Friday Rockpile: Weiss' Job a Challenge, But Not Impossible

Doug Pensinger

Walt Weiss will try to lead the Rockies to winning with a brutal home field. In 2012, that seemed impossible, but the Rockies have played at altitude for 20 years, and they HAVE won before.

Walt Weiss is officially the new Rockies manager, and he inherits a very difficult situation. His team has struggling starters, a unique front office, and a home field that makes it impossible to win. In fact, Coors Field has prevented the Rockies from ever having a successful baseball team.

"People look at us like we're crazy, but we've been doing this for 20 years, and it's not working." - Dan O'Dowd on the paired pitching system, USA Today, 6/27/2012

Of course, there is some dissonance here. While the Rockies should have fielded five playoff teams in 20 years based on their payroll and simple probability, they have fielded three playoff teams. That is below average, but it is certainly above zero. With Coors Field against them, how were the Rockies' successful in the past?

Win % Home Runs wRC+ Pitching fWAR Rotation fWAR Bullpen fWAR BR Park Factor Total Zone
1995 .535 44-28 785 (1st) 91 (10th) 21.7 (2nd) 13.1 (6th) 8.7 (1st) 128 -33 (11th)
2007 .552 51-31 860 (2nd) 96 (6th) 18.6 (1st) 13.1 (4th) 5.5 (3rd) 109 +75 (1st)
2009 .568 51-30 804 (2nd) 95 (8th) 25.0 (1st) 19.7 (1st) 5.3 (1st) 113/112 -9 (11th)
2012 .395 35-46 758 (3rd) 93 (7th) 12.1 (13th) 5.4 (15th) 6.7 (1st) 124/125 -59 (15th)

In each of their three playoff runs, the Rockies had a capable but not overwhelming offense. They did manage to pitch particularly well, once park adjustments were taken in to effect.

In 1995, the squad was le by a quietly dominant bullpen, leading the league by over 3.5 fWAR. Curtis Leskanic, Darren Holmes and Steve Reed each pitched more than 66 innings with an ERA below 3.40 in a park more stacked against pitchers than 2012 Coors Field. 1995 was the beginning of the axiom that a game is never over at Coors Field, but that developed from the Rockies' offense coming back late in games while the bullpen quietly held the opposition in check.

In 2007, the Rockies posted the best pitching fWAR in the league for the first time in their history. Home-grown pitchers Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Franklin Morales helped carry the staff while the offense got an MVP performance from Matt Holliday. The defense also set an MLB record in fielding percentage while leading the league in Total Zone defense.

In 2009, Colorado got impeccable health from their rotation. All but seven games were started by five pitchers, two of whom were Rockies for the first time. That health and consistency led to a rested and effective bullpen. and the best pitching staff in the league muted a negative Coors Field effect.

In 2012, the rotation was brutalized by injuries and ineffectiveness, forcing the bullpen to pick up a majority of the slack. That artificially inflated the bullpen fWAR. The defense was terrible, which didn't help, but the bullpen and offense was within range of prior contenders.

One other note: check the second column in that table. Every time the Rockies were most successful, they made Coors Field their advantage, not their disadvantage. Walt Weiss understands the importance of this.

"One thing we need to convince the players of is we have the greatest home-field advantage in all of baseball, and I don't think there's a close second. We've got to play on that. That's how it was. When our hitters stepped into the batter's box, we felt we were in control, and even against some of the best pitchers in the game we put up some damage. We had the momentum, and it was a matter of time before we'd get you. That mental edge was pivotal and we have to get back to it. I realize this is a different club than '95; we've got the possibility of doing really well offensively." - Walt Weiss

Weiss has the challenge of rebuilding that advantage on a "one-year" contract. He claims to be comfortable with the situation, as essentially every member of the Rockies organization except Tulowitzki, Gonzalez and Cuddyer are essentially on annual one-year rolling contracts. The Rockies leaders in Tulowitzki and Helton approve of Weiss as their next skipper.

While Coors Field is certainly a challenge, the Rockies have used it to their advantage in the past. There is a formula (unless those three playoff teams were blind luck). If the Rockies get more stable pitching from even half of the rotation and stable defense, this team will improve dramatically.

.

Links

Jason Giambi mulling offer to be Rockies' hitting coach - The Denver Post He claimed that he would not retire unless he got the manager position. Now we will know if he really means it. He reportedly has interest from other teams as a player, which could be agent posturing this early in the game.

Dante Bichette's name surfaced for Colorado Rockies with Walt Weiss - It will not come to pass, yet.

Baseball Prospectus | Manufactured Runs: What the Recent Trend Toward Inexperienced Managers Means - Colin Wyers has a BPro insider piece on Weiss, Redmond, Matheny and the other slew of recently hired inexperienced MLB managers.

MLB -- Winter Forecast for teams in National League West - ESPN - Jason Wojciechowski wrote up an offseason preview for each team in the NL West. He's yet another to link Kevin Youkilis to the Rockies, which makes little sense to me.

Rockies' Wilin Rosario not finalist for National League Rookie of Year - His defense prevented this.

Walt Weiss video interview

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