Does Coors Field Make Rockies’ Batters Worse on the Road?

Denver is where pitchers’ peripheral numbers go to die.

Humidors and huge outfields have mitigated the issue a bit, but that’s still the first thing that comes to mind for most stat heads when the words “Coors Field” are uttered: Oh, those poor, poor pitchers.

There’s evidence, though, that the ballpark messes with hitters, too. Rockies hitters have the biggest home/road splits in baseball over the past five years … even after you correct for park effect. By weighted runs created plus, they’re 17 percent worse on the road than at home, whereas the league average home and away split is 10 percentage points lower.

In other words, Coors Field seems to giveth at home and taketh away on the road. When I asked Rockies hitters about this and checked the numbers, a clearer picture emerged: The Rockies are pitched differently at home, and their response to that difference seems to lead to problems on the road. All along, we thought pitchers were the only ones negatively affected by playing half their games at Coors Field; turns out, hitters are affected, too.

Let’s get to the root of what’s happening. First, we’ll look at how things are different at home, then explain how it’s affecting the Rockies’ performance on the road (at least those not named Nolan Arenado, who actually has more home runs and a higher OPS on the road this season).

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Batters Striking New Fear This Year

We’ve seen it happen time and time again, and the numbers agree: when a player shows power, pitchers adjust. They try to defuse that power bat by throwing fewer pitches in the zone, and fewer fastballs.

What we’d like to do here is turn the tables on this process by analyzing various hitters’ power situations based on which batters this season are seeing fewer pitches in the zone and fewer fastballs, and vice-versa.

It seems we can, and to do so we’ll use a few cool stats. The newest is Heart%, a stat created by Bill Petti that measures how often a pitch crosses the plate in the heart of the strike zone. We’ll also look at O-Swing%, which measures how often a hitter reaches at pitches outside the zone. And we’ll judge power using Isolated Slugging Percentage — slugging percentage minus batting average, or basically an extra-base hit rate.

Examining these statistics can help us identify which hitters likely have sustainable power breakouts and are worth targeting or keeping — and which fading sluggers would be best to avoid or let go.

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Gregory Polanco struggling with league’s adjustment to him

Coming into the 2014 season, Pittsburgh outfielder Gregory Polanco was a top prospect with all the tools that make scouts drool — power, patience, contact, defense, and speed. He was Keith Law’s 13th-best prospect that offseason, and he played well enough in the spring to force himself onto the Pirates’ roster.

A good but not great debut, then just 22-year-old, showed hints of future glory, as his overall work compared decently to the debut from a young, toolsy outfielder named Carlos Gonzalez.

But Polanco has had difficulty capitalizing on that promise this season. And now, nearly 600 plate appearances into his major league career, the questions about his potential are getting louder, particularly his ability to hit for power and hit left-handed pitching. Using his appraisal of the situation and the statistics as a guide, maybe we can see if the shine has actually dulled on what was once star-level promise.
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The Cleveland Indians Rotation: Legendarily Bad Luck?

The Cleveland Indians have plenty of talent in their rotation. They have Corey Kluber, last year’s AL Cy Young award winner, who has excellent command of a sweeping, knee-buckling breaking ball. They also have Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, who have fastballs that average 95 mph and are good enough secondary pitches to join Kluber in the double-digit K/9 rate club. And they have Trevor Bauer, who has good velocity and something like 10 pitches in his arsenal.

It’s an excellent rotation — and yet Indians starters have the sixth-worst ERA in baseball (4.41).

As it turns out, this disconnect between stuff and results has actually reached a historic level. Only four rotations in history have ever had a bigger gap between their FIP — an expected ERA based on strikeouts, walks, and home runs — and their ERA.

Let’s see if we can figure out why the Indians’ rotation is less than the sum of its parts right now.

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Chris Heston, now with more Chris Heston

On July 13, 2013, Chris Heston was designated for assignment by the San Francisco Giants to make room for the recently signed Jeff Francoeur. He was released by the team eight days later.

At that point, the pitcher was throwing in the mid-80s and posting mediocre strikeout numbers, not to mention the righty was suffering from elbow problems. It was undoubtedly the low point of his career.

Now less than two years later, Heston already has a no-hitter under his belt, firing an 11-strikeout no-no at Citi Field on Tuesday in just his 13th big league start. He was masterful, not only striking out Mets hitters, but also keeping the ball on the ground (87 percent of the balls in play were ground balls).

With the win, Heston placed his name next to some of the greats in Giants history while also improving his argument for remaining in the rotation when it’s back to full health. Two years after the low point of his career, he’s quite possibly at the high point right now.

