Appreciating some unsung Rockies seasons

March 31, 2009 | 9:15 am | 6  

The big Rockies seasons are easy to remember. The unsung ones, great in their own more obscure way, don’t come to mind as readily as the ones with robust numbers, some even eye-popping. And there have been plenty of those in Rockies history.

Larry Walker was the Most Valuable Player in the National League in 1997 and Dante Bichette should have been in 1995. Walker also won three batting titles with averages no lower than .350. Andres Galarraga hit .370 and won a batting title in 1993, the Rockies first season, and set a franchise record with 150 RBI in 1996.

Todd Helton won a batting title in 2000 (.372) and drove in 147 runs, came within an eyelash of another batting crown in 2003 (.358) and hit 49 homers, tying the franchise record Walker set in his MVP season, with 146 RBI in 2001.

In 1996, Ellis Burks hit .344 with 40 homers, 128 RBI and 32 stolen bases. And in 1998, Vinny Castilla hit .319 with 46 homers and 144 RBI. Matt Holliday won a batting title (.340) and led the league in RBI (137) while hitting 36 homers in 2007.

Not surprisingly, big seasons from Rockies pitchers are harder to recall. Marvin Freeman went 10-2 with a 2.80 ERA in strike-shortened 1994 when he made 18 starts and one relief appearance.

And Kevin Ritz in 1996, Pedro Astacio (1999) and Jeff Francis (2007) share the franchise record with 17 wins in a season. Ritz managed to go 17-11 with the same number of walks and strikeouts (105). Astacio’s 17-11 bottom line included 75 walks and a host of single-season records _ 210 strikeouts, seven complete games and 232 innings pitched. Ritz and Astacio had to deal with Coors Field in the pre-humidor days; not so Francis when he went 17-9 with a 4.22 ERA.

The unsung seasons are harder to recall, because the numbers require some context and aren’t jaw-dropping absolutes that still ring with authority years. Games that matter soon will begin for the Rockies, along with statistical output that will flow steadily for 26 weeks. Maybe some big seasons will result, ones that will be easily noticed in years to come, and maybe some unsung ones will surface, like the ones that follow:

RHP Armando Reynoso
1993
12-11 with a 4.00 ERA
On an expansion team whose main goal was to avoid 100 losses (and did, going 67-95), Reynoso was the only pitcher who started a game to finish with more than six victories. Reynoso began the season at Triple-A Colorado Springs because he could be optioned to the minors and Scott Aldred was out of options. Reynoso’s debut with the Rockies came April 30 at Florida; he threw a complete-game six-hitter and won 6-2. Two starts later, Reynoso threw a complete game at Mile High Stadium against the Giants, somehow giving up just four runs on 13 hits and winning 7-4.

Reynoso threw four complete games that season; no other Rockies pitcher threw more than one and the staff total was nine. He threw 128 pitches in that victory over the Giants, 142 five days later at Cincinnati, 138 in a complete-game win against Pittsburgh on May 31 and 151 in a complete-game win at San Francisco on June 26. When Reynoso started, the Rockies went 18-12 and didn’t resemble an expansion team

RHP Steve Reed
1995
5-2 with a 2.14 ERA in 71 games

Reed was third in the league in appearances (teammate Curtis Leskanic led with 76) and pitched 84 innings. This was the first season for Coors Field, where Reed’s ERA was a marvelous 3.07; on the road it was a dreamy 1.26 as he allowed seven runs, six earned, in 43 innings.

Coors Field was a difficult place to pitch then, an almost impossible place at times. Reed came close to finishing the season with a sub-2.00 ERA. Indeed, his ERA was 1.90 on Sept. 26 when Reed worked 1 2/3 scoreless innings at Los Angeles, extending his scoreless streak to eight innings in his past six games. But Reed allowed two runs in two innings Sept. 29 at San Francisco, pushing his ERA to 2.07, and one run in 1 1/3 innings there the next day to finish at 2.14.

RHP Taylor Buchholz
2008
6-6 with a 2.17 ERA in 63 games

Like Reed, Buchholz made a strong run at finishing the season with an ERA below 2.00. It was 1.81 after Buchholz worked one scoreless inning Sept. 5 against the Astros. But the right shoulder soreness that would sideline him for the final 17 games of the season was becoming a problem. Buchholz blew a save Sept. 7 when he allowed two runs in one inning against the Astros, raising his ERA to 2.06. And in what proved to be his final outing of the season, Buchholz gave up one run in two-thirds of an inning Sept. 9 at Atlanta and suffered the loss in a 5-4 defeat in 10 innings when he committed a balk. It was an inglorious end to a memorably unsung season.

IF-OF John Vander Wal
1995
.347 average in 105 games with five homers and 21 RBI.

The left-handed hitting Vander Wal appeared in 85 games as a pinch hitter and made just five starts all season, getting 19 plate appearances and 16 at-bats in those starts. He appeared in 10 games at first base, six in left field and one in right field. That’s seemingly not the ideal way to keep a bench player sharp. Nevertheless, Vander Wal went 28-for-72 (.389) as a pinch hitter with 12 extra-base hits _ seven doubles, one triple and four homers _ and 17 RBI. He had a .471 on-base percentage and .681 slugging percentage as a pinch hitter.

