Lobby of Numbers: Colorado Rockies

Saturday, February 03 2007 @ 12:35 AM EST

Contributed by: Magpie

The idea behind these was to have some fun wandering through history. Having started with the AL East, I figured I would then switch leagues and coasts and go to the NL West.

I didn't really think that through, did I? It put Tampa, Arizona, and Colorado directly in my path. In succession. Three teams created in the 1990s. There's no history to wander through here. It's like doing homework.

Which is why it's taken so long to get here....

The Rockies short history, while mostly dreary, has not been entirely without incident. They actually made it into the post-season in just their third year of operation. This was 1995 - the season got off to a late start in the aftermath of the 1994 strike, and the Rockies bolted from the gate, winning 11 of their first 15. They cooled off, but no one else in the NL West stepped up. By the All-Star Break, the Rockies were 39-30 and had a five game lead. They traded for Bret Saberhagen in early August, and almost instantly lost eight of nine games and slipped two games behind the Dodgers. The Dodgers stumbled themselves, and as the calendar turned to September, Colorado and Los Angeles were in a dead heat atop the NL West.

This was the first year that a Wild Card team would make the post-season, and Houston and Philadelphia were both within one game of the NL West leaders. The Rockies put together another 11-4 run. By September 18, then, the Phillies faded out of contention, but the Dodgers were hanging tough in the divsion race (1.5 games back) and Houston was still within reach of the Wild Card. The three times stayed in lockstep for almost a week, all three either losing together or winning together. Finally, a Rockies loss while the Dodgers and Astros were winning tightened it up just a little more. Colorado then went into Dodger Stadium and lost two of three, which knocked them back into second place, but with a one-game lead on Houston for the Wild Card. From that point until the end of the season, Colorado and Houston matched each other win for win and loss for loss every day until the schedule concluded. The Rockies, with their 77-67 record were going to the playoffs.

The Braves dispatched them in four games. The Rockies blew a 3-1 lead in the first game and a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning of the second game. They won the third game in extra innings after giving away leads of 3-0 and 5-3. In the finale, fittingly, they jumped out to a 3-0 lead but ended losing 10-4. They haven't been back.

So, let's begin:

- The immortal Trenidad Hubbard gets us off to a rousing start. Hubbard could actually hit a little bit, but had a terrible time finding anyone who would give him much of a chance. He was 28 years old when he made his ML debut with the 1994 Rockies. He finally got a bit of a chance to play five years later with the Dodgers, and gave them a couple of nice years as a fourth outfielder. But by then he was 34 years old...

2 - The second Blue Jay to hit for the cycle (I was there!), Jeff Frye played just 37 games as a Rockie, in 2000. But he did hit .356 in those games, which is not bad for a utility infielder.

3 - I was very excited when Mike Lansing went to Coors, and made a point of drafting him in all my fantasy leagues. Can I just say that I don't play in fantasy leagues anymore.

4 - For no reason I can rationally explain, I was always a Nelson Liriano fan. Nelson wandered around a little after leaving Toronto, and he eventually landed in Colorado and gave the Rockies some useful production off the bench. But Juan Uribe, shortstop for the 2005 world champion White Sox, arrived in the majors as a 21 year old with Rockies. He spent three years in their infield, and then was traded for Aaron Miles. Is it possible that some of us have seriously underestimated Kenny Williams? Because that deal looks like a steal to me.

5 - You could make a pretty good case for Matt Holliday right now, I suppose, and in a couple of years he will not be denied. But until that day, let us join with Dusty Baker and pay homage to Neffi Perez. Perez joined the Rockies as a 23 year old shortstop and hit .282 with 43 HRs in his three-plus years on the job, whilst also taking home the 2000 Gold Glove.

6 - Slim pickings here, with a couple of backup players as the only real candidates. Jason Bates spent four seasons as a reserve middle infielder, hitting .239 in 319 games. Ben Petrick was a catcher with a promising bat - he hit .323 and .322 in two trials in 1999 and 2000. He was 23 years old, and his best days as a player were already behind him.

