There may be a reason for the Rockies’ poor starting pitching other than, you know, their poor starting pitching.
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Coors Field is again playing like a pinball machine.
The park always has been hitter-friendly, posing unique challenges for both the Rockies’ pitchers, who often struggle at home, and their hitters, who often struggle on the road. But if the 2012 extremes hold, club officials could be forced to look for new answers.
Each team, home and away, is averaging 6.33 runs per game at Coors, the second-highest rate since the Rockies installed a humidor in 2002 to reduce the challenges of pitching in a high-altitude environment.
The increase is more than a run per game over the average from the previous six seasons, according to STATS LLC. And through 33 dates — 41 percent of the Rockies’ home schedule — other offensive numbers are spiking as well.
The home run rate for each team at Coors has increased from an average of 1.11 the previous six seasons to 1.41 this year. That rate would be the third highest of the humidor era, not far off the high of 1.43 in ‘02.
The overall batting/on-base/slugging line for each team, .301/.365/.495, also represents a significant jump from the previous six-year averages, .281/.349/.453.
So, what the heck is going on?
Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd declined comment; team officials long have been reluctant to use Coors as an excuse for the club’s pitching problems.
The most likely meteorological explanation is that the air has been quite dry in Denver this spring. The humidor, a climate-controlled storage area that provides constant humidity, is supposed to help counter against such conditions, keeping balls from drying out.
The Rockies’ relievers seem to be adapting; they rank ninth in the NL with a 4.02 ERA. But the starters, several of whom are young, are last in the league with a 6.17 ERA.
The home/road splits of rookie left-hander Christian Friedrich, in particular, are extreme: Friedrich is 1-2 with a 12.60 ERA and 1.135 opponents’ OPS at home, 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA and .630 opponents’ OPS on the road.
The Rockies’ overall ERA at home is 5.75, the worst in the National League by nearly a run per nine innings. Their overall ERA on the road is 4.69. The difference between the two would be the second largest of the humidor era; the Rockies had a greater split in 2004.
The playing field at Coors is nearly a mile — or 5,280 feet — above sea level. Chase Field in Phoenix, at 1,100 feet above sea level, is second in the majors in elevation, followed by Turner Field in Atlanta at 1,050 feet.
Chase Field, however, features a retractable roof that allows for climate-controlled conditions. Atlanta, meanwhile, is a city with high humidity, mitigating the effects of high altitude.
The thinner air at high altitude reduces the resistance on batted balls, enabling them to travel farther. It also makes it more difficult for pitchers to throw breaking balls, again working to the hitters’ benefit.
The Rockies know all of that, have known it for a long time. They went to the 2007 World Series despite the difficulties of playing in their home park. But club officials surely are troubled by the new extremes.