Recently, a brief exchange I had sparked some renewed interest in Coors Field. It’s the most offensively generous park in baseball by a good margin and because of that, people tend to cite context-neutral stats to assign less significance to phenomenal performances by Rockies’ players if they don’t outright Nerf their stat lines without a second thought. But those context-neutral stats like wRC+ aren’t perfect. The most relevant imperfection to consider here is that the park adjustments are somewhat unrefined in their application.
For this thought experiment, I’ll consider Nolan Arenado as an example, and I’ll mainly be using wRC+ and fWAR to measure his value, so we need to first determine how FanGraphs applies their park factors (PF).
- They use a 5-year regressed value in their calculations, so if a stadium happens to play drastically different one year, that value won’t have as extreme an effect on stat calculations. Coors Field’s 5-year PF (116) is close to its 1-year PF (115), and Arenado plays relatively few games in other stadiums outside his division so we won’t consider this to be a real issue in evaluating him.
- When applied, park factors are divided in half to account for players only playing half of their games in their home park. In my calculations, I am splitting Arenado’s stats by the stadium he played in so I will not need to adjust park factors initially.
- Third, players are assumed to play their away games in a league average setting, meaning when calculating wRC+, etc. for Arenado in San Diego, for instance, Petco Park is considered a neutral park.
Surely, Petco and other parks don’t magically become neutral environments for visiting teams, so why not account for that? Let’s consider the case where Arenado does get more credit for playing outside of Coors Field.
I started by splitting Arenado’s offensive stats by stadium and finding wRC+ and fWAR, as they are typically calculated to make sure that if my numbers are ultimately off, it’s not because they started wrong.
There is some rounding error here, and given that I entered a good amount of data by hand, there is a chance I made some manual mistakes, but the results are close enough for me to feel like I can move forward.
Now, the fun part. Let’s change every PF to its “correct” mark, including an adjustment for Arenado only playing 78/81 possible games at home.
The Coors Field PF becomes 1.3081, and the weighted average of away PFs for Arenado is .9773. After applying these, we find somewhat of a lackluster result:
There’s some improvement, but it’s about as “some” as “some” can get. Regardless, this is an adjustment that could (and arguably, should) be made for every player in the league, so it’s not really the difference maker I’m trying to uncover.
But wait. There’s more!
Isn’t there some kind of Coors hangover? I mean, Coors Field hangover? As in, don’t Rockies hitters tend to perform worse than expected on the road due having to adjust to pitches moving differently at a lower altitude? Maybe. Or probably depending on how you want to look at it.
Consider this slightly dated article by Jeff Sullivan. In this piece, Sullivan admits to reading some compelling reasoning in favor of the Coors Field hangover being real, but in compiling his own data, he found that the Rockies do not tend to improve their batting line as a team as their road trips continue. So if the hangover is real, it looks like it doesn’t ebb and flow. If anything, it is a persistent detriment — a “disease” as Sullivan says rather than a “hangover.”
Assuming the effect is real, we still can’t really project how much more productive batters would be if they were left unaffected by atmospheric changes, especially because the magnitude of this effect likely varies greatly from player to player. What we can do though is adjust the park factors of the stadiums Arenado visits so that whatever results he actually produced there are worth more when we calculate his advanced stats.
Because I can’t definitively say how much we should adjust each park factor, I’ll simply change the weighted average we calculated earlier in small increments. For Arenado (and Rockies in general), let’s make our away PFs 1 to roughly 8 percentage points lower (more favorable when adjusting values) so that the most generous case is equivalent to assuming Arenado plays all of his away games in Citi Field or Petco Park with no hangover effect (both have 95 PF/10% worse than league average).
|Change in PF (in percentage points)||New Away PF||New wRC+||New fWAR|
Here, we’re seeing what may be an upper limit to what essentially is a Coors Field hangover adjustment.
It is possible that the proposed hangover effect is even more detrimental to Rockies hitters on the road than this though. Over the last three years, in NL West parks, the Rockies here is how the Rockies have performed compared to the rest of the league according to xwOBA:
|Venue||Rockies xwOBA||League xwOBA||% Difference||Rockies xwOBA Ranking|
Among the parks they’ve played in the most, the Rockies have had the most trouble in Dodger Stadium. Of course, these xwOBA measures do not account for the quality of competition so your Kershaws and Jansens might be putting a damper on things here, but given that Dodger Stadium is about 267 ft. above sea level, visiting LA gives us a good mix of changing atmosphere, typically competitive pitching, and about the largest sample size possible. So if we’re of the mind to translate that roughly 11% decrease in expected production to an 11% more favorable run environment (by PF), that seems like it would function well as an upper bound on a season-long, league-wide statistical “advantage” of the Coors Field hangover adjustment.
If we adjust our previously adjusted away PFs for Arenado one last time to a value 11% more favorable (roughly 87 PF), we land on 6.27 fWAR with a 135.42 wRC+. Arenado isn’t suddenly giving Mike Trout a run for his money, but he looks up to a half-win better when we give him credit for the fields he actually plays on and when we attempt to make a correction for the alleged Coors Field hangover.
Based on this data it would appear that the hangover only works one way — that is, Rockies players do not seem to suffer upon moving back to Coors Field — but given their substandard lineups since 2015, some of the Rockies’ roughly average xwOBAs, particularly at home, surely warrant some consideration. Still, we could be robbing select Rockies players of up to a half-win per season (per FanGraphs) and a handful of points on their wRC+ simply by assuming that changing altitudes doesn’t create additional difficulties while batting. I don’t advocate a total shift in perspective, particularly because I didn’t seek to change my opinion on the existence of the hangover while writing this, but at the very least, we should approach the evaluation of Rockies hitters with a little more thoughtfulness.