Going Deep: Is He Hurt, or is He From Colorado?
I have been playing fantasy baseball for 20 years, and I’ve had the strangest feeling that something wasn’t right the entire time. I couldn’t put my finger on it until a couple of months ago when it just came out of nowhere and hit me in the face: There is something wrong with picking hitters from Colorado. Well, let me clear that up. There’s nothing wrong with the concept of picking hitters from Colorado; there is just something wrong with the way we pick hitters from Colorado.
How do I know this? I looked at a calendar.
Let’s peel back the curtain.
A quick refresher on injuries: Why do we avoid injured players in fantasy drafts?
We know there will be a specific amount of time the player will not be useful to us, and we will need a mediocre player to fill that void. Generally, that player is an average level player for his position, probably ranked somewhere between 12 and 19 depending on how deep your league is. The longer the recovery from the injury, the lower a player’s ADP falls. If a player is out a couple weeks, like Francisco Lindor, that was enough to drop him from a top-five pick to a second- or third-rounder. If a player is injured for a month, like Shohei Ohtani is to start this year, it’s enough to drop him three or four rounds. If a player is injured two months, like Didi Gregarious, he might not be picked at all. We talk about injured players in these terms, but I’m here to ask: Why don’t we talk about Colorado Rockies hitters in these terms as well?
I’m going to make the point that when Rockies hitters are on the road, they are essentially the same as carrying an injured player on your roster in head-to-head leagues and should be drafted accordingly.
Is He Injured? Or is He on the Road?
It’s no secret that the Rockies struggle offensively on the road, but let’s take a step back and explore just how detrimental being on the road is for Colorado hitters in general. All MLB teams have more road plate appearances than home plate appearances because during most home wins they don’t bat in the ninth inning. What separates the Rockies, however, is that despite 0.5% more road plate appearances than home plate appearances in 2018, they had significantly fewer hits, doubles and home runs on the road.
|Stats||Rockies Away Totals vs. Home||All of MLB Away Totals vs. Home|
Considering the rest of the majors averages more hits, doubles and home runs while away, that is a huge swing. Colorado doesn’t follow this leaguewide trend. In fact, the Rockies are on the extreme opposite end of the power disparity in home/away splits. Shrinking this trend down to individual players, let’s look at run production as that is the goal of the offense and also an indicator the Rockies score 25% fewer runs on the road, which is a statistic that affects every hitter. To illustrate my point, look at the splits in run production by the Rockies’ three highest-drafted players:
|Home vs. Road Run Production||R+RBI at Home||R+RBI Road||Drop in Run Production on the Road|
What this shows is that it doesn’t matter which player you own on your team, he will have at least a 25% drop in overall offensive production of counting stats for 81 games. Let me explain what I mean in another way: I’m going to compare Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story to the league average player at their positions. Let’s start with Arenado. In 2018, the average 3B slashed .257/.329/.435/.764 with 23 home runs, 82 RBI, and 82 runs scored. For comparison purposes, that puts the average 3B somewhere between Maikel Franco and Mike Moustakas. Let’s look at how Arenado’s away split prorated to 162 games would compare to the 14-18 best third baseman:
|Franco (2018 regular season prorated 162)||.270||.467||.780||27||59||84|
|Moustakas (2018 regular season prorated 162)||.251||.459||.774||30||70||103|
|Arenado (away split prorated to 162 games)||.248||.447||.772||37||84||102|
I prorated Moustakas’ and Franco’s stats to 162 games as well as Arenado’s stats because it wouldn’t be a fair comparison if each hitter didn’t have a similar amount of games. As you can see, Arenado’s away stat line ranks right in the middle of these three average third baseman. The Colorado All-Star has the worst averages of the three but nearly all the best counting stats. What I’m getting at here is Moustakas currently has an ADP of 134 while Franco is at 271. These guys are fringe starters. In 10- or 12-team leagues, they are backup third basemen. Arenado might as well be injured when he is on the road because he is essentially putting up replacement-level numbers.
The same thing can be said for Story. The average shortstop slashed .259/.317/.416/.733 with 19 home runs, 82 runs scored, and 75 RBI while stealing 14 bases. Jurickson Profar or Paul DeJong match that profile. Let’s look at their 162-game prorated seasons to Story’s away split prorated to 162 games:
|Profar (2018 regular season prorated 162)||.254||.458||.793||22||65||93||11|
|DeJong (2018 regular season prorated 162)||.241||.433||.746||27||96||96||2|
|Story (away split prorated to 162 games)||.276||.452||.780||23||81||79||28|
Once again, Story ranks in the middle of these guys, with the highest average and stolen bases and the lowest RBI total. Everything else is in the middle. Profar’s ADP is 134, and DeJong’s is 180. These are the guys you get just in case your starter is injured, essentially making them a negative player for 81 games a year. Are we beginning to see a trend?
