Mile High Pitching

The Colorado Rockies are leading the NL wild card race. They play in a surprisingly good NL West. Last year four NL Central teams and three NL East teams had better records than the NL West winner. This year the Dodgers are the class of the NL, and Colorado and San Francisco fight for the wild card. Colorado really has been a pleasant surprise and equally surprising is that they are doing it on the strength of one of the top pitching staffs in the game. We often let park effects influence how we think about teams (San Diego always has great pitching, if they could only get hitters), so it can be weird to think of Colorado having great pitching.

Looking at FIP, which does not correct for park or league, Colorado has the fifth best pitching in the game. At this point team tRA is not available here, but StatCorner’s tRA says Colorado’s pitching is 64 runs above average behind only by San Francsico (66), the White Sox (71) and Atlanta (77). Over at BtB JinAZ’s tERA has Colorado’s pitching as best in the game. I think it is fair to say they have one of the five best pitching staffs in baseball.

One of the big reasons is the health of their starting rotation. Ubaldo Jimenez, Jason Hammel, Jorge de la Rosa, Jason Marquis and Aaron Cook have started all but three games for the Rockies. Not having to dip into the sixth starter/minor league/replacement level pool for a number of starts really helps.

That is hardly a big name group, but they really get it done. Jimenez has always provided strikeouts and ground balls, and this year added the third leg of the stool cutting down on his walks. Hammel and De la Rosa have been surprisingly good. While Marquis and Cook provide solid, lots of ground balls with few walks or strikeouts, performance. Almost every game this season the Rockies have started a great to just below average pitcher, few teams can make such a claim.

In addition to health, another strength of Colorado’s pitching is ground balls. They are second in the league as a whole with 47% GBs per ball in play. Three fifths of their rotation, Cook, Marquis and Jimenez, get over 50%GBb/BIP. No accident I am sure, as ground balls are especially valuable relative to fly balls in Colorado.

Post season baseball has a good shot at returning to Colorado sooner than many expected.




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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.


20 Responses to “Mile High Pitching”

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  1. David A says:

    What, is this a FanGraphs article showing some love for Jason Marquis? Omg, call in the FIP police.

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    • Joe R says:

      To be fair, this isn’t Dave Cameron.

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      • David A says:

        Well I think FIP in general is FIP’ed up when it comes to Marquis. His career ERA is about 1/2 a run lower. This year too. Something seems wrong about that.

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      • Joe R says:

        FIP doesn’t take into consideration the way balls are put in play. Marquis’ LD rate has always been low, this year it’s one of the lowest among MLB starters. Usually is top third in ground balls, too, and right now he’s 4th among pitchers with the minimum IP in GB rate. Low LD rate + High GB rate usually results in outperforming peripherals.

        Of course he’s being helped by a low 7.4% HR/FB rate right now, which is really low for Colorado.

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  2. Joe R says:

    I think I speak for many a nerd in that if Colorado and San Fran pass LA, I will be excited.

    Sorry Dodger fans, blame Joe Morgan and other ESPN analysts for the praising of Colletti and Torre. I normally take no issue with your ballclub.

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    • Davidceisen says:

      Then you can hear all about how Brian Sabean and Dan O’Dowd are brilliant GMs and Jim Tracy and Bruce Bochy are great managers.

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      • Joe R says:

        There’s enough trump cards on Sabean at least to dispell that. Besides, who wouldn’t want to read some Plaschke poetry over the Dodger demise while he simultaneously tries to put positive spins on all the veteran presense dollars the team will have on their payroll in 2010.

        (I do give Colletti a lot of credit for turning Bradley into Ethier, but Plaschke had to go ruin that one with terrible writing, too).

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      • Dan O’Dowd has quietly shown himself to be a very smart GM. Conservative, but smart. He added a lot of value to this team during the 08/09 offseason, and then filled some holes at the deadline without giving up anyone massive.

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      • Joe R says:

        And Huston Street for one season of Holliday wasn’t too bad a return given what the Rockies need, which is pitchers who either rack up K’s or grounders. Obviously when you trade a star, you want more than a closer and a good prospect (along with fringey Greg Smith), but overall that was pretty decent return. They can also probably improve their bullpen by sending Spilborghs somewhere as a 4th OF. It’s obvious O’Dowd is doing well, and it will be awhile before Smith, Fowler, and Tulo get pricey.

