Four Things Dan O’Dowd Does Well

Dan O'Dowd (Denver Post File Photo)

Dan O’Dowd (Denver Post File Photo)

General Managers can be easy targets for fans to rip on. Practically any person that’s a little passionate is eager to join the peanut gallery and lob ideas at the front office about how it could do more, spend more, win more. In addition, the merits of a particular transaction (or “missed” opportunity) usually can’t be evaluated for months or even years after it is made. The Colorado Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd has taken quite a bit of flak in recent years, some of it justified (Fowler for fodder?), but it can be important to take a step back and realize that there are a few things he actually does well.

#1 The Rockies haven’t gotten stuck in a long, bad contract in a decade.

Early in O’Dowd’s tenure when he was trying to “solve” the mystery of winning at altitude, he went on a little bit of a spending spree acquiring Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle. The idea of seeking pitchers who tend to walk people with their curveball and then paying top dollar to put them 5,000 feet above sea level (counting the pitching mound) was questionable even at the time. Since then? Not bad. Todd Helton’s contract became a bit of an albatross as injuries multiplied with age to subtract from his power stroke. Still, even Helton’s contract was considered a good one at the time, it didn’t seem to hinder any other deals and was able to be renegotiated during the later, more expensive years. As penny-pinching as ownership might be, especially after the recent offseason, there hasn’t been much of a sense that payroll has hindered the Rockies from doing anything except in the case of Matt Holliday who at least netted Carlos Gonzalez and some useful seasons from Huston Street.

#2 The Rockies value defense.

Unlike, say, Seattle, where they have shifted second basemen to the outfield to be flanked by two firstbasemen playing in the corners, the Rockies have generally placed a value on defense. Perhaps it was the emergence of Troy Tulowitzki and the many articles about the Rockies defense that came from the Rocktober run to the World Series in 2007, but the Rockies have kept to that mantra. Helton, Tulowitzki and Gonzalez were all signed to long contracts, in part, because they were seen as good with the glove. Maybe O’Dowd realized that it was one of the things at altitude that he could control. It does seem that, for the most part, any middle infielders that the Rockies call up can at least flash the leather. Sometimes, however, the Rockies love defense almost to a fault as certain players get demoted (Iannetta, Fowler) or discarded (Atkins, Hawpe, Smith, Young, Fowler?) for perceived faults in the field.

#3 The Rockies are stable.

Almost to a fault, there’s very little roster turnover on the Rockies especially among the starting cast. Holliday and perhaps Fowler was the closest thing to a salary dump that the Rockies have seen. It might not be much comfort as the Rockies have finished last in the NL West two seasons in a row. However, there is some advantage to not having to buy a new jersey every year because your favorite player got traded. The Rockies also don’t give up on young players quickly, per se. They do have an annoying habit of punitively demoting certain players, but even utility infielder filler gets a few shots to stick with the Rockies and similar patience did end up paying off for Gonzalez and Tulowitzki. Again, penny-pinching as the Rockies ownership might be, they aren’t the Marlins, or dare I say, even the Cubs, flipping everything every useful part possible at the trade deadline. The tradeoff might mean the farm system isn’t as stacked as it should be, but there’s no guarantee that someone like Jonathan Herrera would’ve netted anything other than another Jonathan Herrera.

#4 The Rockies generally have good bullpens.

We aren’t exactly talking the Nasty Boys, but O’Dowd has done a decent job at acquiring bits and pieces to staff a competent bullpen. From “big name” relievers like Huston Street to fungibles like Manny Corpas, he’s generally found something that works without breaking the bank. Similarly, rarely does a reliever break down from too much use because the bullpen tends to be a deep one. Part of that is out of necessity i.e. the starting pitching doesn’t do a decent job, but rarely, if Rockies fans are complaining, are they talking about the bullpen.

After two last place finishes (and three losing seasons) in a row, things are bad. But, all things considered, it can conceivably be much worse. Nine teams have had longer playoff droughts than the Rockies and twenty one teams have longer World Series playoff droughts. I don’t know necessarily whether O’Dowd is the person to right the ship since he has quite a few faults but there are teams who have sunk and stunk much worse.

