we can already write off 2015; 2016 if the status quo remains this winter.

    3. My comment was based on whether the Rockies have studied altitude and previous Denver minor league teams. I'm pretty sure I have, I just don't know if they drew the right conclusions.

  3. To add to JFree, the Sky Sox last PCL title was in 1995 and the last playoff appearance was in 1997. The Sky Sox have the longest current streak of not making the playoffs in all of minor league baseball.

    The problem is Rockies leadership, not the altitude.

    1. That is what happens when a minor league team is affiliated with the Colorado Rockies organization.