Coors Field and BABIP

This morning, the Rockies traded away Jason Hammel, a starter who has posted relatively high BABIPs over most of his career. While his .280 BABIP last year doesn’t look so bad, the distribution of when those hits came (.272 BABIP with bases empty, .291 BABIP with men on, .300 with RISP) – along with the .327 overall mark he posted in the prior two seasons – led to the Rockies souring on his abilities and shifting him to the bullpen in August. Hammel was just the latest in a string of pitchers who have fallen out of favor with the Rockies due to high BABIPs, as the team traded away Ubaldo Jimenez and Felipe Paulino during stretches of allowing hits last year, and had decided not to bring back Jeff Francis last winter due to his proclivity for giving up base hits.

Eventually, though, the Rockies are going to have to realize that it’s not the pitchers, it’s the park. Here are the BABIPs for all pitchers at Coors Field for each of the last 10 years, and where that ranks relative to the other parks in that specific year.

2011 – .312 (29th)
2010 – .326 (30th)
2009 – .317 (29th)
2008 – .315 (29th)
2007 – .316 (26th)
2006 – .321 (28th)
2005 – .333 (30th)
2004 – .336 (30th)
2003 – .315 (t-30th)
2002 – .321 (30th)

While the installation of the humidor before the ’02 season has reduced the amount of balls flying over the wall, it hasn’t really done anything to change the fact that Colorado is far and away the easiest park in baseball to get a base hit. The air still helps the ball carry better than it does at sea level, and the fact that Coors Field boasts an extremely spacious outfield makes it much easier for balls to fall between defenders, who are being asked to cover a massive amount of territory. In fact, the inflation of BABIP is the defining characteristic of Coors Field, and is the primary driver of higher offensive levels in the park.

The Rockies can’t keep giving up on every pitcher they have who gives up a lot of hits. It’s just part of the atmosphere they have to deal with, and they have to adjust their expectations accordingly. Getting frustrated and dumping every pitcher who posts a high BABIP in Colorado is simply going to lead to the team getting rid of a lot of good pitchers.

With Guillermo Moscoso, Jamie Moyer, and now Jeremy Guthrie, the team has now acquired three pitchers who have lower than average career BABIPs. Clearly, the team is trying to stop giving up so many base hits, and they’ve now targeted guys who have a history of keeping guys from getting hits in other cities.

Bringing in pitchers who rely on preventing hits and asking them to overcome the altitude seems like a questionable strategy at best, though. Maybe they’ve finally figured out the type of pitcher that can overcome their home park and they’ll get the last laugh, but I’d say it’s more likely that these guys see their BABIPs rise sharply due to their new environments, and the Rockies will throw more mud at the wall next year in an attempt to see what sticks.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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10 years ago

Does this maybe explain their apparent targetting of flyball pitchers this year? I’d be interested in whether it was possible to break down the BABIPs for different types of batted ball in Coors to determine whether the increased BABIP was solely or primarily due to the size of the outfield and the ball carrying better.