As of this morning, the Colorado Rockies are tied for the worst record in all of baseball. When O’Dowd decided to introduce his grand Coors Field pitching experiment, many asked if things could actually get worse. Well, things are worse. Being baseball’s most putrid team is in no way a good thing. The first pick in the draft? Give me a break. I don’t even trust O’Dowd with the 25th pick. I’m terrified about what he’ll do with the first pick.
A month ago, I didn’t think the Rockies would be in the running for the top pick in 2013, but with the Tulo injury and this ridiculous rotation scheme, it has become a legitimate possibility. This is a bad, bad baseball team. However, to hear the GM speak on things, there wasn’t a thing that could’ve been done about it. The craptastic 2012 Rockies are snake bit by Coors Field and injuries and it has nothing to do with soft fly balls or slow heartbeats. Don’t blame Danny. And if you do, well, that means you just don’t get it.
I grew up in Texas watching a team that played in a prodigious hitters’ park and had to deal with a harsh environment that, in the minds of many, wore down pitchers and made it impossible to win there. I’m speaking of the Rangers, obviously. As we’ve seen over the past couple of seasons, the theories about the Texas heat and its effects on the Rangers have proven to be completely false. As it turns out, talent, mindset, leadership, and accountability can trump environment.
The changes that occurred in Texas were no doubt monumental, but none of it could’ve happened if they hadn’t gotten out from under a terrible owner in Tom Hicks. Hicks was dumb and overleveraged himself. Otherwise, he’d probably still be calling the shots in Texas. Unfortunately, the Rockies ownership situation is stable – not good by any means, but certainly stable. In other words, the Monforts aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. That fact alone may make it impossible for the Rockies to follow a similar pattern as the Rangers, but we can still hope, I suppose.
After getting rid of Hicks, the next biggest difference in Texas has been Nolan Ryan. Ryan, one of baseball’s all-time workhorses on the mound, changed their approach by placing an emphasis on conditioning and actually learning how to pitch. In the offseason, guys learned how to get into shape and carry that through the season. The impact was felt immediately. In 2008, they were one of the worst staffs in baseball. In 2009, they were above average. And the last two seasons, they’ve been fantastic. And all they did was raise expectations about what they expect from pitchers on and off the field.
Now, I can’t speak to the Rockies conditioning, but with everything that has been happening around here, you have to wonder if it is up to par. This offseason, after two disappointing seasons in AA, Christian Friedrich got his career back on track simply by placing an emphasis on training. Only, Friedrich didn’t really grasp the importance of being in shape until he spent some time with Cliff Lee. Maybe this is unfair, but you have to at least question why the Rockies weren’t able to effectively deliver that same message. Perhaps it is more about their inability to hold their own players accountable. Before spring training, O’Dowd publically called out Chacin for being out of shape. At the time, I didn’t like it, but now that Chacin is on the DL, maybe Dan was right. Whatever the case, it’s an issue that should’ve been dealt with in the offseason. Once March comes around, it’s too late.
DOD & Co. seem to genuinely believe that it is impossible to keep pitchers healthy in Colorado, but instead of giving up on the Coors Field Rubik’s Cube, maybe they should go all Nolan on the pitching staff. It’s probably time to stop coddling pitchers and let them loose. Maybe they’ll get hurt, but one thing is for certain, cutting off young pitchers at 75 pitches will make it impossible for them to ever be the durable workhorses that the Rockies so desperately need.
In a 2010 SI article about Nolan and the Rangers, Bill James was quoted as saying this:
“Backing away from the pitcher’s limits too far doesn’t make a pitcher less vulnerable; it makes him more vulnerable. And pushing the envelope, while it may lead to a catastrophic event, is more likely to enhance the pitcher’s durability than to destroy it.”
Basically, injury risk is inevitable, but the SI article linked above really drives home the point about limiting development. In fact, it’s a must read for any Rockies’ fan right now. There are so many parallels with this current organization and the way the Rangers were run before Nolan and Jon Daniels came along.
There are too many variables at play for the blame of the Rockies’ historically poor pitching to fall squarely on Coors Field. Like in the case of the Rangers, the lack of success probably has more to do with poor direction and a general lack of pitching talent than it does with their environment. Ultimately, the Rockies can’t turn this around until the excuses stop. Winning organizations see excuses for what they are – a pathway to losing. In the Rockies case, the excuses have them on pace to lose 100.