Let’s hammer it home with Blackmon. The average OF slashed .256/.328/.417/.745 with 22 home runs, 75 RBI, 86 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases. Blackmon’s fits right into that:
|Harrison Bader (2018 regular season prorated 162)||.264||.422||.756||14||59||43||18|
|Andrew McCutchen (2018 regular season prorated 162)||.255||.424||.792||21||87||68||15|
|Blackmon (away split prorated to 162 games)||.249||.439||.768||30||99||69||12|
Blackmon has a little more power, fewer RBI, a worse average but a better OPS, and surprisingly fewer stolen bases than the average MLB outfielder. Again, this is the average outfielder, not the average fantasy outfielder, which unless you have a 30-team league is going to be more selective. This past year, Harrison Bader (ADP 177) and Andrew McCutchen (ADP 129) fit the bill of average offensively, and this year, they are being picked past the 10th round while Blackmon’s ADP is 27.
The conclusion here is something we already know: When Colorado hitters are hitting outside Colorado, they are 75% the hitter they are at home — for 81 games. Meaning half the season, Colorado’s top hitters profile as 10th-round (or later) hitters, while the other half they profile as first- or second-round hitters. I know this isn’t really a shock.
It Doesn’t All Average Out in 162 Games
But it should — that’s how averages work. Over the whole season, Arenado’s, Story’s and Blackmon’s performances are some of the best in the league. Their crazy home slashes elevate their mediocre away slashes to a degree that they are in roughly the top five in their positions (or top 15 in Blackmon’s case). Because of that, they are often picked in the first, second or third rounds of redraft leagues. But it’s not that simple in head-to-head leagues. So let’s complicate things. Below is a section of the Colorado Rockies’ 2019 schedule from June through August. Observe the clusters of away games (the white rectangles). Not how long the away trips are but how they are positioned during the week.
If you’ll notice, there are five full weeks where the Rockies do not play at home. If you look at the entire Rockies schedule, there are seven such weeks:
|Weeks Rockies Do Not Play a Single Home Game|
That is more than 25 percent of the season! Maybe Arenado’s stats average out to be a first-round caliber player, but they don’t in almost two months’ worth of full road weeks spread out randomly in 2019. In each one of the above weeks, Arenado is worth a 10th-round pick. Then the week ends, and he goes back to being a first-rounder. My question is: Why isn’t that baked in? Don’t tell me it is because Arenado wouldn’t still be a first-rounder.
To accentuate my point, the last full week the Rockies are on the road is Sept. 2-8. Depending on how large your head-to-head league is and how many playoff teams your league’s bracket has, that could mean that for the first week of the playoffs, you can reasonably expect your first-round pick to give you this:
|2018 Away Split||76||.248||.325||.447||.772||0.23||0.52||0.63|
To further illustrate my point, the next-best third baseman chosen in drafts, Bregman, will average this if he was on the road:
|2018 Away Split||76||.273||.374||.510||.884||0.23||0.70||0.55|
Arenado’s power advantage is completely gone. In fact, he’s now giving almost 50 points in slugging and more than 100 points of OPS to Bregman. The craziest part about this is that it’s completely predictable. If you were to look at a Rockies calendar beforehand, you could see the weeks that Arenado becomes a replacement player and know that you should probably have someone better in the playoffs.
What is 25% of 25%?
What does this all mean? It means that for one-quarter of the season — spread throughout the year — your Rockies are on the road without a home game, and you have an increased chance of losing hitting categories. While the Rockies are away from home, your Rockies hitters, and it doesn’t matter which hitters you have, will lose one-quarter of their production without home games to prop up their stats. This is why you should not consider any Colorado hitter at 100% of their stats in weekly leagues only. Instead, you should consider them 93.75% of those stats at most, as 6.25% is one quarter of 25%. So if Arenado’s stats for 2018 were:
His highest value should be 93.75% of that:
This adjustment may have not changed the number of home runs Arenado ends up hitting, but it significantly affects his slashes, so much so that he starts to look more like Eugenio Suarez, who may not have the same track record as Arenado but is going around 53rd in drafts. That 6.25% drop makes Arenado a great third-round pick. My suggestion is to let someone else waste their first-rounder or high second-rounder on Arenado. If he or she makes the playoffs, you want to be the one playing that team in Week 1.
Yes! There’s more! There are three more caveats to this theory:
1. If the Rockies on the road for one of the weeks that your league is in the playoffs, I would consider increasing that adjustment from 6.25% to 8% because I believe that a playoff week is worth 1.5 times a regular season week, and 7.5 weeks of a 26-week season is roughly 30% and 30% of the 25% loss in production is approximately 8%.
2. Do not draft more than one Colorado hitter to be in your starting lineup. If you do draft more than one, you are only compounding this deficiency, especially in the playoffs.
3. If you can get Rockies hitters cheaply, consider using them as platoons only when they are at home.
(Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire)
(Graphic by Nathan Mills/@NathanMillsPL on Twitter)