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The groundballs are not coming... on the road

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Wednesday, September 8, 2021

(Keep in mind, this doesn’t take into account the demolition of Chi-Chi González that happened yesterday. Savants and Fangraphs don’t update fast enough for that when I write the Rockpile!)

This has been a weird season of Rockies baseball to say the least, as we’ve covered multiple times, and possibly the weirdest thing about it has been their utter dominance at home, mostly accomplished through shockingly good pitching. Throughout their history, the Rox have had a 5.09 ERA at home and a 4.54 ERA on the road, but they’ve basically flipped those numbers in 2021, with a 4.51 Coors ERA and a 5.07 road ERA.

Now, this is pretty unprecedented. Even in some of their successful recent seasons (2017/18) they didn’t get to a 4.51 ERA at home, maxing out at 4.63 in 2018. Even in 2009, when they had a 4.41 Coors ERA, they also had a 4.06 ERA on the road, more of the classic split you expect. The lowest home ERA in Rockies history came (surprise, surprise) in 2007, when the Rox managed a terrific 4.34 ERA in Denver. Oddly enough, that 2007 squad pitched to a 4.29 ERA on the road -a small split, but not comparable to what we’re seeing now.

So what’s going on? I think I’ve found an answer:

GB% - Home/Road

Márquez Senzatela Gray Gomber Freeland
Márquez Senzatela Gray Gomber Freeland
57.9% 54.6% 55.4% 48.4% 42.9%
47.4% 50.8% 45.1% 42.4% 46.5%

Those numbers you’re looking at represent the groundball percentage of all balls put in play against the five members of the Rockies’ rotation, first for Coors games, then for road games. You can see some pretty massive drops here, mainly from Márquez and Gray, who go from groundball machines at Coors to just above average on the road. Four of the Rockies’ five best pitchers feature GB% over 48% at home; on the road, only Senzatela manages to top that.

And this is not just the starters: the Rockies’ team wide GB% drops from a fourth-best in MLB 47.2% at home to a far more mediocre (12th-best) 43.9% on the road. This is obviously bad for a team that puts a big emphasis on defense and pitching to get grounders. The cause? Well, I can only dig so far, but I believe I have something. Let’s look at the four-seam fastballs exclusively:

4SFB GB% - Home/Road

Márquez Senzatela Gray Gomber Freeland
Márquez Senzatela Gray Gomber Freeland
66.9% 59.4% 57.7% 45.0% 46.3%
45.3% 53.8% 45.2% 27.1% 41.5%

I think we found it, folks. Rockies pitchers throw almost exclusively four-seamers, and for good reason, as we’ve talked about before. The thing is, those fastballs (that are generally low-spin variants, contrary to the popular trend across baseball today) are generating radically different results depending on the venue. At home, even the two guys who don’t get as many grounders as the others (Freeland and Gomber) still get a very high number of groundballs with their four-seamers, and the trio of Márquez-Senza-Gray are extreme worm killers, with Márquez in particular being in another planet at 66.9%.

The Rockies’ five starters average -1 Run Value (which is good), 87 MPH exit velo (good), and a average launch angle of 4º (which is very good) on their four-seamers at home, compared to +5.72, 89.8 MPH, and 14.2º on the road, respectively. In short, for those who don’t speak baseball nerd, Rockies fastballs are getting hit softly and on the ground at home, and hard and on a line on the road.

The cause for this could very feasibly be the low-spin fastballs actually dropping more at home, making them more difficult to lift, but if that’s the case, how do you fix it? The Rockies have seemingly figured out how to tame Coors Field (to a certain extent, obviously), but if you give all of it back on the road, then that kind of leaves you at square one, doesn’t it? How do you solve this moving forward? That’s a question the Rockies will need to answer, and the sooner the better.

★ ★ ★

Rockies manager Bud Black: Connor Joe has made strong impression on organization | Denver Post ($)

Hopefully this can carry onto their player evaluation and they start considering plate discipline something important. Pretty please?

Veen cruising to end of breakout season | MLB.com

I remain confused as to why the Rockies never pushed Veen to High-A considering how badly he’s been beating up on Low-A pitching, but seeing this is a delight. Veen looks like the first truly impact prospect the Rockies have developed in a good while.

On The Farm

A seven-run fourth inning was too much for the Isotopes to overcome, as Nº 2 PuRP Ryan Rolison was tagged for six earned runs in the frame and couldn’t get through it (3.2 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 0 HR). The Isotopes mounted a comeback attempt in late innings, but it wasn’t quite enough, as Albuquerque dropped to 46-61. One cool thing about the game, however? Brian Serven took a rehabbing pitcher deep, and it wasn’t just any rehabbing pitcher; it was future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw. That’s one he’ll remember!

Hartford’s bats were dominated by Somerset, as the Yard Goats struck out 17 times and managed just six baserunners in nine innings of baseball. Starter Matt Dennis didn’t have a poor outing, pitching into the seventh inning (6.1 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 1 HR) and keeping the game relatively close, but you can’t get a win if you don’t get run support. The Yard Goats dropped to a lowly 37-70, starting their second-to-last series of the year with a loss.

A tight game in Vancouver that the Indians managed to win, making it their fifth in a row. The Spokane bats managed 13 total hits, with five different players getting two or more knocks, led by the middle infield pairing of Nº 12 PuRP Ezequiel Tovar and Jack Blomgren, who had a combined five hits. Blomgren, in particular, went 2-for-3 with a double, a triple, and a walk. A four-run top of the third made the lead big enough for a group of four different pitchers headlined by Noah Davis (3.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 0 HR), putting the finishing touches on a W that gets Spokane to 61-46, a remarkable turnaround from their early-season product.

Nº 7 PuRP Drew Romo had himself a game, folks. The young catcher went 3-for-4, walked, drove in three runs, scored twice, and stole four bases in total, leading the Grizzlies to their 72nd win of the year. The Grizzlies got a solid enough performance from starter Noah Gotsis (5.0 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 0 HR), and rode their bats to the end. Also worth noting is Nº 1 PuRP Zac Veen, who walked twice and doubled, raising his season slash to a marvelous .303/.402/.509. And, folks? The Grizzlies are going to the postseason with this win!

★ ★ ★

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