The Most Disappointing Season For…The Colorado Rockies
The 1999 Colorado Rockies
Record: 72-90 (5th NL West, 13th out of 16 in NL)
Pythagorean Record: 72-90
Runs Scored: 906 (2nd in the NL)
Runs Allowed: 1,028 (16th in the NL)
Prior Season Record: 77-85
Manager: Jim Leyland
Hype: Flush with cash after leading the league in attendance since their birth, Colorado signs Jim Leyland to manage after the Marlins basically give up, and he and the free agents they will sign will lead the Rockies to the top!
The Gory Details: The Rockies signed Jim Leyland to a three year deal to lead them into the promised land of the World Series. This was after he quit the Marlins for gutting a World Series Champion team.
The hope was that with Leyland, the core cast, and notable free agents, the Rockies would compete and win. Colorado was said to be eying, among others, Kevin Brown and Mike Piazza, players Leyland was familiar with and who were top quality. Colorado had one playoff team in its brief history and a couple of other over .500 teams, but they were stuck in neutral, apparently.
Holdovers Todd Helton, Larry Walker, Vinny Castilla and Dante Bichette would supply the offense along with any free agents who would like to come to Coors Field. The staff needed help, on paper, but really, the bullpen was solid as a rock, considering how Coors Field in its pre-humidor days fluffed up the ERA.
A lot of those extra runs weren’t due to home runs, though more were hit there for sure (thank you Mr. Atltitude!). The other issue was the expanse of the stadium. There’s a LOT of room out there, especially in the power alleys. Add those singles and doubles to the home runs, and there would be crooked numbers galore, and let’s not talk about walks. A good sinker baller with the right defense, or a power pitcher that has ground ball tendencies would be a savior for Colorado.
Well, no one signed with them. All of the name free agents went elsewhere.
The ideal Coors Field team would be one where the pitchers throw strikes and keep the ball down, and one that utilizes speedy outfielders with good arms, and infielders who can snag grounders. Offense could almost be an afterthought for 81 games, and the other 81 switch to a more offensive lineup.
What they had were average defenders at second and short (Mike Lansing and Neifi Perez), a butcher in left field in Bichette, and an older center fielder in Daryl Hamilton. This wasn’t ideal.
The holdover rotation pitchers included Darryl Kile, who wasn’t economical in his pitches, Brian Bohanon, a soft tossing lefty, two young-ish pitchers with control problems in Bobby Jones and Jamey Wright, and Pedro Astacio, a power pitcher who probably was the best suited for the park.
The bullpen, as stated above, was really the star of the staff. The five main returness (Jerry Dipoto, Dave Veres, Curtis Leskanic, Mike DeJean and Chuck McElroy) all had outstanding seasons, with Leskanic’s 4.40 ERA the worst (and that was an ERA+ of 118 all things considering).
So, with no free agent upgrads, a lot of offense, several carton of Marlboros, and probably some Maalox, Leyland began his Colorado career.
By April 18th, you wonder if Leyland had thought, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” The April weather in Colorado is unpredictable and usually means postponements. No exception in 1999. The staff couldn’t get a rhythm, and after a 20-5 shellacking by Atlanta on that date the staff was spent already. They were out of sync AND tired. DeJean took the worst of it, facing seven batters and being charged with seven runs in the 9th.
A 9-10 April led into May, where the staff gave up double digits at home three times, including a whopping 24 agianst the Reds on May 19th. Seven against Bohanon, six against DiPoto, five against McElroy and six against Roberto Ramirez, a kid pitcher thrown to the wolves because, well, you need a pitcher or you’ll forfeit.
At the end of May, Colorado was 21-27. They were well on their way to leading the league in attendance again, but even with Leyland and people who could crush the ball (at home at least), it seemed they were stuck in a rut.
The dirty secret was that the pitching was slipping a bit (tiring out from those long days at Coors) and the hitters were titans at home, and marshmallows on the road. Only Larry Walker seemed to be holding up his end away from Coors Field.
The first homestand in June got the Rockies off to a good start. Even though the wins were 9-8, 12-11, 10-5 and 16-11 at least they won four of six, then took two of three at Texas and came home to win five of six against the Giants and Florida (11-10, 10-2, 8-7 and 15-6 among the scores, with a 15-2 loss thrown in there).
Holy cow, the Rockies were over .500!
At 33-32, that was the high water mark. Then the Cubs rolled into town. The Rockies scored 32 runs in three games and lost two of three (13-12 and 12-10 losses with a 10-1 win). Still, they were a .500 team and just 5 ½ back. Anything could happen.
What happened was an eight game losing streak – seven on a roadie to San Francisco and San Diego.
It’s one thing to give up double digits in Coors Field. But in Jack Murphy, the Rockies lost the first two games 10-1 (Brian Bohanon pole-axed) and 13-6 (someone named Mark Brownson was ripped, with help from McElroy and DeJean).
In game four of the series, Astacio and Dipoto gave up eight to the Padres, who were rolling out such noted stars like Quilvio Veras, George Arias, Damian Jackson and Ruben Rivera that series – oh and 117 year-old Wally Joyner.
