High Altitude Basement
The Rockies are not just in last place in the West this year. They are having an demoralizing season, by almost every standard. They have a whole rotation worth of starting pitchers on the DL, a lineup missing Troy Tulowitzki, an incompetent manager, and a miserable plan.
Colorado’s high altitude has contributed to a disturbing attrition rate among pitchers during the Rockies’ brief history. The realization that the trend could not be shaken with throwing regiments, conditioning and the famed humidifier led the Rockies front office to consider unconventional solutions. Their plan is to have rotation of 7-11 men, with the starter throwing only 75 pitches before he is quickly replaced by a reliever who will throw a maximum of 50, before reverting to the standard setup, setup, closer trio. Each pitcher rotates in as a reliever between starts, essentially throwing their side sessions in live games. This may solve one problem, only to create others.
Let’s imagine you are an 18 year old kid with a magic right arm and a big body. You are being scouted by top colleges and big league clubs. You get drafted in the first round by the Rockies. Do you sign knowing you can’t be a normal starter, that you have to pitch in the worst environment ever suffered by major league hurlers, that once you reach free agency other teams will pay you less because you have no track record of success as a traditional starter? Even a 21 year old college pitcher with a year of eligibility left would be wise to reasonably think twice before signing the dotted line with Colorado.
Imagine you are Drew Pomeranz’s agent. Your client is a promising young pitcher who is finally getting a chance to pitch in the Majors only to have his club throw the heavy reigns of a 75 pitch ceiling on him, crippling his future earning potential by making him a glorified long reliever. Your client never has the opportunity to show he is a a go-every-five-days workhorse. He cannot establish a track record that will attract top dollar on the market. Agents will fight this. And if they can, they will avoid it entirely.
It will also be interesting to see if there will be backlash from the players union, once they see how it affects the players involved. They want their peers to make as much money as they can on the open market so they can do the same. If the Rockies systematically undermine the ability of 7-11 pitchers to accumulate the value that normal starting pitchers command, the union has a legitimate grievance.
Add these new issues to the Rockies’ already stifling inability to sign starting pitchers and their is a mess, for which all known methods of cleaning up have been exhausted. This mess does not just belong to Denver, CO. It belongs to Major League Baseball. Any situation where a team cannot be competitive because of reasons other than baseball talent is bad for the sport. Tampa and Oakland, strangled by awful stadiums which produce paltry attendance, draft and develop well, but they cannot compete because of their financial restraints. The Rockies are the victims of another kind of hostile home environment.
The hope is there for the Athletics, they are moving sometime soon. The Rays are sure to follow, though it’s less clear when and where. But after that, the Rockies may be the next to do so, and it won’t be because there aren’t butts in the seats, or money on the books, or talented players on the field. It could be because agents, the players union, and draft picks (and ultimately the Rockies fans and front office) will decide they no longer wish to endure the problems of playing the game a mile high.