In the history of the Colorado Rockies they have never lost 100 games…until 2014? In a year where at any given time Rockies players have been putting up some really great numbers, making the overall statistics, especially in the area of offense, those of a team that is at least close to .500, somehow this team flat stinks. Stats of a .500 team maybe, but, this isn’t a .500 team. It isn’t even close. This is, arguably – records are always dependent on who each team has played and whether you look at run differential (3 team have worse records and one, Philadelphia, is better by just a single run) or W/L record (where at .387 they are dead last) – the worst team in baseball! And the least fun to watch perhaps.
I have written repeatedly that this team has been hard to evaluate for the future because of the how devastating the injuries have been, and not just to the pitching staff but the positional players as well. I wrote a few weeks back whether and what we have learned this year, and now several weeks later the data has gotten even harder to evaluate.
Let’s face it, whether its injuries, poor performance, or whatever, this team flats stinks. There are no excuses – even if there are extenuating circumstances. While it is true that their games have largely been close…well, we all know our favorite version of “close don’t matter.” The bullpen stinks. There have been few if any good stories among the starting pitching. The defense besides time when the two Gold Glovers are playing the left-side of the infield stinks. Their home offense is barely tolerable and their road offense is one of the weakest in team history. And to be honest, while I love the steal (I am after all a 1970s and 80s St. Louis Cardinals fan and the steal is a powerful weapon), this team runs at all the run wrong times and doesn’t run when it should. The team is a shambles. And again…it is now nearly unwatchable baseball!
Is there help coming? Yes, and it is the overall quality of the talent coming that is why I don’t think Dan O’Dowd should be fired. Two years ago the switch was made, decreasing O’Dowd’s responsibility for the major league team, increasing his role in player development, and giving the responsibility for the day-to-day running of the major league club to Bill Geivett – to the extent of having an office inside Coors Field near the manager’s office (a setup I have not heard of since the 1950s and not a healthy one). Geivett will likely be fired (many of us are saying should be already), in part because of the lackluster play at the big league team and in part because the fans need a sop that things are going to change. The Monfort’s are very loyal in a sporting world that doesn’t value that loyalty, and I give them credit for it. But the time for a change has come. Whether or not Walt Weiss wants to come back or should come back…the guy has never managed for 3 straight months a real big-league team…is another issue that I think is not really that important in the end – players have to play and when he calls on a guy to go in and get the last out of an inning, the player needs to do their job at least 85% of the time (in relief pitching sett). That has not happened.
Normally I am saying “Wait til next year” quickly turning the Rockies into the better version of the Cubs. But I cannot this year. Granted we don’t know a lot about 2015, but based on what we have seen…should we expect a team that can compete for a playoff spot in 2015?
Actually, the reason I am pointing to 2016 is more than just this year. I have been strolling through the pages of baseball history and came across a team that in many ways mirrors this team. It had two very good years, including a near World Series trip, was led by a guy whose name was always in the “Best Player in the League” discussion, and looked set for the future. Instead they had a 5 years stretch where their best win total was 72 wins and the even managed to lose 106 games one season. But towards the end of that streak they started to develop young pitching, pitching that would be their future. The first year this pitching was all together and throwing they stunk – 65-97 stunk. Those pitchers were busy learning how to win in the major leagues. But that learning year led to the greatest playoff run in baseball history. I am of course talking about the Atlanta Braves. Of course no analogy is perfect and baseball has changed a lot since 1990, the last year of the miserable Braves. But if you look at those early Braves teams that won they did it with a mix of veteran pitching, great young pitching, good to great bullpen, Terry Pendleton and Ron Gant…and not a lot else. We forget that Chipper Jones didn’t come around until they already had been to two World Series. They did the heavy lifting before Greg Maddux arrived.
The truth is that the Rockies by 2016 may, and here we really don’t know because of the future of CarGo and Tulo and the development path of the best minor league talent, a far superior everyday lineup to the Braves in those early years (the Braves positional talent only arrived later in the 1990s). But the key to the Braves success was 1990. Their starting 5 in 1990 was:
John Smotlz – 14-11, 3.85ERA
Tom Glavine – 10-12, 4.28ERA
Steve Avery – 3-11, 5.64ERA
Charlie Liebrandt – 9-11, 3.16ERA
Derek Lilliquist – 2-8, 6.28 ERA
And Smotlz actually had his break-in year in 1989, but even in 1990 his ERA was over 4.50 until essentially the All-Star break.