About Richard Bergstrom

Originally from Chicago and after an extensive tour of most of the western United States, this is my second stint in Denver. I've lived here since 2004 and go to quite a few Rockies games, especially Rockies fireworks games! When I'm not writing about baseball, I enjoy karaoke downtown, a bit of poker and a bit too much of my iPad.

4 thoughts on “Four Things Dan O’Dowd Does Well

  1. O’Dowd did a good job of locking up Tulo when he was young. However, in the 10 + years he has yet to develop any kind of starting rotation and missed on a ton of draft picks. He’s been so bad, that the team had to restructure his job role. I know you’re not advocating for O’Dowd per say, but this seems like a huge fluff article. The Rockies have yet to win their division and the fact that they have a 100 pitch count limit on starting pitchers is a joke. The bullpen has a decent amount of talent, but they get overworked by June or July.


    1. Hi Jeff,

      I am far from an O’Dowd fan. As I wrote in the “A Decade in Flashback” article, two years ago the Rockies thought they were contenders and thought Jamie Moyer would fit in the #2 slot of their Opening Day rotation. The two thoughts aren’t mutually compatible.

      Many of his trades, I find questionable. While they end up “working” in some aspect, generally I think he could’ve made moves that were less expensive in terms of talent and cost. He has a weird habit of trading position players for middle relievers and, while not breaking the bank, overpaying for some free agent hitters like Morneau and Cuddyer. Sure, Cuddyer did well last year and Morneau could do well this year, but I’d like to think there were better solutions available.

      The Rockies have had a few decent starting rotations, but recently, they’ve been less than decent and you bring up a very good point about the overworked bullpen. I do think the Rockies trying the four man, 75 pitch limit rotation two years ago was at least worth a try. But, that being said, focusing on flat pitch counts doesn’t tell the whole story. Recent articles suggest that, though pitch counts may matter, what may matter more is the kind of pitch, the length of an at bat and the length of an inning i.e. high stress pitches. Now, how good the Rockies are at analyzing that beyond the pitch count ticker thing-a-ma-jigger, I’m not sure though the starting staff generally stays pretty healthy. On the other hand, to follow up on your point about pitch count limits, it’s not like there’s a Strasburg worth protecting.

      Thank you very much for commenting!


      1. Richard,

        Thanks for the follow up to my comment. As a Rockies fan, I don’t think anyone can argue that when Ubaldo put up an amazing 4 month run, it was something that this team had never seen and made the team extremely exciting. Having that pitcher that’s going to go out there and stop streaks and put other teams hitters in a slump is something we’ve never had other than that 4 month stretch.

        I hope to see Gray and Butler turn in to a 1-2 punch in the near future!


        1. Jeff,
          I do remember that Ubaldo run, though as I recall, he went downhill pretty hard after it, though whether that was from overwork or temperament I am unsure of. I’ll admit I was never a huge fan of Ubaldo, particularly for his BB/9 rates though he was great at suppressing home runs. Initially, I thought Franklin Morales might be better sicne he was two years younger and had a better 2007, but that optimism didn’t survive the 2008 All-Star break. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by Ubaldo for a while there.

          The two times the Rockies have been to the playoffs, they were middle-of-the-pack in the NL in run prevention. Injury permitting, Gray could be that ace and could be even better and more consistent than Ubaldo.

          I don’t know if Butler’s more of a #2 or a #3. His H/9 and HR/9 ratios are exemplary and his BB/9 is solid but his K/9 ratio was a little weak and a 22 year old is supposed to dominate A ball. I’ll have a better hunch once Butler has a full season of AA with a handful of AAA starts, particularly to see how Colorado Springs affects his command (i.e. does he get lit up at altitude). As a fastball/slider/changeup guy he should hold up better than a curveball pitcher, but as you said, the Rockies aren’t great at developing pitchers.

          Either way, I think Butler will be quite useful and that’s all the Rockies need is some usefulness from starting pitchers who won’t walk the park and hopefully give the defense a breather with a few strikeouts.


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