So what changed? His body. At least that’s what the pitcher said earlier this season when I asked him about his newfound stuff.

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Brian McCann: Keep calm, carry the pitching staff

Let’s face it, New York Yankees catcher Brian McCann is known more for his offense than his D. He has hit 18 or more homers in nine consecutive seasons and has an .807 career OPS. He has won five Silver Slugger awards — and no Gold Gloves — and has been named an All-Star seven times, more on the strength of his offense than his glove work.

But guess what — he’s pretty good at defense, too. In fact, when you examine McCann’s performance in peripheral catcher-defense stats such as framing, blocking balls in the dirt and calling a game, just one catcher has been better over the past three years: Yadier Molina (of course it’s Yady — who else would it be?). But while the only currently active Molina brother is widely acclaimed for his defense, McCann doesn’t seem to get his due respect.

I examined what makes McCann a good catcher and spoke with the Yankees backstop, as well as his manager, about the importance of McCann’s defensive skills, and what the catcher has learned over the years about his work behind the plate.

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Surgery to success: The story behind Shane Greene’s breakout

There wasn’t much hype about Shane Greene as he slowly made his way through the minor league ranks, and seemingly for good reason. He was a 15th-round pick, not a big-bonus guy. He didn’t make any national prospect lists before or after the draft. His stuff didn’t seem that great, including a changeup that was clearly a work in progress. And his minor league numbers were mediocre at best; in 562 career minor league innings, he had a 29-43 record, 4.39 ERA and 1.48 WHIP. That doesn’t exactly scream “can’t-miss prospect!”

But just look at him now.

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How Framing Changed Andrew Cashner

Sometimes, framing can seem like an invisible skill, a game of centimeters that we can barely see, a practice that affects the game around the edges. Something you might shrug your shoulders at. You wouldn’t feel that way if you were Andrew Cashner, though. Not since the Padres’ pitcher has had to change his approach this year because of the framing he’s getting behind the plate.

Last year, Cashner had the second-best framer in the game behind the plate most days in Rene Rivera. Rivera stole 170 extra strikes last year by Baseball Prospectus’ excellent catcher framing stats, second only to Buster Posey. “It’s a difference maker, for sure,” said Cashner of that skill behind the plate. Look how wide Rivera’s called strike zone was last year with the Padres.

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Fastball movement, location the keys to Garrett Richards’ breakout

As recently as March 2014, Los Angeles Angels right-hander Garrett Richards was considered a league-average starting pitcher/middle reliever with decent velocity and a good slider. Now just 14 months later, he’s considered one of the top pitchers in the American League. What were the keys to his 2014 breakout performance, and will it continue?

Richards has always had good stuff — in his first three years in the league (2011-13), Richards got whiffs on 9.5 percent of the pitches he threw, which would be top 40 this year among qualified pitchers — but he really didn’t post good strikeout totals until 2014. He posted a mediocre (or worse) 6.3 K/9 rate in 2013, which at that point was the highest mark of his career. But he jumped that rate to 8.8 K’s per 9 last season, ranking 19th in the majors among qualified pitchers in that metric, and he has a respectable 8.2 K/9 rate this season.

So I took a closer look at Richards’ repertoire and metrics in an attempt to find out what’s behind the breakout, then asked the pitcher himself for his thoughts.

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Matt Carpenter Must Be More Aggressive

If Matt Carpenter is known for anything in the major leagues, it’s for what hedoesn’t do: swing the bat. That may seem counterintuitive for a player generally considered to be one of the best hitters on one of baseball’s best teams, but it’s an accurate depiction of Carpenter’s approach at the plate. Last year, no qualified hitter offered at fewer pitches than Carpenter, who had only a 32.8 percent swing rate. Over the course of his three full seasons, his 36.1 percent swing rate is easily the lowest. In other words, approximately two times out of three, Carpenter watches the pitch go by.

To put it another way, some hitters swing at pitches outside the strike zone more often than Carpenter swings at pitches overall. It’s simply who he is, and it’s a large part of how he has managed to find success in the big leagues; over the past two seasons, he’s 15th in walk rate and ninth in on-base percentage. His patience has made him a star — he was one of only 15 hitters worth at least 10 WAR combined in 2013-14 — and it also has made him rich, as the Cardinals guaranteed him $52 million over six years through 2019.

