Pitching at altitude is a challenge that is met head on by some hurlers and avoided like the plague by others. It’s often been one of the things that keeps free agent pitchers from signing with the Colorado Rockies. Coors Field plus altitude equals a fear factor that often sends shivers down the spines of many hurlers.
However, pitchers who grow up in Colorado have a lifetime on the mound to see how elevation makes a difference in their pitch movement. They’re raised in the environment, so pitching at elevation isn’t a second language, but rather their native tongue.
Two notable free agent pitchers are on the market this year, and both are well aware of what it takes to pitch at altitude. Those pitchers are reliever Mark Melancon, who pitched at Golden (Colo.) High School, and Kevin Gausman, who pitched for Grandview High School in Aurora, Colo.
With both being free agents, would the Colorado Rockies be more interested in them because of their Colorado backgrounds?
That’s a question I asked Colorado general manager Bill Schmidt during the recent Major League Baseball general manager meetings in Carlsbad, Calif.
“It can help but, at the end of the day, we need to get good pitching,” Schmidt said. “They can come from anywhere, but the fact that they know how to pitch in the effects and how it affects your body, yeah, that helps a lot.”
Gausman is ranked ninth by Jim Bowden of The Athletic in his listing of free agents this offseason (subscription required) after earning 5.4 bWAR last season for the San Francisco Giants. Predictions have him earning up to $25 million per year when he inks his next contract, which could well be too rich for Colorado’s liking.
Melancon, meanwhile, led MLB with 39 saves last season and, like Gausman, earned an All-Star bid to the Midsummer Classic held in Denver. He declined a $5 million mutual contract option from the Padres once the season concluded and the 36-year-old right-hander is looking to cash in with another team.
While Melancon won’t come cheap, he’s also reportedly toyed with the prospects of returning back to Colorado in previous offseasons. The Rockies are reportedly looking for a closer. Could that be the Colorado native? If so, having familiarity with pitching at altitude certainly won’t hurt.