7 - Before he turned to managing, Joe Girardi was the Rockies' first catcher. He gave them three solid seasons before signing with the Yankees as a free agent, just in time for the Bombers' 1996 championship run. He was gradually displaced by Jorge Posada, but he was part of three World Series winners.

8 - This number has also adorned backup players for the most part: catchers Brent Mayne and Bobby Estalella, infielder Roberto Mejias. Which leaves us with Kirt Manwaring, who spent a couple of seasons in Denver as more or less the number one catcher, and did manage to play 1000 games in the major leagues.

9 - The Rockies first shortstop was a 25 year old out of the Atlanta organization named Vinny Castilla. He wasn't awful, but when the Rockies signed Walt Weiss as a free agent, Castilla was out of a job. He spent 1994 as a backup at all three infield positions, and hit .331 in 152 at bats. When 3b Charlie Hayes left as a free agent, Castilla stepped in and unexpectedly emerged as one of the first Coors sluggers. Over the next five years, Castilla would hit 191 home runs, drive in 562 runs, while hitting better than .300 four times. The Rockies traded him to Tampa at that point, and he played so badly for the D-Rays that he seemed the ultimate example of a Coors created hitter. Tampa actually released him in May 2001 - he caught on with Houston and his bat suddenly came back to life, as he knocked 23 HRs and drove in 82 runs for the Astros over the rest of the season. His journeys have since taken him to Atlanta, back to Colorado, on to Washington, and finally to San Diego this past year, where his remarkable and highly unpredictable career seems to have finally come to an end with his release in July. He played 1800 games in the majors, and hit 319 homers and drove in more than 1000 runs.

10 - Speaking of Coors created hitters...Dante Bichette broke in with the Angels in late 1988. He played there and in Milwaukee for his first five seasons and established himself as a pretty decent player. He was a rightfielder with a strong arm. As a hitter, he had no plate discipline but he could crank the occasional long ball. His move to Colorado improved his overall numbers slightly, but there's nothing in his 1993 performance in Coors that looks all that different from what he had done before. He hit .310, which was a career high - but he had hit .287 the year before. He hit 21 homers, also a career best - but for the first time in his career he was playing every day and he had previously had 15 HR seasons in significantly fewer at bats. He was 29 years old. He added a little more power in his 30s, but for the most part during his time in Colorado he was essentially duplicating his fine 1993 season. The outlier is 1995, when his batting average shot up to .340 and he walloped 40 HRs and 128 RBIs. That one year is seriously out of context with the rest of his career, and more than anything else is why Bichette has always been regarded as Coors-creation. I think though that it's just that one year that is out of context, that he was a actually pretty good player who had a Fluke Year. Because of that one year, and because he did it in Coors, we have somewhat unfairly dismissed his entire career. Mike Hampton also wore this number while he was in Colorado. Hampton swung the bat very well for the Rockies. Unfortunately, they were paying him insane amounts of money to pitch for them, which didn't work out too well.

- Until last year, Angel Echevarria was pretty well the only option. 2005 was Brad Hawpe's rookie season, and he wasn't all that impressive - a 26 year old outfielder hitting .262 in Coors with 9 HR in 305 at bats. But his sophomore season (.293 with 22 HR) is a step forward.

12 - It may be remembered in baseball lore forever - the career changed by a Load of Meat. Clint Barmes had done little of interest in his career until he began the 2005 season hitting like the second coming of Rogers Hornsby. He cooled off, of course, but he was still hitting .329 with 8 HRs in early June when he had his ill-fated hunting trip. It cost him a trip to the All-Star Game. More disturbingly, when he got back into the lineup in late 2005... his glittering carriage had turned back into a pumpkin. In 2006, he was as bad an offensive player as... well, I'd send John McDonald up to pinch hit for him. I might send Ronald McDonald up to pinch hit for him. But for one brief, shining moment...

13 - The nomadic wanderings of Charlie Hayes through the major leagues saw him make two stops in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and the Bronx. He also played with Milwaukee and Houston before he was done. He had his best season as the Rockies' first third baseman, hitting .305 with 25 HR and 98 RBI in 1998. His career highlight, however, probably came when he scored the only run in the 1-0 victory that gave the Yankees their first World Series title in almost twenty years.

