If you read my article about Alan Johnson, you would know how tough it is for pitchers to pitch at Coors Field with the thin air. However, this never should have happened to the subject of this article.
Brought up a starter, Shawn Chacón had three mediocre seasons at Coors, pitching to a 5.10 ERA through 71 starts in his first three seasons. He made the All-Star Game in 2003 with a 4.60 ERA and an ERA north of four before the All-Star Break, so hopes were high for Chacón to continue to bear down in the rotation.
However, losing Adam Bernero and Denny Neagle to early-season injuries and Jose Jimenez, their prior closer, to free agency, left a gaping hole in the back of the Rockies bullpen. Manager Clint Hurdle converted Chacón to the closer role for the season, and what followed was perhaps the most bizarre season as closer we have ever seen.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH LEVERAGE?
Chacón's opening day outing was a precursor to the remainder of his season, allowing a solo home run to Luis Gonzalez in the Rockies' opening day victory over Arizona. This was not at Coors though, taking place in Phoenix.
He proceeded to allow runs in the next two appearances, surrendering a walk-off home run to Richie Sexson on April 8 and allowing a run but getting a save (which would be a common theme that season) on April 11. Through three appearances, his ERA was 15.43.
Chacón only allowed one more run for the rest of the month, finishing with five saves, a blown loss and a 5.40 ERA to begin May.
The first half of May was great, pitching three scoreless innings to start the month and picking up three more saves. Aramis Ramirez ended that streak in his next game, but Chacón once again settled down, even trimming his ERA to 3.45 on May 16 with a save against the Phillies, the lowest it would be all season.
The effectiveness ended then, blowing two saves and allowing ten runs in 4.2 innings for the rest of the month, ballooning his ERA to 7.08. His ERA in those five games was 19.29. Yikes.
Perhaps his worst outing all season came against Baltimore on June 20. Entering leading 2-0, he faced eight batters, and after retiring Javy Lopez to start his outing, he walked two batters in a row, got a groundout, allowed another walk, and then, gave up a grand slam to Brian Roberts. He walked the next batter before finally getting out of the inning. The Rockies lost 4-2.
The ineffectiveness carried over for the rest of the season. His season ERA never fell below 6.30, a mark which he held on September 13. He proceeded to then allow eight runs in his final 3.1 innings of the season, including a blown save and a blown loss for good measure.
Chacón finished the season with a 7.11 ERA, 35 saves and a league-leading nine blown saves. The man blew NINE saves and still picked up 35 saves, ninth in the National League. In a weird season for him, he had, at the time, the worst single-season ERA of any closer to reach 30 saves in a season. It was only surpassed by Brad Lidge in 2009 at a 7.21 mark.
One can point to Coors as the reason for this odd season, but you'll soon learn why this is not the case.
Chacón's ERA at home was 8.04, allowing 28 runs in 31.1 innings at Coors Field. The crazier stat? On the road, he was not great either, having an ERA of 6.19 in 32 innings on the road. Normally, Rockies pitcher splits are worse at home and on the road they are fine, but in Chacón's case, he was awful in both atmospheres.
In his 35 saves, he allowed a run in nine -- or 25-percent of his successful saves. His best month in terms of runs allowed was five, the first month of the season. He allowed a walk in 33 of his 66 games, including multiple four-walk outings, and a run in 30 of his games. All season long, he had just EIGHT perfect appearances, a 12-percent rate.
Righties absolutely hammered Chacón in drastic platoon splits. He had more appearances against lefties, but lefties held a .236/.409/.455 slash line against him as opposed to an astronomical .326/.420/.543 slash line against righties. What a truly unbelievable season for a guy who probably could have avoided this if not for injury.
Ultimately, Chacón was a starter and he returned to that role the next season. While he was a starter for most of his career, injuries pushed him into a role he never should have had, and he suffered one of the weirdest seasons in the toughest role a pitcher can have, and you may not have remembered it if not for this deep dive.