The timing of it made you wonder what exactly Jeff Bridich was fired for, or encouraged to step down, as it was. Make no mistake, Bridich deserved to be shitcanned for his job, and has for a couple years now. Maybe right after the ink dried on Ian Desmond’s or Wade Davis’ contract. But he was allowed to keep his job after those moves. Which means he was fired for trading Nolan Arenado for pocket lint per instructions of the owner? Not always fair to be fired for following instructions. But as we well know, owners don’t fire themselves.
Of course, it’s always years of work that generally get you the axe. And Bridich had to work really hard at one aspect of his job to get fired for it, because he got the benefit of a system that had drafted and developed players before he took the GM chair. As Joe Sheehan and many others have pointed out, Bridich got to profit from the Rockies system producing the core of what should have been a very good team. In fact, it was the core of one pretty good team. Arenado, Trevor Story, David Dahl, Charlie Blackmon, German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray all were drafted by the Rockies, and were the spine of the 2018 team that essentially tied the Dodgers for the NL West title, losing Game 163 in the one season that Los Angeles found a way to underachieve.
But Bridich’s free agent signings were nothing short of utter disaster. Desmond, Davis, Gerrardo Parra and Chris Ianetta are just some of the names that Bridich brought in from free agency who just made that sound when you get knocked down in Punch-Out. That doesn’t mean the Rockies should forever avoid free agents, but whoever comes next for the job is going to have to be way more careful.
And he (or she, because that’s actually a possibility these days, though sadly a remote one) is going to have to have a clearer idea of what it takes to build a winner in Denver. The Rockies have never won more than 92 games. Thanks to that Game-163 loss, they’ve never won the NL West. They’ve never had back-to-back 90+ win seasons.
So whatever formula the Rockies have come up with, it’s only spiked a winner here or there instead of providing consistent contention. Clearly, Coors Field presents unique challenges, which need unique answers. What are some of them? We can only guess, because we’ve never really seen it. But let’s try.
One of the things that gets missed about Coors, or not as focused on as the homers, is that it’s freaking gargantuan. It’s not the homers that kill pitchers there, so much as the bloopers that fall in front of outfielders positioned somewhere near Golden or the gaps they can’t cover. And you can’t build an outfield that can cover every blade of grass at Coors, but you can try.
A lesson was the 2018 Red Sox, who play their home games in a huge centerfield and right field. They employed two centerfielders in Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts, won 108 games, had the second best Defensive Runs Saved in the AL. That’s not the only reason obviously, as they had a lineup that was a torture rack for pitchers, but it was a factor.
The Rockies have a huge outfield everywhere, so they need guys to cover it. It’s hard to find players that can play centerfield at a plus-level at all, much less three, much less two or three who can also hit. But that’s the challenge.
When the Rockies won 91 games in 2018, they had a middling defensive outfield at best, as Charlie Blackmon was already showing some wear, and David Dahl and the combination of boobs that filled out the rest were soapbox derby racers that had been sat on by the fat kid. They regressed to a bad defensive outfield the next year, and the Rockies haven’t been heard from since.
It also means they’ll have to turn over the outfield more regularly, as players 30 and over have a tough time maintaining excellence in center. But again, unique challenges.
This has been the thinking forever, and then it kind of stopped when the 2018 Rockies didn’t really feature any big-time strikeout pitchers other than German Marquez. What that Rockies team did have was an all-world defensive infield, thanks to Arenado, Story, and Lemahieu. However, the next year the Rockies basically rolled out the same rotation, and, along with some injuries, their BABIP shot up simply because that’s what BABIP does from time to time — and they were battered. You can’t trust contact in Coors. Maybe you can make it work for one year with a generationally good defense, but that’s not long-term planning. Even if you get a lot of grounders from your staff, the way the infield can dry out at altitude makes it awfully hard to keep too many balls from getting through. It takes that level of infield play that the Rockies got in 2018, and they haven’t duplicated it.
However, throwing guys who can strike out 10 in five innings at altitude is not going to lead to longevity. Rockies pitchers that come through the system should all be conditioned to throw multiple innings out of the pen, so even if the Rockies are only getting four, five, six innings from starters they only have to use two or three pitchers per day. Guys who can throw only 50 pitches per week don’t do much for them. John Smoltz may bemoan how pitchers are simply bred to go all-out for as long as they can instead of pacing themselves, but this has to be the way in Colorado.
It sounds weird to say the Rockies don’t need to focus on homers, but homers just happen in Coors. While that 2018 team had power, it also had a lot of guys who didn’t strike out that much, at least by today’s standards. Arenado, Blackmon, LeMahieu, all had strikeout-percentages below 20%. They can do better, and have to.
Again, contact in Coors means trouble. Any kind, really. The more they put defenses that aren’t built for Coors under pressure, the better they’ll be. Bat-to-ball skills will also play better on the road, because the biggest obstacle the Rockies face on the road isn’t sea-level altitude, but the different behavior of breaking balls and the change in approach from pitchers. That adjustment has waylaid the Rockies in the past. Guys who are used to just making contact help out with that. The homers will come in Denver.
It’s not easy. It can’t be because no one’s really managed it in the Rockies’ 28 years of existence. Sooo… they’re due?