Offense is undeniably up at Coors Field. The Baseball Reference park factor is currently 120, the highest it has been since 2001, the year prior to the humidor. Dan O'Dowd's long assembly line of rotation candidates continues to dwindle, with Alex White getting demoted yesterday.
While the Rockies look to build young pitching, the rotation has been a mess no matter who has taken the ball. The rotation has produced just 17 quality starts in 2012, good for 24% of their games and dead last in MLB. This new 4-man, 75-pitch count rotation will ensure that percentage will continue to decrease. They are on pace for just 38 quality starts, which would break the 1994 Tigers and Twins record for fewest quality starts in a season. And 1994 was a strike-shortened season. In non-strike-shortened seasons, the Rockies are on pace to eclipse the mark by seven.
The phenomenon has led to widespread speculation as to why runs are back up.
It is not humidor tampering. Not only would that undermine the Rockies' goals of having a competitive team (and thus more money), but thanks to the Giants, the humidor is heavily monitored by MLB.
Dan O'Dowd would have you believe Coors Field spontaneously started changing. Chris Chrisman summarized much of O'Dowd's comments in a Sunday evening interview with KOA here. Or if you prefer, refer to Thomas Harding's article last week, where O'Dowd clearly uses the spontaneously morphing home stadium as an excuse to deflect blame from his assembled rotation:
"I wish I had an explanation. (Coors Field) is significantly different, and we didn't anticipate that in our planning, as it has been somewhat consistent over the last five years."
What could cause a ballpark to suddenly change? There really could only be one reason, and Ken Rosenthal suggests it - the unusually hot and dry summer.
That would not bode well for last night's game, the hottest game time temperature in Rockies history. Thankfully, the man that took the mound isn't buying into any of this Coors monster nonsense.
"The ball, to me, felt the same. I don't know. People need a reason for things." Jeff Francis said after getting shellacked at Coors Field on June 9.
Francis took the ball and dominated the Washington Nationals on the hottest, driest night on record, a night in which Coors Field theoretically should have been the biggest monster. This is a pitcher whose stuff will make a minor league hitter grin, a veteran pitcher who couldn't find an MLB job until the Rockies' rotation imploded. He could have accepted the deflected blame of Coors Field, but the man with the physics degree knew better. With all the conspiracy theories afoot, his approach was quite simple.
Francis threw first pitch strikes to 18 of the 21 batters he faced, including his last 11 batters. The bullpen threw first pitch strikes to 11 of 16 batters, with four of the first-pitch balls coming from Rafael Betancourt in his somewhat shaky save.
League-wide, hitters bat .265 with an .816 OPS in at-bats beginning with a ball. They hit .235 with a .613 OPS in at-bats starting with a strike. This effect is only exacerbated in offensive environments like Coors. The Rockies are currently tied for last in the NL in 1st-pitch strike percentage. It isn't Coors Field's fault - it's the pitchers.
The Bullpen is More than Fine
What also seems to get lost in blaming Coors is the role of the overworked bullpen. While the rotation is in shambles (due to Coors?), the bullpen is doing just fine. The Rockies' pen is 1st in the NL in fWAR and rWAR by a large margin. While that is inflated by innings, that doesn't explain everything.
Matt Belisle leads all Rockies players in rWAR, is 3rd in MLB among relievers in fWAR and 1st in rWAR. He is 2nd in MLB in innings pitched, while pitching in an environment out to get him, yet maintains a 2.03 ERA. Josh Roenicke leads MLB in innings, yet he checks in with a 2.64 ERA. Rex Brothers is 20th among MLB relievers in fWAR with a 3.81 ERA and 2.36 FIP. Rafael Betancourt is 18th in fWAR, with a 2.93 ERA and 2.66 FIP.
For playing in a stadium that has supposedly turned on the rotation, the core of the bullpen remains dominant. Weird.
As David Schoenfield wrote, the Rockies need to quit obsessing with Coors Field and compounding the issue. The rotation has sucked because the rotation has sucked. Pitching at Coors Field is the same as it has ever been. Throw first pitch strikes, keep the ball low, and keep throwing strikes. Control and command - that's what pitching is. As Jeff Francis and Stephen Strasburg (and both clubs' bullpens) showed last night, effective pitching is still effective at 20th and Blake.
Do Not Trade Carlos Gonzalez
The idea is ridiculous enough that I don't want to even write on the idea (plus I've written enough already - sorry). It won't go away though, because 1) Carlos Gonzalez is a stud, and an affordable one, 2) the Rockies have a very poor record, and 3) the "It'll never happen" initial feelings are eerily comparable to what was felt one year ago with Ubaldo Jimenez. As of now though, it is just the pontification of the New York Post's Joel Sherman, and the rapidfire reactions it sparked. My feelings are well summed up below.
Scout.com: Trading CarGo isn't the answer for Rockies - by Nick Schlain
Rockies Mailbag: Colorado can win at Coors Field, if owners and GM make it so - The Denver Post It is Patrick Saunders' turn to answer questions, and he candidly responds to several frustrated questions.
/Player plays poorly.
"Maybe he's hurt?"
"I'm not hurt."
/Player gets hurt.
"I was hurt all along and hiding it."
The script is as original as a date night romantic comedy.