Bob Apodaca was hired on October 31st, 2002 as pitching coach for the Colorado Rockies. That means that by the conclusion of this season he will have overseen the pitching staff for 10 complete seasons. To be sure, he has guided the team to both great successes and sizable failures. Does he deserve a chance to see another few years to develop the young Rockies staff or does he deserve to be a casualty of the Rockies disappointing 2012 campaign?
Apodaca has overseen the staff for a decade. Over that span of time the MLB wide ERA has been 4.30. The NL wide ERA during that span is 4.22. The Colorado Rockies ERA during that time has been 4.75. So for the last decade the Rockies have given up more than an extra half run per game than the NL average. Pitching at home the Rockies have racked up an ERA of 4.92 compared to a 4.56 ERA on the road.
Both supporters and pitchfork bearers of Apodaca admit that he has the most unique pitching coach job in baseball. Pitching at high altitude and the Coors field dimensions combine for a more difficult pitching environment than every other MLB stadium. I have written previously about the exact effects Coors has on a pitched baseball, but let’s look at the exact outcomes of pitching at home and on the road during Apodaca’s tenure:
The pitchers have actually been able to strike out nearly as many batters at home as on the road and the walks are actually less at home. However as you can see when the ball is put in play it has resulted in more hits and more home runs. We can see from this that there is not a particular thing that Rockies pitchers have struggled with pitching at Coors under Apodaca (like not striking batters out, allowing walks, etc). So I think it is fair to say that we can judge Bob Apodaca on his ability to develop pitchers overall, not his ability to teach them to pitch at Coors, per se.
While Coors field is obviously more difficult to pitch in, the Rockies road statistics are not very impressive. It can be said that the pitching staff has by in large been bad over the last decade because they are bad, not because they pitch half their games at Coors. The NL wide ERA on the road during the span has been 4.43, so the Rockies have still been below average even when not playing at Coors.
Before getting too far, it must be clear that Apodaca has had a large number of” successes”. Among these are Jorge de la Rosa, Jason Hammel, Aaron Cook, Ubaldo becoming dominant, Matt Belisle, Juan Nicasio, Jason Marquis, and many more. However, he has also had his share of failures.
So let’s look at what Apodaca has been facing and why the Rockies pitchers have not performed well.
For one, the Rockies did not have much talent when Apodaca took over as pitching coach. The Rockies were 300-348 in the 4 seasons (1999-2002) that preceded Apodaca being hired. The 5 pitchers that threw the most innings in the first 3 years of the Apodaca administration (2003-2005) were Jason Jennings, Aaron Cook, Shawn Chacon, Joe Kennedy, and Jamey Wright. Not an embarrassing staff but also nothing near loaded. Despite the humidor being in existence during that time the Rockies staff had the worst ERA in the NL in that 3 year span. So this is certainly one reason.
Another reason the Rockies pitching has not fared well during Apodaca’s tenure is the lack of any pitchers who went from promising young arm to consistent, reliable performer. I count only one: Aaron Cook. There are numerous different reasons this has happened including: injuries, non-performance, trades, and the nature of baseball. Let’s chronicle them:
- 2002 Rookie of the Year
- Never again matched his strikeout or walk rates from his rookie season, performed ok until being traded in 2006
- Very good 2003 season, terrible 2004 season, traded in 2005
- Good 2006 and 2007 seasons (3.6 and 4.1 WAR respectively)
- Struggled with injuries in 2008 and 2009, been below average MLB starter since
- Won AA Texas League pitcher of the year in 2005, AAA Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year in 2006
- Baseball America #42 prospect in baseball heading into 2007 season
- Started 20 games for the Rockies
- Struggled with injuries and never became effective MLB starter
- Made promising debut in 2007
- Baseball America #8 prospect in all of baseball heading into 2008 season
- Struggled in 2008 as a starter, spent most of the year in AAA
- Was converted to a reliever in 2009, traded in 2010 and been marginally effective as a reliever since
- Made promising debut in 2007, progressed in 2008 into excellent pitcher
- 2009 and 2010 was a dominant MLB pitcher
- Took huge step back in 2011, lost 3 MPH on his fastball, traded midseason
- Has not regained fastball and pitched even worse since leaving COL (posted negative WAR in CLE in 2012)
- This one is tough to include but 2012 gives me no choice, still time to be a success of course
- Excellent rookie season in 2010 (3.1 WAR, 9.04 K/9)
- Posted good but mixed year in 2011. The good: 3.62 ERA, huge GB%. The bad: K/9 took huge step back, did not improve upon horrendous walk rate.
- Ineffective in 2012 due to injury, has only thrown 24.2 innings in 2012
Jury is still out on: Juan Nicasio, Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Christian Friedrich, Rex Brothers and Matt Reynolds
Now let me be clear: I am not blaming these all on Apodaca; I am merely stating that they all happened during his time as pitching coach. Could Apodaca done anything about Chacin’s shoulder? Who knows? Probably not. Same goes for Francis and others. These types of stories happen all of the time across baseball. A pitcher looks promising and looks to be a contributor to a staff for a 5 year period. And then he doesn’t. This is not unique to the Rockies. However, what we can say is this: when you are developing a young pitcher who shows promise you would like to see him improve, stay consistent, stay healthy, and contribute as a good pitcher for a number of years. What we can say is that has never happened under Bob Apodaca’s decade long stewardship of the Rockies pitching staff save for an average career by Aaron Cook (and even he flamed out). Yes Apodaca took Ubaldo from talented flamethrower to Cy Young candidate, Yes Chacin should have a decent career, yes Francis was good for a few years. But despite all those merits, the Rockies have not developed young pitchers into solid veteran pitchers, which is what the mid-market Rockies must do to contend for the playoffs.
So will Apodaca be able to steer Nicasio, Chacin, Pomeranz, White, and Friedrich into successful major league careers? He might. But with a decade of chances to do so without success, there is enough data to say that someone else should get a chance to develop this crop. Especially since Drew Pomeranz and Alex White have already not shown the progress that would be expected during their short time with Apodaca, I think the organization would be best served to hire a new pitching coach. Apodaca has one hell of a tough job and maybe he has been very unlucky with injuries, but a decade was more than enough time to develop at least a few mainstays in the rotation.