Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Jeff Cirillo is Still a Dumb Stupid
2006-08-03 18:03
by Mark T.R. Donohue

There's a free article over at Baseball Prospectus that every Rockies fan should read immediately. In it, Joe Sheehan admits (by examining road stats) that the Colorado pitching staff has indeed improved, but he makes a convincing argument that the longer time Coors balls now spend in the humidor is overcorrecting for the altitude effect. Sheehan has written before, and reiterates here, that he believes that nothing should be done differently to baseballs in Denver than anywhere else. As a baseball fan, he likes the existence of unique environments. As a Rockies fan, however, I strongly disagree. I'd really like to see my team in the playoffs one of these years, and the scoring sprees of the Planet Coors of old were doing the Colorado franchise no favors with the psychological and physical toll it was taking on pitchers and hitters wearing purple.

Of course, proving that the humidor is turning Coors into a pitchers' park is one thing. Claiming that the Rockies are using two separate groups of balls, one from the humidor for the visitors and one dry set for the home team's at-bats, is another thing entirely. That's what Jeff Cirillo was trying to pin on his former team, and as the Rockies broadcasters have been pointing out at length during the last two games, it's completely ridiculous. The umpires take the balls directly out of the humidor. There's no possible way the Rockies could cheat in that manner even if they were sleazy enough to try. Which I don't think they are. Doesn't anyone remember two months ago when everyone was talking about the Colorado Clubhouse for Christ?

So, in short, Joe Sheehan is smart, although I disagree with his contention that pre-humidor Coors was in any way, shape, or form good for baseball. (And Cirillo, as an immense number of angry Rockies fans have represented to me over the past few days, is a terrible excuse both for a third baseman and a human being.) Obviously there's never been any major league hitting situation like the one that exists in Denver, and figuring out how to make the park play fair for everyone while still giving the Rockies franchise the same shot at contending that everyone else gets is a work in progress. If Baseball Prospectus really wanted to take it upon themselves to do good works with the studies they've done, they'd start putting some of their really smart math guys on to the question of how long exactly it is the balls need to be stored in the humidor to make the park "fair" enough for their exacting standards. Sheehan points out that calling low-scoring baseball somehow inherently superior to slo-pitch softball slug-a-thons is silly. Well, I'm silly. I like pitching. I like watching starters finish their games themselves. I like watching pros like Chris Capuano and Aaron Cook buzzsaw through lineups faster than it takes to watch the new pirate movie. Heck, I even like watching teams bunt and move runners around, in moderation. There has to be some happy medium where the purists, stat nerds, and even old-line Rockies fans who miss the Blake Street Bombers days can all get their fair share of the kind of baseball they prefer at Coors Field. Maybe the humidor has gone too far. Maybe it hasn't gone too far enough. I don't know, I was a history major. There's got to be some sort of statistical regression BP can run to figure out exactly how long a ball has to stay in the sauna to make games come out "right." I don't think there is a "right," really, and given that the Rockies have cooperated with MLB authorities every step of the way with the development and application of the humidor, for my part I'm over the moon for the status quo. It's not as if Colorado is experiencing a ridiculously unfair advantage at home this year. Far from it. While they've historically always played better at home and far worse on the road than their neutral-field strength would predict, this season things have been vastly more normal. This in itself I think is a good argument for the viewpoint that the humidor is good for baseball and not just for the Rockies or more specifically the Rockies pitchers.

Given what we now know to be true about the humidor's effects -- it's made Coors, if anything, a slight pitchers' park -- we have to look at the seasons guys like Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins are having in a whole new light. I mean, Rockies fans already know how awesome they are. But look out, rest of the baseball world.

2006-08-03 19:28:39
1.   Bob Timmermann
Well said Mark.
2006-08-03 21:35:37
2.   Kels
Well, I started to read the Baseball Prospectus article....but it's long and I've been drinking so I'll have to finish it tomorrow at work. But a couple of thoughts:

1. I hate Jeff Cirillo
2. The Rockies caused all this talk themselves by winning, no one cared last year when they were awful. I think every article is just more respect.
3. I hate Jeffery "the balls are heavy" Cirillo.
4. Both teams are playing with the same ball so why does anyone care?
5. Jeff Cirillo must die.
6. Good pitching is much more fun to watch.
7. I dislike Mr. Cirillo.

2006-08-03 23:14:38
3.   Faramond
I like the Futurama reference.

Unless it's really not meant to be one. In that case I hate it.

All that aside, I agree with the premise of your article. The humidor hasn't gone too far enough.

2006-08-03 23:41:09
4.   Eric Enders
"There's no possible way the Rockies could cheat in that manner even if they were sleazy enough to try. Which I don't think they are. Doesn't anyone remember two months ago when everyone was talking about the Colorado Clubhouse for Christ?"

While I see what you're saying, I disagree with the proposition that Christians are necessarily less prone to sleaziness than the rest of us.

2006-08-04 00:38:43
5.   confucius
I love the humidor and think that baseball should stick with it. I don't understand however how it helps/hinders the rockies chances of winning.

