We continue our look at the top 100 Colorado Rockies of all time in this article. Here, we look at No. 81 on our list, Mike Hampton.
Many Rockies fans have very legitimate reasons to be upset that Mike Hampton is on this list. There is a very strong argument that he is one of the worst players to ever come to Denver and that the mention of his name only brings up bad memories. But that would only be part of the story. Hampton isn’t on this list because of his pitching performance in Denver. Far from it. He is on here because of his warning to the franchise and how management ultimately learned and got better.
You’re right. For how much the Rockies paid him and how ineffectively he pitched in Colorado. He was one of the worst pitchers ever. But he was no Denny Neagle. In 1999, Hampton had his best season with the Houston Astros going 22-4. A year later he went 15-10 and helped lead the Mets to the World Series.
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Those numbers are why Hampton got the highest contract at the time in Major League history at $121 million over eight years. Hampton cited Denver school systems as part of what he liked about the move to Denver but that is another story.
Hampton actually didn’t flop his first year. He just did very little to justify his over-zealous contract. He went 14-13 with a 5.12 ERA in 2001. Not many Rockies pitchers have won 14 games in a season let alone pitch over 200 innings pitching half of their games at Coors Field. Mike Hampton did. He also made the All-Star game that year as one of only six Rockies pitchers to ever make it in franchise history.
This is where his value comes in and why he has a top100 positive WAR in team history. While he had a .3 WAR pitching in 2001, he had a 1.2 WAR batting with seven home runs winning the Silver Slugger award. While Coors Field helped, it’s fair to mention he won the award five years in a row in Houston, New York, Denver and Atlanta.
The 2002 season is the reason to cringe for Rockies fans. Hampton went 7-15 with a 6.15 ERA struggling to find any command ending with a -1.9 WAR for his pitching value. For batting he had a 1.0 WAR and finished his Rockies career with a batting average over .300.
But that’s not why you give pitchers record contracts. What was even more disappointing was the next two years, Hampton pitched in the playoffs for the Atlanta Braves.
Hampton is on this list ultimately because of the very expensive lesson the Rockies learned. Not because of his pitching performance. Over paying for free-agent pitching doesn’t work in Colorado. The Rockies had to try it and now they are a better franchise for it. They are developing pitching their way through fastball command. Without Mike Hampton, the Rockies may have tried the free agent approach much longer than 2002.