The Coors Field Effect on This Year’s Colorado Rockies

It is true almost every year, but especially in this young 2014 season, that the Colorado Rockies have an offense that no other team in the major leagues can hope to match, thanks to the obscene run environment of their home park Coors Field. I say obscene because in the history of major league stadiums (a history that really dates back to the 1910s with the construction of Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, and other stadiums that have since been shuttered), I don’t think Coors Field has any competition for best hitters park. At all. The old Polo Grounds of the New York Giants was famously inscribed in a long oval, making the distance down the foul lines a paltry 220 feet or so. But as you can see here, the fence was so sharply angled that by the time it reaches the left fielder it is at a normal depth, and high, too. That sharp angle continued all the way to center field, making it the deepest in the majors at plenty more than 400 feet–enough space for Willie Mays to make any catch.

But the fences aren’t what makes Coors Field a hitter’s haven, it’s the altitude. In fact, the fences are rather deep by today’s standards, particularly in left and right center, the power alleys. Denver’s altitude and climate make for thin, dry air: ideal conditions for launching small projectiles hundreds of feet. That the fences are so deep is an acknowledgement of this fact, but the Coors Field Effect cannot be undone by the works of man. Instead, in a classical display of human folly, the deep fences have actually worked against their intended purpose of suppressing runs. Sure, some home runs have been wiped out, but outfielders have so much more ground to cover than in other stadiums that more batted balls go for singles, doubles, and triples. Even if you have three rangy fielders out there, offense will win out.

So let’s keep this mind as I run through some team statistics. All of the data that follows goes through Thursday, May 22, so forgive me for the present tense. The Rockies are ninth in the majors in plate appearances, but first in hits (44 more than second place). They are also first in singles (21 more than second), doubles (seven more), runs (14), batting average (.023), on-base percentage (.004) and slugging percentage (.041). For reference, that .023 lead in batting average over the second-place Detroit Tigers is equal to the gap between the Tigers and 15th-place Cleveland. For more reference, the Blue Jays are second in slugging percentage, .055 points better than the 15th-place Milwaukee Brewers. Put plainly, the Rockies are leaps and bounds over every other team when it comes to run scoring. They will likely have 100 runs on every other team in the National League when the season is done.

The simplest way to gauge the Coors Field Effect is to split the Rockies’ statistics into home and away, so that is what I did, then I looked to see how Colorado’s away statistics ranked among every other team’s normal statistics. Let’s start with batting average.

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On the road, the Rockies are merely average at hitting for average, whereas at home they hit like Teddy Ballgame. Their on-base percentage is not so great, however (see below). Wisely, I think, the Rockies have targeted players who like to swing away, because swinging away is the quickest way to scoring when they play at home. This approach, however, translates poorly to every other park in the league, and were the Rockies to make the playoffs, they would face better pitchers who are more able to exploit this weakness of theirs.

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On the other hand, Colorado’s power travels extremely well. Their slugging percentage on the road is above average to the point that the Road Rockies still qualify as a good-hitting club by the measure of on-base-plus-slugging (OPS), and they would rank 12th in the majors.

slgops

And if 12th place isn’t impressive enough for you, consider that only three teams above the Rockies are in the National League (blue font). The National League has a lower run-scoring standard because pitchers must hit for themselves. If we limit our scope to National League teams, the Road Rockies are one of the better offenses, performing more or less identically as the San Francisco Giants. This well-adjusted offense has not helped them win, however; as of May 24, the Rockies are only 11-15 on the road.

nlops

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