The Rockies’ Five Greatest Pitchers
Ubaldo Jimenez (2006-2011)
After 15 years and several big-time busts from All-Star-caliber throwers (Darryl Kile, Mike Hampton), the pitching-starved Rockies finally found their first true ace when Jimenez took the mound, albeit briefly.
The Dominican native, possessing an electric fastball (with movement) that occasionally topped 100 MPH, evolved slowly but surely into the top dog in the Colorado rotation, showing promise during the Rockies’ late-season run of 2007—starting three postseason games without a win but with a fine 2.25 earned run average—and solidifying a spot in the rotation from 2008-09 before a breakout campaign in 2010 that basically rewrote the pitching section of the Rockies’ record book—in part because the existing records, such as they were, were ripe for an easy taking.
Jimenez blew out to a 15-1 record by the midway point of 2010, an impressive start highlighted in May when he threw the first no-hitter in Colorado history at Atlanta; the early reward for the first-half dominance was a spot as the National League’s starting pitcher at the All-Star Game. Though he struggled in the second half of the year and blew what appeared to be an easy opportunity to become the Rockies’ first 20-game winner, Jimenez still set franchise season marks with 19 wins, 214 strikeouts and a 2.88 earned run average that surpassed the previous low of 3.47—which he set a year earlier. He also threw 33 straight scoreless innings at one juncture.
Alas, Jimenez’s reign in Denver would be brief. The Rockies, worried that Jimenez’s velocity was slowing at an alarmingly deaccelerated rate as he struggled to a 6-9 start in 2011, traded him to the Cleveland Indians for four players at the end of July.
One thing Jimenez will never be confused for: Hitting. Even with the expected advantages of playing at mile-high Coors Field, Jimenez finished his Rockies career with no extra base hits and a lifetime .117 average in 265 at-bats.
Jorge De La Rosa (2008-2016)
The Mexican-born southpaw was the rare case of a pitcher whose numbers actually improved once he donned a Rockies jersey. After five thoroughly unimpressive seasons split between Milwaukee and Kansas City to start his big-league career, he was the oft-ridiculed “player to be named later” to complete a non-newsworthy trade in the spring of 2008; but De La Rosa started making headlines with a modest 10-8 record that year, followed a year later by leading the Rockies with 16 wins against just nine losses. A rise to the top of the rotation was curtailed in 2011 when he tore a ligament in his elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery that kept him out until late 2012—but in his first full year back in 2013, De La Rosa responded with his best year yet at 16-6 and a 3.49 ERA.
Defying complete logic, De La Rosa not only did his best work for the Rockies (a 4.35 ERA versus a 5.85 figure for the Brewers and Royals), he was even sharper pitching at hitter-happy Coors Field—as reflected by an astonishing 53-20 record in Denver. De La Rosa’s explanation for such success? He was able to master his breaking ball in the thin air, but claims he had a harder time controlling it when on the road at sea level. Nevertheless, his mile-high success led him to maintain a lengthy tenure with the Rockies and secure spots at the top of the franchise charts in wins, winning percentage and strikeouts.
Brian Fuentes (2002-08)
A three-time All-Star with the Rockies and the all-time franchise leader with 115 saves, the left-handed Fuentes was consistently sharp (if not overpowering) both at home in Denver and away at sea level—with seasonal ERAs consistently hanging around a respectable 3.00 clip.
After spending three years as a straight reliever, Fuentes was given the closer job in 2005 and saved 31 games for the Rockies, followed by another 30 in 2006. Ironically, Fuentes’ memories of the Rockies’ pennant-winning, feel-good campaign of 2007 is bittersweet at best; he lost the closer’s job to Manny Corpas when he spectacularly blew four save opportunities within a week, blew another save (after Corpas had been used earlier) in the memorable wild card playoff against San Diego that the Rockies eventually overcame, and authored a poor 6.52 ERA in the postseason that followed. But he reclaimed the ninth-inning role early in 2008 when Corpas himself began to fall apart; re-energized, Fuentes came back to life and saved 30 of 32 opportunities the rest of that season.
A free agent, Fuentes took Francisco Rodriguez’s spot at Anaheim in 2009 and saved a career-best 48 games—but he was not highly efficient and ultimately incurred the wrath of angry Angels fans, shortening his tenure to barely two years.
Aaron Cook (2002-2011)
A life-long Rockie, Cook is second on the Rockies’ all-time wins list with 72; 16 of those came in his best season with Colorado, when he posted a superior 16-9 record in 2008 that also included three scoreless innings tossed at the All-Star Game.
A finesse pitcher who rarely racked up strikeouts—on occasion, he walked more batters—Cook had a stable career numbers-wise with the Rockies, so long as he remained healthy. Chronically hurt over the years, Cook suffered his biggest scare in 2004 when a blood clot lead to shortness of breath; to rectify the problem, he had a rib removed to allow more blood flow. His comeback effort a year later won him the Tony Conigliaro Award for overcoming obstacles and adversity.
Kyle Freeland (2017-present)
Until recently, we had reserved the #5 spot on this list for catcher Brett Mayne, who earned a victory performing emergency relief for the Rockies in a 2000 game. That pick was also made to underscore the lackluster history of Rockies pitching to date, thanks in large part to the tremendous handicap of throwing in Denver’s mile-high conditions. But Kyle Freeland has, for the moment, changed our thinking on that.
The young left-hander has emerged thus far as the best of a crop of Colorado starting pitchers which looks to be the most promising in franchise history. Born in Denver, Freeland grew up watching Rockies pitchers get blasted again and again, and perhaps took some notes as he developed into a top prep thrower. Drafted by Colorado as the eighth overall pick of the 2014 amateur draft, Freeland took less than three years to become part of the Rockies rotation, turning heads in a July 2017 game in which the rookie southpaw came within two outs of no-hitting the Chicago White Sox at Coors Field.
In 2018, using a tweaked delivery in which he paused before throwing, Freeland produced ace-like numbers, the likes of which have seldom been seen in Rockies history. He won 17 of 24 decisions and posted a 2.85 ERA, breaking Ubaldo Jimenez’s season record from 2010. A rough regression in 2019 found Freeland attempting to refresh at the Triple-A level, so the next few years will reveal whether he can return to form as the Real Deal, or if he becomes the latest pitching talent to be swallowed up by the unforgiving hitting conditions at Coors Field.
Colorado Rockies Team History A decade-by-decade history of the Rockies, the ballparks they’ve played in, and the four people who are on the franchise’s Mount Rushmore.
The Rockies’ Five Greatest Hitters A list of the five greatest hitters based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Rockies’ Five Most Memorable Games A list of five memorable games and other notable personal achievements that have defined the Rockies’ history.