Monday, November 28, 2011

The Coors Field Hangover - Debunked (Part I)?

Coors Field has existed for 17 years. Born in the age of steroids Coors Field has never shaken it's past, even with the advent of the humidor. According to ESPN's ball park factors, Coors Field ranked third in runs scored in 2007 with a 1.16 factor or 16% more runs scored then at an average park (behind Fenway and Wrigley); 2008 Coors was third with a 1.126 factor (behind Chase and Ballpark in Arlington); 2009 Coors was first with a 1.247 factor; again in 2010 Coors was first with a 1.364 factor; and in 2011 Coors was second with a 1.347 factor (behind Ballpark in Arlington). Clearly Coors Field is still a place where runs are not a premium!  In the end, humidor or not, you can't add air and thus batted balls tend to travel 9% farther then at sea level (according to the Rox official website).

In addition to the ball traveling farther, giving the offense a boost, the pitchers have their own trouble because balls tend not to move as much in the thinner air.  So ultimately a perfect storm arrives when the ball and bat meet at home plate.  In the past, the Rox seemed to have the advantage when playing at Coors Field, where they have won more than 57% of their games from 1995 - 2010 versus 40% away.  In 2011 the opposite seemed true as opponents took advantage and Rox only finished 38-43 at home versus 35-46 on the road.  Over the years the effects of Coors Field has been debated especially in regards to a "hangover" effect that might exist when Rox return after a road trip.  My question then -- is there such a thing?

In this specific installment, I am looking at the games played from 2007 - 2011 (recent).  In future installments I will look at 2002 - 2006 (Gen R) and the 1995 - 2001 (pre-humidor).  To begin, is there a break in period for the offense when they return?  I have sorted through the Rox schedule and annotated games played since returning from a road trip.  First game back is Game 1 followed by Game 2 etc.  I then compiled each of the stats for "Game 1" and so forth.  Comparing these compiled stats should reveal the differences between the Rox offense when they first get home and after they adjust to the intricacies of Coors Field.  The graph below shows the average number of hits, walks, and strikeouts for all Game 1's (i.e. all Game 1 data during the season following a road trip) through Game 10.  Averages are used due to the fact that there were 59 Game 1's versus only 8 Game 10's.
Average number of hits, walks, and strikeouts for games after returning from a road trip
While both hits and strikeouts show a very small upward trend, the differences aren't overly dramatic. What is interesting is how Game 4 and Game 8 show a decrease.  Have to wonder if this isn't related to a new team coming into town and showing a different pitching philosophy (?).  Besides these average values what about percentages?  The graph below shows on base, slugging, and BABIP.
Percentages for games after returning from a road trip

Again nothing dramatic except for a Game 4 downturn in which slugging percentage seems to dive (this is a relative nose dive as the slugging percentage for Game 3s is 0.474 and Game 4s is 0.428 which over 50 games is about 3 bases!).  One has to wonder (and perhaps conclude) that not only do the Rox have to adjust but the team coming in does as well and whatever hangover might exist it is neither advantageous to the Rox or the opposition.  Although looking at the Win Loss column below it does appear Rox settle in and teams coming in later during a home stand are at a disadvantage.  Do note that Games 7 - 10 only amount to 69 total games of the 399 home games played after a road trip (Home games starting the season were not counted).
Winning percentage when returning from a road trip
To further coincide with my comment about both teams having a disadvantage when coming to Denver, the graph below includes not only the offense hits, walks, strikeouts (shown in the first graph above) but also now includes what the opposition is doing in sequential games.  It should be noted that the opposition's numbers are only for our pitching staff and not broken down by different team game numbers.  Eerily, hits and strikeouts are fairly consistent but Rox do show some advantage in the walk department.
Rox offense versus pitching when returning from a road trip
Overall the numbers don't appear to show a "hangover" effect when Rox return from a road trip.  Whatever effect exists seems to show up in both teams as they cope with the altitude.  While the raw numbers don't show that the Rox get comfortable, their winning percentage, the longer the home stand lasts seems to favor some sort of positive effect.

Part II will see if the length of the road trip plays a role in the Rox offense and pitching and whether flying east or west matters...

Rox Talk - Hot Stove Updates II

NL MVP Award
Just like last week here is the quick and dirty look at the NL MVP Award over the last ten years.

Ave of Vote Pts Sum of 1st Place Sum of WAR
NL Central 80 146 511.9
NL East 54 64 548.5
NL West 72 142 453.0

NL Central gets a boost since the last decade has been the Age of Pujols.  Here are the Top 15 vote getters over that same period.

