The Colorado Rockies: Road Warriors

The Colorado Rockies have never been the easiest team to try and evaluate. The high altitude that makes for an offense-heavy home environment always inflates batting numbers and depresses pitching ones. That’s why, as this Rockies team stays in a packed NL West race, a couple numbers in particular jump out—Colorado is 21-14 on the road and just 11-16 at home.

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At this point in the season, I consider that a positive sign. The early evidence is that the Rockies are not losing offensive production on the road, but the pitching is dramatically different. Colorado pitching overall ranks just 13th in the National League in staff ERA. But if you narrow the focus to road games, they rise to 5th. Offensively, the Rockies are fifth-best in the NL in runs scored. When you narrow the focus to road games…they’re still fifth.

This tells us Colorado can legitimately hit anywhere and that the production of players like Charlie Blackmon (.372 on-base percentage/.509 slugging percentage) and Nolan Arenado (.420/.575) aren’t just inflated by the Coors effect.

Conversely, we can look at pitchers like Kyle Freeland (12 starts, 3.48 ERA) or Chad Bettis (12 starts, 4.02 ERA) and wonder just how good they’d be if the home park wasn’t one where balls go jumping out of.

To be sure, there is a scheduling difference that can account for some of the strange home/road split so far. There are three genuinely bad teams in the National League—the Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres and Miami Marlins. Colorado has played twelve road games against this trio, while only hosting them for nine games. That gap can explain some of the difference, but in no way does it explain all of it.

So what does this mean going forward? I think it means that the Rockies should be taken more seriously as an NL West contender than the Arizona Diamondbacks, whom I reviewed rather negatively yesterday. Arizona is currently a half-game ahead of Colorado and the teams will play a weekend series in Coors starting tonight. That’s not a view shared by the oddsmakers right now—the Diamondbacks are a 2-1 shot to win the division, while you can get the Rockies at prices of 4-1 and higher.

Of course being better than Arizona isn’t the litmus test in the NL West. The Los Angeles Dodgers are the standard, with their five consecutive division titles and a hefty budget that makes them likely to add pieces as the season wears on. By that standard, I’m not so sure about Colorado. They need to get help themselves, particularly in bullpen that desperately needs reinforcements to help set up for Wade Davis.

Last year, I took a long time to buy in on the Rockies as a playoff team—and to be frank, to the very end, I expected them to cough up the last wild-card spot that they eventually snagged. I look at them with a little more confidence this time around.