As many of you know, I am among the youngest members here on the Row. That being said, I have followed the team avidly every year for as long as I can remember. I went in phases of fandom, from no knowledge other than the stars (97-03), to some knowledge of the team, but only to a Woody Paige level (03-06), to Avid fandom (07-09), to the point where have never met someone (in person that is, you all match or surpass me) who knows more about the Rockies than I do. So, with that being said, I’ve always been curious about bigger picture Rockies knowledge. Some of you may remember the Fanpost I did looking at pitching in Coors Field (worth the read IMO). This time, I decided not to use stats, but instead to look at the team from a different, more long term perspective. Getting the idea from spending too much time working on World History and AP Human Geography, I wanted to go back and look at a look at the evolution of the franchise from where I began really following it a decade ago. I figure, one of O'Dowds strengths is having built an altitude team into a contender in the past. So, if he is operating partially based on what he learned, we should try to learn something from it as well. So, as this post will be rather unwieldy regardless, might as well get down to it:
2003 Rockies (74-88), 4th Place:
Following what was (apparently), a big offseason trade, this lineup had gone through a bit of an overhaul. Despite being an all star just two years prior, Johnson showed little promise at the catcher spot. Other Spots of worry included stopgap Beliard at second base, FA pickup Stynes at third, and bench options Hernandez (traded midseason) and Norton. Young SS Juan Uribe was also horrid at the plate. Happily for the rockies however, major players such as Walker and Helton were solid, and Wilson and Payton proved solid contributors.
A bad year for the staff overall, The few bright spots came out of the pen, as Fuentes, Lopez, and Reed all were solid. Chacon additionally showed real potential from the rotation.
Review: A pretty bad season was not historically bad, as the team was buoyed by solid pen work and a great season by Helton. Characteristically of the times, the team was more than solid offensively, with guys like Preston Wilson playing big roles, while struggling from the mound.
Outlook: The team had answers for a lot of their problems, the rotation was anchored by Jennings and Chacon, with guys like Chin Hui Tsao, Aaron Cook, Jason Young, and Jeff Francis, all providing hope for the future. The team was still not a contender, but it wasnt awful, and had hope going forward.
2004 Rockies (68-94), 4th Place:
Offseason: The Rockies were busy that offseason, changing a ton. Speier, a promising reliever, was dealt for starter Joe Kennedy (RIP). Uribe, after a down year, was dealt for Aaron Miles, who would take Belliard's spot. Castilla was brought back in lieu of Stynes, and Royce Claytons was signed to fill Uribe's hole at short. Signing Jeromy Burnitz made up for Jay Payton departing to San Diego, and Shawn Estes was also brought in to anchor the rotation.
Another solid year from a hitting perspective, as Helton once again went bonkers (Tangent!: must admit, my knowledge of Helton is shaped by his late 2000's performance, which I remember so much better, really never knew he was this good.) Holliday performed admirably in his rookie season, and Vinny's comeback was by all means a solid one. Burnitz performed better than could've been expected, and made up some for Walker being dealt mid year (the thought still chokes me up). Wilson regressed immensely in an injury plagued year, and the two new up-the-middle infielders performed no better than their predecessors.
Despite the addition of Estes and Kennedy, the rotation still underperformed in 2004. Estes and Jennings struggled in the role of workhorse, while midseason acquisition Jamey Wright, along with younger pitchers Kennedy and Cook, performed better than expected. The bullpen regressed mightily, as only Reed maintained his 2003 level of pitching. Chacon also proved a disaster in the bullpen, and taught me how worthless wins were, as he managed to earn one against the Tigers, despite blowing a hard won lead. Needless to say, this seemed egregious to my seven year sense of fairness.
Review: This team was worse than its predecessor, though it had a similar feel to it.
Outlook: This team was far from contending. Most of the pitching help (in the form of Cook and Francis) had already arrived to little avail, while the rest, (like Tsao, Stark and Young) looked unlikely to arrive, or were too far away (like Jimenez and Morrillo). On the hitting side of the ball, The Rox had some talent as usual, but the team still had some huge holes to fill (and hoped JD Closser, Barmes, Atkins, Hawpe, and Cory Sullivan, could do so.)
2005 Rockies (67-95), 5th Place:
Offseason: Traded away Charles Johnson for Byung Hyun Kim, planning to replace him with JD Closser, but signed Ardoin for backup just in case. Burnitz and Estes were not retained, nor was Steve Reed. Castilla and Clayton were let go as well to make room for Garrett Atkins and Clint Barmes respectively.
Helton was once again the brightest spot on the roster, though Matt Holliday improved on his solid 2004. Miles and Barmes still were lacking offensively (though Barmes had the best year of a MI up until this point). Atkins, Hawpe and Sullivan all performed at a mediocre level, though each creating hope for the future. Closser started the season, but was so bad he was replaced by Ardoin for the rest of the year, who was better even with his 71 OPS+.
