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Is there yet another Coors Field effect?

Colorado Rockies news and links for Wednesday, December 30, 2020

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The Colorado Rockies have been synonymous with high-scoring baseball pretty much since the team’s inception in 1993. Playing in the “Mile High” city, the elevated atmosphere impacts the game in two primary ways that both favor hitters:

  • the thin air allows the ball to travel further
  • the spin applied to the baseball by pitchers affects the movement of the ball less which makes it easier for hitters to make contact

Like it or not, it’s created an identity for the franchise. The metric for a ballpark’s influence on runs scored is called Park Factor and is calculated for each MLB ballpark using data from the season. In 2020, Coors Field scored 1.397, slightly higher than its five-year average of 1.35.

Beginning in the 2002 season, a humidor was installed at Coors Field to store the baseballs used in games to keep the moisture level in the balls the same as in other climates throughout MLB. This led to a significantly decreased number of home runs and put Coors Field on par with other ballparks in relation to home run production. For comparison, in 2001, Coors Field had a park factor of 1.458 and a home run factor of 1.457 which are both significantly higher than the humidor era.

Why all the background information? The extreme nature of Coors Field makes it a unique environment and has made skeptics of many a baseball writer over the years in regard to a player’s ability based on his production in a Rockies uniform (as expressed recently by Joe Posnanski in relation to Hall of Fame voting).

Prior to the humidor, the Rockies got a lot of attention for their production at the plate. In five of the first nine seasons, the Rockies led the National League in runs. This included back-to-back seasons in 1996 and 1997 where the second-highest scoring team trailed the Rockies by well over 100 runs. Although Larry Walker did claim the franchise’s only MVP award in 1997, the inflated numbers from Coors Field have made postseason hardware and Hall of Fame voting a confusing endeavor for voters.

Despite the humidor installation, the elevation and outfield dimensions of Coors Field continue to make it the most run-friendly environment in MLB. It does appear possible that Rockies players, at times, have suffered consequences at the voting ballot. As recently as 2019, Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story finished the season fifth and sixth, respectively, in Fangraphs WAR. However, they both finished below those ranks (sixth for Arenado and twelfth for Story) in NL MVP voting.

This doesn’t seem to be a trend, however. Voting from other recent seasons has Rockies players on par with their season-ending WAR totals. In 2017, Arenado actually finished fourth in MVP voting despite having the eighth-best fWAR. Since the WAR metric wasn’t so widely used prior to the humidor, it’s hard to know if Coors Field acted as a deterrent to vote for Rockies players. In 2001, Larry Walker had the fourth-highest fWAR in the NL, but he was twenty-fourth in MVP votes. He did, however, win the MVP in 1997 despite a crowded field including Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, and Barry Bonds.

In general, it doesn’t appear that playing at Coors Field has had too great an impact on Rockies players getting their due. While I didn’t look at pitching, there might be more of an impact on the mound than at the plate.

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The Outsiders: No. 19, Todd Helton | The Athletic ($)

Leading up to the Hall of Fame voting deadline, Joe Posnanski of the Athletic is counting down players he considers most worthy of being in the Hall. Todd Helton landed at 19th on the list. Posnanski takes aim at Coors Field, specifically years prior to 2000 where the humidor was introduced, for creating a playing environment so favorable for hitters that many people “had just decided to write off anything that happened there.” However, with Larry Walker’s induction to the Hall in 2020, it appears that the fog has lifted for many of the voters and that Coors Field could be less of a hurdle for Helton. Posnanski ends this piece with “I believe Todd Helton belongs in the Hall of Fame.” According to the 2021 BBHOF ballot tracker, Helton currently is at 49.3 percent with 71 ballots cast out of an estimated 396 total in just his third year on the ballot.

Jay Jaffe’s 2021 Hall of Fame Ballot | Fangraphs

Keeping with the theme of Hall of Fame voting, Jay Jaffe of Fangraphs released his Hall of Fame ballot with a full explanation for his picks. He voted for nine out of a maximum 10 candidates including Colorado Rockies former first baseman Todd Helton. He refers to Helton as “an exceptional hitter” and says of Larry Walker’s induction that “the road to Cooperstown became at least somewhat more clear for denizens of Coors Field.”

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