Distinguished Senators, the Washington Nationals Blog That Is Great

Monday, December 06, 2004

Rethinking Vinny Rethought

Capitol Punishment last week pointed us to a post about Vinny Castilla on Sabernomics. The idea seems to be that Castilla's outrageous home/road splits from last year (954 OPS at home, 774 elsewhere) have a mysterious explanation other than the unique conditions at lovely Coors Field. "Although Castilla was obviously not as good as his Coors stats indicate, he is also better than his Away stats indicate." I don't think this is true. Vinny's best non-Coors OBP is .310, last year with Atlanta, and he's also put up a .254, .268, and a .308, compared to .281 on the road in '04. His OPS outside of the Mile High State tops out at 2001's 775, and that was inflated by Enron Field. I don't think there's anything at work in Castilla's 2004 home/road splits other than typical Coors magic, the Bichette Effect. That 774 road OPS is perfectly in line with the rest of his career. Castilla won't hit .260 for us, he won't draw 50 walks, he won't hit 35 homers. We'd better hope his defense is flawless.

All the Vinny talk got me to thinking about the effect Coors Field has on hitters and whether a Coors Hangover might make Castilla even worse. I remember when Jeff Cirillo came to Colorado. He had been a solid .300 hitter with Milwaukee and remained one with the Rockies. The difference, though, was that he was a .350 hitter at home and a .250 hitter on the road. Why? One theory (and if anyone knows where I heard this, please remind me) is that since breaking balls don't break in the thin air, Rockies hitters can't adjust to ones that do when they get to sea level. It makes sense to me, and I wondered if it had anything to do with the catastrophic collapse of Cirillo's career after he joined Seattle in 2002. There is evidence that it did: from 1996-1999 Cirillo put up OPSesses of 894, 793, 847, and 862. In his final year in Denver, his OPS was 838, but only 710 on the road. Cirillo's collapse was merely his Rockies road OPS staying with him after he left: 690, 648, and 685 the last three years (his home stats dropped even lower, but he was playing in two pitchers' parks).

Jeff Cirillo suffered from a pretty nasty Coors Hangover - did anyone else? In other words, how common is it for a player to come to Colorado, see a bump in his home stats and a dip in his road numbers, and then see the lower road numbers continue after he goes elsewhere? There was only a handful of players who met my criteria, and I don't think we can draw anything conclusive from their results.
  • Neifi Perez came up with the Rocks, but I'll use him anyway. In 2001, he played 87 games with Colorado and 49 with Kansas City. Overall, his OPS split was 822/580 home/road. He hit much worse the next year (564 overall, 635/496 split, and Kauffman is a hitters' park), but recovered in 2003 for a 694 road OPS.
  • Jay Payton is an iffy case. Once again, the stats are complicated by a mid-season trade, as Payton spent most of 2002 with the Mets but did play 47 games with Colorado. In a full 2003 with the purple and silver (ugh), he managed a 917/814 split, remarkably even for Coors. The next year he went to Petco Park in San Diego, where batting averages go to die. His road OPS decreased slightly to 775, not enough to indicate a hangover.
  • Todd Zeile had a 729 road OPS in 2001 with the Mets. 2002 saw him in Colorado putting up a 644 road OPS, a significant drop. He was back from the mountains the next year, hitting 661 on the road with the Mets and Expos, following that with 717 last year. It's possible Coors screwed him up for a year, but he is in his late 30s.
  • Juan Pierre was fine after he went he went to Florida from the Rockies.
  • So was our own Gary Bennett.
What do you think? It's quite possible that the unusual aspects of playing in Coors field hurt the abilities of Cirillo, Perez, and Zeile for at least a year afterwards. Considering the sample sizes we're dealing with, though, it could be nothing. Castilla was horrific the first time he left the Rockies (562 OPS with Tampa in 2000), but he only played 85 games, so there may have been some injury issues. Combine the potential for a Coors Hangover, however, with another year on the old fella and the pitcher-friendly venue RFK is likely to be, and this could be Vinny's worst year yet.

Speaking of home cookin', take a look at the career home/road splits for Cristian Guzman:
246 469 78 36 23 175 94 236 282 321 413 735 Home
212 402 64 25 16 114 72 255 249 284 350 634 Road

That's right, our boy Cris did everything better at the Metrodome, even steal bases. That slick turf may have hindered his defense, but it kept him a solid C with the bad, as opposed to the D student we're getting.

I may not have much if anything the next couple of days. I'm fulfilling a lifelong dream by seeing the Pixies twice in two nights - because I ROCK THAT MUCH! ROCK!

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