Sum of Vote Pts Sum of 1st Place Sum of WAR
Albert Pujols 3085 85 88.7
Barry Bonds 1719 114 47.4
Ryan Howard 1114 32 20.3
Lance Berkman 901 0 37.1
Prince Fielder 727 6 17.2
Ryan Braun 591 20 21.8
Joey Votto 582 31 16.6
Jimmy Rollins 409 16 20.7
Matt Holliday 406 11 23.7
Andruw Jones 402 13 24.8
Sammy Sosa 394 2 19.8
David Wright 388 0 27.3
Troy Tulowitzki 386 0 23.1
Matt Kemp 381 10 15.7
Derrek Lee 342 1 16.4

And who says the Cardinal lineup was weak last year?  Cards have three players in the Top 15!

AL MVP Thoughts
First off I think it was great that a pitcher got the MVP.  I think that the argument that pitcher's have their own award should eliminate them from MVP is silly.  Pitchers are players too and just because they only go out there every 5th day doesn't mean they can't be every bit as valuable as an everyday player.  Just because the Silver Slugger or Hank Aaron awards for the offense positions don't mean as much as the Cy Young shouldn't be held against the pitchers.  Anyway my take on the every 5th day argument is this:

Forget the consecutive days argument, what about batter's faced for pitchers versus plate appearances for offensive players.  Looking at Verlander and Ellsbury then Verlander faced 969 batters and Ellsbury had 732 plate appearances.  Even though Verlander only pitched in 34 games he had more plate time then any of the offensive players.  And in those plate appearances Verlander actually had to perform physical labor with every pitch whereas the offensive players might swing at half the pitches they see (?).  

OK so maybe the 34 games is still a sticking point but what about some sort of counting method for actual "activity" when in a  game.  For instance Verlander was physically involved in the throwing of 3955 pitches in his 34 games.  Meanwhile Ellsbury saw 2818 pitches.  In addition to this he had 388 put outs in the field so there is some more "activity".  He was also on base approximately 273 times (H + BB + HBP) and if the average pitches per plate appearance was around 4 (2011 Red Sox saw 25422 pitches in 6430 plate appearances) and then Ellsbury was sort of active on a base for probably another 1000 or so pitches.  So an easy guestimate is that Ellsbury was "active" for about 4206 pitches (i.e. either at the plate, making a catch in the field, or getting lead or stealing while on base).  

Bottom line Verlander was involved in 3955 pitches and Ellsbury was directly involved in 4206 pitches.  And I don't count standing out in the field chewing seeds and watching the pitcher pitch as being an "active" participant!  Therefore I think pitchers, while they might only be in 30-35 games they are "actively" more involved in that game then a position player and in the end they are just as "actively" involved when looking at the entire season of work.

Collective Bargaining Agreement
Time will tell on the new agreement.  A lot of people who are a whole lot smarter think this will hurt the small market teams.  This post was kind of an eye opener for me as the Rox don't appear to spend anything like a small market club.  On the amateur draft they were 23rd in spending at $24.5 million (only their small market brethren, the Twins and Marlins spent less) and internationally they were 16th in spending at $1.9 million (the Rays, Reds, D-Backs, Marlins, Orioles, and Nats spent less).  So while I thought Rox might be hurt by this new CBA it appears to me at least that they aren't really currently playing the small market theory of trying to win and looking at their minor league rosters one can tell!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rox Talk - Hot Stove Update, Cy Young Too

Hot Stove Update
Winter meetings have come and gone and all Rox did was sign a Los Angeles Angel cast off in Brandon Wood.  A former first rounder who has the ability to play 3B, SS, and 1B and has a 0.186 batting average in 272 major league games.  Hard to imagine that Wiggington will be playing for the Rox next year with Wood in the pocket and Pacheco in the fold (minor update:  Wiggy got sent to Philadelphia for a PTBNL).

Players continue to flirt with the Rox but in the end I think they are just using us to get what they really want.  Sizemore appears ready to re-up with the Indians.  Prado still seems an option but it really makes no sense in why the Braves would let a multi-utility player go when you have an aging 3B in Chipper Jones.  It seems they want a center fielder and while Rox have dangled Seth Smith, again which doesn't make sense for the Braves has they have a right fielder in Heyward.  Guess it will come down to how much Rox think they need either a 2B/3B versus Dexter Fowler.  Has Fowler turned a corner?  Couple of stints in the minors over the last few years kind of indicates that perhaps he still doesn't get it.  With him becoming arbitration eligible in 2012 and having Scott Boras as his agent maybe letting him return to his hometown for a infielder wouldn't be such a bad idea?  Time will tell...

