MLB Picks: Extreme Ballparks II, Game Totals and Coors Field

Jay Pryce

Thursday, May 28, 2015 7:10 PM GMT

Despite the downturn in scoring throughout MLB over the last few years, Coors Field remains a run factory. We analyze the betting market and game totals during this period, and offer an angle or two to profit off the quirkiest of MLB ballparks.

In our second installment of extreme ballparks and MLB baseball handicapping, we take a look at Coors Field. As we detailed with Safeco Field in our first write up, since 2010, betting markets have been slow to react to reduced scoring and changing elements of the game in regards to some outlying ballparks that present intense park effects. Although there are a slew of theories and research into why Coors Field is a hitting wonderland, I'm not sure anyone can truly put their finger on the primary cause. The most popular is that the thinner air at high altitude reduces the resistance on batted balls, enabling them to travel farther. In addition, the air also makes it more difficult for pitchers to deceive hitters as it reduces revolution and movement on thrown balls making spin less effective on their travel. MLB odds makers know that the effect is so severe that in 2002, MLB and the Rockies' front office agreed to install a room-sized humidor, a temperature- and atmospheric pressure-controlled chamber, to prevent game balls from shrinking, hardening, and becoming less slippery, all of which can be a detriment to pitching. It worked to some degree, as batting averages lessened by nearly 10% and the number of home runs dropped since the park's opening in the early 1990s. Hitters still have a big, big advantage, though. Even in a league emphasizing defense and pitching in the modern game, for whatever reasons, and for wherever its strengths, Coors Field is not adjusting to the recent downturn in scoring league wide despite the betting market saying otherwise. We will briefly explore this anomaly and offer a couple of trends to be aware of for future games in the quirky and unpredictable Mile-High air.

Below is a variation on the table we presented in the first part of the series detailing the drop in average runs scored and subsequent lowering of game totals throughout the last ten years. We've added the number of 10 or more game totals in that time span, including those at Coors Field, to further emphasize the betting markets' reaction to lower scoring.

 

MLB Run and Game Totals

Season

Avg Runs

Avg Total

Total

Total>=10

Total>=10 @ Coors

2014

8.2

7.8

221

73

59

2013

8.3

8

118

71

38

2012

8.6

8.2

178

194

59

2011

8.6

8.1

192

102

15

2010

8.8

8.4

92

121

5

2009

9.3

8.9

5

365

37

2008

9.3

8.9

9

355

37

2007

9.6

9.1

3

567

58

2006

9.7

9.2

0

633

43

2005

9.2

8.9

7

428

71

2004

9.7

9.1

4

594

74

 

For a myriad of reasons, following the 2009 season, runs scored in MLB plummeted from roughly 9.5 a game in the six years prior to 8.5 through 2014. Game total predictions dropped nearly a full run in accordance, from an average of 9.0 to 8.1 runs a contest. The average closing game total at Coors Field has dipped from 10.6 to 9.7 during this time frame. Moreover, we see the betting market shifting away from outlying figures on the high side of total predictions (10 or more), to the lower side (6.5 or less) as presented in the table. The market for 10+ run totals has decreased on average at Coors Field as well, declining from 53 to 35 games on average, though its season-to-season division is more erratic as there appears to be a correlation to how well Colorado's pitching staff is performing, particularly in away games. The kicker here is that despite the drop in expected scoring, the park is proving resistant to league-wide change as the average number of runs remains roughly the same. Look at Colorado's home and away runs scored, and runs allowed splits during the era:

 

Rockies Runs Scored

Season

Total Runs Scored

Runs @ Coors

Runs Away

2014

4.66

6.17

3.15

2013

4.36

5.36

3.36

2012

4.68

6

3.36

2011

4.54

5.42

3.65

2010

4.75

5.91

3.59

Average

4.6

5.7

3.4

 

