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Friday, May 09, 2014

Sullivan:  Strikeouts are up across MLB, but Rockies aren’t down with that

Is Blake Doyle (Denny and Brian’s brother) the Leo Mazzone of hitting coaches?

Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs has noticed that Rockies have cut their strikeout rates despite the league rate going up:

Blackmon’s chopped his strikeouts by more than half. Rosario’s chopped them by almost half. Gonzalez has shed a third, and Cuddyer has shed more than that, and so on and so forth. Young players and veterans alike have whiffed less often, and strikeout rate is one of those numbers that stabilizes fairly quickly. Or, if you prefer different terminology: strikeout rate tends not to be that noisy. You can generally read into it sooner than you can read into, say, batting average, or a pitcher’s ERA. The Rockies haven’t stopped striking out, but they’ve been better about it without sacrificing walks, and we’re at the point in the year where that’s starting to look fascinating.

One thing that’s changed is the Rockies have made yet another hitting coach change, to Blake Doyle:

So, let’s say we have something here. It’s one thing to identify a trend of interest. It’s another to try to explain it. What might be the root cause of the Rockies’ adjustments? That, I can’t actually prove, but one notes that this season the team has a new hitting instructor, named Blake Doyle. A year ago, he was occasionally around as a consultant, but he’s never worked full-time for a big-league organization, and not a lot is known about his philosophies. It’s too easy to put it all on him, and I won’t put it all on him, but this could be something more than a coincidence. Prior to Doyle, the Rockies’ hitting-coach position featured something of a revolving door.

puck Posted: May 09, 2014 at 02:36 PM | 18 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: rockies

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: May 09, 2014 at 05:29 PM (#4703725)
Have they turned off the humidor?

I know it's early but at Coors the Rox are hitting ... wait for it ... 355/401/600, averaging 7.5 runs per game.

On the road it's 259/307/409 and just over 4 runs a game.

They K 14% at home and 19% on the road. HR rate at home is about double.

Amazingly and suspiciously, their opponents:

Coors 264/325/424
Home 253/325/426

Not too surprisingly, they're 13-5 in Coors and 9-10 on the road.
   2. Walt Davis Posted: May 09, 2014 at 05:36 PM (#4703727)
Last year they K'd 25% on the road and 18% at home so the gap is about the same. OPS was 136 points (about 20%) higher at home.
   3. puck Posted: May 09, 2014 at 07:17 PM (#4703755)
From memory, it seems recently the hitters often seem to get more of a boost from Coors than the pitchers are hurt by it. For most of the years from 2009 (maybe a year or two earlier) to present they emphasized sinkers and such (but not 2012 when they traded for Guthrie and Moscoso).

Looking at Fangraphs, here are the Rockies' MLB rank in GB% (Bob Apodaca was hired as pitching coach for 2003, I think the empahsis on sinkers started with him). And also their home/road OPS allowed:


Year  GB%    Home/Road
      Rank   OPS Allowed   
2003  14     .837
/.820
2004   9     .888
/.793
2005  18     .822
/.815
2006   6     .803
/.765
2007   3     .767
/.739
2008   3     .776
/.774
2009   2     .752
/.713
2010   5     .737
/.710
2011   6     .798
/.724
2012  16     .868
/.782
2013   3     .760
/.766
2014   3     .749
/.751 



That looks more flukey than anything. In 2005 they were only 18th in GB% but still were pretty even on the home/road split. Though the batting avg. allowed at home was 26 points higher with a similar BABIP.
   4. Tom Nawrocki Posted: May 09, 2014 at 07:32 PM (#4703759)
I'd noticed that Tulowitzki has made a huge improvement in his K/W ratio. His best in a full season prior to this year was 1.34:1 K:W, but in 2014 he has 25 walks to 15 Ks.
   5. bookbook Posted: May 09, 2014 at 08:08 PM (#4703770)
I think that Rockies hitters have traditionally been dramatically hurt hitting on the road ( they turn into better neutral park hitters when they move to other teams).
   6. tshipman Posted: May 09, 2014 at 09:21 PM (#4703782)
Have they turned off the humidor?


