Editor's Note: The following post is a part of the 2013 Purple Row Writer Search -- our quest to find some great new contributors to Purple Row.
With a disastrous 2012 season filled with 98 losses haunting me and the theory that the Colorado Rockies had too good of an offense to lose that many games, I went in search of answers to what makes our team perform well while playing half the games at altitude. Continue reading and maybe you too will become a believer in the walk.
My search for what statistic mattered most to wins for the Colorado Rockies began at 122 games into the season last year. It came about as a result of reading other fans' thoughts on Purple Row regarding what was making the team fail. My feeling was that our defense played a huge role in the problem and that giving extra outs was not helping our beleagured pitching staff. I harkened back to the good years of 2007-2009 and my purple-tainted memory recalled every ground ball hit by the opposing team turning into a double play. So I sought to prove my theory using my old friend, math.
First, a quick rundown of my search. I originally chose to look at 2005-2012 and focused on the statistics of fielding percentage for defense; OBP, SLG, OPS, Runs, Walks, Stolen Bases, Sac Bunts, Sac Flies, Strikeouts, and GIDP from the offensive side; and walks allowed, strikeouts made, ERA, and WHIP from the pitching side. I used not only the raw data number but also how Colorado ranked in the National League at each statistic and then sought the correlation between these and the Rockies ranking in the national league and number of wins. Geeking out a little, I decided to geek out a little more and extend my search back to 2002 to include all the humidor years and I also made a separate study of the statistics for our home and road records over the same time span.
My initial theory that defense was the missing link in 2012 had some merit, but it turned out to be only the fifth most related statistic to the Rockies wins and losses in the last 11 years. In 2007, Colorado had a 98.9 fielding percentage, making them tops in the national league and the 2009 club was no slouch either, with a 98.6 fielding percentage, good for fifth in the league. I was not surprised that what I saw with my eyes also showed up on the stat sheet, with the 2012 version of the Rockies ranking last in fielding percentage and it being the worst defensive performance for the Rockies in 12 years.
Yet fielding was not only the fifth biggest factor that effected the win/loss record in my search. The others, in descending order of correlation are: Walks Allowed, ERA, WHIP, and Walks Taken. While the top three are all pitching related, and you don't need me to tell you that pitching is important, I think that the role that walks, both on offense and on defense, effect all four of these shows where an emphasis needs to be placed by our coaches/managers. First, lets take a look at offensive strategy.
So, my first thought on Walks Taken being a significant stat was: shouldn't walks and OBP be of similar importance? After having read Moneyball, I was a believer in OBP and thought it was one of the king offensive statistics. However, our Rockies have consistently been in the top 3-5 for OBP in the national league with the variations having little significance on the bottom line. While OBP has been fairly steady for Colorado, almost exactly the same in 2011 and 2012, the number of walks has fluctuated, as have the team's fortunes. Colorado had 105 less walks in 2012 than 2011, 135 less than 2010, and a whopping 210 less than when they led the league in 2009. This means that Colorado had one less walk per game last year from their five year average. But, you may ask yourself, how can this matter if the OBP is the same/similar? If we have the same number of base runners, how does it matter how they got there? At least this is what perplexed me, and my conclusion is: patience and pitch count.
While the last two years have seen a decrease in walks for the Purple Team, it has also seen a decrease in strikeouts. The Rockies are making more contact, be it hits or outs, than in the past. While it makes for excitement, and our offense as a whole has not struggled, its not winning baseball games. We no longer have multiple at-bats like Todd Helton's best years of 10-pitch base hits that completely flustered the pitcher. His age and injuries have decreased his effectiveness in the walk category and not having him as a regular starter in 2012 played a factor in the decline. Leadership also traded the more patient Chris Iannetta and Ian Stewart away and started Pacheco and Rosario in their place. This led to Dexter 'swing at the slider in the dirt' Fowler leading the team in base on balls with a measly 68. While last year's version was getting hits and converting them into runs, the other team's starting pitcher was not being worn down or taken out of the game early for pitch count. This is something I don't have numbers on yet, but may be the focus of my next foray into statistics. My conclusion from all of this: the 2013 Rockies need to be more patient at the plate. If they combine their ability to hit with more patience at the plate, the opposing manager will be forced to his bullpen sooner and the offense will be even better.
On the pitching side of things, walks appear even more dangerous than throwing a breaking ball when Rosario is catching. In the past eleven years, the Rockies national league ranking in Walks Allowed has a startling .96 correlation factor with their total number of wins. Walks Allowed proved to be most significant in the team's road record as well while not having as much effect on the home record where hits are more likely to be of the extra base variety and therefore may be more important than a walk. Walks also impact defense, at least that is what I hear from announcers who often blame it for fielders being flat footed when a wild pitcher actually throws something over the plate and the batter puts it in play. I know that Colorado had a young pitching staff in 2012 that ranked near or at the bottom in every statistical category, but our coaches need to focus on not giving up the free pass. Throwing good pitches and throwing to contact can keep the pitchers in the game longer, with either a 4 or 5 man rotation, and gives the other players a chance to help get outs. While hope shouldn't be a strategy, I hope that our 2013 Rockies pitching staff, with a year more experience and a catcher with a year more of experience, can pitch the strike zone more effectively and that will help in the other related statistics of ERA and WHIP, and more importantly, in the win column.
One quick note before the links. After reviewing what I wrote, I seem a little down on our catcher. This can't be further from the truth as I have high hopes for him in 2013. I hope you enjoyed my first post and I look forward to your critiques in the comments. Now on to the links:
If you can't get enough discussion about walks and want to read about a former Rockie, look at this Baseball Prospectus article by Sam Miller
In case you haven't heard about the Upton for Prado and prospects trade that will impact this years Snakes to the South, check out:
And have a very Purple Friday!