With that kind of recent track record, it’s easy to think that Carpenter should just keep on doing exactly what he’s doing and continued success would follow. But despite the excellent on-base skills and overall value, a quiet truth of Carpenter’s 2014 was that his slugging percentage dropped more than 100 points from the year prior, and Carpenter turned from an elite bat into merely a good one. With an aging Cardinals offense relying more than ever on Carpenter this year, the numbers demand that Carpenter change his approach. Simply put, he has to swing more. He has to be, in some ways, the anti-Matt Carpenter. And he can start in Sunday night’s season opener (8 ET, ESPN2) against the Cubs. Read the rest of this entry »


Five Breakout Candidates For 2015

As we unveil the players ranked 51-100 in the 2015 BBTN 100, let’s also look ahead to next year and predict five unranked players this year who are positioned to land on next year’s list. This discussion won’t include top prospects like Kris Bryant, Joc Pederson or Noah Syndergaard because their talent is well-known and everyone expects great things from them.

Today we’ll focus on five young players who have already had a small amount of big league success and could find themselves with much-higher public profiles — and possible places in the 2016 BBTN 100 — after what should be productive 2015 seasons. Read the rest of this entry »


Are We Overrating Madison Bumgarner?

How much do October heroics count for, really?

For the San Francisco Giants, what Madison Bumgarner did for them last autumn added up to a world title. It took a lot of moving pieces to get that third title in five years, but easily the most important part was Bumgarner doing things we’ve never seen, at least on that stage. In 52 2/3 postseason innings, Bumgarner allowed a mere six earned runs, and he carved his name into baseball history by throwing five nearly perfect innings to close out Game 7 on only two days’ rest, after having thrown a shutout in Game 5.

It was without question one of the most spectacular postseason performances we’ll ever witness. So how much is that worth? That’s the question today, because Bumgarner stands out as ranking surprisingly high (third) in the BBTN left-handed starting pitcher rankings, ahead of such names as David Price andJon Lester. He’s up two spots among lefty starters from a year ago, and judging by some of the names he’s ranked above, he’ll likely place much higher in the overall rankings as well (he was 40th in 2014).

To jump that far in a single year would indicate he’s coming off one of the most spectacular years in baseball. Based on only a few October weeks, maybe that’s true. But what about the far bigger sample size of multiple regular seasons, or that his regular season was a pretty good one that stood alongside pretty good ones from a lot of other pitchers? Were we so blown away by a few dozen great innings of pitching that we’ve looked past nearly a thousand innings across his career? Let’s investigate.

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The Orioles’ Winter Wasn’t So Bad

So, could you feel the evident disappointment of Baltimore Orioles fans this winter?

Coming off a 96-win year, the O’s did what seemed like a whole lot of nothing this offseason. As Andrew Miller, Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz all departed for big contracts elsewhere, the only major league players Baltimore added were journeyman lefty reliever Wesley Wright, Padres castoff Everth Cabrera and former first-round bust Travis Snider.

Now compare that haul to the types of players added by Baltimore’s AL East division rivals, names such as (the aforementioned) Miller, Hanley Ramirez,Pablo Sandoval, Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada, Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin. Worse, with O’s GM Dan Duquette spending much of the winter engaged in an awkward — and ultimately fruitless — discussion about taking a job with the Blue Jays, the perception grew that he was more focused on his own career than improving the team.

Whether that’s a fair judgment of Duquette or not, it all added up to a less than impressive winter in Baltimore. Just a month ago, ESPN’s Jayson Stark polled baseball people about the offseason we just completed, and coming in second place for “Most Unimproved American League Team” was none other than those Orioles.

So this was a disaster, right? A big step back for a team on the precipice of making noise in the playoffs, just as the rest of the AL East is dealing with enough holes that this seemed like it may have been the time to strike, right? That’s the narrative, but it’s far too simple. For the Orioles, an appreciation of what was a quietly good winter requires looking a little deeper. Read the rest of this entry »


Beware Sal Perez’s Horrifying Plate Discipline

If you were to take a peek at the current average ESPN live fantasy draft resultsfor catchers, you would see some familiar names in the top five. Buster Posey is obviously atop the list, and Jonathan Lucroy just finished fourth in the National League MVP voting. Devin Mesoraco had a breakout season, and Evan Gattis‘ huge raw power might outweigh his strikeouts, at least in the fantasy world.

Sitting fifth, ahead of Yan Gomes, Yadier Molina, Brian McCann, Russell Martin,Yasmani Grandal and everyone else, is the Kansas City RoyalsSalvador Perez. Perez, who turns 25 in May, has increased his home run count every year he’s been in the bigs and saw his national profile grow exponentially during the Royals’ World Series run. He has a career .285 average and is one of only eight catchers with double-digit home runs in each of the past three seasons.

