Angi: On the advantage of using lefty hitters at Coors Field

From SABR member Cee Angi at Purple Row on November 20, 2012:

When the Rockies were born 20 years ago, was easy to understand how befuddling the ballpark’s characteristics seemed. Not that basic principles like physics and the effects of altitude were unknown (I asked my mom, and she said the baking instructions for high altitude have been on cake mixes since before I was born), but the specific effects on baseball were hazy at best and the metrics we use today in measuring park factors didn’t have the same precision they do now. Bottom line: at this stage, given all of the scientific data that’s available to identify the advantages and disadvantages of Coors Field, if the Rockies don’t construct a roster tailored to the park, they are willingly setting themselves up for failure — but that does not necessarily mean pure power bats in the old-school Dante Bichette style.

A good starting point for the current state of Coors Field is to look at the three-year park factors in the latest Bill James Handbook, which show the park is favorable to all hitters (duh), but exceptionally favorable to lefties. Over the past three seasons, the index for right-handed hitter’s batting average is 116 and for right-handed home runs it’s 126. For lefties, the index is 118 and 156 respectively. Compare this to the new Yankee Stadium, also a haven for left-handers, where the three-year park factor for home runs by a left-handed hitter is 153.

This tells us two things: The Rockies need left-handed hitters in the lineup nightly, but they also need pitchers who excel against left-handed hitters to tame the visitors. Only six left-handed hitters have slugged .500 for the Rockies in a full season — Larry Walker, Todd Helton, Jeromy Burnitz, Brad Hawpe, Carlos Gonzalez and Tyler Colvin. Colvin and Gonzalez are prime examples of lefties excelling at Coors. Colvin’s slugging percentage was .652 at home versus .413 away, and 11 of his 18 home runs came at home. Gonzalez’s slugging percentage was .609 at home versus .405 away, and 13 of his 22 home runs came at home.

Even though the Rockies have the most hitter-friendly park in the majors, they’ve yet to capitalize on that as well as they could. Think about it: there have been 42 seasons of players hitting 50 or more home runs; 24 of those seasons have happened since the Rockies came into being. Yet, despite the run rates registering off the charts, and despite the park, no Rockie has ever hit more than 49 home runs.

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Originally published: November 20, 2012. Last Updated: November 20, 2012.