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 season.

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.

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 in Colorado.

That's too much money for blind faith.

Send Ross your opinions, comments or verbal abuse at ross@JBaseball.

© 2000 JBaseball

"How can you not be romantic about baseball?" - Moneyball.