Is Carlos Gonzalez A Product Of Coors Field?

August 9, 2010

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When Matt Holliday was traded away from the Rockies, I thought that perhaps the “product of Coors Field” factor was gone for good.  When Holliday was with the Rockies, he always had dramatic home/road splits, but his road numbers lagging far behind his home numbers.  Many observers missed a few things:

1)  While Holliday’s road OPS was lower than his home OPS, it nonetheless rose steadily over the years
2)  Holliday’s home/road differential dwarfed that of any other player on the Rockies. Doesn’t a high tide lift all boats?

Personally, I came to have the belief that Holliday would always outperform the home/road differentials of his teammates, regardless of which park he called home.  While there is no doubt that Coors Field was a factor, I felt that an equally strong factor was Holliday’s approach at home.  For whatever reasons, he was simply more comfortable at home than he was on the road.  Holliday put up strong evidence in favor of this in 2009 and 2010 – posting an OPS 150 points higher at home in 2009 and 90 points higher in 2010. 

Gonzalez replaced Holliday in left field and seems to have inherited his penchant for huge home/road splits – in spite of the fact that he hits from the opposite side of the plate and has a lot more speed than Holliday.  Let’s take a closer look at Gonzalez this year:

Home: .375 BA. 19 homers, 1.144 OPS
Road: .282 BA, 6 HR, .732 OPS

That’s a home/road split of .412 – it was around a .500 point differential before CarGo’s strong weekend series in Pittsburgh.  League wide, players post an OPS of about .030 better at home.  So it’s Coors, right?  The team does have a healthy +.185 at home.  But Gonzalez’s numbers skew this dramatically, since his stats are included in the team stats.  Throw him out and the team has about a +.140 differential, meaning that CarGo’s differential is 3 times that of the rest of the team.

Let’s take a quick look at differentials of CarGo’s teammates. I’m setting the cutoff point at 250 plate appearances.

CA Miguel Olivio (Righty): +.473 (310 PAs)
OF Seth Smith (Lefty): +.376 (287 PAs)
OF Dexter Fowler (Switch): +.359 (303 PAs)
RF Brad Hawpe (Lefty): +.373 (289 PAs)

{Oddly, nobody in this gap of .300 points}

2B Clint Barmes (Righty): +.070 (375 PAs)
OF Ryan Spilborghs (Righty): +.007 (259 PAs)
SS Troy Tulowitzki (Righty): -.025 (319 PAs)
1B Todd Helton (Lefty): -0.101 (305 PAs)
3B Ian Stewart (Lefty): -.104 (325 PAs)

What do we see? Lots of players with strong positive splits and some with negative splits (which isn’t really what you would expect with Coors Field. Clearly, the small sample size comes into play. Let’s take a look at some of the players who have thrived at Coors.

Miguel Olivio: This is Olivio’s first year with the Rockies, so there’s not a large track record to draw from. What jumps out at me is the fact that Olivio has a .485 BABIP at home and a .233 BABIP on the road. This statistic – measuring the batting average on balls that are into play (excluding strikeouts and home runs) is generally about .300 league wide. Some hitters have a higher BABIP than others, but most are in the .270 – .330 range. Coors boosts BABIP a bit, due to the large outfield, but a .485 BABIP is absurd – as is the .233 road BABIP. Is this the reason for Gonzalez’s differential? Nope – his road BABIP is actually higher than his home BABIP. And as a side note, watching for Miggy’s numbers to slide late in the seasons – the .485 is not sustainable (nor is the .233, but there’s more downside to the home stats than there is upside to the road stats.)

Seth Smith – A nearly 100 point BABIP differential again explains away most of Smith’s home/road split. Smith does have a +.281 OPS for his career, albeit with a relatively small sample size (805 career plate appearances).

Dexter Fowler – Chalk up a big chunk of this differential to a 7 game stretch from July 1 through July 8 during which Dex hit .500 with a homer, 3 doubles, and 4 triples – good for a 1.622 OPS. These were Fowler’s first game at home following a demotion to AAA, and I suspect that he was trying to show that he belonged in the majors. Again, Fowler is a young player without a lot of time in the majors.

OK, the veteran Brad Hapwe. This proves that Coors is friendly to lefthanded power hitters, right? Well, except for the fact that over the course of his career, Hawpe’s home OPS is just .052 higher at home – 2010 is simply an outlier.

While we’re on the topic of career splits, here are the splits for other Rockies who have played at least a few seasons as a starters (the Rockies have a very young team).

Todd Helton: +.205
Clint Barmes: +.178
Troy Tulowitzki: +.103

At this point, it should be pretty clear that Coors Field doesn’t push an OPS 400 points higher.  For Gonzalez, I’m going to assume that either:

1)  2010 is a fluke and future years will have a smaller differential
2)  He will have Holliday-esque split in future years – hopefully with  a Holliday-esque rise in road OPS each year

Some interesting notes:

  • Gonzalez rarely walks (19 for the year) but has nearly 3 times as many walks at home vs. road (14 vs. 5).  As a whole, the Rockies walk about the same amount at home vs. road.
  • Carlos has a high home run rate against pitchers who are groundball pitchers than pitchers who are flyball pitchers or have an average FB/GB mix.  That’s a bit weird, since groundball pitches tend to keep the ball down.
  • Gonzalez is doing better against left handed pitchers than against righties.  In general, lefty hitters struggle mightily against lefty pitchers.

The takeaway from this?  Gonzalez is a hell of a player at age 24.  He has a few years to play before he gets to his physical peak (age 27) and should get even better.  Hopefully he begins to hit better away from Coors – but even if he doesn’t, there’s a ton of value in a guy who can post a 1.144 OPS in half his games.  Those sort of numbers help you win a lot of games.

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