Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Rockies 2, Giants 1
2005-08-29 23:43
by Mark T.R. Donohue

A good win to get, as a victory in Matt Cain's debut might have given the Giants a lot of momentum for the rest of the series. Cain did well to get out with the numbers he did (two earned runs in five innings pitched) seeing as he walked four. The Rockies' pitching staff, on the other hand, walked no one. Byung-Hyun Kim struck out six and went seven solid in one of his best starts of the year. Mike DeJean pitched a perfect eighth, Brian Fuentes pitched a perfect ninth. They should all be so easy. (Another road homer for Matt Holliday, too. Woo!)

It's around this time of year that people who don't follow the Rockies very closely (many of whom, sadly, live right here in the Denver area) glance towards the bottom climes of the standings tables and declare fustily, "See, I told you they could never win at altitude!" More and more often lately, when I mention to people that I run a Rockies blog, I get a prepared statement in response regarding how their pitching staff always breaks down. Well, we did lose Jason Jennings and Dan Miceli, but I'm unconvinced that that's a bad thing. Jeff Francis has had his ups and downs (like a recent 4-start stretch when he allowed 24 earned runs in 18 innings) but his home ERA is practically two points lower than his road ERA and he did look very strong the other day in San Diego.

Byung-Hyun Kim, on the other hand, has been starting more or less all year (since May anyway) and he's pitching better now than he has all season. August will mark the fourth straight month his ERA will have been lowered from the month preceding. I'm not going to say that BK is a bold new vanguard for Rockies pitching (he is 4-10), but he is a good sign that there are some things that Colorado is doing right with regards to building a winning pitching staff, and there are some others they need to think harder about.

The obvious thing that they are nailing is the bullpen. It's a foregone conclusion that Colorado is going to be around the league lead in innings pitched by the bullpen every year, so it might be worth assembling one with particular care. This year's model bears little resemblance to the Spring Training plan, but with guys like David Cortes and Marcos Carvajal who can pitch multiple effective innings, and a real-no-fooling setup man and closer in DeJean and Fuentes, the Rockies can be pleased with getting five innings out of their starters more often than not. The best part is keeping the bullpen decent should be relatively cheap. Other teams are unlikely to bid high on many of the Rockies' middle relief guys because, well, they're Rockies middle relief guys. Add that to the fact that Colorado has inadvertently lucked into a legitimate star closer in Brian Fuentes and it could be the glory days of 1995 all over again.

Then there's the other hand. Byung-Hyun Kim is a talented guy, and he's well-compensated for what he does. He's a bargain compared to, say, Chan Ho Park or Russ Ortiz, but that's like saying Bronson Arroyo is a better guitar player than Barry Zito. The competition is not fierce. The only reason Colorado has Kim and his high paycheck ($6.6 million) is they exchanged Charles Johnson's even more onerous contract for his in one of those lovable modern-era salary boondoggle trades. Still, as the trades of Shawn Chacon and Joe Kennedy (3-0 in the AL!) evidence, the Rockies are terrified to pay starting pitchers real money. This will not do. Even the A's are willing to pay the going rate for a Mark Redman every now and then if he's the missing piece their rotation needs.

Colorado is understandably spooked about bringing in veteran hurlers after the Hampton and Neagle fiascos. This is stupid. Those guys were mediocre players whom the Rockies opened the checkbook for in the vain hope that somehow being paid like aces would make them so. Colorado has to be willing to pay the price ($4-6 million per) for Steve Trachsel types, guys who will pitch 200 innings from the four spot in the rotation and not embarrass themselves doing so. It's improbable to expect them to cobble together an entire rotation from prospects, projects, and waiver claims. Sure, trying to develop an ace is a smart and economical strategy. Maybe Francis or Aaron Cook will become The Guy. But future dependence on the Zach Days, Jamey Wrights, and Joe Kennedys of the world is not a blueprint for success.

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