14 - The Expos turned first base over to Andres Galarraga in 1986, and he gave them five decent years on the job. He wasn't a great hitter, but he chipped in with the bat and played good defense. After a dreadful age 30 season in 1991, they shipped him to St. Louis for Ken Hill. The Big Cat played poorly for the Cards (.243, 10 HR) and the Rockies took him in the expansion draft. Where, at age 33, he promptly hit .370. No one saw that coming. He then emerged as a power hitter. He had his first 30+ homer season in the strike year of 1994, and followed up with seasons of 31, 47, and 41 homers, while hitting between .280 and .319. Then he decided to demonstrate that he wasn't entirely a Coors creation. He signed with the Braves as a free agent and hit .305 with 44 homers for Atlanta. Then came cancer. He lost the entire 1999 season, but came back at age 39 to hit .302 with 28 homers for the Braves. He spent his last three seasons wandering from Texas to San Francisco to Montreal before finishing up with a cameo for the 2004 Angels. He was one of those exceedingly rare players who are much, much better in their 30s than they were in their 20s.

15 - Jeff Reed spent 17 seasons catching in the major leagues and posted his best numbers near the end, during his three year run with the Rockies, where he hit more than half his career homers.

16 - Curtis Leskanic pitched for the Rockies from 1993 through 1999, and for much of that time he was actually pretty good. It's hard to tell from the numbers, of course. But he appeared in 356 games, more than anyone except Steve Reed, and went 31-20, 4.92 with 20 saves.

17 - David Nied is one of the great hard-luck stories in modern memory. He was a 14th round pick of the Atlanta Braves in the 1987 amateur draft and in 1990 he started to turn heads as he shot up through their system. In 1992, he went 14-9, 2.36 for Richmond in AAA. Called up to the Braves at the end of the year, he went 3-0, 1.17 while striking out 19 hitters in 23 innings. He was all set to join Smoltz, Glavine, and Avery in Leo Mazzone's pitching corps. He was 24 years old and his future looked impossibly bright... and then he was selected by Colorado in the original expansion draft. (The Braves filled the spot in the rotation by singing a free agent, guy named Greg Maddux.) Nied started and lost the Rockies first ever game - he won his next three starts and then started to struggle. He spent three months on the DL before returning to go 2-2 in September. In 1994, he was 9-4 by mid-season but his arm was hurting again. He lost his next three decisions before being shut down for the year. And that was more or less the end of the story. He never won another major league game, and his career was over by age 27. Which brings us to Todd Helton. He was drafted 8th overall out of the University of Tennessee in 1995. In his first pro season he hit .332 at AA New Haven at .352 at AAA Colorado Springs. He was hitting .352 again for Colorado Springs when the Rockies brought him up at the end of 1997. As a rookie, he hit .315 with 25 HRs. Then he got really, really good, and he took a .337 lifetime average into the 2006 season. To a degree, Helton's accomplishments have been disregarded because he plays in Coors. He has been a great hitter anyway - his career line on the road is .297 / .397 / .518. In Denver he has been an absolute monster, with a career line of .372 / .468 / .693. How many players have hit better over a period of years than Helton has hit in his home games?

18 - After an undistinguished (43-64) career spent mostly in the Phillies rotation, Bruce Ruffin was one of the original Rockies. He soon moved to the bullpen, and gave the Rockies the best years of his life. He was 17-18, 3.84 with 58 saves in 246 games with the Rockies; he stands second in franchise history in both saves and ERA.

19 - I'm not liking this. Willie Blair? Gabe Kapler wore this number during his time with the Rockies, during which he posted offensive numbers similar to those of Mike Hampton. Let's go with Jamey Wright, who made the first 90 starts of his career as a Rockie, and was surely scarred for life by the experience. Only two men have pitched more innings as a Rockie.