"As a baseball fan, he likes the existence of unique environments. As a Rockies fan, however, I strongly disagree. I'd really like to see my team in the playoffs one of these years..."

While Coors Field is certainly a very different park than others in the division, opposing pitchers have had just as much trouble there as Rockies pitchers. If both teams have to play there how are the rockies slighted?

One reason I could see is that, management builds a team that hits homers. That team goes on the road and gets beat in pitchers parks. I think all teams that play in pitchers parks face that issue though. Am I alone in my thinking?

2006-08-04 01:40:30
6.   Mark T.R. Donohue
The argument over how much Coors Field affects the Rockies has raged since it opened in 1995, but the record does show that in ten seasons at 20th and Blake, Colorado has had better records at home relative to their overall records and far worse road records. There's a litany of explanations for this, but the simplest are as follows.

Pitchingwise, other teams never have to come in to Coors for more than 3 or 4 games. The Rockies on the other hand have to endure two-week homestands, and when they leave to go on the road afterwards, their entire bullpen is shot. Also, since there's less oxygen in the atmosphere at altitude, it takes longer for the muscles in starters' arms to recharge. Again, the visiting teams get to leave town while the Rockies have to stay in Denver for two weeks or so at a time, meaning this affects the home team far more.

The offensive impact is less scientific. You do often see Rockies hitters with home/road splits even greater than the park effects alone would explain. The theory is that guys get pull-happy and end up driving pitches on the road for easy outs. I don't know how much truth there is to this as I've yet to see a real rigorous study about the groundball/flyball tendencies of Rockies hitters home and away. There's a similar psychological side effect said to be in play for the pitchers, who give up on their breaking stuff at Coors (where less air resistance leads to less break) and then find the pitches to be rusty when they try to go back to them on the road. This is one reason the current Rockies staff has so many sinker/changeup pitchers. It seems to be working...but it could also be the humidor.

2006-08-04 09:43:17
7.   Suffering Bruin
Wow. You keep writing like this, I'll be checking in daily. You know what? Who am I kidding--this post has me hooked. Well-written, well-thought out... consider me hooked.

Question--doesn't Coors have an abundance of outfield space? Is this because the fences were moved back? I remember some talk that Coors needed fast outfielders instead of sluggardly sluggers because the fences were far back and that left much grass to be covered by fleet feet lest doubles and triples fall with disturbing frequency. This is a too long way of asking (and I haven't even been drinking) of whether

a) the Coors fences are too far back for what is now a pitchers park and

b) along with getting some pitchers that won't mind playing in the park, will this now mean they can use some sluggardly sluggers in the outfield and on a not entirely unrelated note

c) will the fences be moved in or do they need to be?

All this may not even be an issue but I'm curious and, obviously, in the mood to type.

2006-08-04 10:03:22
8.   Kels
Well, I just finished Sheehan's article about "The evil Humidor" it was pretty interesting I guess. I still hate Jeff Cirillo.

I agree with everything that Mark has said on the subject.

There is about a billion things that are/may be contributing to play at Coors…improved defense, better pitching, more confidence, more experience, better catching, soggy baseballs, longer grass, Brad Hawpe's Cannon, Jamey Carroll being a vacuum, coaching, Hurdle's love affair with bunting, Helton's passion to pop out, the lack of power hitting teams in the NL West (D-backs, Dodgers, Padres, Giants….they not really the Yankees or anything),…well, it doesn't look like I can think of a billion but at least I found 14….oh wait, two more, ManBearPig and Global warming.

7 and the fences have always been deep causing the outfielders to play very deep…which leads to LOTS of bloop hits and very large gaps. This leads to extra baseruns and lots of doubles and triples. I haven't heard of any plans to do anything with the fences.

P.S. Death to Jeff.

2006-08-04 10:07:12
9.   Kels
Coors field Dimensions

As you can see it's pretty freakin big.

2006-08-04 10:31:10
10.   Kels
There is a nice blog post over at

it explains the outfield fences a bit.

2006-08-04 10:56:06
11.   Kels
The hate for Jeff Cirillo grows in Rockies Blogging land…

Another blog post responding to Jeff and Sheehan.

And another,

2006-08-04 18:09:29
12.   grandcosmo
I don't understand why you think the pre-humidor Coors gave the Rockies less a shot at contending than it does now.

The three years when Coors' park effects most favored hitting happened to coincide with three of the only four winning seasons the Rockies have had as well as their only playoff appearance.

Since the balls have been put in the humidor (2002) the Rockies have had some of their worst records ever and attendance has nosedived.

2006-08-04 18:17:14
13.   Bob Timmermann
Is there any one thing that Cirillo did to earn the ire of Rockies' fans or was it his general ineptitude during his stay in Denver?
2006-08-04 22:01:58
14.   Suffering Bruin
12 What the hey, let a Dodger fan take a shot.

Your post highlights one of the things that's wrong with this controversy: nobody was complaining about the humidored baseballs when the Rockies were awful. It's only now, with the Rockies showing some great pitching--not good but great--that people are starting to complain.

