Monday, January 29, 2007

Highway to Helton & "The Coors Fx"

Since Todd Helton has already made it clear he would OK a trade that sent him to Boston, it's time to learn more about this forgotten Mile-High hitter. The hitter's paradise that was Coors Field cannot be ignored, but many baseball stat-nerds believe it is now comparable to Wrigley. Denny Neagle and Mike Hampton can attest to the tendency for flyballs to become satellites.

Neagle
effectively committed career suicide as he followed a terrible showing in pinstripes with the kiss of death: three years in Colorado. In his final three seasons, Neagle posted ERAs of 5.38, 5.26 & 7.90 respectively. The last season saw Neagle allow 12 homeruns in only seven starts. At age 34 his career was over.

After six seasons as a starting pitcher, Hampton was impressive with an average ERA of about 3.50 per year. The next two years he spent in Colorado. He tossed about 400 innings - which is to be respected these days - but posted ERAs of 5.41 and 6.15. His first season away from Colorado yielded Hampton another sub-4.00 ERA.

Meanwhile, the Rockies hitters were doing just fine and "Highway To" Helton was on a rampage. Following his 1998 2nd Place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting, Helton earned himself the 2000 NL Batting Title with a .372 average. The next five years he would hit .336, .329, .358, .347, and .320 respectively.

Between 2000-2003, he was in the top-ten in MVP voting three different times. During this same four-year period, Helton won four straight SilverSlugger awards as a first-baseman. He was an Allstar five consecutive seasons from 2000-2004 and earned himself three GoldGloves at first. A doubles machine, Helton has posted 40+ doubles in 6 of his 9 professional seasons - he had 37, 39 & 39 in the other three seasons. The accommodating Fenway gaps would reward such a hitter.

The last seven years Helton also displayed patience at the plate, walking at least 90 times each season, and reaching the century mark on five occasions. For a "dwindling" star, Helton's OBP has constantly impressed. Last year's .404 OBP was the lowest since his 1999 OBP of .395. His career OBP of .430 rivals on-base hounds like Giambi, Pujols, Manny, etc.

In fact, for his career Helton sees 3.97 pitches per plate-appearance. The career numbers for Giambi and Manny are 4.10 and 4.04 in this category. His OBP and #P/PA are just the types of Moneyball fixtures that have Theo Epstein salivating.

Furthermore, the past few years Coors Field's status as an NL launchpad has noticeably declined since the "Coors Canaveral" days (referring to the NASA launchsite, Cape Canaveral). Here's a scientific, mathematical breakdown of "The Coors Effect" occuring during the mid-1990s through the early 2000s. But that was then, this is now. An unappreciated story from Scout.com reveals the statistical withdrawl of the Coors Field offensive explosion:

In 2002, everyone was abuzz about the Great Humidor Scandal of Colorado. It had been revealed that the Rockies kept their gameday balls in a humidity controlled chamber before use, thus making them less lively. The park would go on to engender the most runs scored in baseball for two of the next three seasons, though never again would the park do so for home runs hit.

Right now, it’s safe to say that the Humidor has indeed slightly depressed home run totals at Coors, though not to the extent that the uproar of 2002 was justified. But now in 2006, it appears that we may have learned our lesson too well. Through the first six weeks of the season, Coors had actually played like a pitcher’s park, and we haven’t heard a peep from anybody about it.

Well, let the silence be broken. Through May, Coors field ranked 21st among ballparks in runs allowed and 23rd in home runs hit. Specifically, runs in Coors have been depressed by 6.5% and home runs have been depressed by 17.5% versus the average of the other parks that the Rockies have played in so far, and all this during a season in which home runs are up 25% league-wide over the first 40 games.

The excerpt is not intended as some sort of conspiracy theory or a way of talking up Todd Helton as Jimmie Foxx only to bury him if he fails in Boston. There is no denying the thin air contributed to Helton's offensive statistics, but there is also no denying his periods of dominance (Takes more than a hitter's park to create Helton's career .333 batting average).

Neither
an immortal offensive powerhouse or an inflated scrub, Helton falls somewhere in between, along the lines of the perennial allstar and professional hitter. If Boston is able to complete a deal for Helton, Yankee fans should be weary as a lineup already bolstered by Lugo & Drew only gets deeper. Especially if the deal does not further chip away at an already decimated AL East bullpen. Pitching wins championships and right now Boston has the starters, plus a dynamite order. If a respectable bullpen falls into line during Spring training the Sawx will be tough to beat.

2 comments:

Zachary A. said...

Crisp
Lugo
Ortiz
Ramirez
Drew
Helton
Varitek
Lowell
Cora

That's a lineup that'll strike fear in the heart of any pitcher. The Yankees of course, will have a lineup just as scary, if not more so.

I'm not sure I agree with your claim that the Sox have "the starters" to win. Matsuzaka has never thrown a major league pitch. We assume he's gonna be good, but that's all we're doing- assuming. Memories of Hideki Irabu and Kaz Matsui erupt. Schilling will probably be solid, but what about Beckett? Will he post another 5.00+ ERA? And will Papelbon be able to adjust to the starting role ( I believe he started only has three major league games in his career)? Will Wakefield be injury-stricken again?

There's a lot of questions surrounding the Sox rotation, and their bullpen leaves a lot to be desired. At least the Yankees have Rivera, Proctor, and Myers, who all can pitch decently (especially the foremost).

I still the Yanks have the better team, and will win the division once again.

yankeesZrider said...

All very good points Zach. Dustin Pedroia will be the starting 2nd baseman and probably hit 9th and Lugo may take Coco's leadoff spot, but otherwise you're points are well taken.

I do not think there are any guarantees as far as Beckett, Papelbon and particularly Matsuzaka, but those three arms under 27 y/o have some scary upside. I do think Dice-K will be good next year and has frontend stuff, but sure Papelbon's return to the rotation & Beckett's 2006 assure nothing.

I believe the Yankees lineup is "more proven" - whereas Drew could cave under the pressure of the rivalry and Lugo (& Helton) also have not proven themselves in such fierce games. But we can both agree that "the rivalry" has taken another step foward. Like Russia and the US, Boston and NewYork are the only franchises displaying "nuclear" power.