20 - Bill Swift was a right-handed sinker-baller who went 21-8 for the Giants in 1993. In late June of the following season he was 8-4, 2.53. He went just 0-3 the rest of the way, missing one month with an injury and the final six weeks while out on strike. The Rockies signed him as a free agent over the off-season anyway. It didn't work out for them, as he never did get healthy. He went 9-3 for the Rockies in his first year there but he could only make 19 starts. Still, that was more than he was able to do over the next two years combined.

21 - The Dodgers left Eric Young available in the expansion draft, the Rockies snapped him up, and he spent most of the next five years leading off and holding down second base for them (except when he was playing the outfield.) He was an All-Star in 1996, when he hit .324 and scored 112 runs, and is still the franchise leader with 180 stolen bases.

22 - Walt Weiss was the shortstop on the 1995 team. Don Baylor had Weiss and his .403 OnBase average hitting eighth most of the season. Batting in front of the pitcher, he scored just 65 runs despite drawing 98 walks. Joe Girardi and Mike Kingery were Baylor's preferred options to hit in front of Bichette, Walker, and Castilla. Sigh.

23 - There is a type of Irishman known as the "Black Irish," and those are my people - you know, we're not the ones with red hair and freckles. Despite his name, I don't think Chuck McElroy was one of us - he was a little too dark. Besides, he was left-handed, wore glasses and spelled "McElroy" with an E, unlike any relatives known to me. But I always cheered for him with unswerving devotion anyway. He had a 13 year career as a major league pitcher, and gave the Rockies one of his best seasons (6-4, 2.90 in 78 games in 1998.)

24 - Uh, Harvey Pulliam? Who had all of 87 at bats over three seasons in Colorado? Yup.

25 - He was a very fine player, and an enormously respected Leader of Men while he was active. As an actual manager, Don Baylor really didn't have a clue. He did manage to get the Rockies into the 1995 post-season, however.

26 - By this time next year, young Jeff Francis should be third in all-time wins as a Rockie, but in the meantime Ellis Burks was a fine player for a long time. He was a Rockie for roughly four seasons, and his 1996 season was pretty special: .344 with 40 HR, 128 RBI. He scored 142 runs (!) and finished 3rd in the MVP voting.

27 - One of the current Rockies, Garrett Atkins, is emerging as a pretty special player. He had a superb year in 2006 - .329, with 29 HR, 120 RBI and 117 runs scored - and he's just hitting his prime.

28 - It's doubtful that Aaron Cook is bound for glory, but he pitched quite a bit better this year than the 9-15 record would suggest.

29 - We are now reduced to selecting a man who spent one year and part of another as the second-string catcher. Because if we don't pick Gary Bennett, we have no other choice but to name ex-Jay Dave Collins, who's been one of the Rockies coaches. I like Collins and all, but still...

30 - I've never been much of a Justin Speier fan, and will therefore give him one last snub, and pass him by in favour of Kevin Ritz. After all, Ritz was one of those brave pioneers who had to go into Denver in the early days and find a way to pitch effectively. What hardy souls they must have been. Ritz managed the job well enough - he actually won 17 games in 1996, a figure that has never been surpassed in franchise history.

31 - The Mets traded Bret Saberhagen to the Rockies in mid-1995. Just one year earlier, Saberhagen had been one of the very best pitchers in baseball. He started 9 games for the Rockies (2-1, 5.36) and by the time the season was done - well, so was he. He didn't return to the mound until August 1997, by which time he was wearing a Boston uniform. Gregg Zaun also wore this number during his very brief stay in Colorado.

32 - Jason Jennnings has now started and won more games, and pitched more innings, than anyone in franchise history. He was probably better in 2006 when he went 9-13 than he was when we first noticed him, winning 16 games for the 2002 team. He hasn't come near to matching the .306 batting average he put up that season, but they don't pay him to hit anyway.

33 - One of the two greatest baseball players ever born in Canada, Larry Walker spent almost 10 years with the Rockies. He led the league in batting average three times, was the NL MVP in 1997, and won five of his seven Gold Gloves while with Colorado. His rate stats were surely helped by Coors, but he was a terrific player anyway. His counting stats were hurt by his susceptibility to injury; only once in his 17 seasons was he able to play 150 games. Walker generally stands second, behind Helton, in every lifetime Rockie batting stat, except stolen bases. There's he's second to Eric Young.

