Altitude Sickness

Humidity makes baseballs moist and heavy. That’s the drill in Colorado, according to published reports, where the Rockies stick them in a humidor, vying to keep hits in Coors Field, the ball park once notorious for its batter-friendiness.

To be sure, the reputation was warranted.

As measured in total combined runs scored per game, Coors topped the majors in three of the past four seasons, placing second to Texas in the other. Teams averaged some 12 runs per in the high-altitude venue, where the ball is widely-believed to travel 8-10% farther.

We even accounted for the hit-happiness of Coors in devising PROTRADE’s Moneyball scoring system, ratcheting up run-scoring expectations for any situation playing out in Colorado. The net over nine innings is significant– 2.25 runs extra, when compared to a “normal” ballpark.

The question this year is how and why Colorado suddenly became so “normal” itself. Teams are averaging a measly 8.85 runs at Coors so far this 2006. Only the Yankees, White Sox, Twins, Tigers, and Royals home fields have been stingier.

So how has Coors suddenly gone from worst to close to first?

“People don’t want to accept the fact that maybe we’re pitching better,” explained Colorado’s Jason Jennings to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

It figures that Jennings, whose 4.94 ERA this year has been a hint better than his career 5.02, would give credit to himself and the Rockies staff. No major leaguer would readily admit that their success is thanks to a crafty team equipment guy.

Colorado started using the humidor in 2002, and the team saw 12.21 runs scored per game at its new field. That number has stayed relatively constant since, jumping from 11.94 to 12.69 to 11.09.

At less than nine runs, 2006 is, so far, a major anomaly.

Then again, so has been the Rockies performance across the board. Their team ERA is 4.35– a world better than their last two woeful seasons (5.13 & 5.54), over which they managed 67 and 68 wins, respectively.

At 22-19, Colorado is on pace to win 88 this year.

For a franchise that hasn’t cracked .500 in six years and hasn’t sniffed the postseason in a decade, it’s only natural that such new-found success would be met with conspiracy theories. It always pays to be skeptical, but this Mile High mystery isn’t quite ready for Rod Serling.

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