The Pitching Heavy NL West And The Dilemma For The Rockies


The National League West is largely regarded as a pitching-heavy division, and rightfully so. Even with two decidedly hitter friendly parks in Arizona and Colorado, one thinks of the bitterly contested 2-1 nailbiters of Petco and AT&T Park when they think of the division. Pitching in those parks makes a mediocre pitcher good and a good pitcher even better. Approximately one year ago I wrote that the Rockies face a philosophical dilemma: they can either try to keep up with the strong pitching staffs throughout the rest of the division, or they can try to build an intimidating offense and win because they hit better than the rest of the division.

Of course one would like to think that ultimately the Rockies would want the best of both worlds, but it has quickly become apparent that might not be possible because of their status as a “mid-market” team. It seems that they are left having to spend in one area and just hope to win the lottery in the other.

Once the humidor was an established presence in Denver, they focused on building pitching depth for a sustained period of time. After a 2009 season in which 5 pitchers won 10 games and what appeared to be a trend of success with Latin American pitching prospects, it looked like the Rockies might actually be able to keep up with the likes of the Giants, Padres, and Dodgers in that department. And certainly they could get enough hitting to still take advantage of Coors Field…right?

Then a funny thing happened. Injuries and a lack of situational hitting suddenly left the Rockies with a brief period in which they lacked offense. Remember Chris Iannetta (no disrespect intended), Ty Wigginton (disrespect intended), and Eliezer Alfonzo (lots of disrespect intended) batting cleanup for the Rockies? None of those lineups rang true as lineups that would make opposing pitching staffs miserable in Coors Field. So then you had the pitching, but not really the offense, and therefore were not taking advantage of what should be a substantial home field advantage.

Then another funny thing happened (to be clear, I do not mean “ha ha” funny. I mean “oh my gosh, we’re screwed” funny). The depth that we naively thought the Rockies had built at pitcher was at best a mirage and at worst a complete and utter fraud. The offense came back, but the pitching was gone again.

Now what?

Looking ahead to what might be a bleak 2013 season, new hitting coach Dante Bichette says he wants his lineup to “intimidate” opposing pitchers in Coors Field. So the offense will once again strive for dominance and the pitching will once again strive for competence. We are back to square one, in a sense. But how much of a burden will the Rockies be placing on that offense as the other teams in the division continue to stockpile pitching?

The Los Angeles Dodgers have added Zack Greinke and Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-Jin. The Arizona Diamondbacks added former Colorado Springs high school great Brandon McCarthy. The Giants are the Giants. If the Rockies are willing to concede a slight advantage in the pitching department to gain a significant advantage on offense, that strategy potentially makes sense. The problem is, the “slight pitching disadvantage” ship sailed a long, long time ago.

The idea that the Rockies can just outslug at home and survive on the road is a stretch to begin with, and it is looking darn near impossible as other teams in the division stockpile outstanding rotations.