- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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The surprising Colorado Rockies are 13-5, tied with the Braves for the best record in the majors. I'm not buying yet, let's see where their record stands in three weeks after playing 19 games against the Braves, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Rays, Yankees and Cardinals. But so far they are 8-1 at home even though it's been so cold in Denver they've been able to take pregame batting practice on the field just once.
The Rockies are 5-4 on the road, and as I wrote recently, the Rockies' problem historically hasn't been winning at Coors Field, but winning on the road. From 2003 to 2012, the Rockies have the largest home/road win differential in the majors (plus 121 wins); the issue is that Rockies score 31 percent fewer runs on the road.
Anyway, I heard an interview today with Rockies hitting coach Dante Bichette on MLB Radio and he brought out the theory -- as others have -- that Rockies hitters struggle on the road because they see fewer breaking balls at Coors Field. Bichette mentioned that because of this he has his players hitting against a lot of breaking stuff in the cages.
We can check this out, of course. Using data from ESPN Stats & Info going back to 2009, let's check out some numbers.
Rockies at home since 2009
49,424 total pitches
Fastballs: 26,570 (53.8 percent)
Curveballs: 4,382 (8.9 percent)
Sliders: 8,517 (17.2 percent)
Changeups: 4,747 (9.6 percent)
Sinker: 2,650 (5.4 percent)
Rockies on the road since 2009
49,650 total pitches
Fastballs: 26,699 (53.8 percent)
Curveballs: 4,684 (9.4 percent)
Sliders: 8,517 (16.0 percent)
Changeups: 5064 (10.2 percent)
Sinker: 2,691 (5.4 percent)
Well ... the data shows the Rockies see pretty much the same breakdown of pitches at home as on the road, so the theory that the Rockies are hurt by not seeing enough breaking pitches at home doesn't necessarily hold true. Now, it could be that the Rockies don't see good breaking stuff at home, since curveballs and sliders don't move as much in the thin air, and then struggle against good offspeed stuff on the road. It would kind of be like seeing Triple-A curveballs for a week and then having to hit off major league curveballs.
We can break down the offensive numbers on how the Rockies fare against "hard" stuff and "soft" stuff to see if they suffer more against one type of pitching. Again, numbers since 2009.
Versus hard stuff
Home: .311/.392/.507, .334 BABIP, .383 wOBA
Road: .254/.335/.407, .295 BABIP, .324 wOBA
Versus soft stuff
Home: .262/.302/.445, .324 BABIP, .319 wOBA
Road: .212/.249/.330, .274 BABIP, .253 wOBA
The Rockies' wOBA against hard stuff drops 59 points on the road, but against soft stuff it drops 66 points. So the Rockies do suffer a little more against soft stuff on the road -- about 6 percent more of a decline than their drop against hard stuff.
Bichette and the Rockies know their hitters have trouble adjusting to offspeed stuff, but the problem is replicating the game situations you see on the road, and hitting in the batting cages isn't the same thing as facing Matt Cain's curveball. Mere repetition isn't the solution; I doubt Bichette is the first Rockies hitting coach to suggest more curveballs in the cages. He's also wrong in believing the Rockies see more fastballs at home; maybe that was true back when he played with the Rockies, but that's not the case now.
Ultimately, this may be a dilemma without a solution.
Other than, of course, to simply get hitters with enough talent to do better on the road.