Fool Me for One Year, Shame on You. Fool Me for Eight Years....
by Ross Friedman
The Rockies have once before tried to sign a big free
agent pitcher. It was a disaster. Darryl Kile's
curveball didn't curve in the thin air of Colorado and
he was a complete bust for the team.
No pitcher has been too successful for the Rockies.
Marvin Freeman's 4 votes for the Cy Young award
(finishing 136 votes shy of Greg Maddux) is the best
any Rockie has done for the award.
Now the fact that pitching has never been successful
in Colorado or that the Rockies had one free agent
bust, is that enough to say they should not try to
revolve their team around pitching such as the
ultra-successful Braves and Yankees have done? No,
not at all.
First let me say though, I don't believe they can be
successful revolving their team around pitching. I
don't think either Denny Neagle or Mike Hampton will
be successful in Colorado. However, this is not
completely the point. First, I will discuss how I
believe the Rockies should build a team. Then
realizing they don't care what I think, I will then
discuss how they should go about building a team if
they do believe pitching is the way to go.
So let's start with how I would build the Rockies,
which is around hitting, and more hitting, and then a
patchwork pitching staff.
I think the best way to illustrate how impossible it
is to pitch effectively in Colorado is to look at the
Rockies hitters. The fact is, the Rockie hitters
aren't that good. Larry Walker's OPS away from
Colorado last season was a mere .770. The two years
before that were .894 and .891. This compares very
unfavorably to his home OPS of 1.061 in 2000, 1.410
(impossible in any other ballpark) in 1999, and 1.240
in 1998. That's an average difference of .385 per
And he's the rule, not the exception. Jeff Cirillo,
while having a 1.079 OPS at home last year had only a
.628 road OPS. Neifi Perez' OPS at home was .840 in
2000 (higher than Larry Walker's road OPS) while on
the road it was only .632.
So imagine the Rockies lineup if they brought in a
Manny Ramirez. Who already had a 1.154 OPS while not
playing a single game in Coors Field. What would his
OPS be at home if he went to Colorado? Add a second
big hitter to their lineup as well, instead of a
second huge pitching contract, and the offense can put
up numbers that would be hard for any team to match.
Basically, I don't believe any pitcher can do that
well in Colorado. Good pitchers rely on movement and
the thin air takes all movement away. It then also
messes with their pitching motion as they try to
"tinker" to make themselves more effective and they
then lose their effectiveness on the road as well,
like Darryl Kile did.
I don't think Mike Hampton or Denny Neagle is any more
effective at Coors Field than a middle reliever that
throws really hard. So I think the Rockies should
spend their money putting together an offense that is
very hard to outscore, and put together a patchwork
pitching staff. Sign a David Cone and only throw him
in road games. This could give Cone back his
effectiveness as he needs extra rest, and give the
Rockies a top pitcher on the road. They should get
pitchers who throw hard to start their home games.
Pitchers like Brian Rose (whom they have) and others
who used to be starters but couldn't stay that way as
they didn't have anything but a fastball.
In Colorado home games, they may be just as effective
as Hampton or Neagle. Then have guys with more
movement pitch the road games. Make the home starters
the road relievers.
Of course it's possible (although highly unlikely)
that I'm wrong. Maybe it is possible for top pitchers
to also be top pitchers in Colorado as well. But
there is no way we can know that at this point as
there never has been. That's why investing over $170
million over the next 8 years in two pitchers who have
two of the seven worst career ERAs ever in Colorado is
a horrible move.
If I'm correct that good pitchers won't be good in
Colorado, the Rockies assured themselves of not being
competitive for the next 8 years. That leaves the
possibility of an awful large mistake. Or 170 million
small mistakes, depending on how you choose to look at
It was said that Neagle and Hampton will be able to
pitch better there because they make people put the
ball in play. Well, when Hampton's sinker doesn't
sink, that ball will be put in and out of play in a
heartbeat. Neagle gave up the most fly balls of any
pitcher last year. Now those balls will have the
extra legs to get over the wall.
So if the Rockies want to build a team around
pitching, they needed to at least experiment before
that kind of investment. Just how the Mets traded for
Mike Hampton with one year left on his contract, the
Rockies needed to find a stud pitcher to do that with.
Trade for a guy for a year and find out if he can
pitch, if any pitcher can really pitch effectively
there. Instead of signing Denny Neagle for $10
million per season, try to get him to take a one-year
deal, but at $13 or $14 million. He may take if for
the extra money knowing he can be a free agent the
next year anyway, and you get to find out if he can or
can't pitch there without making a mistake that may
effect the team for a half-decade.
In the end the Rockies blindly spent $170 million for
two pitchers in hope that they may be able to do
something they've never done before, pitch effectively
That's too much money for blind faith.