Now, I am not predicting the Braves style run for the Rockies. Not saying that Jon Grey is John Smoltz. What I am saying is that the stockpile of potentially great to very good pitching that they have coming is going to take a while to learn how to win at this level. That year is likely going to be 2015. I fully expect a much better team in 2015 – given the health and performance issues around Tulo and CarGo, I have to imagine they are here in 2015 so the Rockies if they do decide to trade them can get back fair value in exchange (we forget how good CarGo was up to middle of 2013 when the injuries started to come in buckets). But I have to think this team needs to give those young arms a year to learn to win, and then…well, then maybe in 2016 this team will be ready to win, not just play close.
Two other factors in the rise of the Braves out of the ashes of the 1980s. First, they changed managers midway of 1990 from Russ Nixon to the then GM, some guy named Bobby Cox. Sadly, I don’t think we have a Bobby Cox about to drop into our laps (wishes and hopes). Heck, I am not sure we even have a Russ Nixon (no insult to Weiss, Nixon wasn’t a bad manager…just managed bad teams).
The other factor was the coming of Terry Pendleton, a guy who had an MVP year in 1991 and more than his offense brought to the team over the first few years of that run the understanding of what it took to win. Ideally that was the role that Cuddy was to have played, but between the injuries and the lack of pitching depth, it didn’t happen during what is likely to have been his 3 year tenure. Over the next 18 months the team needs to find that type of player, one who just knows how to win and makes others learn the same lessons. There are still players like that. As we saw in 2013, Mike Napoli, with his experience in Texas, came to Boston and taught them the small things you must do to win games. Napoli isn’t a marque name, but he is the type of hard-nosed, win at all-costs player that this team needs to get back to the playoff races. The good news is that these players are not hugely expense and that they have some time to find him.
By 2016 this team should have more exciting talent available to provide either exciting new starters or valuable depth, what this team didn’t have. All the years of drafting pitching early and often – for obvious reason – came back to haunt the team this year. I have made the point that they got a good deal in the Franklin Morales trade but as it turned out this year, they could really have used Johnny Herrera! But the next wave of positional players should replace the Hererras of the past with players who can start for most teams. That wave probably will only be starting to appear in 2016 – hence the opening and need for a player to provide the Terry Pendleton and Mike Napoli role.
But with young pitchers having a players who know how to win is important. Having a good defense is important. But history shows us that young pitchers need one thing even more – a good to great bullpen. Of all the areas of struggles with this team perhaps no single area scream more than the bullpen. According to the ESPN team stats, the Rockies have the 29th worst bullpen, with only Houston having a worse pen. They give the record as 15-24 with a 4.95 ERA. Nothing strangles a young starting pitcher more than going out, having a great outing and then seeing it turn into a loss after he leaves. It makes him try and be finer, try and throw a shut-out and complete game each outing. Nice thinking, but it ends up blowing up when pitchers try and be too fine. Can the Rockies develop a good to great bullpen in one year? Pretty unlikely…but within 2 years? Maybe. But that is an area where young relievers and bought relievers have to be pieced together – even with the challenge of Coors and the extreme pitch limit – and can become at least league average. Can they get there…we shall see. The playoff teams have always been “led” by great pens. Even if the youngsters but within 2 years? Maybe. But that is an area where young relievers and bought relievers have to be pieced together – even with the challenge of Coors and the extreme pitch limit – and can become at least league average. Can they get there…we shall see. The playoff teams have always been “led” by great pens. Even if the youngsters realize their potential, a bad bullpen can make any season become a “wait for the Broncos” season.
The truth is that the past 4 years have been the toughest in team history, precisely because like the Braves after 1983, we thought we not only close but on the upswing. We probably have one more year of suffering ahead of us (who knows, maybe the pitching learns quicker – they have certainly focused on pitching versus throwing in the minors making it hard to evaluate guys like Eddie Butler and Jon Grey fully), but 2015 should begin to show some hopefulness. But if they make the decision to keep De La Rosa (playing the Charlie Liebrandt role with these young pitchers), and they can get a break with health and a surprise rise in development somewhere in the minors, 2015 might be fun.
But it likely isn’t wait til next year. Two years….the Rockies should be ready then.