The 1998 Rockies saw the team slip to a 77-85 record, down from back to back 83-79 seasons. This resulted in GM Bob Gebhard relieving manager Don Baylor of his duties. Baylor was the first manager in the history of the franchise and was finishing his 6th season at the helm. The Rockies, who were well aware of their pitching problems, would search for a manager who had a good working history with pitchers. It seemed like a logical decision at the time.
Jim Leyland was known as a manager who knew how to handle a pitching staff. His track record showed that he was very good in knowing which pitchers to use in the bullpen and how often to use them. It could not be any more proven than during his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He juggled a bullpen in the early 1990s that had Bill Landrum, Stan Belinda, Jim Gott, Bob Kipper and others; none of whom were considered top relievers in their own right. He also had a trust in his starting pitchers, one in which most latter day managers did not have. Perhaps it is because he started managing in the 1980s. You can also make a case that this philosophy changed during his time managing the Detroit Tigers. This was mostly due to the insistence of the pitch count, something that was relative to every MLB team.
Leyland himself had just come from a unique situation with the Florida Marlins. He was named manager after the 1996 season, with the Marlins- just like the Rockies- having completed just their 4th season as a MLB team. Inaugural manager Rene Lachemann was relieved of his duties after 88 games of the 1996 season, replaced by Cookie Rojas for just one game with the rest of the season finished out by John Boles. The 1997 Marlins had a tremendous amount of talent, the kind of team that was ready to win. Leyland led his team to a Wild Card spot and followed it up by capturing the first World Series Championship in the history of the state of Florida.
After the season, the Marlins had a fire sale- something that would become a common occurrence in the Miami area. This led Leyland with very little to work with for the 1998 season. The same organization that went 92-70 in its WS Championship season of 1997 would go 54-108 in 1998 leading Leyland to resign as manager.
Leyland, of course, took the Colorado job for the 1999 season. Offensively, the Rockies had 4 players- Todd Helton, Vinny Castilla, Dante Bichette and Larry Walker all hit over 30 HR. Walker would hit .379 for the season. A remarkable 7 players would hit over 10 HR and the team hit a collective .288. It is unbelievable to think a team with that much offense could lose 90 games in a season.
But, all you had to do is look at the results of the pitching staff. Hopefully the following sums up how bad the results were. Out of the 18 pitchers used by the Rockies that season, only one managed to have an ERA under 4.00 (rookie David Lee had a 3.67 ERA in 36 relief appearances. In fact, only two other Rockies pitcher managed to have an ERA under 5.00.... for the season! (Jerry DiPoto at 4.26 over 63 games in relief and Jamey Wright with a 4.89 clip in 16 games, all starts) While the Rockies top three starting pitchers all made 32 or more starts and pitcher in 190+ innings, they all gave up 130 or more earned runs for the season. Pedro Astacio went 17-11 with 210 Ks for the season, but pitched to a 5.04 ERA for the season. He would have a 1.435 WHIP, while not great it was heads and shoulders above the rest of the Rockies starting pitchers. Brian Bohanon made a career high 33 starts for the 1999 Rockies, threw over 197 innings and was 12-12. However, his ERA was 6.01 and WHIP was 1.662 for the season. The late Darryl Kile made 32 starts and finished 8-13, 6.61- throwing just over 190 innings for the season. Bobby M Jones pitched in 30 games, 20 as a starter, and finished 6-10, 6.33 with a 1.861 WHIP. Wright was 4-3, 4.89 in his 16 starts while John Thomson, a durable starter in the past, went 1-10, 8.04 in his 14 games, 13 starts. Among the other three pitchers to make starts for the Rockies in 1999, none managed to keep an ERA under 7.89.
The bullpen was not much better. Stating that DiPoto (4-5, 4.26 in 63 games) was great would get you to fail a lie detector test miserably. Lee stood out with his 3.67 ERA in 36 games, but the bullpen was a complete and utter disaster. Closer Dave Veres (4-8, 31 saves) pitched to a 5.14 ERA for the season in 73 games. Curtis Leskanic was 6-2 in 63 games, but pitched to a 5.08 ERA. Mike DeJean and Chuck McElroy (PBS guest), while usually dependable, both had forgettable 1999 seasons. DeJean, in 56 games, went 2-4, 8.41 while McElroy went 3-1, 6.20 in 41 games before being traded to the Mets. If you thought other pitchers wearing a Rockies uniform would perform better, look at these stats. Roberto Ramirez: 1-5, 8.26 in 32 games, 4 starts, Dave Wainhouse: 0-0, 6.91 in 19 games, LHP Mike Porzio: 0-0, 8.59 in 16 games and LHP Rigo Beltran: 0-0, 7.36 in 12 games after being acquired from the Mets in the McElroy deal.
The results of this season made Leyland realize that he made a huge mistake. To him, the fact that a majority of the Rockies pitchers were much better than their results made him feel the Rockies were doomed. Perhaps to Leyland, a relocation of the Rockies to a milder climate would make their pitching staff more effective and less hitable. Having a combined staff ERA of 6.01 is something that is difficult to do. The only team with a combined ERA that was higher was the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies, who finished with a 6.71. The Phillies actually hit .315 as a team but not surprisingly finished 52-102 under manager Burt Shotton. The 1899 Cleveland Spiders- who finished with a 20-134 record for the season- had a 6.34 ERA.