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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Blake Street Bombers Redux?

Saw this article from the NY Times on winning at altitude over at Baseball Musings. Not too much that hasn't been said before. Nobody knows how to win blah blah blah...throw everythinig out the window blah blah blah. What I found interesting however, was the following:

"Going into last night's games, Colorado's earned run average of 5.68 was tied for last with Tampa Bay among the 30 major league teams. It has never been better than 24th. That was in 1994, when there were 28 teams.

When Colorado made its only playoff appearance, as a wild-card team in the strike-shortened 1995 season, its E.R.A. was 4.97, the third worst in baseball."

What the author fails to realize is that since the pitcher park factor (PPF) at Coors in 1995 was 128 the Adjusted ERA for that team was 108, in other words 8% above average. Meanwhile Rockies hitters in 1995 had an adjusted OPS of 99 due to the batter park factor (BPF) of 128 - actually below average. So their pitching was their strength in 1995, not their weakness as implied in the article.

Recently I've heard lots of discussion on talk radio in Denver on this topic and caller after caller falls in line with the idea that the only way to win at Coors Field is to stack the lineup with hitters ala the "Blake Street Bombers" and simply outscore your opponents both at home and on the road. Even David at Baseball Musings said:

"The more I think about the Coors problem, the more I believe the Rockies can only win by being a super offensive team. They can't be content with hitters who look great at home but stink on the road. They need to find four of five superstars who will just pound the ball and push the team toward 8 runs a game at home. Then just hope the pitching can hang on. They need an infield of A-Rod, Tejada, Kent and Helton."

While I hesitate to differ with someone as knowledgable as David, it seems to me that pitching, specifically relief pitching, and not hitting is the key. I say that because the year the Rockies were most successful (not 1995 but 2000), their pitching was the key. As shown in the table below, in that year the Rockies pythagorean record was 87-75, their best ever.

1993 89 91 63 99 67 95
1994 95 96 53 64 53 64
1995 99 108 72 72 77 67
1996 100 97 81 81 83 79
1997 105 99 82 80 83 79
1998 102 102 78 84 77 85
1999 90 95 72 90 72 90
2000 90 112 87 75 82 80
2001 102 98 82 80 73 89
2002 86 94 70 92 73 89
2003 100 91 78 84 74 88
2004 96 91 73 89 68 94

In 2000 their ERA+ was second in the league at 112 while their OPS+ was second to last in the league at 90 and yet they still were projected to win 87 games. That team had five very solid relievers including Jose Jimenez, Mike Myers, Gabe White, Mike DeJean, and Julian Tavarez who started 12 games and relieved in 39. In the starting rotation Pedro Astacio and Brian Bohanon turned in good performances although the other three primary starters were pretty average.

And to me it makes sense that a strong and deep bullpen should be the focal point in an environment where lots of runs are scored for two reasons. First, in games at Coors Field your starters will tend to throw lots of pitches and therefore won't be able to get into the 7th and 8th innings very often. That means that often your bullpen will be called upon to pitch three and four innings per night. On most teams the first reliever in the game in the 5th inning is a guy who is a marginal major leaguer. In Coors Field I think you can take advantage of other teams relievers by having a quality guy in that spot that can hold the oppostion while you pile up runs. For the Rockies and only the Rockies I think it may make sense to carry 12 pitchers. For this reason it seems that someone who plays a role like Brooks Keishnick would be useful to the Rockies since they'll typically need more pinch hitters.

Secondly, for whatever reason, the Rockies hitters perform terribly on the road. Some have contended that this is due to a "hangover effect" where hitters have trouble adjusting to breaking balls at lower altitudes. While this seems logical there really isn't any evidence to support it as I've tried to document here. Others suggest that the Rockies have simply had poor hitters who look good at altitiude. I'm not discounting that theory entirely but in my quick look at the theory its not obvious that's what's happening. In any case, despite the bombers of the past the Rockies have consistently ranked at or near the bottom in runs per game on the road.

rdR/G Rank
1993 3.32 14
1994 4.27 11
1995 4.17 12
1996 3.74 14
1997 4.67 10
1998 3.70 15
1999 4.12 15
2000 4.14 16
2001 4.56 11
2002 3.46 16
2003 4.15 15
2004 4.16 14

So in order to win road games the Rockies need to keep those games close by, for example, pulling starters earlier than other teams and shutting down the opposition in the late innings.

It would be nice to see this point of view raised a bit more on the front range anyway.

1 comment:

sas723 said...

Hey, I drifted over here from btb (have enjoyed reading your work there so far). For the sabermetrics enthused, I think the Rockies are the most interesting team to analyze. Just theorizing, I think that the Rockies supposed disadvantage can possibly be turned into an actual advantage because they have an extremely unique park factor with which to exploit. As I have stated before, I think they need to look past convention, at least with regards to pitching, and try something different, like a staff of all relievers. They really have nothing to lose. As an english/polysci (ie jobless in the future) co-major I am not wonderfully gifted mathematically, but I really want to dig into the Rockies, see what can be discovered.