This is fun: Troy Tulowitzki, still sounding bitter after the way last summer's trade from the Colorado Rockies to the Toronto Blue Jays went down, told USA Today that he prefers his new spring training home over the Salt River Fields facility in Scottsdale, which the Rockies share with the Arizona Diamondbacks. "I like this place a lot better than Arizona," Tulowitzki said of the Jays' Dunedin, Florida, home. "That place was like a country club. Guys got comfortable because it was so nice."
Having been to all the spring training sites in Arizona, I will say this: The Salt River complex is gorgeous, a little slice of baseball heaven. It does feel like a country club, with spacious clubhouses, perfectly manicured practice fields and a sweet home stadium, with the two clubhouses located beyond the outfield. The Chicago Cubs' facility that opened last year in Mesa is stunning as well, except with one significant difference: Their clubhouse is cramped, much smaller than the other new facilities in Arizona, perhaps a deliberate move by the Cubs to improve team bonding.
Anyway, I guess Tulowitzki's implication is ... what? That the Rockies are losers because of their spring training facility? That they're not working as hard in spring training as other teams because of the country club atmosphere? OK, let's run with this. If there's something to what Tulo said, how would it show up? The Rockies would get off to a slow start, right? They wouldn't prepare themselves for the season, and the reality of regular-season baseball would expose that softness.
The Salt River complex opened in 2011. Here's how the Rockies have fared each season in their first 14 games, in April and over the entire season:
First 14 games: 11-3 (.786)
April: 17-8 (.680)
Season: 73-89 (.451)
First 14 games: 7-7 (.500)
April: 11-11 (.500)
Season: 64-98 (.395)
First 14 games: 10-4 (.714)
April: 16-11 (.593)
Season: 74-88 (.457)
First 14 games: 6-8 (.429)
April: 16-13 (.551)
Season: 66-96 (.407)
First 14 games: 7-7 (.500)
April: 11-10 (.525)
Season: 68-94 (420)
Tulowitzki couldn't be more wrong. The Rockies have played better every April -- usually much better -- than they do over the course of the regular season. In those five seasons, they've gone 71-53 in April, a .573 winning percentage. That's the fourth-best win-loss record in the majors in April over that span, behind only the New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers. After April, the Rockies have played .399 ball.
Back to the drawing board, Tulo. The Rockies have finished under .500 the past five seasons, but don't blame the spring training facility. This is why players don't always make the best analysts.
Anyway, that spread between April and the rest of the season is worth digging into deeper:
April: .271/.333/.445, 5.0 runs per game
Season: .269/.325/.448, 4.6 runs per game
April: .752 OPS, 6.9 SO/9, 4.5 runs per game
Season: .790 OPS, 6.9 SO/9, 5.0 runs per game
The offense scores about half a run less over the season than it does in April -- even with a minimal difference in its triple-slash line. Eight points of OBP isn't minor, although that's somewhat offset by additional slugging. Looks as if the Rockies have had better timely hitting in April. The pitching does get significantly worse, getting hit much harder and giving up an extra half-run per game. That could be a result of altitude attrition, that Rockies pitchers get hurt more often or get more fatigued due to pitching at elevation. Or it could simply be a reflection of a lack of pitching depth in the organization that every team needs -- even those who play at sea level.