The evolution of Coors Field
Once a hitter's haven, Rockies home park has new identity
DENVER -- Coors Field, like the team that plays here, has evolved from prolific home run producer to a ballpark that is undeniably less hitter friendly than it was in the late '90s when homers flew out of here at a record pace.
"Used to be some pitchers didn't like to pitch here and you couldn't blame them really," Colorado manager Clint Hurdle said. "Now things are on more of an equal footing."
Long looked upon as a launching pad for hitters and a nightmare for pitchers, Coors Field today still has an image as a hitters' park, but to a far less degree than it previously held.
The Rockies and their opponents hit 2.26 homers per game this season at Coors Field, which ranked 10th among the 30 Major League ballparks. They also combined to score 10.68 runs per game at Coors, which ranked fourth.
Rockies pitchers gave up 82 homers this year at home and 82 on the road. The team's ERA at home and on the road was almost identical -- 4.34 at Coors and 4.29 on the road.
"It's a fair park, it's not the best hitters' park in the league anymore," Colorado first baseman Todd Helton said. "When you look at how balls fly out of some of the newer parks, there's no question."
Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park and Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark are generally considered the most hitter-friendly parks in the game today.
So how did Coors go from a park that yielded a Major League record 303 home runs in '99 to 168 last season and 185 this year?
Such a dramatic change came about due to many contributing factors, including the use of a humidor to store baseballs, the acquisition of more pitchers whose talents were better suited for the conditions and the lessons learned from the pitching fraternity over the years on how to pitch in this environment.
The Rockies put in a humidor in 2002 to store baseballs on the theory that the facility would prevent balls from shrinking, hardening and losing friction in the thin mountain air of the Mile High City. Balls kept in the humidor did not become the tighter spheres that often wound up in the seats.
That was one step, but it was a significant one.
"Besides leveling the playing field at home, it cut down the drastic difference when we would travel on the road," Hurdle said. "Because we've been challenged dramatically on the road since the organization's inception, and that has gotten better along about the time of the humidor's existence. So I think they worked hand-in-hand, made the game a little more normal, both places."
Visiting teams have noticed the change.
"I don't know exactly what the timing is, but it seemed like last year the game started to change here a little bit," Arizona manager Bob Melvin said. "We saw the change last year. The games have been a lot more conducive to other parks in the league that aren't Philadelphia and some of the other scoring parks. I like it. The park is big, it's just always played small because of the altitude here."
The stored baseballs have enabled pitchers to pitch their games and take advantage of the park's dimensions. The air is thin, but the dimensions here are the deepest in baseball.
"Before the ball [was] flying like crazy here. I think it's better for me and any pitcher," Arizona starter Livan Hernandez said. "Before nobody wanted to come pitch in Colorado. It was difficult. You see more bloopers [now] than home runs. For a starting pitcher it's good, it's a big difference before and now."
The distance from the plate to the left-field corner is 347 feet, second-longest in baseball behind Wrigley Field (355). It's 350 feet down the right-field line at Coors, the third longest among MLB's 30 teams. The distance to center field at Coors Field is 415 feet, only three parks have a longer distance -- Houston's Minute Maid Park (435), Florida's Dolphin Stadium (434) and Detroit's Comerica Park (420).
"There's a lot of space out there and you need to use it," Colorado reliever Brian Fuentes said. "It's the same with any park, they all have different things you've got to deal with as a pitcher. Here you have to take advantage of the space and use your defense."
The Rockies have done their part to turn things around by drafting pitchers whose pitching repertoire is more suited to the environment.
Homer haven no more
|Here's a year-by-year breakdown of home runs hit at Coors Field during the regular season since the park opened in 1995. The humidor was installed prior to the 2002 season.|
Like left-hander Jeff Francis, who has 11 groundouts to five fly-ball outs in the National League Championship Series and a 16-10 ratio in the postseason. Ubaldo Jimenez (14-8 in the postseason) and Manny Corpas (10-3) are two other examples.
Coors Field has been around now since 1995, long enough for pitchers to get a better game plan. They don't like to share secrets, but obviously more reliance on inducing ground balls and using offspeed pitches more often than elsewhere are two obvious strategies pitchers employ here.
"When [Minute Maid Park] opened, a lot of home runs were hit there because of that short wall [in left]," Colorado outfielder Willy Taveras said. "It's still a hitter's park, but not as many home runs [today]."
Pitchers in Houston had to make the adjustment from going to the cavernous Astrodome to a park that was much more conducive to the long ball. Over time, the pitchers' union figured out better ways to attack that situation.
The same has happened here, except the Rockies have had five more years to perfect their approach.
Obviously it's working: Since the All-Star break, the Colorado staff had the lowest ERA in the National League at 3.86.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.