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May 21, 2013

Sporer Report

Has Coors Gone Light?

by Paul Sporer

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Patrick Corbin’s filthy, complete-game gem on Monday night in Coors Field drew a chorus of Twitter facepalms as many fantasy managers shied away from the excellent-thus-far-but-still-unproven lefty in the terrifying Denver venue. Of course, if they read last week’s Two-Start Planner, they would’ve had Corbin in their lineups, as I gave him a full “Start” recommendation despite the risk associated with Coors. Back-patting aside, I’ve been keeping a close eye on Coors Field this year and as I mentioned in the aforementioned Planner “it really hasn’t been as scary as it was last year,” and we may need to lower our threshold for starters to consider when they’re traveling to Denver.

It’s not like the Rockies offense has completely fallen off, either. Their 5.02 runs per game is the National League’s best clip and baseball’s second-best, while their 5.55 runs per game at home also tops the NL and checks in third overall behind Detroit (6.20) and Texas (5.58). Last year, the Rockies were scoring six runs per game at home—baseball’s best by half a run—so the competition hasn’t been as fierce when opposing pitchers toe the slab in Coors Field. But it hasn’t been anywhere near easy, either, and yet we are seeing a lot more success from the starters facing the Rockies.

In fact, prior to the four-game set that started last Thursday against the San Francisco Giants, Coors Field had proven downright easy on starters. Before all four Giants starters were tagged for at least five earned runs, only Dillon Gee had been touched up for at least five there. Here’s a look at the runs allowed breakdown for starters through May of last year and through Corbin’s outing Monday night:

ER Allowed in Coors

2012

2013

Three or Fewer Runs

44%

61%

Exactly Four Runs

11%

17%

Five or More Runs

44%

22%

The 2012 numbers are generated from 27 starts and the 2013 numbers are generated from 23 starts with five left in this month. The composite numbers show a stark difference, too. Through the first two months of 2012, the opposing pitchers in Coors posted a 6.36 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 153 innings, while going about 5 2/3 per start. So far in 2013, they have a 5.07 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 135 innings, while averaging nearly six innings per outing. Lifting the San Francisco series from the sample yields a 4.14 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP, giving you an idea of just how tame Coors Field had been through the first month and a half.

The San Francisco series counts, though, and in fact, it accentuates the point of just how dangerous the stadium can be when it’s at its peak offensively. It’s not like the Giants threw four slouches out there, either. Their worst starter to date, Ryan Vogelsong, didn’t even pitch in the series. Madison Bumgarner (seven), Matt Cain (six), and Tim Lincecum (six) were all destroyed. Even Barry Zito took a 3.40 ERA into Coors, before giving up five runs in his 5 2/3 innings of work.

So, we are left wondering: is Coors Field really toned down? Should we consider some more middling talents when their turn comes up in Denver or should we still be starting only superstars in the venue? I’m afraid Coors Field may be deceiving us a bit with the early-season numbers, and it is still a place to be feared. Consider the following:

  • Opposing starting pitchers have allowed 0.1 fewer hits per nine innings than those pitching there through May of last year. The Giants alone pushed the rate up nearly a full hit, but the 9.8 H/9 allowed in the 23 starts is right on track with the 9.9 we saw in the first two months of 2012.
  • Opposing starters are actually allowing more home runs per game than their 2012 counterparts did through May. The 23 starters to pitch there so far this season have allowed long balls at a 1.6 HR/9 clip compared to last year’s 1.5 rate in 27 starts through May.
  • The 2013 group is actually striking out batters at a much lower clip (14 percent) than the 2012 group (17 percent), meaning they are letting the ball get put into play more often in the worst place possible. It hasn’t necessarily caught up to them yet, but it will if the trend continues.
  • And finally, looking at runs allowed per nine shows that the 2013 starters aren’t that far from last year’s group. In fact, RA/9 adds nearly a full run to the 2013 crew, as they move from the 5.07 ERA to 5.88 RA/9 thanks to 12 unearned runs. The 2012 crew had four fewer unearned runs in 18 more innings of work.

In short, opposing pitchers haven’t suffered through too many disaster outings in Coors Field this year (especially prior to last Thursday), but it isn’t necessarily because they are pitching better than what we saw from pitchers in the first two months of last year. I limited the 2012 sample to the first two months to try to keep sample sizes the same and roughly match up weather conditions and other factors. There are still plenty of variables, but the end result is that Coors Field remains a frightening place for your fantasy pitchers.

By the way, I’d have recommended Corbin even if the stadium had been playing at 2012 levels. He’s just pitching on another level right now, and I can’t see myself sitting a guy with a 1.52 ERA through his first eight starts. 

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

Related Content:  Coors Field,  The Show 2012

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