Thursday, May 19, 2011

Defining a Season: 1993-1997

Part one of a series of Rockies-centric posts.  See the introduction here, part two here, part three here, and part four here.

1993 Colorado Rockies: 67-95, 6th place, 37 Games Back (GB)

The Rockies inaugural season was impressive despite the abysmal .414 winning percentage.  Colorado led the league in attendance with almost 4.5 million fans, thanks to Mile High Stadium, and boasted their first batting champion in Andres Galarraga.  In all, the 1993 was a season of unbridled optimism, an unspectacular but promising first step in a career.

Defining Player: SP - David Neid

Neid was the Rockies first pick in the inaugural draft, a former Braves prospect and a promising young talent.  Though injuries would stop him from ever becoming the pitcher he had the potential to be, in 1993 Neid showed glimpses of his quality, including a complete game 5-3 win against the Mets in April.  Indeed, Neid - the Rockies' opening day starter and presumptive ace - started the season 3-1 with a 3.10 ERA.  Beyond all that, though, Neid was a symbol of all things new in Colorado: a rookie pitcher on a rookie team, an early promise that the Rockies would have an anchor in their rotation for years to come, and an early fan favorite.  That things didn't work out that way only further reinforces his place as the defining player of the '93 season, for reasons that will become clear.

1994 Colorado Rockies: 53-64, 3rd place, 6.5 GB at time of strike

The strike season was disappointing for fans across baseball, but it was especially hard on the Rockies* because of their rabid new fanbase.  By the time the season was called off, the Rockies attendance had already surpassed 3 million, and while their 53-64 record was far from great, it was a vast improvement over the '93 campaign.  The mere possibility of losing the 1995 season was frustrating to fans who had approved a new ballpark to be opened that year.  After the expectation and excitement of 1993, 1994 should have been another step forward - and it was, to a point - but it turned out a kind of limbo.

* It was hardest on the Montreal Expos, who comfortably lead their division by 6 games - at 74-40 - when the rest of the season was called.  After the strike fan interest waned and, before long, the team was moved to Washington, D.C.

Defining Player: 1B - Andres Galarraga

The Big Cat gets the nod here because he was good in 1994, but not nearly as good as he was in '93.  He followed up his league-leading .370 batting average with a .319 effort, and while he crushed a crowd-pleasing 31 homers in only 103 games, he also struck out 93 times, and the lack of adequate support in the lineup left him with only 85 RBI to go with his power.  What's more, the strike put him in limbo as much as anyone.  The promise of stardom - after a solid, but far-from-special career before the Rockies - had started to shine on Andres, but the strike robbed him of a full year of productive baseball at a time when he could least afford it.  Like Neid in '93, he was destined never to be at the heart of the Rockies again after 1994, as Larry Walker and then Todd Helton would steal the spotlight.

1995 Colorado Rockies: 77-67, 2nd place, 1.0 GB, Wild Card

Never before had a team made the MLB playoffs as early as the third year of their existence, but thanks to the shortened season, the addition of the wild card, and some shrewd moves by the front office and career years by the players, the Rockies managed to play their way into the postseason in 1995.  They were promptly crushed by their nemesis, the Atlanta Braves (who had, incidentally, beaten them in every matchup they had in 1993).  Even so, the Rockies were historically good for a 3rd year team, and their new ballpark and hitter's heaven named Coors Field was packed every night.

Defining Player: RP - Curtis Leskanic

The '95 Rockies performed better than expected thanks largely to their bullpen, and that bullpen was great thanks largely to Leskanic.  He worked in over half of the teams games, leading the league with 76.  He struck out 107 in 98 innings.  Despite Coors Field, he boasted a 3.40 ERA, and surrendered only 7 home runs all season.  Above all, though, Leskanic represents the '95 Rockies because, while he had always had decent stuff, this was by far the best season of his career, and it was totally unexpected.  He was still relatively young, like the team he pitched for, and he came out of nowhere to outperform all expectations quietly, but consistently.

1996 Colorado Rockies: 83-79, 3rd place, 8.0 GB

The '96 Rockies were the victims of an excellent division.  Both the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers won at least 90 games, leaving a solid Rockies team in the dust.  Despite a solid record and another season of leading the league in attendance, 1994 was a disappointment coming off of the playoff berth in 1995.  Despite being in only their 4th season, this Rockies team is the second oldest (by average age of the players) in Rockies history, behind only the 2004 edition.  Though young in a grander sense, this was a team with a rapidly closing window.

Defining Player: SP - Kevin Ritz

Not only was his own window rapidly closing, Kevin Ritz was the perfect mix of good and bad in 1996, capturing the essence of the team's season.  His 17-11 record was good, but his 5.28 ERA (and 99 ERA+,  meaning that even adjusted for Coors Field he was merely league average) is none-too-pretty.  He was a horse, starting 35 games and working 213 innings, but he walked exactly as many hitters as he struck out (105).  At 31 years old, this was a strange season for Ritz: good, but not as good as his 1995.  Nevertheless, he was rewarded with a raise from $740,000 to $2.5 million going into 1997, expectations high after his moderately successful '95 and '96 seasons, but set up for disappointment.

1997 Colorado Rockies: 83-79, 3rd place, 7.0 GB

Expectations were high coming into 1997, and in many ways this was the Rockies most disappointing season.  They were contenders for most of the season, and were once again done in by a solid division and a lack of depth in both the rotation and the lineup.  The Blake Street Bombers were in their heyday, but four of the team's regular starters had an OPS+ under 100 (league average).  Similarly, the Rockies used six different starting pitchers regularly in '97, but only two managed to be above league average.  Even another excellent campaign from the bullpen wasn't quite enough.

Defining Player:  LF - Dante Bichette

No player was not-quite-enough enough than Dante Bichette.  As Larry Walker bashed his way to a deserved MVP award in 1997, putting up incredible numbers (Coors aided or not), Bichette was the poster-child for the overrated Blake Street Bomber.  He hit 26 homers, with a .308 average and .343 OBP, but those numbers are less impressive thanks to Coors, and his defense was bad enough that he actually was worth exactly 0.0 Wins Above Replacement for the season.  Dante was coming off of a number of good - or at least better - seasons, but like the Rockies he was getting too old too fast, and it was too hard to admit that this iconic figure for a young organization wasn't good enough to play for a contender.

No comments:

Post a Comment