It’s something that’s been at the forefront of baseball conversation for quite some time. Are people right to write-off Colorado Rockies hitters simply because they play in Colorado?
The argument for ‘no’ usually goes like this: the same way that Barry Bonds’ steroids didn’t hit the ball for him, the higher altitude doesn’t hit the ball for Rockies hitters. The steroids and the altitude merely assist the batter, and the batters would put up similar–albeit not as gaudy–statistics had they not been on steroids, or had they not played in Colorado.
There’s a flaw in this argument, however. While Bonds did see a prolonged prime because of his performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), he was good without the steroids. Really good. Take a look at his 162-game average in the 8-season pre-steroids vs the 8 seasons post-steroids:
While his legacy should obviously take a hit because of his inflated post-steroid production, we don’t write him off as an all-time great because he had already proven his prowess without the PEDs.
Rockies hitters, on the other hand, haven’t proven their prowess outside of the high altitude of Colorado, most notably Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon. Both are having world class statistical seasons. Arenado’s 162-game pace is 36 home runs and 136 RBIs with a .303/.360/.579 slash line. Blackmon’s 162-game pace is 39 home runs and 102 RBIs with a .338/.402/.618 slash line. There’s a reason that you don’t hear their names in the Trout, Harper, Stanton, and Altuve, however.
Take a look at their home and away splits adjusted per 162 games:
Both players are clearly still all-star worthy as purely road players, but they’re not in the same category as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, José Altuve, and Giancarlo Stanton like their overall numbers suggest. It can be hypothesized that such home/road splits are common, and that players feel more comfortable at home, and therefore hit better there. But the numbers suggest otherwise. We’ll take a look at the home/road splits per 162 games for the consensus best players in baseball (Trout and Harper), and the two favorites for MVP (Altuve and Stanton).
First Mike Trout:
The only clear difference is in home runs and slugging percentage, but Trout makes up for it with an increased batting average and on-base percentage on the road.
Now for Bryce Harper:
So Harper is better in every category on the road besides on-base percentage, which is only one point more at home.
Here’s AL MVP favorite José Altuve:
If that doesn’t disprove the notion that players hit better at home because they’re more comfortable, I’m not sure what will.
Now for the NL MVP favorite, Giancarlo Stanton:
Though the batting average dips a bit on the road, the power remains remarkably similar.
So while I’m not saying that Arenado and Blackmon aren’t great players, I am saying that we’re right not to put them in the same category as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, José Altuve, and Giancarlo Stanton, despite similar overall numbers.