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Friday Rockpile: Lack of Groundballs Hurting Rockies Pitching

If only it had been a ground ball. I could've totally gotten it.
If only it had been a ground ball. I could've totally gotten it.

I have this buddy named Derek. Derek and I went to college together, and we bonded over a common love for the Colorado Rockies and the high level of humor your average college student enjoys from Adult Swim. One fine summer evening in 2005 when the Rockies were facing the San Diego Padres, Derek and I snuck down from our scalped 3rd deck seats to the lower deck (come on, it was the 2005 Rockies, nobody was paying any attention) and snagged some seats right behind the Padres on-deck circle.

See, back in '05, whenever Brad Hawpe would come to the plate, he'd be announced as "Right Field, Number 11, BRADHAWPE", Hawpe's name being said really fast. We began chirping that every time anybody came to the plate, or there was any kind of lull in the crowd noise.... "BradHawpe!" It didn't take long before someone would echo it down the line after we chirped, and before we knew it, the lower bowl sounded like the seagulls from "Finding Nemo". I like to think we're the reason they stopped announcing Hawpe in said fashion. We also got a nice singsongy "Raaaaaanda" going whenever Joe Randa would come to the plate. It didn't help much, as the Padres broke the 7-7 deadlock thanks to Brian Fuentes having one of THOSE nights and ultimately SD won 8-7.

Sadly, Derek moved after college, but we keep in touch. During one of our most recent phone conversations, Derek decided to rip Dan O'Dowd. Actually, he does that a lot. And that's OK, because 1. he's my friend so back straight up, and 2. he typically has cogent points to make. One of the big gripes was the pitching acquisitions made this offseason.

Great intro, I know, but I really like that "BRADHAWPE" story. Plus, Sun Woo Kim crapped the bed that night.

Now, a lot of us writing on this front page have cited a lot of the pitchers acquired as being pretty much depth, or guys brought in to take bullets for the prospects' sakes. I also made it my duty to inform my pal that O'Dowd cited the Rockies' independent metrics on fly balls, breaking down the guys who are more dangerous flyballers (higher HR/FB ratios, etc) and those who can be mitigated with a good outfield defense, had suggested that guys like Josh Outman, Guillermo Moscoso, and Jeremy Guthrie could still be viable pitchers in Coors Field. I mean, it worked with Jason Hammel, right?

Off Topic

Well, the flyball thing was kind of a big deal. When the Rockies started their big Gen R movement, their pitching strategy was to field a strong infield defense with groundballers like Aaron Cook and Jason Jennings on the mound. Well, as it stands in 2012, the Rockies have allowed more HR per 9 innings pitched than they had since 2002 (1.31 HR/9 - ouch), and the highest percentage of flyballs turning into HR since Fangraphs has tracked the HR/FB%, at 14.2%.

Amusingly enough, the Rockies groundball percentage is the lowest it's been since 2005, a number deflated by 185 innings of Jeff Francis' 37.7 GB% and another 150 of Byung-Hyun Kim's 41.5% GB%.

See? There's the tie-in. 2005.

Just to show that I thought this through even a little bit, that 14.2% HR/FB is relatively unsustainable - I think. The team has hovered around a 10%-11% mark for that HR/FB% over the past 5-10 years, largely in part to guys like Aaron Cook, Jason Marquis, and Ubaldo Jimenez. The drastic jump in the HR rate as well as the number of flyballs leaving the park does smell of "unsustainability", but we should also realize that the only pitchers we have with a FB% below 30% are Drew Pomeranz, Jeff Francis, Josh Outman, and Alex White. When you consider that the majority of the innings have gone to more FB-happy pitchers, it's really no wonder.

There's something to be said for the idea that a good pitcher is a good pitcher regardless of whether they get their outs on the ground or in the air. The problem is that the Rockies don't have any of those right now, so the combination of well-struck balls off of pitchers who tend to allow the ball to leave the infield in the air, for better or for worse, is clearly not advantageous to finding ways to make flyball pitchers workable in Coors Field.

For all of the things the Rockies' front office has done throughout the years, getting groundball pitchers was one of the better ideas. It's just a shame we don't have enough of them right now.

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