Finally while it is nice that Oswalt has shown some interest in coming to Coors, I think ultimately the Rox chance of signing him is slim and none!  Again the lack of any real arms in the league and the need out there among all kinds of teams would lead me to believe that once again he will show interest but in the end sign elsewhere.  Humidor baseball still hasn't connected with free agent pitchers...

Finally it seems that baseball is safe for another 5 years without interruption due to players and management coming to an agreement.  Hard to believe with all the labor strife in professional athletics that MLB is suddenly the Rock of Gibraltar!  Included in this was the sale of the Astros and their moving to the AL West in 2013.  Each league will now have 15 teams which then forces inter league to occur every week.  Also an added Wild Card will be added to each league forcing both Wild Card teams to play a one game sudden death with the winner then going on to play one the three Division Leaders.

Cy Young Results
With Clayton Kershaw winning a Cy Young that makes it the 7th time in the last 10 years that a pitcher in the NL West claimed the prize.  Only Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, and Rogers Clemens have broken the mold.  It should also be noted that 6 NL West pitchers have finished second.  Some numbers over the last 10 years:

Maybe the fact that 3 of the better pitching parks in baseball reside in the NL West?  Either way Rox offense day in and day out do face some monsters.  Lucky us we get to play our oppenents 18 times a year!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rox Talk - Hot Stove Ignites

First thing - a big congrats to Tulo for winning another Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. I think as fans who see a player everyday we tend to forget that Tulo, up to this point, is potentially one of the Top 10 shortstops of all time. Certainly the greatest shortstop playing the game right now and while I am sure he is happy about the hardware I think he would have rather been playing in October. The question now is whether the Rox can find that missing something to get the team back to playoff contention. And getting us into contention is the big question Rox management has to sort through.  Just has a starting point Rox are currently 25 to 1 to win the 2012 World Series.

After just two short weeks, the hot stove is heating up as we have seen the Giants rid themselves of a pitcher, Jonathan Sanchez, for Melky Cabrera. Like everyone in the league, the Giants are looking for some more offense. They scored 570 runs last year which ranked 16th in the NL. While I indicated last week I thought the Rox hadn't scored very well last year they actually were 2nd in the NL with 735. So maybe our offense sputtered a bit but perhaps I am being too hard on them. Of course looking at the graph below shows how in comparable sense (their last 18 years) that maybe we are looking at a new "dead" ball era!
Graph shows the average projected runs scored over the last 18 years with the blue being the average and the error bars being the standard deviation.  Around Game 36, the Rox seemed to tanked and skimmed along as the lowest scoring offense in Rox history!
The other two big deals was Papelbon going to the Phillies and Jamey Carroll, who supposedly was on the Rox radar, signing with the Twins on a two year deal.  Over at the Purple Rox, Jeff Aberle does a fantastic job laying out what the Rox might do over the off season.  While his opening line is somewhat tongue in cheek, if you also follow Troy Renck he also sees how frustrating it is to be a Rox fan because it seems free agents flirt with us but at the end of the day either more money or some sexier reason exists for them to stand us up at the foothills.  Why do we have such a hard time finding that free agent.  From all accounts the Rox are a good clubhouse with a good amount of talent.  Playing in the NL West, with no dominant teams, allows each team to be competitive and have a chance.  Has the humidor worked against us?  Now that we play in a more pitcher friendly park do players not even bother?  I think it is reasonable to think you can build your team through the draft but eventually holes have to filled and if Rox can't fill these holes it might be another long season next year!

Oh and this in...Tulo's not the only one who gets awards...Seth Smith steps up and is the Most Average Position Player of 2011.  Let's hear it for Smith!

Also check out MLB Network's Clubhouse Confidential.  Great new show with a new in your face take on numbers.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rox Talk - Break Time Over

My month long hiatus is over.  Time to get back to the blog.  My official endpoint for the season is when the Rocky Mountain SABR has had their end of the year banquet.  SABR is a fantastic baseball group bringing together a lot of different baseball takes.  Last night was the 14th annual version of the end of the year gathering.  This year's guest speakers were Rob Neyer, SBNation, and John Thorn, MLB Historian.

Rob Neyer talked about his meandering journey to becoming a baseball writer.  From a diehard Royal fan, to discovering SABR, and then finally interning with Bill James.  This then launched his career into book writing and a stint at and finally the National Baseball Editor for SBNation.  A fascinating point that Rob made that I had forgotten before the age of internet was when teams played late night games on the West Coast the morning papers normally didn't have box scores for that game and you had to wait for the night edition of the town's competing paper.  Wow how times have changed with instantaneous box scores!  We are spoiled by the information at our fingertips...of course this could be a curse too...

