The Colorado Rockies enjoyed a strong start to their season, which of course means that it is time to be treated to the annual dosage of stories about their humidor.
I find the story of the Rockies very interesting, from a game theory perspective. Basically, the Rockies’s home stadium is – by far – the most extreme hitter’s park in the majors. Since their inception in 1993, the Rockies have had very little success, with only one playoff berth in 13 seasons. Many critics have argued that the ballpark is the chief factor hampering the franchise.
However, an understanding of game theory suggests otherwise. The extreme nature of Coors Field means that games played there are the least similar to games played anywhere else in Major League Baseball. It is essentially a different game in Denver than in the rest of the country.
It is quite simply impossible for the Rockies not to be able to use this to their advantage. For example, imagine if games played at Coors Field were even more different from vanilla baseball than they are now. Imagine if the games were – say – basketball instead. What would happen? Well, the Rockies would start filling their roster with players who were good at both baseball and basketball. If the General Manager did a good enough job, the Rockies should be able to go 81-0 at home. Even the most meager college basketball team should be able to destroy a major league baseball team on the ball court. Baseball players simply are not selected for their skills at basketball – pure and simple. Some might be naturally talented at it, of course, but probably not enough to match a team built for it.
The Rockies, of course, would do very poorly on the road. Very poorly, indeed. However, even if they could win just 15% of their games – well below the worst winning percentage of all time – they would have made the playoffs 7 of the last 10 years.
So, is it possible to find baseketball players skilled enough to win 15% of major league games? The answer is yes, of course. The real question is whether these players are affordable. I would posit that the answer is also yes – because the Rockies are the only organization in the world looking for such players, they would not be bidding against anyone else for this unique set of skills.
If this scenario was actually true, the other teams in the league would obviously cry foul. How could they possibly compete with a team with such an unique home-field advantage? The real story, of course, is not so extreme – but they are still playing what is essentially a different game from the rest of the league at Coors Field. The situation is not entirely dissimilar.
So, what should the Rockies do? I have no idea. I know one thing, though. They shouldn’t blame their park, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. In fact, they should embrace Coors Field – there must be a way to leverage a strategic advantage from it. They should lose the humidor. Perhaps they should even move IN the fences to make their home park even more unique!
IIRC, Rob Neyer made a similar argument a few years ago – that by tailoring their team to win in the park they see the most, the Rockies effectively limit how well the play on the road.
After all, all you need to do when you visit Denver is throw a groundball pitcher up there and the thin air is negated somewhat.
I haven’t the data anywhere near me, but as more hitter friendly parks are built, this should make things a little more even for Colorado on the road, but at the price of eradicating their home field advantage.