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Pulling a Rockies Pitching Solution Out of Thin Air

The success of the Colorado Rockies franchise has historically been impeded by air: the thin air of Coors Field and the hot air blown by higher-ups in the front office.

Due in large part to playing their home games in a comically extreme hitters’ park, the Rockies have finished 14th or worse in the National League in runs allowed per game in 21 of their 28 seasons in franchise history. Colorado has finished with a winning record five times in the past 20 seasons, and in four of those they ranked in the top 10 in the NL in RA/G. No, their run prevention as a whole has never been what you would call “good” or even “well above average,” but their only brushes with success have come at times when their pitching ventured beyond putrid.

The adverse effect of the thin atmosphere on pitching is twofold. The more apparent aspect is that it imparts less drag on a batted ball, allowing for fly balls to carry further, resulting in increased slugging at Coors. Perhaps less obviously, movement of pitches due to the Magnus effect is diminished. At the risk of triggering memories of my undergraduate fluid dynamics course, the lift on a baseball (or any spinning sphere) is proportional to the density of the fluid it moves through. Thus, when a fastball is thrown at Coors Field, it has less “rise” (or more accurately, is less affected by gravity) than it would at other major league parks.

Does this mean that every pitcher will perform demonstrably worse if he takes up in-season residence in Denver? Well, yes, but actually no. Read the rest of this entry »

The Utility of “Going For It” in the Offseason

For fans of the 29 teams whose autumns aren’t highlighted by a World Series parade (in a normal year at least), the offseason is a time of equality, when every team is zero games back from a playoff spot and hope springs eternal. Front offices have four months to write checks and strike deals with the hope of blocking off the streets come November, or at least sell some tickets along the way. Baseball Twitter and internet forums everywhere are filled with catchphrases like “winning the offseason,” “making a splash,” and of course, “going for it.”

In a perfect world, every team would try its hardest and “go for it” every year, but in today’s MLB, no offseason is without a large swathe of teams sitting on their hands if not outright tanking. The merits of managing a team for the sake of the bottom line or stockpiling prospects for some future championship run can be debated ad nauseum, but the teams that deserve our attention are the ones who spend the winter months actively trying to improve their on-field products and win the whole damn thing.

But what exactly does it look like when a team decides to go for it? A simple look at which teams sign the most free agents could be a start, but a team who signs an army of relievers to minor league contracts shouldn’t be regarded as trying harder than a team that adds a pair of high-profile bats. New dollars committed might be a step closer, but one massive long term contract would skew the results and heavily outweigh a team signing multiple short-term deals.

The best way, then, to judge to what extent a team “went for it” in an offseason would be to look at the perceived short-term value of the players added via trade or free agency compared to those who departed by those same avenues. Read the rest of this entry »