Fixing the Rockies
Will Hailey's guide to roster construction in Colorado
The Rockies stink. The only things bluer than the mountains on an ice cold Coors Light can are Rockies Statcast pages. Colorado’s 59 wins in 2023 was the worst full-season result in club history; a history that includes one pennant but zero division titles. The Rox recent horrible stretch has been marred by front office blunders like trading future Hall-of-Famer Nolan Arenado for peanuts, a year later signing Kris Bryant to a $182 million deal, and consistently playing underperforming veterans over top prospects. But to quote Mark McGwire, “I’m not here to talk about the past.” Let’s talk about the future of decision making and roster building in Colorado because the Rockies are faced with one of the most unique team building factors in professional sports: altitude.
Photo: Isaiah J Downing / USA TODAY Sports
Time for a quick physics review. Denver, Colorado is 5,280 feet, or 960 Altuves, above sea level. Air is less dense at that altitude and less dense air means less drag on a baseball. Offensively, less drag means less resistance as the ball flies through the air, so baseballs hit in Coors Field will travel farther than baseballs hit with the same force at any other major league stadium. For pitchers, less drag means less Magnus effect on breaking balls. Magnus effect is the name for the way air moves around a spinning object creating force, i.e. why higher spin rates mean more movement on curveballs, sliders, etc.
Armed with the knowledge that batted balls would fly farther in Denver, Coors Field was built with massive outfield dimensions: 347 ft to left, 350 ft to right, and 420 ft to the deepest part of the park. The cavernous outfield was not nearly enough to keep balls in the yard until the Rockies introduced the humidor in 2002, keeping the balls at a consistent temperature and humidity that kept the balls heavier. Despite its reputation as a launching pad, over the last 3 years Coors Field has only been the 9th best park for home runs. Though still the best stadium for hitters overall, the offensive value of Coors is in its outfield surface area. Coors is the best park for singles, second best for doubles, and best for triples by a margin. The thin air’s impact on breaking balls has also made Coors the toughest park for pitchers to get strikeouts in. With these unique factors in mind, here are some ways the Rockies front office could build a roster to maximize home field advantage:
Photo: Isaiah J Downing / USA TODAY Sports
Get Good Players
Given the state of things it is important to get back to the basics.
Okay, Actual 1. Put the Ball in Play
There is more space for hits to fall in at Coors so give yourself as many chances as possible with low strikeout hitters and, ideally, guys that hit line drives. The next .400 season will be when the Rockies wise up and add Luis Arraez.
Play Three Center Fielders
Outfield defense is more important in Colorado than anywhere else and range is paramount. Corner outfielders in Coors need to cover as much ground as the average center fielder, so play three center fielders. Committing to Charlie Blackmon’s defense for a decade was malpractice.
This is a good rule for every MLB club to follow, but especially Colorado. Breaking pitches do not break as much at altitude, but gas is still gas. In fact, the lack of drag gives a four-seamer an extra mph from 60'6" away which makes the Rockies dead last ranking in fastball velocity last year that much more embarrassing. Pitchers that can get whiffs on the fastball won’t be hurt as much in Coors as guys that rely on the breaking balls to get outs.
Remember when the Angels spent every 2021 amateur draft pick on pitching? Well, it should have been the Rockies. No pitcher wants the inflated ERAs that Colorado brings which means the Rockies front office will always have to grossly overpay for quality pitching like they did in 2000 for Mike Hampton. Solution? Develop pitching. 2023 was a step in the right direction with 14 of 20 draft picks being pitchers.
With these goals in mind, here are a few relatively accessible players the Rockies should target:
Cody Bellinger: Great Outfield D with elite Sweet Spot% and K%
The aforementioned Luis Arraez: 1st in line drive rate and 1st in K% by a mile
Edward Cabrera: Throws hard while inducing ground balls and pop ups
Johan Oviedo: Throws a lot of fastballs and limits line drives
Myles Straw, Kyle Isbel, Alex Call: Lots of range not a lot of whiffs
Jac Caglianone: The Rockies draft 3rd in 2024 and the left-handed two-way star from Florida throws gas (and hits bombs)
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