Do the Colorado Rockies “play up” and “play down” to the level of opponents?

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PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 20: Nolan Arenado #28 of the Colorado Rockies is congratulated by teammate Trevor Story #27 after hitting a two-run home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning of an MLB game at Chase Field on July 20, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 20: Nolan Arenado #28 of the Colorado Rockies is congratulated by teammate Trevor Story #27 after hitting a two-run home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning of an MLB game at Chase Field on July 20, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images) /
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Are we having fun yet? Every baseball season is a marathon, but this one in particular feels like its been a roller coaster for the Colorado Rockies and its fans. One that might get shut down due to safety concerns.

On the night of June 27th, the Colorado Rockies lost to the Giants to drop to 38-42 on the season. The loss placed them 8 games back of the division lead and 5.5 games back of a wild card spot.

Shortly thereafter, Nolan Arenado told the media that he was “tired of coming to the ballpark and losing.” The statement set off alarm bells across the region as the trade deadline was just a month away and with Nolan’s impending free agency after next season, you had to wonder how much longer we would be seeing number 28 in purple pinstripes.

Thankfully, Nolan’s comments seem to have set off alarm bells in the clubhouse as well. Fast forward about a month, and to say that the season has turned around would be an understatement. Since June 28th, the Rockies have gone 19-5, catching the kind of fire that hasn’t been seen in Denver since 2009 (when the Rockies won 18 of 23 at one point en route to a playoff berth and a franchise-record 92 wins). The club now sits just one game back of the Dodgers in the NL West and are just a half game back of the D’Backs in the wild card race.

Making this run even more thrilling is the fact that the Rockies are in a stretch of their schedule that could only be described as a gauntlet. Every series, it seems, is against a team with a record above .500. This recent run of success combined with the brutal portion of the schedule has prompted the Rockies’ broadcast team to recently suggest that the Rockies “play up” to opponents with better records and “play down” to opponents who are having a tough year.

Having watched all of these games as well, I concurred with that statement and decided to look into the phenomenon. I started by going through each Rockies game of 2018 up to this point and determining whether their opponent that day had a better or worse win percentage than the Rockies. With that figured out, I looked at whether we won the game, how many runs we scored, and our ERA. The numbers are fascinating to say the least.

Results

Vs. Teams with the Same/Worse Record

  • 25-28 Record (.472 Win %)
  • 4.9 Runs/Game
  • 5.37 Team ERA

Vs. Teams with a Better Record

  • 32-19 Record (.627 Win %)
  • 4.7 Runs/Game
  • 3.81 Team ERA

Woah. When I set out to do this, I had an inkling that the numbers would be a little better against better teams. As I mentioned earlier, I watch every game (some say I abuse my DVR) and it certainly seems like over the last couple seasons the Rockies get up to play against good teams better than we do against bad teams. I did NOT, however, expect a 1.5 run difference in the ERA. That is massive. And this is no small sample size – we are talking about over 50 games in each category.

The bats are pretty much the same regardless of who we are playing, though you could make an argument that the bats are relatively better against better opponents just because we score a similar amount of runs against good teams as we do against bad teams. The pitching, however, is the story here.

Now, not every variable is being taken into account. For example, it could be that our pitchers “figured it out” during a time of year when we happen to have a lot of good teams on the schedule. That’s certainly possible, but the numbers are eye-popping nonetheless. The Rockies give up, on average, 1.56 less earned runs per 9 innings against teams with a better record than we do against teams with a worse record.

We all know pitching is the key to success in baseball, and it’s no different in this case. The lower ERA has resulted in the Rockies achieving a fairly dominant 32-19 record against teams with a better record. That’s a nice nugget to have in your back pocket as we come up on the last two months of play in the 2018 season and hopefully the playoffs beyond.

Pivoting to the ugly part of this comparison, the ERA against teams with a worse record than them is…not good. A 5.37 ERA is not going to win you very many ballgames (shown by the sub .500 record in such games). It does, however, lay out a nice road map that the Rockies can follow to reach their second consecutive playoffs, and possibly even claim their first NL West title.

Final Thoughts

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If the team can manage to keep on keeping on against the good teams remaining on the schedule, while simultaneously flipping our performance against the worse teams to more mirror our performance against the better ones, we could end this season on a remarkable run.

Taking their win percentage against teams with a better record of .627 and applying that to the final 58 games of the season, we are looking at a final record of 93-69. That would be a franchise record in regular season wins and likely win the National League West.

It starts tonight, as the Rockies embark on a 4 game set in St. Louis against a Cardinals team with a worse record than the Rockies.

Time to turn that ERA around and run down the Dodgers and D-Backs.

Next. Rox Pile exclusive: Nolan Arenado on his words and winning. dark

Our own Jake Shapiro (@Shapalicious on Twitter) will be at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Monday night and in Milwaukee for the entire series this weekend so stay tuned for coverage from him and @RoxPileFS on Twitter as well. Go Rox!

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