Based on that criteria alone, Perez’s high ranking looks to make sense, and that’s almost certainly why he is getting such respect in drafts. So why does it still seem so clear that he is being overvalued, perhaps to an enormous extent considering all the warning signs around him? Read the rest of this entry »


Odds Against Masahiro Tanaka Staying Healthy

After an uncharacteristically rough outing from Masahiro Tanaka in Cleveland on July 8 — 11 baserunners, five runs allowed, two homers — New York Yankees fans received the worst news imaginable: Tanaka, who had made the All-Star team and appeared to be worth every penny of the $175 million the Yankees had laid out to import him from Japan prior to the season, had to be placed on the disabled list after an MRI revealed a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, also known as the injury that generally leads to Tommy John surgery.

Rather than undergo surgery, which would have cost him most of the 2015 season, as well, Tanaka chose the path of rest and rehab, including platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections. After missing more than two months, he made two appearances in September — one positive (5 1/3 innings of one-run ball against Toronto on Sept. 21) and one much less so (seven runs in 1 2/3 innings in Boston on Sept. 27). He reportedly has had no problems with the elbow since, successfully completing several bullpen sessions at Yankees camp while hoping that the work he has done to strengthen the arm muscles around the ligament, along with changes in his delivery, will keep him whole.

For the Yankees, part of what appears to be a tightly packed AL East, there may be no player more vital to their success than a healthy Tanaka. That’s not only because he’s one of baseball’s best pitchers when healthy; it’s because with CC Sabathia‘s knee still acting up, Ivan Nova still recovering from elbow surgery, Shane Greene and Brandon McCarthy off to Detroit and Los Angeles, respectively, and Michael Pineda having thrown only 76 innings in the past three seasons combined, this rotation is more than a little risky. It’s not a stretch to say that the Yankees are contenders with Tanaka and hopeless without him — and unfortunately for both player and team, the odds aren’t in his favor. Read the rest of this entry »


Adam Wainwright, Enormous Draft Risk

Nearly two years ago in this space, we wrote about how Adam Wainwright‘s extension was a bargain, given the production he offered compared to the massive dollar figures other players across the sport were getting.

To miss a full season to Tommy John surgery and return without missing a beat while getting back up to speed — Wainwright’s 2012 featured baseball’s sixth-best FIP — is practically unheard of.

Wainwright did it, and then he kept doing it. His 2013 was the best season of his career and might have earned him his first Cy Young were it not for the historic performance of Clayton Kershaw.

In 2014, Wainwright did it again, putting up a career-best 2.38 ERA. He also leads all of baseball in innings pitched over the past two seasons, which doesn’t even take into account the 51 additional postseason frames he contributed. Some guys never make it back the same from elbow surgery, but the post-surgery version of Wainwright has continued to be among baseball’s best.

So when Insider recently put together a “Top 10 Starting Pitchers” list for a national television broadcast that didn’t include Wainwright, Cardinals fans were understandably displeased. When I explain right now why he shouldn’t be considered among the top 20 starting pitchers for 2015, I don’t imagine that reaction is going to improve. But there’s risk here. Lots of it. Read the rest of this entry »


Joey Votto Is Still A Star

Once considered a player worthy of a massive $225 million contract extension, Joey Votto has clearly seen his popularity drop considerably among the Cincinnati Reds faithful. A quick look recently at a popular online forum for Reds fans revealed regular complaints about the hitter Votto “used to be,” that he’s “declining,” that he’s “no longer a run producer,” and that he’s massively, incredibly overpaid.

Reds radio announcer Marty Brennaman recentlystoked the fires by suggesting that if Votto leads the league in on-base percentage in 2015, the team would somehow “be in deep trouble.”

OK, so that overpaid part might be valid — Votto is still due $213 million through his age-39 season — and you can understand the frustration to some extent, considering he hit only six homers last year and didn’t take the field after July 5 because of a pair of quad injuries. At 31, and with three serious leg injuries in the past three years on his résumé, Votto has probably put his MVP candidate days behind him.

But there’s a big difference between “probably not worth the money” and somehow being a detriment to the Reds’ hopes. Reports of Votto’s demise are painfully premature; the seemingly forgotten superstar can certainly be good again in 2015, but he really never stopped being good. Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs+ 2015!

As the new baseball year starts, we celebrate here at FanGraphs+ by compiling an annual of sorts. Equal parts fantasy and real, our articles in this annual take advantage of our best resources here at FanGraphs in order to scout baseball players, research topics, and, in general, think about baseball as best we can.

