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The Rockies took a step toward relevance on Monday, when they announced they had “mutually agreed” with Jeff Bridich that he should no longer be their general manager. Over six-plus seasons helming the team, Bridich made it clear he cannot win there. Colorado’s next challenge will be finding someone who can.
This is perhaps the least enviable job in baseball. Denver is a great place, with a passionate fan base, terrific food and a delightful mascot, Dinger. Its fans deserve a sustainably good team. They did not get one under Bridich. His teams never won the division. (They did twice make the playoffs as the wild card, getting bounced within four games each time.) He spent two years trading barbs publicly with third baseman Nolan Arenado, the face of the franchise, and finally paid $51 million to watch him play elsewhere. Speaking of ill-spent sums, Bridich signed 10 free agents to multi-year deals worth $290 million in his tenure. Those players combined to produce negative-four wins above replacement. Rival officials bemoaned Bridich's departure.
But his startling failures obscure how hard his task was. Denver is not a great place to play baseball. The altitude means that the air is 82% thinner there than at sea level, according to a study by the University of Illinois. Drag—essentially the force that slows a ball—and the Magnus effect—essentially the force that makes a ball break—also operate at 82% of their sea-level values. So balls carry farther and move less in Denver. Rockies pitchers have to develop two different arsenals: two-seamers at home, four-seamers and curveballs on the road. Rockies hitters might square off against Padres righty Yu Darvish at home one week, create a mental inventory of how his league-best slider moves … and then see him 10 days later on the road and face an entirely different slider.
That’s if they can see straight at all. No other team changes time zones as often as the Rockies, who are the only club on Mountain Daylight Time; a study in Human Kinetics Journal found that not being jet-lagged was worth about half as much as home-field advantage. Experienced denizens of the NL West know to build in at least 72 hours of discomfort on the front end of every trip to and from Colorado. At least one opposing team conducted a study of how its players fared in the series after they played at Coors Field. To no one’s surprise, the answer was: not well. First baseman Mark Reynolds played three years with the Rockies; he once said that he spent much of that time congested. When DJ LeMahieu signed with the Yankees, his former teammates asked him how he liked his new home. He raved about, of all things, playing on the road. It’s so much easier to prepare, he told them.
It’s hard to attract free agents to a place that will make them feel sick all the time. There are very few selling points for pitchers. Yes, we know you’ve spent years developing the high four-seamers and low breaking stuff that have become so popular in the sport, but neither of those pitches work here. Also, on average pitchers strike out 12% fewer batters here. And hitters enter a devil’s bargain: Your numbers will probably be better here, but no matter how well you play, everyone will attribute it to Coors.
The team also has to play 19 games a year against the Dodgers, who have won the most games in the sport since 2008 and don’t seem to be slowing down; 19 a year against the Padres, who are the only club challenging L.A. at the moment; and 19 a year against the Giants, who are helmed by Farhan Zaidi, one of the guys who helped put those Dodgers together.
And Bridich’s replacement will inherit a farm system that MLB.com recently ranked No. 27 in the sport, with only 2021 top pick Zac Veen, who is at least three years away from the majors, among the league’s top 100. There will be little talent awaiting the new GM at the major league level, too; Bridich shipped off Arenado, and All-Star shortstop Trevor Story, who will be a free agent after the season, seems unlikely to re-sign.
Three months ago, after the Arenado trade, Bridich insisted that the club was not tearing down, and owner Dick Monfort said, “I truly believe this is a very talented team that underperformed the last two years.” FanGraphs gives the current roster, at 5–12 the worst team in the majors, a 0.0% chance to make the playoffs.
All that, and Bridich still got to stick around for almost seven years. So maybe the Colorado GM position does have one thing going for it: job security.
- After his best outing of the season, a five-inning, four-run, two-walk, nine-strikeout affair, Angels righty/DH Shohei Ohtani is now striking out 15 batters per nine innings … and walking nearly nine. Meanwhile, he leads the majors in home runs, with seven.
- Twins rightfielder Alex Kirilloff finally picked up his first major league hit on Monday, after a very unlucky five games in which he averaged a 94.5 mph exit velocity but kept finding fielders’ gloves. In the second inning against Cleveland, he smoked a ball 104 mph—right at centerfielder Jorge Polanco. Two frames later, Kirilloff smashed a ball to almost the same spot. This one got down for a double.
- Matt Harvey went six innings and allowed one run. The Royals, at 14–7, are the best team in the American League. Time to listen to “Uptown Funk” and argue over whether that dress is blue and black or white and gold.
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