The game of baseball is played differently in Colorado because of the altitude, and the Colorado Rockies have yet to figure it out after 20 years of trying. For the moment, let’s ignore the fact that the Rockies ownership is a joke and the front office is inept, and examine a bigger question. Today is the first of a three-part series where we ask can Major League Baseball work in Colorado?
It’s a scary question because going to Coors Field and seeing the Rockies brings a lot of happiness to a lot of people. There are many families that go to Rockies games on summer nights and they don’t really care how good the team is. Coors Field is a beautiful park, summer nights in Colorado are gorgeous and it is fairly inexpensive entertainment for a family of four.
Maybe that’s enough for people; maybe the Rockies can survive by just promoting themselves as a source of summer fun. As far as winning, though, many questions remain. The biggest question surrounds pitching and that’s where we begin.
The major problem is not the number of runs scored, there are other parks that are considered hitters parks and those teams win. The problem is the toll it takes on the Rockies pitching staff. In the early years, Coors Field was thought be an advantage because they would be used to playing a certain way, and the pitchers would adjust. As time as gone on though, it is a huge disadvantage to the Rockies pitchers as opposed to the visitors. Why?
An opposing pitcher comes to Denver, makes one start and then moves on. The pitchers for the Rockies are pitching at altitude all season and it is the cumulative wear and tear that really hurts. For example, it’s harder to throw a curve ball in the thin air. A visiting pitcher can do it for seven or eight innings, and it doesn’t really affect him moving forward. A Rockies pitcher is eventually going to wear out just because of the effort it takes to throw breaking pitches. That’s not even taking into account the mental part of pitching at altitude which might be worse than the physical.
There’s a reason the Rockies have never had a pitcher last more than three or four seasons, they can’t survive pitching the way you have to in Colorado. Even the pitchers that eventually move on are never the same, Ubaldo Jimenez was as good as any pitcher in baseball for most of 2010 and has been well below average ever since. Jimenez was probably never as good as he showed at times that season but it is obvious that pitching in Colorado has hurt his career. Is there a solution? Is there way to win with those hurdles?
The Rockies have the humidor and that has evened things out some, but the game is still so different in Colorado. The only way it is going to work is if the Rockies start thinking well outside of the box, and that means turning the pitching staff over on a regular basis. By regular I mean every two to three years, any longer than that and the pitchers are going to be worn down by Coors Field.
It’s a drastic solution but it is the only one that has a chance to work, running a pitching staff in Colorado like every other team does is insane. It’s a completely different game at altitude and if the Rockies don’t figure it out soon, the question of whether or not baseball will work in Colorado will become moot.
On Tuesday we will examine the impact on hitting in Colorado and on Wednesday we will draw some conclusions about the future of Major League Baseball in Colorado.
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