Thursday Rockpile: Rockies' road to improvement

Dustin Bradford

The Rockies tied for the second-best home record in their division last year. Unfortunately, they continued their road woes and were the fourth-worst team in the league away from home. This is a trend that Colorado needs to eliminate if it wishes to be in contention.

Year after year the Rockies continually have one of the best home records in baseball. Looking back, a .500 record on the road would have put them in contention most years but their lack of productivity away from Coors Field has kept them from ever winning a division title in their 21-year history. Last season was no exception as a 29-52 road record doomed any chance the Rockies had to contend after a strong start to the season.

Much has been said about how Rockies hitters struggle when going on the road as pitches suddenly start moving more for them. In a brief look at this, I decided to peek at their record in the first two games of a road trip versus the rest of the trip. Overall in 2013, the Rockies road winning percentage was.358. That number in the first two games played away from Coors though was .227 while they averaged .407 in the remaining games of road trips. Not quite the .500 winning percentage they need on the road, but quite a bit better.

While I originally was looking at this as an issue for Rockies hitters, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed it hurts Colorado's pitchers as well. The starters for the first two games probably throw their bullpen session at Coors while from that third day on they have at least had some practice with their breaking pitches to find their groove. Similar with relievers who, by the third day, are likely to be on their second time of pitching on the road.  I decided to look at strikeout-to-walk ratios for the 11 Rockies road trips last year to see how this played out.

Trip # Record 1st 2 SO:BB 1st 2 Record for rest SO:BB for rest
1 0-2 1.29 3-1 2.46
2 1-1 1.5 2-3 3.45
3 0-2 2.83 2-2 3.33
4 1-1 1.0 1-2 2.18
5 1-1 2.33 1-0 2.5
6 0-2 4.5 2-4 2.28
7 0-2 1.29 4-4 1.64
8 0-2 2.71 1-7 1.73
9 1-1 1.08 3-5 1.83
10 0-2 1.25 2-5 1.36
11 1-1 1.78 1-0 3.25

A staggering point from all of this is that the Rockies never started a road trip 2-0 in 2013. A look at these numbers shows that there is not a strong link between a high SO:BB ratio and wins but I am using it to show the team's pitching effectiveness over time on the road. Only twice in the 11 trips did the Rockies have a better ratio in the first two games then in the remainder of the trip. Overall, the Rockies' ratio in first two games was 1.83 versus 2.03 in the remaining road games. The team's overall ratio for 2013 was 2.06 so it appears the pitchers were close to their average after having a couple of days to adjust to being on the road.

So is there a solution to this issue for the Rockies? The team could send their first two starters on road trips a couple of days early and let them wait for the rest of the team to catch up. However, this doesn't help the relievers, nor does it help the batters, if they are affected as well (another topic for another day). This also would make them unavailable to the manager for an extra-innings game, or if someone in the rotation got hurt. A possible alternative would be for the Rockies to construct a pressurized pitching/batting cage. It would not have to be an overly large building but would need to have the ability to be pressurized like a dive chamber that is used for people who get the bends.

What is the cost of such a building? I have no idea, but in the extensive search to minimize the effects of altitude on the team's ability to compete, I hope that the Rockies will look into this if they haven't already. It could be worth six to 10 games over a season, and that's often the difference between having a chance at the playoffs or not.

Off-topic

LINKS

After yesterday's explosion of prospect news, the web has become quiet again about the Rockies. David Dahl is looking to forget 2013 and move forward in his career this year (brought to you by Thomas Harding at MLB.com).

Since I live by Kansas City, I found this article on Fangraphs about the Royals interesting. Jeff Sullivan brings up some good points about mid- to small-market teams and how one player can be over emphasized for a team's success. For our own club, it maybe shows not to over value prospects, and that losing veterans is not the end of the world.

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