Okay, at this point is there not a lot to say bad about the offense. I mentioned earlier this season that I was upset by the low pitch counts they are getting against opposing starters. It turns out that new Rockies hitting coach Blake Doyle is at the cutting edge of hitting philosophy. Just a few years ago we would get these 8 and 9 pitch ABs and 4 hour games between the Yankees and BoSox. Well, it turns out that when you go deeper into counts you get nastier pitches (so the theory goes). The three top offensive teams at the beginning of last week were the Brewers, Braves and Rox, who were all at the bottom of pitchers/AB. On first pitches: .397/.391/1.007 (BA/OBP/OPS). On 1-0, .293/.282/.855. Even on 0-1, .361/.360/.932. Yes, they are hitting for a higher average when they are down a strike rather than up a strike on the 2nd pitch. So, they do seem to be ambushing a lot of fastballs. All three lines decline significantly after you get beyond the first two pitches. So, the plan…as of now, is working. What the opposition does in response will be interesting. But pitchers are used to throwing hard to get ahead and staying such until they get to the 2 strike spot and then going with splitters, changeups, nasty sliders and the mix. You can see this is why there are a lot of early swings against Tanaka with the Yanks and Uehara. The story about Collin McHugh (I updated the story regarding ex-Rockies with the link to this information) is that beginning this year he has started throwing backwards, starting off with curves, changeups, and sliders instead of his fastball, which he threw 95% as his first-pitch in his first two years in the major leagues. So, kudos to the Rockies for hiring Blake Doyle and following his philosophy when It comes to hitting. Now hitting coaches don’t change a lot with big league hitters, but this type of thinking can be part of what someone like Doyle can bring to a team.
So, to our actual players and outcomes. We know that the Rockies will always be dinged for their over-performance at Coors relative to the road, as if they are the only people for whom this is true (even the great Ted Williams hit .361 at Fenway and .328 on the road with a BABIP of .347/.309). Most players hit better at home – but yes, there will always be a more pronounced home effect for the Rockies. The Rockies have the added issue that they play in the NL West where 3 of the 4 visiting parks are significantly better pitching parks than hitting parks, and even in Arizona it depends on the stadium configuration. But I have to say, I was surprised to see how pronounced the differences between home and road are for our players. Some are just insane – like Tulo hitting, through 12 games at home, is hitting an OPS of….1.665. No, that is not a typo. Right now you are better off just walking Tulo at Coors. Now on the road he is hitting a very respectable .895 OPS, but that is still .770 difference, or higher than the road OPS of every Rockie player but Morneau, Rutledge, and Dickerson – and that is the difference between his home and road performance.
What is amazing is not that this team is 10-4 at home, but that they are only 10-4 at home. Actually what is even more amazing is that they are 8-9 at home. And remember, their pitching is better at home than the road. Just think if they had managed to avoid the 6 bullpen blow-ups to 0 opponents pen-blow-ups for wins. That would be a better reflection of how well this team has played. They easily could have the best record in baseball. But that is the nature of baseball – not that you get hits or give up homers, but when and in what scenario. The Giants 8 1-run wins is why they are in first and the Rox remain a very good 2nd place team.
So, closer analysis on the hitting. Charlie Blackmon at home has played like a #4 hitter, but on the road more like a traditional lead-off hitter, which is what he plays, which is why his lack of power on the road has not hurt the team. The move of Nolan Arenado into the 2-slot on the last road trip benefited the team as he is the best road hitter right now for the team, though his productivity/power for his hitting is still too low. CarGo has been unlucky on the road, but has had some key hits and power to help this team win its 8 games. Tulo has seen little to hit on the road, which helps explain the low BA, but is still very productive on the road and a terror at home. Justin Morneau has been the most consistent player through the first 20% of the season. I didn’t include the right-handed/left-handed splits for any of the players, but Justin, granted in only 30 ABs vs LHP, his splits are (vs RHP) .350/.376/1.001/4 and (vs LHP) .333/.344/.910/2. Justin has been smooth and consistent no matter what the setting, and given that he was supppsoed to sit against lefties in favour of Cuddy, with Cuddy’s injury it has probably saved the team. Justin along with Nolan are key factors in the early season 8-9 record on the road.
Wilin has been a disappointment, as he is typically a hot hitter in April (.280), with only June (.285) and August (.331) better months. That they have scored as many runs and have as many homers with Wilin’s poor start is a testament to the depth of the team (and Pacheco’s low-wattage but consistent performance has been created an acceptable duo so far). Cuddy was off to a good start to the season, but the team has played excellent ball in his absence as they have gotten great performances from Dickerson and Barnes and adequate production from Stubbs. DJ is performing well at home, making the lineup very deep. On the road his offense is almost entirely without impact, but according to the “Runs Saved” category for the Rox they have saved 1.2 runs at 2nd, and that is with Culberson and Rutledge playing a number of games at that position. Ideally on the road you want Rutledge playing and at home DJ, but until Rut is healthy again that is not an option.
Corey Dickerson has taken advantage of the ABs with Cuddy down, as they have played 8 games at home without Cuddy and 6 on the road. Dickerson has been their 2nd best road offensive player after Morneau, and added key hits on the recent road trip to help them get to 4-2. At home the combination of Barnes, Stubbs and Dickerson have been fantastic, all hitting .824 or better, with solid defense aside from one bad game against the Phillies for Barnes. If they had scripted dealing with Cuddy’s injury this would have been it. It also highlights why they cannot afford to have both Cuddy and CarGo hurt long-term. The most interesting case offensively aside from DJ who is so different has been his outfield version – Drew Stubbs. Stubbs gives this team the best CF defense in years, even better than Dexter, and has probably saved at least 5 runs by one count. At home, thanks in part to a pair of singles against righties that traveled about 140 feet, he is hitting .375 with an .824 OPS. They can live with that at home but on the road, aside from the one big homer, his offense is a liability and the question is whether the defense is so good that it makes it acceptable to carry the bat. Just as Rutledge’s DL stint will make it a no-brainer for DJ to continue to man 2B on the next road trip, so does Cuddy’s ongoing injury (he still cannot explode running which makes me think the next road trip he will still be sitting) make room for Stubb’s glove running out there on the road. Stubbs actually right now, thanks to those two dribbler hits and the homer on Tuesday night is hitting better against righties (.259 to .238) but he has a total of 3 hits on the road in 24ABs – and if that holds up it doesn’t matter righties or lefties – he isn’t hitting anyone on the road. Below the grade I have the splits for the season so far.
Offensive Grade: At Home: A++, Road: B. Take away the first 7 games on the road at Miami and San Francisco (2-5), they have done a good job of battling for 9 innings, getting scoring opportunities and even adding runs on in later innings. If CarGo’s swings start landing for hits and Justin Morneau stays hot, then Tulo will get pitches to hit, and he won’t miss them as often as he did in Arizona on the last trip where at least 3 times you could tell he just missed his pitch. At home there is very little to say negatively – at a time when their pitching has done a good job of shutting down the opposition, they have had good smart ABs and this despite having players like CarGo and Wilin not yet hot.
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