The “best home field advantage in baseball,” as Walt Weiss calls the situation he is taking over as new Rockies manager, isn’t given out as a perk of the job, as if the edge were crowd noise. It is taken, and Weiss seems to understand that.
“We have to exploit that,” said Weiss, whose first managerial gig comes in the mile-high ballpark he called home as a player from 1995-97. “That’s got to be part of who we are. There’s some unique challenges to playing there but the advantages are also pretty unique and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”
Playing in a hitter-friendly ballpark for home runs because of elevation but also for inside-the-park hits because of the large playing surface area, outs are going to be even more cherished. Under the previous regime, they were hardly cherished.
Jim Tracy’s club each of his three full seasons in Colorado bunted considerably more with position players at home than on the road. These were the position player bunts—successful or not—with fewer than two outs and at least one runner on base:
2010: 25 home, 11 road
2011: 26 home, 21 road
2012: 34 home, 18 road
Situations can dictate playing for a run at home more than on the road, but few of these were in the ninth inning, and only the 2010 team had a significant home field record edge that would bring too many leading vs. trailing situations into the equation.
Tracy's clubs also had poor stolen base rates in 2010 (66 percent) and 2012 (69 percent) on either side of a decent 79 percent in 2011 in a place where stolen bases should generally have to be almost a sure thing to go.
While Weiss recognizes where his edges might be, he still will preach aggressiveness at Coors Field.
More reassuring was what seemed in his Winter Meetings press briefings to be an openness to listen to the analytical minds in the organization who might be able to turn around some of the failures to utilize the home field advantage of the last on-field administration.
“I want information so I can make good decisions, and I’ve got guys around me that can help me with that,” Weiss said. “We’ve got information that can help me with that. I’m not real smart.”
And while that last part is untrue, it’s maybe the smartest thing that can be said. Most of the work will belong to the front office in other ways, building this team to fit its ballpark, but it can also help Weiss do what he can with the players in place to improve on last season's 68-94 record by taking advantage of the weirdness at home.