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    • David A says:

      Not me, I’ll blame Joe Torre for burying Matt Kemp in bottom of the order for so long!

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      • Joe R says:

        That too. It’ll be fun to explain away Torre if the Dodgers miss the postseason by a game when lineup optimization could’ve prevented it.

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      • Davidceisen says:

        Assuming that Torre optimized his lineup, how many more wins do you think the Dodgers would have? My guess would be 1.

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      • Joe R says:

        Beware of arbitrary numbers here, but I’ll do this, their most common lineup:

        Furcal
        Hudson
        Ramirez
        Ethier
        Loney
        Martin
        Kemp
        Blake
        P

        Since Blake hasn’t hit 8th in awhile, I’ll flip him to 6 and Martin to 8, so instead we have Furcal-Hudson-Ramirez-Ethier-Loney-Blake-Kemp-Martin-P for a “normal Dodger lineup”.

        For a better (maybe not optimized, but better) lineup, you may say Hudson would leadoff, Kemp #2, Blake 5, Loney 6, Martin 7, Furcal 8. So I’ll add 15 PA to Hudson, 65 to Kemp, 30 to Blake, and 15 to Martin. In turn, I debit Furcal 100 PA (lot of PA difference by now from 1 hole to 8), and Loney 25 to even everything.

        Now I look at their PA and wRC:
        Furcal: 518 PA/50.7 RC
        Hudson: 510 PA/70.7 RC
        Kemp: 491 PA/80.7 RC
        Blake: 462 PA/62.3 RC
        Loney: 494 PA/57.8 RC
        Martin: 447 PA/47.9 RC

        So that totals 370.1 RC.
        Adding/subtracting PA’s and using the ratios I get:
        Furcal: 40.9 RC
        Hudson: 72.8 RC
        Kemp: 91.4 RC
        Blake: 66.3 RC
        Loney: 54.9 RC
        Martin: 49.5 RC

        This totals 375.8 RC.

        So yeah, I just did all that to prove Joe torre cost his team a whopping 6 runs and maybe one win. /shrug. Better than actually doing work.

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      • Joe R says:

        Not to mention about 100% of my estimate is based on semi-random approximation.

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  3. Alireza says:

    Joe R – The funny thing is that the Dodgers are currently built as a sabermetric juggernaut. Lots of OBP.

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    • Joe R says:

      And to think they still leadoff with makethingshappeny Rafael Furcal.
      Or do they? I’m in Boston, not much Dodger coverage here.

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  4. marc w. says:

    So this gets back to a question I asked when Fangraphs introduced its own version of tRA a week or so ago.
    How would the rockies rank according to that specific version of tRA? Not well, I’d guess, given Jimenez’ and especially Cook’s numbers. Both are over one full run worse in Fangraphs’ tRA than Statcorner’s. Makes me wonder if they’re even above average in this metric. Gotta be the park factor.

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  5. Kris says:

    I’ve always wondered about the Rockies, just theoretically, of course. I definitely don’t have the patience to query my massively out of date pfx database.

    Theoretically, you’d expect Colorado to want GB pitches.
    Theoretically, you’d expect Colorado to get sinkerballer/breaking stuff.
    Theoretically, well not really but, these pitches wouldn’t break as much given the difference in air-pressure.

    I don’t know the difference in air pressure, and maybe it only accounts for 1/10th of break, given rotation and velocity, but as a whole it just seems counter intuitive.

    The pitches you’d want would inherently be less effective.

    If anyone’s done any indepth research on this, please share. I think Kalk did something, but I don’t recall.

    What team is Josh with now, btw?

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  6. razor says:

    Excellent article. No matter who may argue with FIP, the bottom line is that the pitching staff in Colorado has carried them. Picking up Betancourt near the deadline was also a very nice move…Three down in the loss column right now with a more dependable staff. The Rocks also play good defense up the middle on the infield which obviously helps that gb staff, and CarGon is really starting to emerge.

    The one thing Colorado hasn’t done is beat LA. They got beat up by them earlier in the year back in April/May and the difference in those games right now is the only reason the Rocks still trail. Three game series vs LA next week so the purple get another head to head shot.

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  7. jinaz says:

    For the record, tRA at statcorner is the right one. “Mine” is just a bastardized attempt to approximate it. It’s usually pretty close, just not perfect.
    -j

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