This story was originally published November 20, 2020
It was a complicated scenario between his remaining contract ($ 199 million through 2027), his ability to opt out (after 2021), his full no-trade clause, the shoulder injury that affected his offensive performance in 2020, and what the Rockies were looking for return and the external factors of the pandemic economy and the impending expiration of the collective agreement in a year.
All of this is much more than we can unravel. So let’s get to something a lot simpler, something that pops up every time we talk about a Rockies hit star’s departure: No, he’s not good just because he played in Coors Field.
You would have thought that DJ LeMahieu’s recent experiences would have put an end to that, but apparently not. As you may recall, as Rockie, LeMahieu regularly had major house / street splits that culminated in a 2018 where he hit .317 / .360 / .433 at home but only on .229 / .277 / .422 the street. That worried so many that his mediocre street line was “who he really was”. LeMahieu went to the Yankees, of course, and hit .336 / .386 / .536 for two years and garnered MVP votes each season. Not a Coors product, right?
What happened? We wrote about it for the first time in 2015, although some of the images are now missing in this older piece, and again in relation to LeMahieu on the day he signed two years ago. Coors Field helps you beat at home, but it takes you negatively on the road. Being a rockie can make you a worse hitter in other parks.
Why this? And what does that mean for Arenado or, more importantly, for the Cardinals?
Wait, what Coors Field is doing?
At first, it’s not intuitive: how might your Denver park affect your activities in San Diego, Philadelphia, or Miami? Part of it is simply the difficulty of adjusting to sea level from high altitudes and what that means for recreation. But it’s mostly about how the pitches move differently on Coors than they do on the road, how opposing pitchers change their game to adapt, and how difficult it is to change your punch approach between the two.
For example, people tend to think that Coors creates Homer. Really not; Most of the time, the outfield is so large that it is impossible to cover it, and drops a ton of extra balls. But all of this is only important if contact is made at all, and Coors has a lot to say about that too. At home, Rockies players had the eighth lowest strike rate (21.2%) for the past two seasons … and the third lowest.highest Road tariff (26.7%). It’s easier to get in touch at home and It’s harder for them to get in touch along the way.
Let’s go back to something we wrote in 2015 that covers the years 2005-14 and that might best illustrate the scale of the problem.
If you only know one thing about the Coors Effect, you know this: https://t.co/JQE3qzlAin pic.twitter.com/PYEYR8fD48
– Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) January 28, 2016
What do we see if we update this over the past five years?
Team stroke statistics, 2016-20
Rockies (at home) – .862, best in baseball
Rockies (Street) – .685, worst in baseball
Rockies (at home) – 2,094, most in baseball
Rockies (Street) – 1,465, 27th in baseball
It still happens! All of this seems compelling, although a picture may make it easier to sell. From .862 at home to .685 on the street, the OPS difference between home and street is .177 points.
That seems big doesn’t it? How large? Quite large:
This list consists mainly of titles. Citi Field and Marlins Park have been notoriously difficult to get to in recent years, and the previous Texas ballpark (which was in use until 2019) was a sizable hitter park. Nobody comes close to Colorado. (This also shows that most teams score a little better at home, which makes sense.)
The point is, what we wrote five years ago has stayed the same, and it’s not just about Coors making the Rockies look good at home, although it certainly does. It also makes them worse on the street. For what it’s worth, they are not blind to it; Charlie Blackmon, in particular, really took the lead in trying to overcome this problem by changing the practice habits of line-up on road trips. That it hasn’t shown a big result yet could be because the problem is just not easy to overcome, or the lineup just isn’t that good and there has been a long lack of depth behind the top three or four bats. (It’s probably both.)
In LeMahieu’s case, he actually breaks the theory a bit because while he got better on the road (his road OPS in his last two years with the Rockies was 0.729, which rose to 0.793 with the Yankees), he got at home too better. It seems like he just got it better, That lives with a few other Rockies Yankees (Adam Ottavino, Mike Tauchman) and is possibly a completely different topic.
A good example of this is Matt Holliday, who played for the Rockies from 2004 to 2008 and was then sent from Oakland to St. Louis in mid-2009, where he stayed until 2016. We’ll skip the short stays with the A’s and Yankees. as well as his 2018 return to the Rocky Mountains.
Holliday, home of OPS with Rockies: 1.068
Holliday, home of OPS with Cardinals: .895
His home performance outside of Coors got worse. Just like you’d expect right? Now for the road …
Holliday, Street OPS with Rockies: .803
Holliday, Street OPS with Cardinals: .853
… which got better. After leaving the Rockies, he became a better street hitter. It does, at least for players who have had enough of their best performance leaving the Rockies. Arenado won’t turn 30 until April so he still has plenty of time to be successful.
What about Arenado?
Like most Rockies, Arenado was better at home than out.
Obviously this is not clear. Almost every Rockies hitter does better at home.
We’ve seen this before and it doesn’t always stop when they’re gone. Check out how consistently longtime catcher Chris Iannetta was better at home over the last few years of his first stint with the Rockies, and how consistently better on road He was when touring through three other organizations and how he did better at home on a return visit to the Rockies alongside Holliday in 2018.
Chris Iannetta Road OPS as Rockie before 2019: .686
As Rockie in 2019: .688
Coors wins again
– Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) 15th August 2019
The point here is not that Arenado will maintain that home performance at the Cardinals – it’s that road performance would likely improve to make up for some.
And for what it’s worth, even if it is “Only his street stats” which it probably won’t be, that’s pretty good! For the past five years, Arenado has an OPS of 0.827. You know who else has had an .827 Road OPS in the past five years? Anthony Rizzo and Michael Conforto do. Corey Seager is a tad behind with .822. José Abreu is hardly ahead with 0.838.
If Arenado can do this with his home field’s anchor, imagine what he could look like on the road without the Coors factor. If there is a reason to be easily concerned, it could be the severity of this shoulder problem, although there is no indication that this is a long-term problem. It’s obviously still the standout third base glove in baseball, and that will work well in St. Louis. You don’t have to worry about the bat coming with him.