Colorado Rockies: Coors Field, Ghosts, and Altitude Pitching
Those were the last big contract signings by the Rockies of a free agent pitcher. What will it take for Colorado to lure another big name to the Mountain time zone? It’s going to take someone from outside the organization taking the chance and signing on with the Rockies. It sounds simple, but there are few pitchers who are willing to risk their ERA and have the ghosts of Kile and Hampton haunting their careers.
You have to wonder what Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman were thinking when their names were linked to trades that would’ve brought them to Denver. If it had materialized, would either or both have balked at the trade or accepted the challenge?
It’s not like no pitcher has ever not succeeded pitching at Coors. Jorge De La Rosa finished his Colorado career 53-20 at the corner of 20th and Blake.
“He’s the poster boy for showing that you could pitch here, at an offensive park, at altitude,” former Colorado manager Walt Weiss said in this article. “A lot of it has to do with his competitiveness. Jorge never gives in.”
When he was introduced to the Colorado media, new Rockies manager Bud Black talked about the stigma of pitching at Coors Field.
“I think each pitcher has their style how they get their outs. I think any style can work here if the pitcher makes his pitches,” Black said. “If a guy is a four-seam fastball guy at the top of the zone, that can work. It’s a big outfield. If you’re a pitcher who can pitch at the top of the zone and make bats miss, that’s fine. I don’t think we have to turn a four-seam guy if that’s his strength into a sinkerballer. What works is the ability to command the fastball, throw a breaking ball for a strike, bounce a breaking ball when needed and throw a changeup. That works. The games I’ve seen successful from a lot of different pitchers here, it’s about making pitches. I think it’s unfair to have a pitcher change who he is. If a guy is a legit sinkerballer and he gets ground outs, that works anywhere. I don’t think you have to limit yourself in this ballpark to a certain style. I think that’s unfair. I think you go get talent, develop talent, and let that talent play out on the field.”
Matt Herges, who pitched for the Rockies during the magical World Series season of 2007, says pitching at Coors Field is a mindset.
“How to pitch there is a totally different animal,” Herges said in my interview over the summer with him. “I have my opinions. If you’re not completely sold out on throwing the ball over the plate consistently, you will not succeed. If there’s a sliver of doubt or anything but green light, you will fail. You’ll fall behind and then you’ll be careful or fearful of throwing the ball over the plate and fearful never works. That’s when the damage happens and things fall apart.
“They’ve tried bringing in sinkerballers or flame-throwers but it’s a mindset.”
So did De La Rosa have a mindset that Hampton and Kile and a host of other free agents haven’t had? It’s the million dollar question when it comes to pitching at Coors Field. It’s also a question that will be around as long as Coors Field is and baseball is played in Denver.
One thing is for certain heading into 2017. Black isn’t shying away from being a part of Coors Field for 81 games next season.
“It definitely helps. Obviously I don’t know 81 games here during the regular season but I know nine or 10 times for nine years,” Black said of his experience with Coors Field during his days managing the San Diego Padres. “I’ve seen shutouts. I’ve seen low-scoring games. As (Rockies TV play-by-play) Drew Goodman said, I’ve seen ping-pong games here as well. I would hope that I’m not surprised by anything and embrace it.
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“It’s baseball. Whether you’re playing in Miami, Toronto or St. Louis, it’s a baseball game. It’s our nine guys versus theirs and somebody has to come out on top in the end. We’re going to do everything we can to get our players where they need to be. The thing that I like that about this situation is that our players feel that too. I sense that. I get the vibe that our players feel good about themselves and each other and the team. That’s a great start. I’m excited about that.”