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Wednesday Rockpile: The Innings that Killed the Rockies in 2011

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With the extra innings loss last night, Colorado has now lost 78 games this year, nearly as many as they lost all of last year. They've lost close games and blowouts, they've lost it early and late, they've lost pitching duels and slugfests. The interesting thing is that the Rockies are 9 games under .500, but their scoring margin is a mere -13, which has an expected record of 72-75.

You know who also has a -13 scoring margin in the NL West? The 78-70 San Francisco Giants. Basically, the Rockies have underperformed even that modest record by 3 games while the Giants overperformed by 6 games. For that matter, Arizona has also outperformed their expected W-L by 6 games.

How has this happened? As in most aspects of life, context/timing is important. Here's a by-inning breakdown of Colorado's run-scoring differential (data from Baseball Reference):

Inning

RS

RA

Diff.

% Diff.

1

95

100

-5

-3%

2

77

48

29

23%

3

70

94

-24

-15%

4

79

75

4

3%

5

83

59

24

17%

6

82

107

-25

-13%

7

80

79

1

1%

8

63

58

5

4%

9

36

52

-16

-18%

Extras

7

13

-6

-30%

Total

672

685

-13

-1%

Per Game

4.57

4.66

-0.09

-1%

Basically, the Rockies have four inning groups in which they have scored at least 13% less runs than their opponents but have only scored 13% more in two innings.

Looking at these innings, two are obviously very damaging to success -- the 9th inning and extra innings. Runs in those innings could end the game outright, as they did last night. The 6th inning has been crucial as well for the Rockies, as it is during the 6th inning where the Colorado starter has tended to tire and falter, and it is where the weaker relief pitchers in the bullpen tend to throw their innings. In addition, the 6th inning is often when the pitcher begins facing the lineup for the 3rd time, which is when hitters are much more effective against a pitcher. Basically, the opposing team's starters have been able to remain effective longer than Colorado's starters, often allowing the opponents to give the ball only to their ace relievers.

The 3rd inning is more of a mystery logically. Yes, that is often when some of the best hitters in an opposing lineup get their turn to bat (for the 2nd time against the starter), but it is also often the inning where the opponent pitcher gets their first plate appearance. Given the stellar run differential Colorado has put up in the 2nd inning, it seems much more likely that the bottom of the order for the Rockies' opponents are simply killing Colorado. Or it could just be random bad luck. I mean, Colorado goes from allowing 59 runs in the 5th inning to 107 in the 6th. The factors I described above are certainly a factor, but a large part of that is statistical noise.

My hope is that next year Colorado's starters go deeper into games and avoid this 6th inning funk while the offense's late inning struggles regresses upward to the mean. Then again, that will probably involve Colorado giving up their 2nd and 5th inning advantages.

If you want to delve deeper into the scoring data, I strongly encourage it, as you can compare these scoring trends to league average. For instance, NL average runs allowed on a per 9 innings basis for the 3rd and 6th innings is 4.26 and 4.68 -- for Colorado, the RA number is 5.79 and 6.53. There's plenty of nuggets to be found if you look hard enough.

Scoring (4) Runs is Important Update

Rockies record when scoring less than 4 runs: 15-59 (.203)

Rockies record when scoring 4 runs or more: 53-19 (.736)

Yep, still important. Also, Colorado has scored 3 or less in more than half of their games. Also also, in a related development, Colorado is 9 games under .500.

Kevin Millwood News

Jim Tracy says that Kevin Millwood is auditioning for 2012 this September. Given his play this year, that probably wouldn't be the worst thing to shore up the back of Colorado's rotation. The dude just wants a job next year.

Off-Topic.