In 3Com, also a pitcher’s park, they lost the first game 10-1 as former Colorado center fielder Ellis Burks knocked in seven runs with two home runs and a double. Jones gave up five doubles and a home run. Loss seven was only 7-1, but scoring seven in that park was still impressive, as Barry Bonds was injured and not up to par most of the year.
Loss eight was back at home, a 15-3 shellacking by the Padres featuring three RBI from Ben Davis. THE Ben Davis. Astacio gave up 10 in six innings, and Dave Wainhouse (former reputed Expos savior, mainly because he was Canadian – then they traded him for Frank Bolick – some Canadian savior, eh?) gave up five runs because, once again, you need a pitcher on the mound or you forfeit.
After that embarrassment, Colorado got some of their act together at home and somehow swept the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine (with the last game being a 12-11 contest. Yes 23 runs in Dodger Stadium. Of course, it was Bohanon against Jamie Arnold and Onan Masaoka, so, yeah…).
Then, reality sent in. A seven game homestand resulted in six losses, including a 16-8 blitzing by Houston. Poor Roberto Ramirez was the cannon fodder, but Leskanic, McElory, and Mike Porzio, the pride of Villanova and a pitcher that had an arm attached to his body, dumped more toxic waste onto the pile. Porzio was up because, well, you know, forfeit.
By this time, with August looming, and a team fighting to stay out of the cellar instead of contending, you can imagine Leyland was fed up, again. In Florida, at least, he had a ready made excuse. The team had no talent. Here, they couldn’t score any runs on the road, and can’t keep anyone off the scoreboard anywhere.
All that was left for fans was to enjoy the pinball machine scores in Coors:
- A doubleheader against Montreal where the Rockies scored 19 runs and were swept.
- A series against Pittsburgh where they scored eight runs in each game, and lost all three.
- A series against Milwaukee where they won two of three, scoring 31 runs.
- An 18-10 win over LA won by someone named Luther Hackman while the offense roughed up Ismael Valdez, Robinson Checo and Mike Maddux.
Fun and games, sure, but not winning baseball. Again, because they couldn’t score on the road AND didn’t pitch well there, either. The Rockies did have something to play for, though. Only in their first season did they lose 90 games. (In 1994, they were way ahead of the 90 loss pace, so they probably would have lost 84 or 85 that year).
The Giants came to town, and Colorado was 71-88. Win the series and they don’t lose 90. Hey it’s something.
They lost the first game 9-4. Game two was winnable, with Jamey Wright facing Kirk Reuter. The Rockies fell behind 7-4, and then the Giants erputed in the 7th and 9th off of DeJean and Leskanic.
Oh, well. Colorado won the last one, a walk-off 9-8 win on a bases loaded sacrifice fly by Edgard Clemente off of Bronswell Patrick (who somehow was not a lacrosse player).
It was a freakin’ awful mess. Free agent pitchers would have helped, but so would have some free agent hitters. Walker and Terry Shumpert (who I think was dug up out of the ground after the Royals buried him) were the only ones to really hit everywhere.
Helton was a star in Coors and a dud elsewhere (which really was out of character for him). Bichette had 133 RBI and an OPS+ of just 102. Castilla swatted 33 dingers and had an OPS+ of 84.
The most comical stat was the WAR of Bichette. He was such an awful, abysmal outfielder that he had a -2.3 WAR because his defensive component was -3.9 WAR. Cue George Takei’s ooooh, myyyy.
Pitching? They gave up almost five runs a game on the road. Astacio was decent (his 5.04 ERA was actually good for an ERA+ of 115) and so was Wright, but Bohanon and Jones were bad, Kyle worse and poor John Thomson came up, made 13 starts, went 1-10 with an 8.04 ERA. What’s worse, on the road he was 0-6 with a 9.32 ERA. NINE THREE TWO! ON THE ROAD!
The bullpen, so good in 1998, had some decent performers again if you look past ERA. Veres, Dipoto and Leskanic pitched well considering that they all were involved in some laughers.
David Lee was a surprise. McElroy was a mess (6.20 ERA) and DeJean did his best Charlie Brown imitation (8.41 ERA, 10.30 at home and 6.28 on the road. No word if he left socks and his shirt on the mound after giving up a home run to Peppermint Patty.)
Shortly after the season, Leyland realized that his spending on antacid and cigarettes would rival his salary, and quit. Colorado hired Buddy Bell and actually went 82-80 in 2000. Go figure.
Chicken Wolf All-Stars: Pedro Astacio’s 5.04 ERA was actually good for a 6.0 WAR, and Walker had a 5.1 WAR
Honorable Mention Team: In 2007, the Rockies won 90 games and went to the World Series thanks to an incredible post-season run. Well all remember that, kinda. The nest year they went 74-88. Oof.
Bad Blast from the Past: The 1890 Columbus Solons went 79-55 in the American Association. Sure it was a diluted league but the AA wasn’t as diluted as the NL. The next year, they fell to 61-76 and were quietly bought out as the AA and NL formed one league.
The problem was pitching as the moundsmen couldn’t duplicate their 1890 success, especially Hank Gastright, who went from 30-14 to 12-19. Of course, it may have been the 401 innings he threw in 1890.