Sunday, February 5, 2012

Coors Field Benefactors

It's no secret that Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies since 1995, has been one of the best hitter's parks over the past decade and a half.  The dry, thin air makes breaking pitches easier to hit by neutralizing their movement, and then helps the baseball carry once contact is made.  Even though the outfield dimensions resemble Death Valley from the old Yankee Stadium and the humidor has helped balance things out, the elevation will always make Coors a great place to mash.  The stadium has turned mere mortals into great hitters, and great hitters into elite ones.  Names you may have never heard of, guys like Preston Wilson, Jeffrey Hammonds, Jeff Cirillo, and Jeromy Burnitz, Jay Payton, all performed above and beyond their limited skill sets while wearing a Rockies uniform, but nobody benefitted more than the following players. 

For each batter I have provided their career triple slash stats at Coors Field.

Dante Bichette .358/.394/.641
Bichette was a 29 year old outfielder with a career .254/.286/.397 line when he joined the Rockies for their debut season in 1993.  He wasn't even worthy of a major league job, yet over the next seven seasons he transformed into a four time-All Star/MVP runner-up who batted .316/.352/.540 and averaged just under 30 home runs and 120 RBI per season.  That production rivals what Robinson Cano's been doing over the past three seasons.

Andres Galarraga .333/.394/.631
Big Cat was the NL version of Juan Gonzalez in the late 90s, as he posted massive home run/RBI numbers while hitting in the middle of a loaded lineup that played half its games in a hitter's haven.  For God's sake, he was a career .267 hitter when he came to the Rockies, and in his first year with the team (1993) the guy hit .370 to lead the majors.  .370! Galarraga was the definition of a late bloomer, too, since he did the majority of his damage between the ages of 32 and 39.  Colorado turned a decent hitter who struck out too much (Colby Rasmus/Adam Lind) into Hank Greenberg.

Vinny Castilla .333/.380/.609
Coors Field turned an otherwise pedestrian hitter into Jimmie Foxx.  From 1995 to 1999 Castilla was one of the top sluggers at the hot corner, averaging 38 bombs, 112 RBI and batting .302/.348/.545 (essentially Lance Berkman's career line).  He bounced around over his final seven seasons, never staying anywhere for more than two seasons, and his performance dropped off dramatically.  He did make a comeback of sorts in 2004 with (you guessed it) the Rockies.  The 36 year-old enjoyed his best season since 1998 by swatting 43 doubles, 35 home runs and topping the league with 131 RBI.  Unfortunately for him the Rockies didn't resign him, his hitting declined and he was out of baseball two years later.

Larry Walker .381/.462/.710
Walker had already proven to be a fine hitter while with the Montreal Expos, but he took his game to new heights when he signed with Colorado as a free agent. Like Prince Fielder, he was 28 years old and in the heart of his prime, and in Denver his regular season statistics went from Hunter Pence to Albert Pujols because he hit like Babe Ruth when he came up to bat at Coors.  In his nine-plus seasons with the Rockies Walker won three batting titles, five Gold Gloves and took home the 1997 NL MVP.  His career .313/.400/.565 scream Hall of Fame, but many voters devalue his monster numbers from 1995-2004 because they feel that he got too much help from his home ballpark and era.  Hopefully teammate Todd Helton won't meet the same fate someday.

Ellis Burks .334/.407/.626
Burks had already established himself as a solid all-around outfielder in the same mold as Reggie Smith, but he hadn't improved during his first seven seasons and seemed unlikely to develop into the 30/30 monster that many projected him to be.  Enter Coors Field, where Burks hit like his name was Joe DiMaggio, and Burks nearly doubled his career high in big flies, going from 21 (set with the Red Sox in 1990) to 40 in 1995, sparking a seven year stretch when he launched at least 21 moon shots every year.  Despite playing 18 seasons his career was sabotaged by minor injuries that held him to 111 games played per year.  Had he been able to stay on the field more frequently I think he could have cleared 400 career homers.

Todd Helton .354/.451/.620
When Mr. Helton digs in at Coors, he's the modern day equivalent of Lou Gehrig.  Everywhere else, he's a .291/.391/.478 hitter, meaning he's comparable to a Kevin Youkilis.  Still good, but not the immortal Iron Horse.  The career Rockie may end up with a plaque in Cooperstown someday, and if he does he should remember to thank Coors Field during his acceptance speech.

Garrett Atkins .327/.385/.507
Atkins had a brief major league career and retired at age 30, but from 2005 through 2008 he was a good, sometimes great offensive third baseman in the same class as Aramis Ramirez, Adrian Beltre, and Scott Rolen but just a notch below David Wright.  He fell off a cliff in 2009, lasted just 44 games with the Orioles in 2010 and was released by the Pirates in 2011.

Matt Holliday .357/.423/.648
OPS with the Rockies; .938
OPS with the Cardinals; .937
The 2007 NL MVP runner-up, a physical beast so jacked and imposing that he brings Dwight Howard to mind, has showed over his past two and a half seasons with St. Louis that he's an elite hitter regardless of where he suits up , but there's no denying that Coors Field has given him a boost in the past.  He hit like Rogers Hornsby there, his batting average has declined four consecutive seasons, and he's unlikely to make another Triple Crown run like he did in that superlative '07 campaign.  The real victim here is Billy Beane, who traded Huston Street and Carlos Gonzalez for Holliday before the 2009 season, then flipped him to the Cards for three nobodies.

Troy Tulowitzki .312/.382/.549
Over the past five seasons, Coors Field has helped Tulowitzki challenge Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes as the best offensive shortstop in the National League.  In Colorado Tulo rakes like Chipper Jones, but in the rest of the nation he bats .274/.346/.462, which mirrors Torii Hunter's production.  Obviously those are still good numbers for a shortstop, but they probably won't get you into Cooperstown.

Carlos Gonzalez .347/.404/.653
Coors helped CarGo make a serious run at the NL MVP in 2010, his first full season.  Aided by Stan Musial-esque production at home, he led the league in hits, total bases and won the batting crown, but ultimately fell short of Joey Votto and Albert Pujols in the balloting.  He got dinged up last year and regressed somewhat, but he's still just 26 and coming into his prime.  Expect multiple .300-30-100 campaigns if he can stay healthy, and he should be able to give Matt Kemp a run for his money as one of the premier outfielders in the NL.

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