One factor could be an extra warm spring. Jonah Keri wrote about this in Grantland today:
The third idea I wanted to explore was a little more out-there. I live in Denver, just five miles from Coors Field, and I can tell you that it’s been hot here lately, unseasonably so. Or at least it’s felt that way. To find out for sure, I dug into the archives at Weather Underground. Offensive levels tend to rise in warmer weather, so if Denver has truly been unusually hot this year, that — along with Coors being the most hitter-friendly park in the league, 32 games being a still smallish sample, and Tulo just being really good — could help explain this incredible streak. It might even tell us a little about the eye-popping numbers several other Rockies are putting up, especially Charlie Blackmon and Justin Morneau.

   7. Walt Davis Posted: May 09, 2014 at 10:11 PM (#4703807)
I think the empahsis on sinkers started with him)

Ahem. I'm pretty sure I was pointing this out by then ... maybe it was a couple of years later. :-) Not that "keep the ball down at Coors" takes a genius!

Tulo's also batting over 400.

Most batters and pitchers benefit some from home. The Rox have always been extreme in this ... why people conclude this is a Coors road effect as opposed to a massive home field advantage I don't know. I've never found their evidence convincing.

   8. puck Posted: May 09, 2014 at 11:26 PM (#4703864)
why people conclude this is a Coors road effect as opposed to a massive home field advantage I don't know. I've never found their evidence convincing.


I've never seen the evidence, just anecdotal stuff where players have really low road splits. So why can't it be both?
   9. Barnaby Jones Posted: May 10, 2014 at 01:47 AM (#4703914)
(Bob Apodaca was hired as pitching coach for 2003, I think the empahsis on sinkers started with him


It has to date earlier than that, since Mike Hampton's sinker was the big selling point.
   10. PreservedFish Posted: May 10, 2014 at 03:33 AM (#4703919)
It has to date earlier than that, since Mike Hampton's sinker was the big selling point.


That may have just been a rationalization and not a real team focus. They also signed Denny Neagle that year.
   11. bobm Posted: May 10, 2014 at 12:57 PM (#4704051)
http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2014/5/9/5696886/justin-upton-strikeouts-hitting-average-braves

Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn, Carlos Pena, Ryan Howard, B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla, and Jay Bruce.

Those are the seven players who have struck out more frequently than Upton since 2008. With the exception of B.J. Upton, all of those names are players who you would consider all-or-nothing hitters. And then there is Justin Upton. His .278 batting average the highest of the group.

So when we look at the ten hitters who have struck out the most this season, it is no surprise to see Upton's name on the list again. And once again, his batting average surpasses the rest of the group, in some cases, by a lot.
   12. Jeff R., P***y Mainlander Posted: May 10, 2014 at 02:21 PM (#4704080)
I know it's early but at Coors the Rox are hitting ... wait for it ... 355/401/600, averaging 7.5 runs per game.

On the road it's 259/307/409 and just over 4 runs a game.


OMG! They're stealing signs like the Marlins! This must be stopped!!!&!0ne!!!!
   13. puck Posted: May 10, 2014 at 03:54 PM (#4704162)
It has to date earlier than that, since Mike Hampton's sinker was the big selling point.

That may have just been a rationalization and not a real team focus. They also signed Denny Neagle that year.


Yeah, I dunno. I wasn't following them very closely in their early years. They had Bill Swift in the early years, too. Couldn't ask for a better sinker guy but that was the tail end of his career.
   14. Greg K Posted: May 10, 2014 at 04:13 PM (#4704167)
From the James/Neyer pitching book:

"Hampton told Ringolsby that in his good years he threw the two-seam fastball (which came in at about 88 MPH but with a sinking action)...In Coors Field he had gotten away from that and was throwing the four-seam, which came in at about 92, more often."