The evening's final speaker was John Thorn who was appointed the MLB official game historian.  Plugging his new book, Baseball in the Garden Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game, Thorn gave a nice presentation on the misleading origin of baseball from the early 20th Century Mill Commission to the recent Commission put together by Selig this year.  Fascinating talk and he even had some early Denver baseball stories recalling that the probable first profession game in Denver was in October 1888 when the Spalding All Star team arrived in town and played at the old Riverfront Park.  The All Stars won 16-12 with Cap Anson having two triples.  Couple of good quotes by Thorn and I paraphrase (I'm not that fast of a writer), "Cooperstown is the wrong place but a swell place" and a general quote on why baseball is the American Pastime because it "connects boys and girls with their parents"  Also Thorn used the word sagacity (or acuteness of mental discernment and soundness of judgement)!  As aside, to me baseball is in our DNA.  It isn't the most popular or talked about sport but it flows along quietly as the unseen current in the river that is American History!

A nice night by all and now that 2011 is officially closed what can we learn from 2,429 games that were played?

1.  First and foremost...if you can stay within striking distance by September you can still get to the Playoffs...Tampa and St Louis proved this.
2.  If you can get into the playoffs the second season starts and all bets are off.  Your 162 game record means nothing!
3.  You can lose you second best pitcher and still win the World Series (no excuses Rox...)
4.  Baseball is confounding!  Numbers in short series really don't matter...thanks for playing Phillies, your three headed pitching monster meant nothing.
5.  Good managers can make teams better (LaRussa and Gibson)

And now what can I say about our team?  I have remarked about this once or twice before but this has to be the most disappointing team in Rox history.  For a team that was marked to win its first division title it got nowhere.  Some thoughts:

1.  Rox were unlucky!  Looking at their pythagorean W-L record it suggested that they were a 77-85  team...not a whole lot better but something...
2.  Rox were 38-43 at home!  In their history they have averaged 44-45 wins at home.  Last two seasons they won 51 and 52 respectively.  This season they outscored their opponents at home 439-427.  Thus they were 4 wins short of what they were expected to win.  Still accounting for this they were still 2-3 wins off their average.
3.  Rox played well on the road winning 35 games which was their 4th highest in history and three games better than their average
4.  May was just brutal.  Looking at the pythagorean W-L they were pretty unlucky.  September was also cruel as Rox have always had a good end of the year performance

Rox Historical vs 2011 Winning Percentage
5.  Rox starting pitching took 68 losses which is about 9 losses more than historical average.  Bullpen was 20-21.  Historical average is about 24-24.  Guess this just meant Rox starters were behind early and didn't have a lot of comebacks.  Only had 5 walk off wins and 41 comeback wins.
6.  Gave up 176 home runs with 101 of those coming at home.  
7.  Rox scored the least amount of runs in their history at 735.  The inability to score runs and the lack of offense was an eye opener especially with a team of Tulo and CarGo.  Kind of shows you that to win requires 9 guys!  Simple graph but always good to score more runs than your opponents and you tend to make the playoffs...duh
Runs Scored vs Runs Agains (2000-2011).  Playoff teams in Red and Rox historical in Purple (excluding 94-95 seasons)
8.  No excuses but injuries did hurt the Rox this year.  Inconsistent lineups and players finding their roles not to mention no production at second and third bases.
9.  Great year by Helton, Iannetta, Tulo, CarGo, and Giambi.  Average years by Smith, Wiggington, and Ellis.  Not so good by Fowler, Stewart, and Spilly.  Rox really need some more raw power at the plate.  Need to find their home mojo...teams aren't afraid of Coors and Rox really seem hesitant at home.
10.  Starting pitching was just a struggle especially with U-Ball starting slow and de la Rosa injury.  Chacin and Hammel showed that they are consistently inconsistent.  Cook farewell tour was painful.  Rogers isn't a starter.   Nicasio looks to be something if he can come back.  Bullpen was adequate.
11.  Role and bench players are not good.  Seems like the Rox have a lot of AAAA players especially in the minors and they just can't reach the conclusion that they aren't going to be everyday MLB players...

Overall Rox have something to build on.  Granted they were bad but I don't think as bad as the final record showed.  Of course bottom line they didn't take the next step.  Next year they will have a lot of new faces and some leadership has to step up to suggest that losing 89 games isn't acceptable.  Big mountain to climb is where are they going to find 17 wins next year?