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August 24, 2012

Pebble Hunting

The Rockies and Real Home Run Hitters

by Sam Miller

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We'll start as soon as Giancarlo Stanton's home run in Coors Field from last Friday night lands.

...
...

So how are you doing?

...

Oh, ok, there's the ball. We can begin. 

On Friday, Stanton hit a very long home run in Coors Field, and famous person Rob Neyer wrote this:

I would love to see what would happen if the Rockies had a big-time power hitter.

There are some very simple answers to this question, which are implied by the very asking of the question.

1. He would hit a lot of home runs.
2. Probably more home runs than he would if he played somewhere else.
3. Maybe, just maybe, more than anybody else.
4. Giancarlo Stanton has hit six home runs in 25 at-bats in Coors Field in his career.

5.

Those are simple answers, but they're unsatisfying, because the Rockies have been totally screwing us over for 20 years. Twenty years! The Rockies have been around for two decades, and they’ve never once had a big-time power hitter. They’ve janked up MVP voting, ruined breaking pitches, given us stupid games like this* and this** and this***, but they’ve never done the obvious thing and signed a big-time power hitter, just to see what would happen. I know, winning games and running a business and being prudent. But being prudent didn’t stop us kids from catching a pregnant mouse, a lizard, a spider, and a snake and putting them in a wheelbarrow to see if they would fight. The Rockies have had 20 years to be prudent, and they ain’t won squat. So now is the time to be entertaining, and unless the Rockies happen to have a pregnant mouse, a lizard, a snake, and a spider just lying around...

The Rockies have somehow managed to go 20 years without one 50-homer hitter, while half of the league’s teams have had at least one. They have, of course, hit plenty of home runs. These are the 10 Rockies who have hit the most home runs, a list that also comprises all six 40-HR hitters they have had:

  1. Todd Helton
  2. Larry Walker
  3. Vinny Castilla
  4. Dante Bichette
  5. Andres Galarraga
  6. Troy Tulowitzki
  7. Matt Holliday
  8. Brad Hawpe
  9. Ellis Burks
  10. Garrett Atkins

Are there any big-time power hitters on there? Dante Bichette hit a Bichette-load of home runs: 201 in a seven-year period with Colorado. He also hit, in his career, one home run every 35 plate appearances on the road. You know who else has hit one home run every 35 plate appearances on the road in his career? Ramon Hernandez. Dante Bichette is a big-time home run hitter like Ramon Hernandez is a big-time home run hitter.

In fact, take away the seasons in Colorado, and here are the career highs for each:

  1. Helton (n/a)
  2. Walker: 23
  3. Castilla: 25
  4. Bichette: 15
  5. Galarraga: 44
  6. Tulowitzki (n/a)
  7. Holliday: 28
  8. Hawpe: 4
  9. Burks: 32
  10. Atkins: 1

It would be easy to write off Galarraga, because he hit just 10 home runs the year before he joined the Rockies, and nine the year before that, and never 30 in a pre-Colorado season, and he was already in his mid-30s. But the year after he left the Rockies he hit 44 in Atlanta, including 28 road home runs; he hit as many as 20 on the road with the Rockies. He’s probably the best power hitter the Rockies ever had. But he’s not all the way. The Rockies should probably go all the way.

All the way would have been signing Sammy Sosa, filling him up with cork, injecting all sorts of illegal supplements into his bat, telling him Mark McGwire was sitting on 69 home runs, and letting him fly. Sosa played 56 games in Colorado and hit 25 home runs. That maths out to 35 home runs in a full 81-game home schedule. And those are road home runs, remember; Rockies hitters do better playing Coors at home than visitors (like Sosa) do in Coors.

Or they could have figured out a way to get Barry Bonds in the early '00s when, Bonds said, he would have considered leaving for "a blockbuster, out-of-the-world offer." From 2001 to 2004, Bonds played 30 games in Coors and got 103 official at-bats. He homered 16 times. Multiply for an 81-game home schedule, and he’s got 43 home runs. Forty-three home runs!

McGwire’s Coors field totals pace out to 32 in a half season. Larry Granillo informs me that, in 1992, the Sporting News predicted the expansion Rockies would sign McGwire. Sigh. Those are, predictably, the three best rates among what I would call big-time power hitters. The modern big-time power hitters, playing mostly in the post-humidor decade, haven't produced Coors numbers that are nearly so jaw-dropping. Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, and Adam Dunn have played a combined 73 games in Coors field, with just 19 home runs. That’s cool, I guess, but it’s not what Neyer is probably hoping for.

So step one: No more humidor. Coors Field is still a dynamite home-run park, but it's not quite the same. So for one year, they bring back the dry balls, and we all put up with the silliest baseball environment since my script for Space Jam 2: Michael Jordan Plays Double-A Baseball. We would do it for a good cause, which would be step two: Rockies get Stanton. Somehow. I’m sure it would be quite the sacrifice for the Rockies. They’d probably have to agree to fund the Marlins’ next stadium. But put them together, and we’d finally get what baseball fans all long for: a single-season home run champion untainted by steroids, HGH, or any other uneven edge. “But what about the horrible distorting affects of alti—” shut up.

And I will agree to stop hating every baseball game played in Denver, Colorado.

Alternately, they could just deliver to us the rotting headless corpse of Dinger.

* Three home runs and a double for Jeffrey Hammonds. One HR off Jerry Dipoto, nee DiPoto.
**11 pitchers, and every single one allowed a run.
***Three home runs and a double for Jeff Cirillo, who had a 1.078 OPS at home that year and a .628 OPS on the road. A few years later, he declared the humidor to be cheating.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

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