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May 24, 2005

Can Of Corn

Back, and Packing Bullets

by Dayn Perry

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It's good to be back.

I've been on hiatus for the past several months while I finished a book (more brazenly self-serving details on that to come), but now I'm happily ready to resume my writing duties here at Baseball Prospectus. I've certainly missed interacting with--and being challenged by--the most intelligent baseball fans in the world, and I'm graced to have the opportunity once again. So without further verbal bouquets, let's get to it.

I'm going ease back in this week with a few bullet points

  • It's become a refrain of sorts here at BP to observe that the Colorado Rockies need to stop worrying about how to win at Coors Field and instead concern themselves with how to win away from Coors Field. Well, this season the Rockies are a miserable 3-17 on the road (only the Astros and Devil Rays have been worse in road tilts), so it's clear that they still haven't figured out how to play ball anywhere except at a mile above sea level.

    In a probably related matter, the Rockies pitching staff this season is on pace to walk 786 batters, which would be the fourth-highest team total of all time. In other words, a problem. What's interesting is that Colorado pitchers have shown less control on the road than at home this season. At Coors, they've walked 4.5 batters per nine innings, while on the road they've issued 5.7 free passes per nine. That's a notable difference.

    Here's my pet theory: walks at Coors are less damaging than they are in any other park, and, by extension, Colorado pitchers are hurt more by their poor control in road games. I say this because balls in play in Coors tend to become positive events for the offense more often than they would in another environment, and I expect the run-expectation gap between hits and walks is wider in Coors than it is in comparatively normal parks.

    In any event, Rockies pitchers can't get the ball over the plate away from Coors, and that's why this team is such an awful one on the road.

  • While I'm on the Rockies, offering up organizational panaceas for this blighted lot is somewhat de rigueur around here, but what Joe Sheehan said in one of his chats some months ago is probably the best idea I've heard. Joe says the Rockies need to worry about scoring runs in bunches--1,250 for the season is a recommended ideal--and let the pitching side of things sort itself out. This makes perfect sense to me. I fear you're never going to figure out how to pitch effectively at high altitudes, so instead concentrate on knocking the snot out of the ball and bludgeoning your opponents to death.

    Here's my concern: fatigue. If the Rockies do build an offense that's especially potent in any context, they're going to rack up unseemly numbers of four-hour games. Late in the season, that's bound to take a toll. Of course, if the Rockies are playing meaningful games late in the season, that's quantum progress right there. This all just buttresses the point that crafting a winning philosophy in Denver is a nettlesome endeavor. GM Dan O'Dowd takes much abuse for his "yo-yo dieting" approach to running a team, but I don't envy his straits.

  • Last point about the Rockies might they have something to learn from the way the Colorado Sky Sox, their Triple-A affiliate, constructs the roster? Colorado Springs is equal of Denver in terms of boosting offense, but the Sky Sox have met with more success in recent seasons than have their parent club:
    
    Year          Rockies          Sky Sox
    2000           82-80            74-68
    2001           73-89            62-79
    2002           73-89            58-86
    2003           74-88            73-70
    2004           68-94            78-65
    2005           13-28            21-19
    
    Since 2000, the Rockies have a winning percentage of .450, while the Sky Sox have a far more respectable mark of .486. Certainly, such loose comparisons don't carry a great deal of meaning, but it does show that intermittent success is possible even in extreme environments like Denver and Colorado Springs. What have the Sky Sox done differently in recent seasons? It's something I'll probably explore soon.

  • All things considered, Paul Konerko might be having an ideal season from the perspective of an enlightened White Sox fan. Thus far in 2005, he's hitting .227/.348/.468. As the low batting average in tandem with solid OBP and SLG suggest, he's drawing walks and showing raw power. Still, the Sox's front office strikes me as the type to ignore the more meaningful secondary indicators and fixate on that .227 batting average. Since Konerko is in the final season of the three-year, $23-million contract he signed in the winter of 2002, their regard for his work this season will most assuredly play a role in whether he's back on the South Side in 2006. He shouldn't be.

    Konerko's splits reveal that he's anything but a cornerstone hitter. Over the last three full seasons, Konerko has hit .263/.323/.440 away from U.S. Cellular, quietly one of the best hitters' parks in the league. Those are not adequate numbers from a first baseman. Furthermore, against right-handers on the road, he hit .235/.295/.375 in 2004 and .196/.267/.301 in 2003. That's a level of performance that's comfortably below replacement level in what comes to almost 40 percent of the team's games. Konerko's level of productivity as a White Sox is mostly illusory, and team brass should keep that in mind when they decide whether to bring him back for next season.

  • We're more than a quarter way through the season, so some of those "on pace to" observations actually carry a bit of meaning at this juncture. Here's one of my favorites: Brad Radke is on tap to record more wins (15) than walks (11) on the season. I'll loudly denounce pitcher wins and losses as arguably the most absurd of traditional statistics, but that's still pretty cool.

Until next week

Related Content:  Colorado Rockies

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