Friday, July 06, 2007
For years the Rockies had one of the worst pitching staffs in the majors. Even in seasons where the Rockies tried to upgrade their pitching staff by adding guys like Denny Neagle and Mike Hampton, the Rockies still got rocked. The decision to utilize a humidor to give the ball some dampness in the dry air of Denver deadened the ball considerably and has had a positive effect on the Rockies pitchers.
The park factor for Coors Field in terms of Home Runs illustrates the dramatic shift. (Park factor, for those not in the know, is the difference between what a team and its foes do at home vs. on the road. 100 is neutral, less than that favors pitchers, higher favors hitters.) In 2006, Coors Field’s Park Factor for Home Runs was 114, which ranked Coors Field seventh in the N.L. Coors is still an easy park to score runs in – its vast dimensions make defense a chore and give teams plenty of opportunities to utilize tactics that don’t involve home runs, like stretching singles into doubles – but Home Runs were down.
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: (13*HR+3*BB-2*K / IP) + League Factor Evaluates a pitching by how he would have done with an average defense behind him by keeping track of things that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) as opposed to things he cannot (hits allowed, runs allowed).
DER – Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.
HR/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
Isolated Power (ISO): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.
As a consequence of not having to watch cheap home runs sail into the bleachers, the Rockies pitching staff has quietly been developing into a tough group. Here is how they stack up compared with the Phillies and the rest of the N.L.:
Colorado / Philadelphia / N.L.
FIP: 4.46 / 4.81 / 4.28
HR/9: 1.0 / 1.3 / 0.9
BB/9: 3.1 / 3.4 / 3.3
K/9: 5.3 / 6.7 / 6.6
SLGA*: .436 / .464 / .412
* Slugging average allowed.
The Rockies Jeff Francis, who goes tonight against Kyle Kendrick, has quietly made himself into a tough pitcher, and the Rockies best starter: he’s 8-5 with a 3.56 ERA.
The Phillies will operate at a major disadvantage in this series. First off, the Phillies are sending Kendrick, Jamie Moyer and Adam Eaton to the mound. Not one of the three is a strikeout pitcher like Brett Myers or Cole Hamels. Why is this significant? Because pitchers that allow balls to be put into play in Coors risk seeing those balls sail out of the park for home runs, or sail to the deepest parts of the outfield for doubles. Moyer (5.5 K/9), Eaton (5.8 K/9) and Kendrick (3.0 K/9) all rely on the Phillies fielders to make plays. This could be bad. Simply put, Phillies fans, don’t be surprised to see the Phillies pitchers get shelled this weekend. Ideally, the Phillies could have sent strikeout guys like Hamels and Myers, or extreme groundball pitchers like Freddy Garcia and Jon Lieber to the mound in this series, but that isn’t an option.
Defensively, the Rockies are nothing to brag about. They seem pretty average. In fact, their DER (.695) is the league average.
Offensively, the Rockies have some power to their lineup. The Rockies are third in the N.L. in runs scored per game after the Phillies and Brewers at 4.95 runs per game. The Rockies do it by working the count: 3.87 pitches per plate appearance, best in the N.L. Second-best? The Phillies at 3.86. That gets them on-base (.346 OBP, best in the N.L.), and gets them into position for their big bats to hammer them home. Interestingly, the modern Rockies look a little like a small-ball team: their slugging percentage is just .418, .007 better than the league average. Their isolated power at the plate (ISO) is a relatively puny .144, worse – worse – than the league average of .151, and mush worse than the Phillies robust .175. Even with big boppers like Matt Holliday on the roster, the Rockies are a team with popguns instead of cannons.
The Rockies utilize a lot of steals and a lot of bunts to make things happen. I was stunned to discover, looking in the 2007 Bill James Handbook, that the 2006 Rockies led the N.L. in sacrifice bunts with 155 (23 more than the Astros), and attempted to steal 135 bases, which was eighth in the N.L. Bill James ran the numbers and determined that the Rockies led the N.L. in Manufactured Runs (that is, runs that were a direct outcome of bunting, stealing and sacrificing) with 198. These are not your older cousin’s Rockies.
So what’s going to happen this weekend? I am predicting a three-game sweep for the Rockies. That’s right Phillies fans, this weekend’s series is going to be a total fiasco for the Phillies. They are vulnerable pitchers going to the mound. The Rockies don’t look nearly as vulnerable as they appear. Remember: this is the team that swept the Mets at Shea.
Respect the Rockies.