34 - For a while there, the Los Angeles Dodgers seemed to have a pipeline running from the Dominican Republic to the pitcher's mound at Dodger Stadium: within a few years they came up with Ramon Martinez, Pedro Martinez, and Pedro Astacio. At age 22, Ramon Martinez was the Cy Young runner-up, and the Dodgers hung on to him (and worked him until he dropped.) They traded away his little brother Pedro, to their eternal regret. Astacio made it to Chavez Ravine in 1992 and had spent four years in the rotation (sandwiched around a season as a swing man.) By August 1997, the Dodgers were in a pennant race despite a lineup with some serious holes (Roger Cedeno, Wilton Guerrero, and Todd Hollandsworth were all playing regularly.) What they did have was an excess of starting pitchers - besides Astacio and Martinez, they had Hideo Nomo, Ismael Valdes, and Chan Ho Park. Tom Candiotti had been forced into the bullpen for the first few months of the season. But when Martinez got hurt in June, Candiotti moved to the rotation in June and was pitching well. So when Martinez came off the DL in August, the Dodgers shipped Astacio to Colorado for Eric Young. Young was capable of improving their lineup at 2b, CF, and LF - if only he could play all three positions at the same time.

Moving from Dodger Stadium to Coors Field should have been an utterly shattering experience, although Astacio responded by going 5-1, 4.25 the rest of the way. He spent three more years in the Rockie rotation, and still holds the team single season records for wins, strikeouts, complete games, and innings pitched.

35 - Would you believe a pinch-hitter? John Vanderwal did have a very nice year coming off the Rockies bench in 1995.

36 - This is the LH Bobby Jones, as opposed to the RH pitcher with the same name who pitched at the same time and in the same league, mostly with the New York Mets. Our Mr Jones spent a couple of years as a swing man at altitude.

37 - I was pleased to see Joe Kennedy end up in Colorado as part of the three way deal that sent Justin Speier to Toronto and Mark Hendrickson to Tampa. As far as I was concerned, getting Kennedy out of the AL was the best part of the trade - for some reason, he had the Blue Jays number. He gave the Rockies one excellent season (9-7, 3.66) and then got traded to Oakland after getting off to a poor start in 2005.

38 - After two years as a swing man, Roger Bailey moved into the Colorado rotation in 1997 and despite Don Baylor's best efforts would put together a very promising season (9-10, 4.29 with 5 CG and 2 SO). He is the only Colorado pitcher to toss two shutouts in a season. Alas, he missed the entire 1998 season after a spring training car accident. The Rockies cut him loose, he failed to catch on with Tampa Bay in 1999, and ended up back in Devnver. As a broadcaster.

39 - Steve Reed pitched in more games than anyone in franchise history, and probably should be recognized for that reason alone. He pitched very, very well for the Rockies, however - his 3.63 ERA in the best of any pitcher in team history. Of the 34 men who have thrown the most innings in Rockies history, Reed is the only one to allow fewer than a hit per inning.

40 - After a fine season with the 1992 Brewers, Darren Holmes was the fifth player taken by the Rockies in the expansion draft. He saved 25 games for them that first season, but was injured the next year. He returned to give the Rockies three more seasons in the pen, and was especially good in 1995 and 1996. Then he began wandering around North America. He gave both the Yankees and Diamondbacks a good season apiece, before losing effectiveness at age 34. Because of his track record, all kinds of teams brought him in to kick the tires: he made stops in St. Louis, Baltimore, Arizona again, and finally Atlanta before packing it in.

41 - By the time he was 27, Brian Bohanon had a resume that included ERAs of 6.62, 6.31, 7.23, and 7.77 (that last was as a Blue Jay in 1996). He had never pitched well anywhere, not as a starter, not as a reliever. And then something unexpectedly clicked. He did a decent job for the 1997 Mets, and had an excellent season split between the Mets and Dodgers in 1998. Full of confidence, he signed with the Rockies as a free agent and produced back-to-back 12 win seasons. But his 2002 season was shortened by injury - he signed as a free agent the next spring with Cincinnati but didn't make it back to the show.