Seems sort of crazy that you'd stop throwing a sinker in Coors. The source seems to be a news article from 2002.
   15. Mendo Posted: May 10, 2014 at 04:19 PM (#4704171)
Most batters and pitchers benefit some from home. The Rox have always been extreme in this ... why people conclude this is a Coors road effect as opposed to a massive home field advantage I don't know. I've never found their evidence convincing.


I remember an article from years ago that argued that the Rockies hit better and better on the road as the road trip went on. I think the idea was that the extremity of the Coors effect (the lack of effective breaking balls in the thin air, maybe...?) messed with Rockies' hitters and changed their expectations more than any other home park did. It then took them a while to re-adjust to normal hitting conditions.
   16. Tom Nawrocki Posted: May 10, 2014 at 04:31 PM (#4704172)
Matt Holliday, for one, has posted the highest road OPSs of his career since leaving the Rockies. Holliday would be a good place to start studying this, since he's been one of the most consistent hitters in the game, and left Colorado pretty much exactly in mid-career.
   17. Walt Davis Posted: May 10, 2014 at 08:12 PM (#4704249)
And Cuddyer has posted road OPS above his career norm and the highest single-season OPS+ of his career (and doing so again this year) while playing for the Rox at ages 34-36.

The Holliday example doesn't hold up that well. He struggled on the road in his first two years in MLB then had road OPS's of

819/860/892

Since then it's gone 832/909/927/871/790

By sOPS that's 116/130/145 and 127/155/162/146/125.

So he had two big years on the road since leaving Colorado but otherwise about the same. And of course he got to play a few road games in Coors after leaving although I don't imagine those shift the needle much.

Although ... since leaving the Rox ... 58 PA, 49 AB, 21 H, 4 doubles, 7 HR, 9 BB + HBP, 46 TB ,,, 429/517/939

Back when this first came out, I looked at some of the guys who left the Rox and my memory is that the ones with success after leaving were not surprisingly the ones who hit well on the road while they were with the Rox while the ones who flopped hit like they hit on the road. Burks, Galarraga I recall on the success side, Castilla, Cirillo, Bichette on the flop side.

Walker's another that springs to mind. From 91-94, road OPS's of 838/863/715/964 ... next 4 years on Colo 845/523/1176/892. He had 3+ more seasons in Colo with a road OPS of 890 or better.

Kind of amazing, in 1997 he hit 346/443/773 on the road. That was his MVP year, he might have just deserved that one.

A challenge in assessing this is that the Rox have had a lot of bad hitters over the years and something of a penchant for veterans. Was a guy on the decline before, during or after he was on the Rox? Did any Coors road effect hasten that decline such that after leaving the Rox, he never had time to re-adjust. Or did declining players with the Rox try to retune their swings to both match Coors and get their declining production back up and were in their last gasps anyway but superficially masked by Coors?

Anyway, when I did my superficial poking, the impression I got was that the players exhibiting the supposed Coors road effect were primarily borderline players at that stage of their career. Neither models nor common sense is very good at predicting when a borderline player takes the step to the wrong side of the border and we've seen that those steps are often (at least on the surface) big ones.

Anyway, my memory of the claim was that they performed worse on the road than (neutral) projections would have predicted rather than pre-/post-Rox but I might well be misremembering or likely folks have looked at it both ways. I've only poked at it with regard to pre-/post-Rox and not thoroughly. I do recall that MGL was a believer in the Coors road effect so I'm not claiming it as mainstream fantasy or the work of fly-by-night sabermetricians ... not that it would be the first time MGL jumped to a conclusion a bit too quickly. :-)

I'd give the idea more credence if there is analysis showing that we see something similar, even if less extreme, for other extreme parks throughout history. But I need very compelling evidence to switch from the Occam's razor explanation of "maybe Jeff Cirillo just sucked by then and Dante Bichette was never any good" to "there must be something unique in baseball history going on."
   18. boteman Posted: May 10, 2014 at 08:15 PM (#4704251)
I remember an article from years ago that argued that the Rockies hit better and better on the road as the road trip went on.

Maybe as the road trip wore on they infused more and more oxygen in their bloodstreams, being closer to sea level?

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