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Learning To Live With Dan O'Dowd's Confounding 'Project 5,183'

Dan O'Dowd's 'Project 5,183' might just turn contemporary pitching staffs on their heads, or maybe explode in his face. We'll need to wait and see.

Jun 26, 2012; Denver, CO, USA;  General view of Coors Field during the sixth inning between the Washington Nationals and the Colorado Rockies. Mandatory Credit: Andrew B. Fielding-US PRESSWIRE
Jun 26, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; General view of Coors Field during the sixth inning between the Washington Nationals and the Colorado Rockies. Mandatory Credit: Andrew B. Fielding-US PRESSWIRE

As a general rule, I try my best not to make myself miserable. Common sense, right? I do what I can to avoid things I know are going to bring me down. I don't listen to music I can't stand, I don't watch movies or television shows that look like insipid crap, and I avoid people I can't get along with. This isn't quite like choosing to live in blissful ignorance - I'm just trying to salvage enough bliss for myself as I possibly can.

But there are some things I can't leave alone, and thanks to a lot of factors beyond my control, the Colorado Rockies are one of those things. I guess I could have been born to parents who didn't care for sports, or in a different state, or a different country, but my circumstances led me to adopt the newborn Rockies when I was six years old. They were the hometown team in my favorite sport, then and now. In different scenarios, I'm not sure I would have voluntarily chosen to be a Rockies fan. But I didn't have a choice, and I don't have one now, as I could no more abandon the team I've loved for this long any more than I could change anything else so deeply ingrained as a part of myself.

So I'm as much a Rockies fan today, with the club holding the third-worst record in the major leagues, as I was in 2007, when the team hoisted its first National League pennant. I was there for 2004 and 2005, when the Rockies were actually honest about anticipating 90-plus losses in rebuilding campaigns, and I was there in the mid-to-late 90s when the Rockies made the playoffs once and were generally competitive in an ultimately fruitless way. I can't quit this team, and I do not envy the sort of fan who can, who may just decide to leave the TV off and not buy tickets and maybe even - perish the thought - choose to stop following the team altogether, forsaking them for a different team or a different sport or something as silly as a non-sporting endeavor. I don't envy that person because I cannot fathom that their joy on that October night in 2007 could have in any way approached the joy that I felt.

None of this background is for the purpose of beating my chest and bragging about what a great fan I am. I'm just trying to show that as ragged and frustrating as this season has been, even these trying times are not enough to have driven me crazy. The trick is to not let the bad become unbearable. (I'm much better at this than I used to be.) As the Rockies have staggered to two miserable months in a row and virtually ensured a campaign worse than last season's awful 73-89 season, I've done my level best to accentuate the positive. It's there if you look hard enough. Carlos Gonzalez is on the team, after all, and watching him hit is a true pleasure. I've enjoyed Dexter Fowler's breakout season, Wilin Rosario's tentative baby steps, the underrated Matt Belisle-Rafael Betancourt duo at the back of the bullpen, and the return of my all-time favorite Rockie, Jeff Francis.

But the struggles of the present, in baseball as in any sport, are a sight more tolerable when you can see light at the end of the tunnel. The '04 and '05 seasons were easier to swallow because Rockies fans not only believed in the necessity of a youth movement, but believed in some of the young players who would comprise the future core (though some were surely slower to come around on the prospects than others). Four years after the tear-down, the Rockies were playing in an honest-to-God World Series. Two years after that they were back in the postseason.

The success of that rebuilding period earned the man in charge of it a certain level of political capital. I felt like general manager Dan O'Dowd had shown he knew his way around that process. But even though I was inclined to trust O'Dowd with a somewhat impromptu rebuild this season, that trust has been shrouded in a fog of utter confusion.

Surely you've heard all about Dan O'Dowd's latest plan by now. Depending on your source, you may have heard about it between expletives, or between giggles. O'Dowd's laid it all out in front of the Denver Post, the USA Today, and season ticket holders in a fan forum on Wednesday. The standard five-man rotation is a thing of the past for the Rockies, who will utilize a seven-man "paired" pitching rotation with plans to potentially expand upon that idea to include as many as 11 starting pitchers on the same staff.

It's completely off the wall, flying in the face of everything we've come to understand about how the modern pitching staff is best managed. And to hear O'Dowd tell it, it was a move many years in the making that was finally enacted due to the disappointment of this season's league-worst pitching staff and a change in the way that Coors Field is behaving with regard to batted balls.

Now, O'Dowd's not technically wrong on any of those points. The starting pitching has been horrific and the climate in the city of Denver is hotter and dryer than it's been in years. And it's only fair to point out that the Rockies rotation has been ravaged by injury - Jhoulys Chacin's shoulder, Juan Nicasio's knee, Jorge de la Rosa's slower-than-anticipated recovery from Tommy John surgery - and by a lack of readiness from young pitchers, and neither of those factors necessarily fall at the feet of the general manager. O'Dowd's plan is an effort to try and lighten workload on pitchers, thereby reducing the chance for injury, and lessen the exposure of pitchers to opposing lineups, thereby increasing their effectiveness. Theoretically, anyway.

It's a move designed for the long haul, an attempt to find long-term stability on the Rockies staff and perhaps unlock some of the magic that has turned journeymen like Belisle and Josh Roenicke into effective multi-inning relief pitchers. But it's also writing off the efforts of the pitching staffs in the last six seasons, who posted the franchise's best ever ERAs and produced All-Star starters in Aaron Cook, Jason Marquis and Ubaldo Jimenez. O'Dowd now cites the success of traditional groups like the 2009 rotation, which had five guys who stayed healthy all season and each won 10 or more games, as a fluke.

Today, officially, what you as a fan think of the Rockies going forward - how willing you are to suffer through a lousy 2012 season and still believe in the future through it all - starts with whether or not you believe in Dan O'Dowd's pitching plan. The new formula will get a run through the rest of the season, even when guys like Nicasio, Chacin, and Drew Pomeranz rejoin the fray. Will the starting pitchers buy in to a reduced workload and a dramatically reduced opportunity to accumulate individual wins? Will the bullpen be able to stand up to the enforced workload? These questions and more won't be answered until the Coors Field ticket windows are shuttered for the fall.

Personally, I don't know what to think of it. I know it's spitting in the eye of conventional baseball wisdom, and such moves, in failure or success, are at least never boring. But it also feels like a dramatic overreaction to short-term problems like injuries, inexperience, and a dry Denver summer - almost like deciding to amputate someone's leg after they sprain their ankle.

What I will call it, for now, is interesting. And I'll wait and see on the results. Because to immediately pillory Dan O'Dowd and to lose all faith whatsoever in whichever part of the Rockies' future that includes him as the general manager ... well, that'd just about make me miserable. Your mileage may vary. But whatever that light of the end of the tunnel may be, even if it's an oncoming train, I'm waiting for it either way.

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