42 - Pioneers, oh pioneers! The first man to figure out how to pitch at altitude was a 27 year old Mexican named Armando Reynoso. He had tasted the proverbial cup of coffee in Atlanta, and was chosen by the Rockies in the expansion draft. He was the 58th player taken, so it's likely they weren't expecting much. But he started 30 games that first year, and went 12-11, 4.00 - and that ERA is still the lowest single season ERA by a Colorado starter, humidor or no humidor. Reynoso had a lot of trouble staying healthy after that first season - he would never start more games or pitch more innings than he did that first year.

43 - We have a LOOGY! Mike Munoz had the job in Colorado for five and a half years and did a decent enough job. He appeared in 300 games, more than any other Rockie LH and behind just Steve Reed and Curtis Leskanic in team history.

44 - Mookie's nephew (and stepson? how does that work), Preston Wilson, was the 9th player taken in the amateur draft in 1992. He's still around, of course, having just won a ring with the Cardinals. He came to Denver in 2003 and had a monstrous year - hitting 36 homers and driving in 141 runs.

45 - Jerry DiPoto had three fine seasons coming out of the Colorado bullpen from 1997 through 1999. He was injured and got off to a poor start in 2000 - he missed four months, but returned to pitch very well in September. Nevertheless, his major league career ended there.

46 - OK, we're pushing it a little now. Tim Harikkala had the only decent year of his career in the 2004 Rockies bullpen.

47 - Dave Veres was a good relief pitcher for five National League teams over ten seasons. Two of them were with the Rockies. He was brilliant in 1998, and the Rockies made him their closer the next year. He wasn't nearly as good that next year, but he did save 31 games and was packaged off to St. Louis along with Daryl Kile in exchange for... well, a whole lot of nothing. Four guys who never amounted to much of anything. Except Jose Jimenez, I suppose.

48 - Uh...Chris Nichting appeared in 36 games as a reliever in 2001-2002 and was pretty good.

49 - Jose Jimenez wore this number for his first two years in Colorado. He was actually wearing number 16 in 2002 when he set the franchise season record for saves (41.) But we've got Leskanic for that number. And Jimenez's best year in Colorado was his first year there, when he went 5-2, 3.18 with 24 saves. He was wearing 49 that year.

50 - Do we have a shortage of candidates? Yes, we do. Scott Elarton was spectacularly bad in Colorado. His best year there? That would be when he went 4-4, 6.27 in an injury-riddled 2003 campaign. He began the next season in the rotation, and had earned his unconditional release by May.

51 - David Lee pitched well in the 1999 bullpen. It was probably a fluke.

52 - One of the newer Blue Jays, John Thomson, did a pretty decent job of coping with Coors Field. He kept his ERA below 5.00 in five of his six seasons there, which is actually an impressive accomplishment. The fact that his career ERA as a Rockie is 5.01 says something about how horrible that other season was (1-10, 8.04). At any rate, we know this guy can cope with a hostile environment.

53 - Blue Jays coach Bruce Walton wore this number when he was a Rockie, but Walton only appeared in four games. Gary Wayne spent an entire season as the Colorado LOOGY and did OK.

54 - It only seems as if Kent Mercker has done two tours of duty with every National League team. He was only with the Rockies once, for a single season. He wasn't very good, but we're in no position to be choosy.

55 - Shawn Estes did post a 15-8 record in his one year with the Rockies. Not that anyone can explain how that actually happened.

Beyond 55, there's not much to consider. The late Darryl Kile wore 57 during his ill-starred tenure in Colorado ("What's happened to my curve ball? It's not curving!") He deserved better. And Todd Jones, the Wandering Closer, set the team record for appearances in a season (79) while wearing number 59 in 2002.

And next... the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! This, at last, at long last, is going to be fun!