Season

Total Runs Scored

Runs @ Coors

Runs Away

2009

4.93

5.7

4.17

2008

4.61

5.07

4.15

2007

5.33

5.92

4.73

2006

5.02

5.63

4.41

2005

4.57

5.57

3.57

2004

5.14

6.12

4.16

Average

4.9

5.7

4.2

 

Rockies Runs Allowed

Season

Total Runs Allowed

Runs Allowed @ Coors

Runs Allowed Away

2014

5.05

5.48

4.62

2013

4.69

4.78

4.6

2012

5.49

6.46

4.53

2011

4.78

5.27

4.28

2010

4.43

4.68

4.17

Average

4.9

5.3

4.4

 

Season

Total Runs Allowed

Runs Allowed @ Coors

Runs Allowed Away

2009

4.43

4.7

4.16

2008

5.07

5.19

4.96

2007

4.61

4.69

4.53

2006

5.01

5.1

4.92

2005

5.32

5.12

5.52

2004

5.7

6.57

4.83

Average

5

5.2

4.8

 

Although we have seen a slight drop in runs scored and runs allowed overall by the Rockies, the numbers have remained relatively unchanged at Coors Field. Scoring and runs allowed away from home have decreased more in line with overall MLB averages during this time span, declining for a 1.2 margin overall. One could argue that perhaps the Rockies team is built to take advantage of the park's intricacies, but this wouldn't fully explain why scoring on both sides of the diamond have remained consistent, nor why the team has stunk in recent years. So why has the total at Coors Field dropped by nearly a run while scoring has remained the same? Something about the park is immeasurable. I like to think that handicapping practices and betting models have underestimated the field's forces in light of decreasing scoring. It's tough to predict, or fathom for that matter, that a pitcher like reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, with a career 2.56 ERA holds a 4.78 ERA at Coors Field and the over is 10-5-1 in his 16 starts there. Heck, the Bad News Bears could average five runs a game in Denver in my estimation.

Since 2010, the over is striking at 58% (235-171-17) for games played in Coors Field, returning a 10% profit during that time to the savviest of investors. One simple strategy may help us to increase our edge and maximize profit potential. First off, we want to isolate contests projecting 10 runs or more, slightly above the game total average of 9.7 since 2010. After all the strengths and weaknesses are weighed, the betting market expects an above average number of runs to be scored, and this is when the particularities of Coors Field work its magic. Secondly, we want to see the Rockies staff pitching poorly coming into the game. Since 2010, they have a 4.90 ERA overall. If one isolates games where the Rockies head into a game hovering above this figure with a projected total of 10 or more, then the over hits at a 61% rate (69-44-7) returning 15% profit. Indeed, the Rockies give away 6.2 runs a contest in this scenario, nearly a run above their average in this time span. This scenario serves as our foundation.

Next we want to eliminate the opposing starter who may be an extreme ground ball inducing pitcher i.e. Dallas Keuchel, Tyson Ross, Trevor Cahill, etc. The spacious outfield in Denver is difficult to defend and inviting for extra base hits. Weak flairs or bloopers, and medium-to-high launch fly balls in the gaps, find their way for hits more often than in other ballparks. In fact, over the last ten years, Coors Field has ranked first or second in batting average on balls in play (BABIP), a metric measuring how many balls put in play go for hits against a pitcher, excluding home runs. So we want to exploit fly-ball pitchers. Taking our base scenario, if the opposing starters ground ball to fly ball rate is less than 2.5 times in games pitched for the season, than the over hits for a record of 58-28-7 or 67%, returning a 26% return on one's investment. This can be tricky to compute because some statistic sites lump line drives into fly balls, and one may find varying data. Nonetheless, avoid the “sinkiest” of sinker or split-finger pitchers when placing your MLB picks, unless in the short term they are having difficulty finding the drop zone in starts leading up to the game. To make it easier, look for guys who have a ground ball percentage (GB%) less than 55% for the season.

As always, use this information to support your leans, and good luck.