As to the other point, there is ample evidence that pitching in Coors Field prior to 2002 had a deleterious effect on the mind and body of a pitcher. Imagine if that's no longer true. Now, you have free agents who don't mind pitching in a pitchers park with fences as far as Alamosa.

In short, it's damn hard to build a pitching staff with a park that gives up 3-4 homers a game and sometimes more. It's my understanding that free agent pitchers thought signing with Colorado was equivalent to career suicide. Now, that may no longer be the case.

2006-08-05 00:16:51
15.   grandcosmo
14. What is the "ample evidence" that Coors Field has a deleterious effect on the mind and body of a pitcher.

BTW, the Rockies are 8th in the majors in road ERA. Hardly great.

2006-08-05 02:23:48
16.   Dan Lucero
15 - The 'ample evidence' goes by the names of Mike Hampton, Denny Neagle, and Darryl Kile.
2006-08-05 13:05:45
17.   Suffering Bruin
16 Thanks, Dan. The grandcosmo is what Hawthorne would call a professor of historical exactness. Not that there's anything wrong with that...
2006-08-05 13:06:43
18.   Suffering Bruin
BTW, the Rockies are 8th in the majors in road ERA. Hardly great.

Would you settle for very good?

2006-08-05 19:22:06
19.   Mark T.R. Donohue
4th in the NL in road ERA is pretty good.

Attendance may be down, but the Rockies franchise is more structurally sound than it's ever been. Remember, the one year they made the playoffs was the strike-shortened 1995 season. If Denver fans had continued to turn out for average teams in record numbers, the Rockies might have ended up as a mountainous version of the Phillies -- a team that lays out nearly $100 million every year to finish third.

Instead, the payroll got slashed and after several false starts Colorado has had to actually develop a farm system. I'm not worried about the attendance. If the Rockies start making the playoffs on a regular basis, people will come back.

The old recipe for "success" at Coors Field, such as it was, wasn't tenable for either long-term contending or even giving the team much of a chance in a playoff series. You know the four guys who have playoff starts in a Rockies uniform? It's quite a group: Kevin Ritz, Lance Painter, Bill Swift, and Bret Saberhagen.

You can win with good hitting and OK starters, but it's hard to win against good teams with average hitting and NO starters, which is what basically every Rockies team up until last year carried. (The '95 team, as we've noted before, barely made the playoffs on the strength of an absurdly good bullpen. Go look at their numbers some time.)

Here is why "normalizing" Coors is essential to the Rockies not just making the playoffs once a decade, but also advancing in them. While individual pitchers have had decent seasons for Colorado, the franchise has essentially never had a consistent star starting pitcher. Guys like Ritz, Pedro Astacio, John Thomson, and more recently Joe Kennedy had a valuable season or two each mostly by keeping the ball in the park and sponging up huge numbers of innings. Then in a year or two they inevitably either crater, suffer a catastrophic injury, or disappear off the face of the planet entirely. (Where are you, Roger Bailey?)

Jason Jennings is BY FAR the best starter in franchise history, and one of the most underrated pitchers in either league. An ace he's not, but anyone who can provide 200 innings a year of league-average pitching for the Rockies is a superstar anywhere else. His injury last year (which wasn't pitching-related, he jammed a finger running the bases) was the first significant time he'd ever missed.

Aaron Cook has had less luck staying healthy (although with him it was blood clots, again nothing pitching-related), but when he's right he has the best stuff on the team. Jeff Francis, knock on wood, hasn't yet shown any injury troubles and relishes the challenge of pitching at altitude.

If these three guys finish their current contracts (Francis is still in arbitration) with the Rockies and stay mostly healthy, they will rank 1-2-3, pick an order, on the franchise's list of all-time starters. In the past, Colorado could neither develop starting pitching prospects nor attract free agents without overpaying wildly. This year, three guys from the system are near-dominant and bargain free agents Josh Fogg and Byung-Hyun Kim have been extremely cost-effective. (Compare Kim's numbers and salary to those of Matt Morris, for whom I pushed the Rockies to sign in the offseason. OK, I was wrong there.)

Of course, the offense is going to have to get significantly better before the team can start dreaming of a playoff run any more memorable than 1995's. However a lot of dead money (Neagle, Hampton, Charles Johnson, Larry Walker) is either off the books or coming off next season. It ought to be fairly easy to get good hitters to come to Coors -- especially given the way impressions of the team are changing around the majors. The Rockies won't be favorites to win the division next year unless ownership radically reverses course with its payroll policy, but they're not going to sneak up on anybody, either.

2006-08-05 19:30:17
20.   Ken Arneson
That's the first time I've ever seen anyone get thrown out of a game for laughing at his own joke. That was great!
2006-08-05 19:31:14
21.   Ken Arneson
20 I suppose I should have stated what I was referring to: Clint Hurdle getting tossed for arguing a bad batter's interference call.
2006-08-05 19:57:34
22.   Mark T.R. Donohue
Clint kind of grows on you. I still wish he wouldn't bunt so much, but he's an articulate guy during press conferences and he has very hip facial hair for a man of his years.

Of course, there's no way he's topping Joe Mikulik for the Rant of the Year trophy at the organizational winter banquet.

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