Only Aaron Cook maintained the level of success that the young guns had in 2004. Byung-Hyun Kim was serviceable in his one year stint, and Jennings was finally seeming to settle into decent mediocrity. The bullpen was bad, other than Brian Fuentes, who was incredible.
Review: The team gave up on the not-so-young-anymore group of Wilson, Chacon ,and Kennedy. It was another really bad year, and even the offense wasn't as prolific.
Outlook: The team was bad, but the long term solutions looked like they were starting to take their places. A strong farm system had developed, and Holliday, Barmes, Hawpe, Atkins, Francis, and Cook had all already assumed positions in the bigs.
2006 Rockies (76-86), 4th Place:
The production was more spread out through the lineup this time. Helton was reduced to an All-Star, instead of a demigod. Atkins, Holliday, and Hawpe all stepped up to pick up the slack, and proved they were roles in the offense going forward. Carroll had the best year of any MI in this stretch, but was still below average. Cory Sullivan failed to build on a semisolid 2005, and neither Freeman nor Spilly did much either. Torrealba and an awful JD Closser rounded out an atrocious middle of the lineup.
The pitching staff finally showed some real improvement. Cook, Jennings,, and Francis all looked like keepers in the rotation. Fogg and Kim, the veteran place holders, did not perform very well. The bullpen finally returned to being solid, as Fuentes, Mesa, Corpas, and Ramirez solidified the late innings.
Review: The team finally showed some solid players other than Helton, and saw an increase in wins for their efforts. Both on the staff and in the lineup, much more solid play was spread throughout.
Outlook: This team, for the first time in a long time, had real long term solutions in numerous places, both offensively and on the staff. While successful non-Helton players had briefed from 2003-2005, 2006 was the first time the homegrown guys showed they could be pieces on a contending team.
4-Year Summary: I grouped these three seasons together as they had a very similar feel to them, all in the heart of the Todd and Toddler era, characterized by spurts of promise, but marred by abysmal pitching and absolutly apalling play up the middle. Improvement was made overall however, as 3B looked to become a strongpoint rather than a hole, and the pitching core showed more hope in 2005-06 than in years past, though the record remained abysmal and Todd was showing signs of regression.
Team Strategy Overview: Lead by O'Dowd and Hurdle, this era had clear patterns throughout, with a blatant plan. After signing Todd long term, this team had no plans to compete in the near future and was content to let the young guys develop while trotting out one year, stopgap veterans as seat warmers. By 2005-06, the process was coming to a close, as the number of 30+ veterans who had no place in the team's future had dwindled far below their original levels.
Impact on the future: This era was the transition from the teams that had no impact on modern day Rockies fans to the playoff teams we all remember (except for maybe Nick). With so many opportunities for youngsters to audition, the Rockies unearthed gems such as Holliday, Hawpe, Atkins, Francis, and Cook. While that core was useful, the era also featured many failed prospects, as mentioning Choo Freeman and Chin Hui Tsao might make some of you older fans cringe. While not a fun time to be a Rockies fan, these years of relative futility were the building blocks of a very solid four year run.
What I took from this excersize: While not all that in depth, it certainly provided me with an overview to compare to today. An incredibly striking resemblance to the 2011-2012 Teams emerged in my mind. 2012 looked an awful lot like 2004 reenactment. I envision 2004 Helton role filled by the Tulo/Cargo combo. Holliday was Dexter Fowler, Jeff Francis served as Shawn Estes, Micheal Cuddyer as a multi-year Jeromy Burnitz, Raffy played the role of Steve Reed, and Scutaro was Aaron Miles. I'd compare all the young pitchers, but who's to say whether Nicasio is Chacon, or Aaron Cook. Either way, it provides some context to view the upcoming season. Rosario, Rutledge, Nolan, and the pitchers get the meaningless reps this year instead of 2005's Closser, Barmes, and Atkins. That team had more young pitching, a better system, but lacked the proven MLB hitters and bullpen the 2013 Rockies possess. Anywho, this is not meant to condemn us to a 95+ loss season, nor our upcoming pick in the top 5 to Greg Reynolds (maybe we should avoid the college guy from Stanford though). It should be used to think about our timeframe for winning, as well as to learn from our past efforts at contention. Also of note, the 2005 Rockies traded multiple pieces of that team that were youngish and possibly part of the long term plan, but not essential because of MiLB depth. So Colvin, Nelson, Nicasio might wanna put forth their best efforts.
That's it for Part One! If there's any interest, a Part Two involving The Competitive Years and how we were successful could be done as well, or I could skip to the past few years and see if any the stats support the similarities that I see between the teams. Additionally, I would love to hear some of your actual memories, as I have little in the way of perspective on these years. Let me know if I missed/messed up something, as it's fairly likely. Sorry for the length, I hope you all enjoy it, and that it creates some solid talk.