Troy Tulowitzki is still searching for his missing production 11 months after leaving Coors Field.
Troy Tulowitzki returned to Coors Field last night for the first time as a visiting player, facing the Rockies nearly 11 months after the blockbuster trade that sent the five-time All-Star shortstop from Colorado to Toronto. Because the Blue Jays went 31-10 with Tulowitzki in their lineup last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 1993 the trade was immediately labeled a success, but Tulowitzki didn’t actually play all that well in those 41 games and his contract meant neither team involved was viewing the deal as strictly a short-term move. Tulowitzki’s mediocre performance has continued this season, which has to be worrisome for the Blue Jays given that he’s 31 years old and signed through 2020 at an average annual salary of around $20 million.
When the Blue Jays acquired Tulowitzki they did so knowing that his raw hitting numbers would decline because that’s just how things work with Rockies hitters. Coors Field undeniably boosts offense, often to extreme degrees, and hitters departing the Rockies can generally be counted on to post less gaudy raw numbers in their new homes. However, projecting how Rockies hitters will fare elsewhere can be tricky due to a potential “hangover” effect playing home games at altitude can have on a player’s performance in road games. In other words, it’s not always as simple as taking a longtime Rockies hitter’s road numbers and penciling those in as his overall numbers, because the road numbers might be underrepresenting his true, non-Coors Field talent level.
Tulowitzki spent the first decade of his career calling Coors Field home and took full advantage, hitting .321/.394/.558 in 526 games there compared to .276/.349/.468 in 522 road games. Even with a hangover effect possibly dragging them down those road numbers alone would have made Tulowitzki the best-hitting shortstop in baseball from 2006-2015, so the Blue Jays gladly would have signed up for .276/.349/.468. Instead he’s hit just .226/.306/.405 in 95 games following the trade, including .214/.294/.423 in 54 games this year. Once the king of good-hitting shortstops, his .717 OPS ranks 15th among the 26 players who’ve logged at least 50 games at the position this season and Tulowitzki is the third-oldest player in that group. His post-trade fall is magnified even further by the emergence of a potentially historic group of young shortstops.
A wild game at altitude, an exclamation point by Taillon, and a near-injury to Maeda.
The Tuesday Takeaway
Coors Field is a beautiful ballpark. The field itself is always well tended, as is the little forest beyond the center field wall. The building is constructed with an eye toward grandeur and comfort.
Is Tony Wolters the answer to 24 years of mile-high pitching woes?
Good-framing catchers, as best as we can define them, seem to have magical powers. They can “steal” extra strikes for their pitchers, and while it might not seem like much in the moment to get an extra borderline call, it adds up. The generally accepted consensus has been that the top framers can save their team 20 runs compared to a merely average framer. Compared to the bottom of the barrel, that swing is 40 runs. When the general public figured out how big that effect was, they rightly made a big deal about it. (When teams found out, they quietly made a big deal out of it. In fact, in Francisco Cervelli’s case, they just made more than 30 million big deals about it.)
What did we learn about various players and teams this month? Less than we'll learn in the next one.
Early season baseball is full of articles about “What we’ve learned so far” after a week, or two weeks, or a month of play. You can’t really blame the sportswriters and TV sports producers and podcast hosts who come up with these pieces. They have to talk about something, and there aren’t any pennant races or awards competitions to discuss in April.
As Russell Carleton has demonstrated, though, most measures of baseball performance take far longer than a week or three to stabilize. Drawing conclusions from a 10- or 20-game sample is akin to statistics problem sets involving drawing balls from an urn. A really, really big urn. With lots and lots of balls in it. When you draw a few balls from a really, really big urn with lots and lots of balls in it, you don’t get a good picture of what’s really in the urn.
We can look at the relevance of April numbers by correlating them to players’ full-year figures, and comparing the correlation in April to that of May, June, July, August, and September. (Throughout this analysis, April includes a few days of March play in the relevant years, and September includes a few days of October games.) To do this, I selected batting title and ERA qualifiers from each of the past 10 seasons and compared their monthly results to their full-year results. I had a sample of 1,487 batter seasons with corresponding monthly data in about 87 percent of months and 850 pitcher seasons with corresponding monthly data in 86 percent of months.
