I’m rooting for the Rockies in the National League, and not just because I desperately want them to take down the Phillies. I just like the way they’re run.
I rarely hear Dan O’Dowd’s name thrown around in discussions of the better GMs in baseball, probably because his Rockies spent the beginning of his tenure mostly buried near the basement of the NL West.
But what O’Dowd has done with the franchise in the last few years is pretty remarkable. The Rockies — as I’ve recently tweeted — drafted and developed all 10 of their 2009 top 10 plate appearance leaders, all but Todd Helton drafted under O’Dowd. And in Troy Tulowitzki, Chris Ianetta, Seth Smith, Ian Stewart, Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez, they’ve got a nice core of players entering their primes. Plus Ubaldo Jimenez is beginning to look like something of a stud.
Moreover, as the Rockies’ GM, O’Dowd faces certain challenges few others do. Even in the post-humidor era, Coors Field is a peculiar park. Nearly all of the Rockies’ hitters feature pretty extreme home-road splits, and the team posted an .849 OPS at home against a .719 OPS on the road in 2009.
O’Dowd has managed to compile a pitching staff, however, that minimizes the disparity. Rockies pitchers yielded a .752 OPS at home, compared to a .713 tally on the road this season.
That’s done with ground balls. The starting rotation features three pitchers — Aaron Cook, Jason Marquis and Jimenez — with ground-ball rates above 50% and a fourth — Jason Hammel — at 46.2%, good for 16th among Major League qualifiers.
I have no idea if O’Dowd reads Fangraphs or just relies on scouting to determine the best ground-ball guys, but either way, it’s clever. Clearly that is the antidote to altitude.
In 2009, the Rockies combined those guys with good defenders (Stewart, Tulowitzki and Clint Barmes) in their infield, and wound up with a staff in which all five starters finished with ERA+s over 100. That’s a pretty solid way to end up playing postseason baseball.