The K Zone
December 7th, 2017
by Ian Joffe
I often find myself pondering two what-if scenarios in regard to the Colorado Rockies. My questions rise out of the well-documented fact that the Rockies play half their games a mile in the sky, at their home in Coors Field. The thin air allows baseballs to be driven harder and with more consistency than any other ballpark. Considering that my first fantasy, Giancarlo Stanton being traded to Colorado, was killed earlier this offseason, in this article I will turn to the question of what kind of team the Rockies would be in a normal ballpark. Expectedly, in 2017, the Rockies fell in the middle pack in terms of runs allowed, but scored the third most runs in baseball, and the most in the National League. This combination led them to the 8th best record in MLB, and a wild card berth.
Looking strictly from a team-wide perspective, “the Coors Field Effect” appeared to have a positive impact on the Rockies. The team went just over .500 on the road (41-40), ranking 25th in total runs scored. Colorado’s pitching rose up to 9th in baseball, but this was not enough to remedy the weakened hitting. Under these changes, the road Rockies compare extremely well to the Tampa Bay Rays, who went 80-82 over the regular season – not a bad team, but certainly not a playoff roster either. Based on this information, it’s easy to claim that the Rockies are just lucky to make Coors Field home, but I would instead give credit to their front office. They figured out how to build a good team based on the conditions they were given, which is not an easy task.
Just as interesting as the performance of the overall team, however, is the performance of individual Rockies players on the road. Looking at the hitters, the first one who stands out is Charlie Blackmon. Most recently, Blackmon was subject to controversy over MVP balloting. Some argued that park should be counted against him, while others said wanted to let his numbers be. Those who argued that his stats were inflated by park certainly had a point. 12 of Blackmon’s 13 triples were at home, a huge driver of his .601 total slugging percentage, which fell under .450 on the road. Blackmon still put up respectable numbers, but not MVP level. His 102 wRC+ suggests he is more of a league average hitter, and his defense has never been spectacular. Only one Rocky (or is it Rockie?) ended up being an above average offensive player on the road: Nolan Arenado. The third baseman’s wRC+ only fell by 4 points when away, a trend he has exhibited throughout his career.
Five Rockies starting pitchers threw at least 50 innings on the road. Strangely, Kyle Freeland got worse, while German Marquez improved only a little. Antonio Senzatela experienced significant improvement on the road, but remained a league average pitcher. Jon Gray is the first of the important Rockies pitchers on the road. His 10 K/9 would put him in the upper tier of starting pitching, as would his low walk and home run rates. These total up to a 3.05 road FIP, certainly an enviable mark. Even more impressive, however, are Tyler Chatwood’s numbers. Disappointingly, Chatwood finished 2017 with only mediocre road numbers, but career, he owns a 3.31 road ERA with a 0.71 HR/9. In 2016, Chatwood boasted a mere 1.69 road ERA, and in 2013 he put up a 2.72 mark (Tyler missed most of 2014 and 2015 with injuries). Both home and away, Chatwood is an extreme ground baller, approaching a 60% rate, which, combined with a 24% soft hit rate and 26% hard hit rate on the road, is likely responsible for the elite road years. It is very worthy of note that none of Chatwood’s more sabermetric numbers stand out on the road, but it would still be interesting to see how he would fare in a whole season. And, the best part is, soon, we will be able to see. Chatwood was a free agent this offseason, and just last week he signed with the Cubs, so the dream of seeing a full road season out of Tyler Chatwood is will, at long last, become a reality.
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