Mike Hampton came into Colorado with the reputation of a baseball player with a football player’s mentality. Signed before the 2001 season for a then-record eight-year, $161M contract, the prevailing thought was that if anyone could handle the mental grind of pitching in Coors, it was Hampton.
Hampton was coming off an excellent seven-year run with the Astros and Mets, highlighted by his All-Star year in 1999. That year he went 22-4 with a 2.90 ERA and finished second in the Cy Young voting to only the otherworldly Randy Johnson.
Of note is the fact that Hampton had lead the league in suppressing homers in both 1999 and in 2000. The thin air makes it too easy to hit homers here, so get the pitcher that is the best at preventing them, right? You can see why this worked on paper.
In the field, however, things didn’t go as planned. Hampton battled through a 0.3 WAR 2001 that actually saw him make the All-Star team based on a hot start to his season. Toward the end of May, Hampton was 7-1 with a 2.65 ERA and mashing crowd-pleasing home runs. Then things fell apart.
Despite his pedigree, Hampton started giving up homers over three times as frequently with the Rockies. When mixed with his always-high walk rate, this became a deadly combination. Hampton finished 2001 with a bloated 5.41 ERA and 1.58 WHIP. These numbers continued to trend in the wrong direction in 2002, where Hampton compiled an ugly 6.15 ERA and 1.78 WHIP.
Finally the Rockies mercifully sent Hampton packing in a three-way deal with the Braves and Marlins. Hampton was able to revive his career with some solid seasons in Atlanta while Colorado actually got back some useful players, like Charles Johnson and Preston Wilson. That gives the Hampton saga at least a happy-ish ending, which cannot be said for our next entry…