Admittedly, there’s a selection bias in April data, and it applies mostly to young players. Since I’m comparing monthly data to full-year data for batting title and ERA qualifiers, I’m selecting from those players who hung around long enough to compile 502 plate appearances or 162 innings pitched. If you’re a young player who puts up a .298/.461/.596 batting line in April, as Joc Pederson did last April, you get to stick around to get your 502 plate appearances, even though 261 of your plate appearances occurred during July, August, and September, when you hit .170/.300/.284. On the other hand, if you bat .147/.284/.235 in April, as Rougned Odor did, you do get a chance to bat .352/.426/.639 in 124 plate appearances spread between May and June, but you get them in Round Rock instead of Arlington. So there’s a bias in this analysis in favor of players who perform well in April (giving them a chance to continue to play) compared to those who don’t (who may get shipped out). This shouldn’t have a big impact on the overall variability of April data, though, since the presence of early-season outperformers like Pederson who get full-time status on the strength of their April is canceled, to an extent, by early-season underperformers like Odor who don’t.
So is April more predictive than other months? Here’s a chart for batters, using OPS as the measure, comparing the correlation between batters’ full-year performance and that of each month.
Kenta Maeda makes baseball history, the White Sox make baseball history, and Yasiel Puig just makes the Rockies sad.
The Weekend Takeaway
There isn’t anyone quite like Kenta Maeda. There have been similar pitchers in similar circumstances, and similar feats in similar sample sizes, but no one has done precisely what Maeda pulled off against the Rockies on Saturday evening.
Trevor Story can't stop hitting home runs, Vince Velasquez nearly pulls off a no-hitter, and Bartolo Colon resurrects the panache of Willie Mays.
The Weekend Takeaway
Both the Padres and the Rockies had something to rejoice over in the 13-6 slugfest on Friday night. It’s been a long, long week in the NL West, especially for the Friars, who had managed to string together 30 scoreless innings to begin the season. Those 13 runs must've felt like an exorcism.
Three middle infielders are hitting all the home runs.
The Wednesday Takeaway
In 1941, Boston Red Sox second baseman Bobby Doerr started off the season by hitting a homer in each of Boston’s first three games. For 75 years, that was the benchmark for hot-hitting second basemen, until Robinson Cano decided that it was time to meet that benchmark. Cano slugged two homers on Wednesday afternoon against the Rangers—one in the first inning, and another in the top of the ninth inning to cap a five-run comeback that powered the Seattle Mariners to a 9-5 victory over Texas.
Does Jorge De La Rosa give the Rockies, and their front office, hope for a sustainable future?
In my opinion, our very first BP Local site ought to have gone to the Rockies. For me, sabermetrics ought always to be about seeking challenges, looking for problems sufficient to force us to come up with truly creative solutions, truly new ideas, and truly original problem-solving methods. Baseball is, after all, a trivial thing, and while it’s popular and interesting enough to make for thoroughly worthwhile leisure, I can’t encourage smart people to spend their time and mental energy on the game unless I feel that those people are putting their talents to a noble, global use. Maybe that’s dreaming too big, asking too much of the discipline of sabermetrics, and of the game itself. Still, that’s my approach.
Given that premise, yes, we should be spending way more time on the Rockies. We should be spending a ton of time on the Rockies. For someone who hopes to learn about more than baseball in the process of analyzing the game, the Rockies offer the richest potential case material. They are an expansion franchise (not only historically, but culturally). They are the most consistently lost organization in the league. Of course, they also play in the most extreme and vexing environment in MLB, and that’s where they differentiate themselves. For a quarter century, the Rockies have tried to solve the problem of winning big-league baseball games at unprecedented elevation (without totally flaming out when they have to play elsewhere), and have consistently failed.