Monday, May 21, 2012

Rox Talk - Week 7

The Week That Was
A 2-5 week against the Giants, D-Backs and Mariners. The Rox currently stand at 15-25.  Twelve and half games behind the Dodgers for the division lead in last place. Currently 9-14 at home and 6-11 on the road, the Rox have been outscored by its opponents 218-191 (expected wins is 18 versus historical wins at 18). On pace for 61 wins with 774 runs scored and 883 runs against. Playoff indicator (Runs Scored/Runs Against ratio) is 0.88 (1.16 indicates high playoff potential).

Rox are on pace to lose 101 games.  In our short history this has never happened.  We have hit 95 two times (our inaugural season and in 1995).  Which coincidentally is the two times Rox have started out worse than our current 15-25 record.  I have run out of reasons and excuses at this point and really just have to admit that while the individual parts seemingly are better than our record suggests the team as put onto the field is just not very good.  While baseball is a game of offense, pitching, and defense based on what I have watched this season pitching plays a disproportional part in this trio.  Playoff baseball especially shows the dominant nature of how pitching can improve other facets of the game.  In Rox case not only is our pitching giving up a lot of runs, but long innings are creating defensive miscues, and ultimately playing from behind leads to an offense feeling it has to hit big to get back into the game.  Will these Rox with the likes of Tulo, CarGo, Cuddyer, and Helton lose 100 games?  I hope not.

Coors Effect
To be honest I don't know where this post might go and whether it has any relevancy to anything.  With the recent struggles I have had some thoughts in my head to make me wonder why this team is struggling so awfully this year.

My first point is Rox apparent struggles at home.  Where has the home field advantage gone?  From 1993 - 2011, Rox have had a 833-674 record at home.  Good for a 0.553 winning percentage (see line below).  Since 1993 Rox home record has ebbed and flowed (blue dots below) but has average 43 wins.  They have only had 6 non-winning home records in their 19 years of existence.  This home field advantage over the years has at least made for some entertainment in addition more importantly it has somewhat masked the horrible road record over the years (604-905, averaging 32 wins and only one winning road record in 19 years).  Taking advantage at home has allowed the Rox to be competitive.  Overall winning percentage is charted with the grey line.  

If the Rox lose this advantage then what?  Those last two data points don't look so good.  Is this a trend?  Have the Rox over the years tried to make a competitive road team at the expense of winning at home?  What about their opponents.  They certainly aren't constructed to win just at Coors, then why can they come in and seemingly dominate?  Graph below shows Rox average runs per game at home (black dots), their opponents average runs per game at our home (solid black line) versus Rox average runs per game on the road (grey dots) and opponents runs per game at their home (grey line).  It would appear our opponents are scoring a whole lot more at our house.  Seemingly we can pitch away from Coors but for whatever reason the demon has returned to affect our pitchers at Coors.  Meanwhile Rox can hit at home but have failed miserably since 2008.

And thus we are back to pitching.  The bane of Rox existence.  Rox have tried home grown talent with a mix of veterans, they have tried scrap heap pitchers, high priced free agents, ground ball pitchers, fly ball pitchers, more home grown talent and yet still no answers.  I put this graph up (below) a few week back but made some changes.  Bascially I looked at 4 year windows of pitching.  Rox most successful group was the run made from 2007 -2010 who won 236 games in that span and just happened to coincide with best team winning percentage in any four year span.  Coicendence?  Age old question in baseball - do good teams win with pitching or do good teams make good pitchers?  I think in the case of the Rox, good pitching makes Rox better.  Case in point - 2012!

Funny thing about the 2007 - 2010 run was that a lot of folks pointed to the humidor as the swing factor.  Media indicated that baseball returned to normal at altitude.  Coors Field park factors came down and everyone said Colorado might be competitive.  Again looking at park factor averages versus Rox starting pitching win percentages (over four year spans) and a funny thing is seen.  Decent pitching created a level playing field, humidor not so much.  Just look at this year, offense is down everywhere in baseball except for Coors.  Humidor is still in effect but good home pitching? Not so much.

So if the template for success is pitching what does the template look like?  85% of the starts in 2007 - 2010 came from 10 pitchers.  Of these, Jimenez, Cook, Francis, Chacin, and Morales, were homegrown.  Hammel, Hirsh, and de la Rosa were acquired through trades and Marquis and Fogg were free agent signings.  So ideally to be effective Rox have to build through the draft when it comes to pitching.  That is why the last few years of bad drafts has put us in the current situation and why Jimenez got traded.  We needed young arms.  Of these 10 pitchers about 41% of their hits were ground balls (for comparison sake this season only about 33% are ground balls).  Looking at the list below the two big winners in that period were Jimenez and Cook, both groundball pitchers.  As O'Dowd commented during FanFest this year the ability to sign groundball pitchers on the free agent market makes Rox chances almost nil.  Therefore they either are homegrown or we find lightening in the bottle like Fogg and Marquis.

Because pitching is so important I feel for a general manager trying to put together a squad especially when your drafting has failed to produce a reliable new crop.  Ideally every year or two you would like to have the next generation slotted in.  Rox had no one to fill in for Cook and Francis when they got old.  I think every year, Rox should find two serviceable pitchers off the scrap heap.  Millwood would have been a great addition this year.  Problem this year was that O'Down went after serviceable fly ball pitchers possibly mistakenly thinking that because of the humidor the Coors Effect was nullified.  What team might have failed to consider is that the Coors Effect was nullified by good pitching not the humidor!  

And finally I come to my final point and because of the Coors Effect are the Rox having to play two different games?  PurpleRow had a nice view on this.  While the article is valid I have to wonder if it just again boils down to pitching.  A well constructed pitching staff capable of winning at Coors should be more than capable of winning on the road.  The problem in Rox history is that they have really never had great pitching and so while the offense could find ways to win at home, this very same offense couldn't help on the road.  

In conclusion did I really say anything that the average fan didn't already now?  Probably not.  As a Rox fan I care probably too much for this team.  When they struggle I want to now why or at least calm my fears that there is a rationale scientific basis for what we are seeing.  I do hope management cares as well.  Getting the right pieces and parts aren't the easiest when millions of dollars are at stake.  As a fan we support our team and do have some expectations that we get something in return.  As with life I just hope in the end we aren't being hoodwinked and that someone is putting the time in and cares that the Rox aren't perennial losers.

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