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Wednesday Rockpile: Rocky Road Warriors

Great (Road) Success!

The big news item as the Rockies won their fifth straight last night was the fact that so much of Colorado's success has come on the road. After all, the Rockies' 32 road wins already eclipses their total of 31 from last year, and they are on pace to smash the record of 39 road wins (set in 2007).

From someone who watched the Blake Street Bombers' domination at home and, well, incompetence on the road, these Rockies represent a colossal shift from the performances of previous Colorado teams. But you already knew that.

Why the improved road performance? READ and LEARN.

For the hitters, the modification of Coors Field into less of a hitter's park has a lot to do with it, through the humidor and the longer infield grass. As Jim Tracy says:

"Now, we really don't play one style at Coors Field and then come out on the road and say, 'Oh, we have to do a lot of things drastically different,' " Tracy said. "Now, I think we play the same. And the way our ballpark has changed has made that very, very easy to do."

Make no mistake, Coors Field is still a hitters park, but it is much more of a park that inflates hits that stay in the yard due to its spacious outfield. Routine fly balls rarely sail into the stands anymore, making it easier for Colorado hitters to focus on generating line drives--a stroke that will benefit them well at home or away from Coors. As Troy Renck's article states though, the Rockies have still hit .277 at home and .242 on the road

The real impetus toward the Rockies' road success has been Colorado's strong (and consistent) pitching. The Rockies have three starters with an ERA under four (Marquis, Jimenez, and Cook) and a stronger back of the rotation than they've ever had. ESPN's Matt Meyers theorizes that this is due to Colorado's emphasis on the sinker and the resulting extreme GB/FB ratio (Insider required, originally fanshotted by realmenwearpurple). 

The Rockies' staff looks even more impressive under the sabermetric microscope, posting a 3.99 tRA, and are first in the NL and second in MLB with 16.5 pitching WAR. A large part of this has been the fact that Rockies pitchers have walked the third fewest men in baseball. In addition, the Rockies lead MLB with 67 quality starts (at least 6 IP, less than three earned runs). Some of this has to do with the fact that Jim Tracy is leaving the starters in longer, showing his confidence in their abilities. 

In other words, the Rockies' pitching staff has been really good this year--leading to a strong, consistent road performance. When pitchers are putting up a lot of quality starts, the burden falls much less on the offense and the bullpen, making it much easier to win on the road. Or, as Brad Hawpe puts it:

"We can win road games by scoring three runs and getting one or two key hits," he said. "That's a big difference. You don't have to rely on everybody being hot at one time to win a ballgame." 

And now you know.

Other Links

  •  Rockies fans' suspicions are confirmed: Todd Helton is the best first baseman in MLB at scooping balls in the dirt. As a former first baseman, this is a problem that I have with advanced fielding metrics--they largely ignore a huge part of a first baseman's job--turning bad throws into outs and stretching to get that runner by a half step. Fielding range is all well and good, but at the end of the day, catching the ball is first base's main concern. Well, that and hitting home runs.
  • Speaking of first basemen (sort of), Garrett Atkins isn't making waves about his bench role. The seven million dollar man produced well last night, but he's going to need a lot more of that to break even for the year in WAR. One can only hope that Atkins takes full advantage of his playing time--and if he returns to form, I have no problem with reinserting him into the lineup. Just not at cleanup--my mercy does have limits.
  • Thomas Harding writes that the Rockies' trade activity and taking on of payroll showed that the Rockies are a team of now, which is refreshing to see. What is even better is that the Rockies didn't mortgage their future to secure the present--not giving up their ML-ready pitching prospects or EY2.
  • Finally, Troy Renck has a get off my lawn moment with a rant against athletes on Twitter, a sentiment with which I completely agree.