For the non-fantasy player, our 1200 player caps can serve as gentle prods in the direction of the most interesting aspects of a player’s production. Or for a tickle on a rainy spring day. You don’t have to be interested in fantasy baseball to wonder how the clustering of a pitcher’s release point is correlated to their command peripherals, or how changing a team’s on base percentage affects the individual hitters in the lineup. Just be a baseball geek and you’ll love Dan Farnsworth’s breakdowns of a few key hitters and their mechanics at the plate — remember, this is the man that spotted the changes J.D. Martinez made that launched the Tiger into stardom.

But if you are a fantasy player, there’s gobs here for you. We hope you enjoy! It’ll only cost you $5.99 to enjoy the following:

1200 Player Caps
Eventually including all 50+ future value caps from Kiley McDaniel, these player caps will reside right on the player pages once you log in. You’ll also have access to previous player caps, for fun.

The Annual
How Much Does Having Runners on Base Improve a Hitter? by Jeff Zimmerman
Breaking Down Jung-Ho Kang by Dan Farnsworth
The Fringe Five Prospects (Plus Five) by Carson Cistulli
The Importance of Release Point Consistency by Dan Schwartz
Breaking Down Steven Souza by Dan Farnsworth
Japan’s Best, Now and Future by Jason Coskrey
The Daily Fantasy Baseball Compendium by Brad Johnson
Using Minor League Statistics To Find Sleepers by Chris Mitchell
Top 50 Rookies for Fantasy Prospects by Marc Hulet
Predicting the Quality Start by Michael Barr
Developing The Bestest xBABIP Equation Yet by Michael Podhorzer
Breaking Down Jedd Gyorko by Dan Farnsworth
Don’t Call Them Tiers: Fantasy Talent Distribution by Zach Sanders


2015 Batter Profiles: A – B

Jose Abreu

Debut: 2014 |  BirthDate: 1/29/1987 | Team: White Sox | Position: 1B
Yr PA H HR SB RBI R AVG OBP SLG wOBA Off Def WAR
’14 622 176 36 3 107 80 .317 .383 .581 .411 42.3 -14.4 5.3
’15 611 154 35 3 100 86 .285 .358 .537 .385 30.2 -13.9 4.0

Profile: Abreu put to rest any concerns of not being able to catch up to velocity in his first year stateside, handily winning the Rookie of the Year award with his monster offensive production. Abreu performed like one of the best power hitters in the league in 2014, and he showed no signs that he will slow down in 2015. You may expect some regression in the batting average department, but Abreu demonstrated tremendous ability to make adjustments as pitchers changed their approach to him throughout the year. Not only does he possess top of the scale power, he also is a solid pure hitter, getting hits all over the field rather than having to sell out to hit homers. Expect more of the same this year. (Dan Farnsworth)

Quick Opinion: Abreu stepped into the league and immediately produced like one of its best all-around hitters. 2015 may bring a slightly regressed batting average, but he has the makeup needed to make pitchers pay even when they properly gameplan against him. Another triple crown-caliber season could be in the works if he continues to carry a solid approach into each at bat as he did in 2014.

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2015 Batter Profiles: C

Asdrubal Cabrera

Debut: 2007 |  BirthDate: 11/13/1985 | Team: Rays | Position: 2B/SS
Yr PA H HR SB RBI R AVG OBP SLG wOBA Off Def WAR
’13 562 123 14 9 64 66 .242 .299 .402 .307 -6.3 -7.7 0.5
’14 616 133 14 10 61 74 .241 .307 .387 .308 0.7 -4.1 1.7
’15 601 132 14 8 61 65 .244 .310 .383 .307 0.6 -5.5 1.6

Profile: As someone who watched most every game Asdrubal Cabrera played in an Indians uniform, I can admit there’s nary a player more frustrating to watch to me. But Cabrera is a better fantasy option than real life, because his bat is actually pretty decent for a middle infielder. He might be more likely to hit 10 homers than match the 25 he put up in 2011, but the power is still good for the position. An early debut perhaps makes Cabrera seem older than he is, but he’s still just 29 and projects as something like a league-average hitter moving forward, which you can live with up the middle. Cabrera has kept the power up by hitting more fly balls each of the last two years, but he’s also moving to a notorious pitcher’s park in Tampa Bay. He might take a playing time cut in his new home in Tampa Bay, if the team needs to look past their one-year stopgap at some point in the season. (August Fagerstrom)

Quick Opinion: Cabrera isn’t a great real-life shortstop, which is why he won’t be playing much more shortstop moving forward, but he’ll qualify at both positions up the middle and actually has a pretty decent bat for the position(s). That being said, he chased more bad pitches than ever last year, and his new fly-ball heavy approach may not be suited for Tampa Bay. You probably don’t want him to start for you in fantasy, but you could do worse, and he’s a solid backup for either position.

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