CF Mike Kingery
1994
.349 average with four homers and 41 RBI
Burks suffered a wrist injury in mid-May that cost him 2 ½ months of what became a strike-shortened season. Kingery stepped into the lineup and hit .349 in 105 games and played an excellent center field. He finished with more walks (30) than strikeouts (26), leading to a .402 on-base percentage. And while he wasn’t a home run hitter, Kingery’s 27 doubles and eight triples, which ranked third in the league, contributed to a .532 slugging percentage.

LHP Mike Myers
2000
0-1 with a 1.99 ERA in 78 games

Myers was a left-handed specialist, whose 45 1/3 innings that season are admittedly a small sample size. But he did finish with an ERA of less than 2.00 and had to sprint to do it. On Sept. 21 in his 74th game, Myers allowed one run in two-thirds of an inning against the Padres to raise his ERA from 1.93 to 2.11. He then finished the season with four scoreless appearances totaling 2 2/3 innings, the last coming Sept. 30 at Atlanta when Myers pitched two-thirds of an inning to whittle his ERA from 2.01 to 1.99 in the 161st game of the season.

Myers held left-handed hitters to a .120 average (11-for-92). Right-handers didn’t do a whole lot of damage, going 13-for-58 (.224). But the most startling thing about that season was Myers didn’t allow a run until July 1 at San Diego in the Rockies 76th game. He began the season with 33 consecutive scoreless appearances; of course, that only amounted to 17 2/3 innings of work.

Mark Sweeney
2004
.266 average with nine homers and 40 RBI in 122 games

Sweeney, a left-handed hitter, started 33 games, which accounted for 103 of the 177 at-bats he got all season. As a pinch-hitter, Sweeney made 82 plate appearances, which resulted in 65 official at-bats where he maximized his output with 23 RBI. Sweeney batted .246 (16-for-65) as a pinch hitter with three sacrifice flies, five doubles and five home runs, accumulating 23 RBI as a pinch hitter. Sweeney hit a two-run homer off Padres closer Trevor Hoffman to cap a three-run ninth July 9 at San Diego, giving the Rockies a 6-4 lead in a game they won 6-5.

Sweeney also homered in three consecutive games, starting Aug. 4 against the Cubs’ Kyle Farnsworth. Sweeney’s two-run pinch hit homer in the seventh gave the Rockies a 6-5 lead in what became an 11-8 loss. On Aug. 7 against the Reds, Sweeney’s pinch-hit homer off Josh Hancock in the eighth gave the Rockies a 9-5 lead, which was the final score. The following day in a 14-7 loss to the Reds, Sweeney struck out as a pinch hitter, stayed in the game and homered in the ninth off left-hander Gabe White.

The same Gabe White, who was traded by the Reds to the Rockies on April 7, 2000, for reliever Manny Aybar, after giving up two runs in one inning in his only game that year for the Reds. White, in what qualifies as an unsung season, went 11-2 with a 2.17 ERA in 67 games for the Rockies.

6 Comments »

  • Tom Stanley | March 31, 2009 | 9:30 am

    I was on Yahoo and found your blog. Read a few of your other posts. Good work. I am looking forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Tom Stanley

  • Liz | March 31, 2009 | 11:45 am

    Jack,

    This was a wonderful piece especially for oldtime Rockies followers like me. It would be great if you could do a “where are they now” on some of the older player that are not still roaming around as coaches, or whatever.

    Thanks,

    Liz

  • Steve N | March 31, 2009 | 1:14 pm

    Was just thinking the same as Liz as I read the piece. Jack, so glad you and Tracy are online so I can read the REAL Rockies news. :-)

  • Wyo Seamhead | April 1, 2009 | 8:17 am

    Hard to believe the dates of several of the seasons, but those older highlights certainly brought a smile.

    Any news on the Buchholz injury? When he may begin rehab and how soon we might see him up with the big club?

    Thanks for the wonderful website.

  • Tracy Ringolsby | April 1, 2009 | 4:36 pm

    Wyo Seamhead, it’s looking like Buchholz could return in early May, but it’s all speculationf or now.

  • Mark | April 2, 2009 | 6:13 pm

    I was at the first Rockies game in Mile High and saw EY’s homer. I was also at the first game at Coors, and years later saw Barry Bonds inflate his home run total with rockets right over my head towards the end of his record-breaking season. I managed to make it to the play-in game against the Padres, and remember my heart sinking as Trevor Hoffman came to the mound, only to watch us turn it around, and see Matt make his famous slide.

    This piece was a great reminder of why I am, and will continue to be a Rockies fan, and why I’m also an Etkin – Ringolsby fan. I’m so glad you gents found a new home, and I really wish you luck in being able to maintain it. Keep up the great work! I’m sure I’m not the only person who depends on your consistently excellent coverage. Thanks, guys!