What They Did: 64-98, 5th Place NL West.
Actual Runs: Scored 758 runs, Allowed 890.
Expected wins based on RS and RA: 69.2 (5.2 above actual)
Restated: Scored 763 runs, Allowed 941.
Exp. wins based on restated RS and RA: 65.6 (1.6 above actual)
(Glossary: Expected wins, based on a modification of Bill James’ Pythagorean Theorem, are the amount of wins a team should win in any season based on the amount of runs it actually scored and allowed. Deviations will be explained in the appropriate team capsules.
Restated Runs Scored and Runs Allowed are the amount of runs a team should have tallied based on its actual components of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging achieved/allowed. In the case of the Rockies, if they posted exactly the same stats in 2013 as 2012, they should expect to win 66 games.)
I wasn’t going to write a lot about the Rockies. I need to get the last six previews done in four or five days so I planned to double up the Rockies, or write a very short piece but then some mail came in after my Giants’ essay. A reader took exception to my assertion that, because San Francisco was the highest scoring team in the National League over 81 games on the road (and second in all of baseball), the Giants therefore had a great offense. (Or, at the very least, it was vastly underrated and unfairly maligned because of the peculiar home environment that they play half their games in.) My reader disagreed. The Giants, I was told, only scored a lot of road runs because they had tremendous success at Coors Field and they get to play there a lot because the Rockies are in the NL West too. I responded that that can be disproved in a number of ways: 1) Most importantly, the Giants outscored their nearest NL competitor (Washington) on the road by . . . (any guesses?) . . . a whopping 46 runs, or more than 10%. 2) They outscored every American League team on the road but one (Los Angeles Angels) and every one of those teams get to use a DH, an advantage which far outweighs any nine-game park effect. 3) While they do play nine games at Coors, every team in the NL plays at least three there and every other team in the NL West plays nine there as well. 4) Washington may have only played three games in Colorado compared to San Francisco’s nine, but they also only played three in the offense-draining venues in San Diego and Los Angeles.
Still, polite as it was, the pushback continued. I was told blowouts in Coors didn’t matter and I nearly got aggravated enough to fire back a “if-you’re-going-to-cherry-pick-high-scoring-games-you-have-to-exclude-the-shutouts-too” e-mail when it dawned on me to embrace the argument. In other words, the fact that the Giants had so much success at Coors served to prove how good, balanced and desired the offense actually was.
And, as a result, you’re getting 1,500 words on this topic with just a summary of the Rockies’ outlook at the end.
As almost all casual baseball fans know, when Coors Field opened in 1995 (and Mile High Stadium two years before it) balls flew out of the stadium, aided by the thin air of altitude. Starting in 2002, baseballs have been stored in a humidor prior to play and this restricts their flight. Sure enough, after a record 303 home runs were hit in Coors in one season pre-humidor, home runs have dropped precipitously and the Rockies have often been in the middle of the league pack in terms of home runs allowed at home. However, scoring is still way up in Colorado. Why? Well the ball may not fly as far but the field is still far bigger than any other field in the league. Architects knew the thin air would make it hard to keep balls in the park so they made the fences, by far, the furthest away from home plate in baseball. Simple geometry tells you that there is more fair territory in Denver. A quick glance at the rule book states teams can still only play nine men on defense when playing at Coors so with more field to cover per player, that means more batted balls in the field of play, by far, fall for hits in Colorado than anywhere else.
All that is simple to understand and not at all surprising to most baseball fans reading this. However, it does bring up a point: Which type of offense is the best to have in Colorado? The answer isn’t the prototypical three true outcome offense (walk, strikeout, or home run) that most elite, well-heeled teams try to construct; it’s one that doesn’t strike out. The “power and patience” or “take and rake” approach of the Yankees, or Red Sox, etc. shouldn’t play well at Coors if its accompanied by a lot of strikeouts, or at least not as well as a team that simply puts a lot of balls into the field of play.
Knowing that this is exactly the kind of offense that the Giants possessed in 2012 (last in both home runs and strikeout rate), and one that I labeled as being both sustainable and far more effective than realized, I ran a simple test. I calculated the Rockies home record against the two lowest and two highest strikeout teams (in terms of rate of strikeouts) for the last five years:
Record vs. Record vs.
Year COL Home Record Low K Teams High K Teams
2008 43-38 5-5 5-8
2009 51-30 3-3 9-3
2010 52-29 4-2 9-3
2011 38-43 1-5 5-8
2012 35-46 3-9 5-2
Totals 219-186 16-24 33-24
Look at that: Over a five-year period during which Colorado was an above .500 team at home (.541 overall) they had a great deal of trouble against low-strikeout teams (.400 winning percentage) but had greater than average success against teams which struck out a lot (.579 winning percentage). Of course there are a lot of caveats: I should really do a regression on a number of factors, records don’t necessarily reflect their opponents scoring prowess in Coors, increase the sample size, etc. but I’m pretty sure I’m on to something here and it leads me to three conclusions:
1) While “take and rake” offenses are all the rage, Coors Field tends to reward the most balanced offenses and teams like the 2012 Giants thrive in such an environment.
2) Colorado has a chance to actually be a “Moneyball” team because while high-strikeout, high-walk sluggers like Josh Hamilton are always coveted and therefore, in trading floor parlance, “well bid,” low-cost players who don’t necessarily have power but strikeout infrequently will thrive in Coors. Thanks to the stretched dimensions of the field, the extra hits they get will inflate their slugging percentage in a non-obvious way. (Guys like Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco actually have more value to the Rockies than any other team.) The Rockies have never targeted that type of player as I can’t find a single year in the last decade where they struck out at a rate less than the National League average. You would think it surprising that management hasn’t figured this out until you realize this is the same front office that stocked their 2012 pitching staff with pitch-to-contact, extreme-fly ball pitchers like Jeremy Guthrie, Jamie Moyer, and Tyler Chatwood(*).
(*) (Pssst: New 2013 addition to the rotation, Jon Garland, has a career strikeout rate of 12.6%. The NL average in 2012 was 20.1%. Sigh. Troy Tulowitzki should simply pull a Carmelo Anthony and refuse to play in Denver until he is either traded or the entire front office is replaced.)
3) Anecdotally, the decision last year to trade Marco Scutaro, exactly the type of affordable player the Rockies need, proves the front office has no clue how to match resources to environment
Oddsmakers’ expectations: The Rockies are pegged to win 70 ½ games this year according to their total wins market and I see it the same way.
70-92 – Fifth in NL West
765 Runs Scored 886 Runs Allowed
Mop Up Duty:
Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, A Story About Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball* (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) publication currently available wherever books are sold. Here are three on-line booksellers you can currently choose from:
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