The Curious Case of Nolan Arenado

The Major League Baseball season is full of unpredictability. Baseball is inherently an unpredictable sport, that is what makes it so beautiful. Embedded within the unpredictability lies a couple of constants. The Whitesox not signing major free agents. The Yankees buying their way to championships. The Tampa Bay Rays being irrelevant. Nolan Arenado winning a Gold Glove. Nolan Arenado hitting 35 bombs. Nolan Arenado driving in 130 runs. Quite honestly, Nolan Arenado being a freak of nature when it comes to dominating the MLB.

Arenado is arguably the best 3rd basemen in a National League that is also home to the likes of Manny Machado, Kris Bryant, and Justin Turner. He is a model of consistency — a 6 time gold glove winner, a 4x All-Star, a 4x Silver Slugger — all by the age of 27. He just signed an 8 year, $260 million contract that will more than likely allow him to play out the rest of his career in a Rockies uniform. The man has done it all in baseball, and yet, there are still detractors out there pointing towards a glaring issue on his resume. That glaring issue lies in his batting statistics at Coors Field (the home of the Colorado Rockies) and away from Coors Field.

Maybe, this wouldn’t be such a big deal if his home field wasn’t Coors Field. Maybe, if he played elsewhere the narrative would fall more along the lines of Arenado simply being more dominant and relaxed at home. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

Coors Field, located in downtown Denver, is known for one thing — and that is an abundance of offense. Baseballs fly at Coors Field. It is where offense goes to prosper and pitching goes to die. Because of this, there are “experts” out there who question whether or not Arenado’s star power is legitimate. People have even gone as far as to say that Arenado is a slightly above average player who is a product of the field he plays at.

As absurd as these claims are, there is no denying that Coors Field greatly enhances offense. There is also no denying that Arenado has been a benefactor of that. In this post, we will dive into Arenado’s advanced hitting statistics and try to pinpoint whether or not these *absurd* claims have any backing to them. Along with delving into Arenado’s career, we will take a look at some former Colorado Rockies greats to see whether or not they suffered the same fate that Arenado did. Nolan Arenado, a product of the field he plays on? Let’s find out.

Before we dive too deep into this, I would like to make it known that the main statistic that we will be using to judge hitters on their offensive output will be OPS (which is on-base % + slugging %). I believe this is one of the most telling statistics a hitter can look at because it combines your power numbers with whether or not you’re getting on base, which are pretty much the most important statistics in the game.

Now that we have that cleared up, let’s get down to the cold hard stats of Nolan Arenado.

Looking at the big picture, it is hard to deny that Arenado is indeed a stud. Because in reality, that’s what he is. If you check out his home and away split stats though, you’ll start to see a different picture.

The version of Arenado that plays at home is FAR superior to the version of him that plays on  the road. That’s just the truth. Why that is? I can’t begin to explain it. In saying that, Arenado is still technically an above average hitter on the road. From 2005 (when I really started watching baseball religiously) to 2018, the average OPS across baseball was .736 — which is still .051 points lower than Arenado’s road OPS of .787. If we dig even deeper, the average OPS of away teams between 2005 and 2018 is .721 — so technically Arenado is almost .07 points higher than the average hitter on the road.

It may be rationale to explain the large drop off with the simple fact that all hitters are more comfortable hitting at home. That may be true, but no one comes even close to the extent of a drop off that Arenado see’s. Take for example other great hitters in the game.

Bryce Harper 

Mike Trout

Miguel Cabrera

Harper and Cabrera see a slight disparity between home and away, and that is to be expected. Trout is otherworldly so maybe just disregard him at this point. If we go back to the time range of 2005-2018, the average differential per team between home and away OPS is .031. Yes, there is a difference, but it is only a difference of .031 points. Nolan Arenado doesn’t just drop off when he’s away, he falls off a metaphorical cliff. He drops almost .200 points (.197), which is more than 6x the average offensive drop off that a hitter may experience when hitting at home and hitting away.

Can we at least agree that this is a little bit strange? Does Colorado really amplify offense to that crazy of an extent? I guess the next step we have to take is by looking at the careers of other Rockie greats to see if they also experienced a drop off like this throughout their career. For the sake of this article, we’ll briefly recap the OPS statistics of some notable Colorado hitters. When it comes to arguably the greatest offensive Rockie of all time, Larry Walker, we’ll look at his case with a little bit more depth.

Looking at other notable Rockies, it really is eye opening to see the trend continue. Todd Helton’s OPS at home over the span of his career was .193 points higher than what it was when he was away. Carlos Gonzales’s home OPS is .246 points higher than his away OPS. Charlie Blackmon’s home OPS is .225 points higher. Troy Tulowitzki’s home OPS is .127 points higher. DJ Lemahieu’s home OPS is .162 points higher. And the list goes on and on.

That list does not exclude Larry Walker, who, for being the great hitter that he was, saw the most substantial OPS gap. In fact, Walker’s success at Coors Field could very well be the reason he is kept out of the Hall of Fame. Between 1995 and 2003 (Walker’s time spent in Colorado), his OPS was .325 points higher at home. That is hard to fathom. That same Larry Walker hit for a batting average of .334 over his 9 seasons in Colorado. He also averaged 28 home runs and 92 RBI’s per year over that span. That’s not to mention the 4 all-star appearances and MVP award in 1997. Larry Walker had a career WAR (Wins above Replacement) of 72.7, which is good enough for 86th all time. Of all the inactive players above him on the list, only 5 of them aren’t in the Hall of Fame — and 2 of those 5 are the likes of Pete Rose (who is banned from being in the Hall) and Curt Schilling (who has arguably been politically blacklisted). His career OPS of .965 is good for 15th all time. There are only 4 hitters ahead of him that aren’t in the Hall — one being Mike Trout (who will be), another being Mark McGwire (who is blacklisted for steroids), the next being Manny Ramirez (steroids), and the last being arguably the best hitter of all time, Barry Bonds.

The point I’m getting at here is that Larry Walker should probably be in the Hall of Fame, but for some reason or other, he isn’t. In fact, over the 26 years that the Colorado Rockies have existed, they have never had anyone inducted into the Hall of Fame. It seems all too clear that Rockies greats are being punished for the offensive onslaught that Coors Field brings about.

This all begs the question, will Arenado be the one to break the Rockies Hall of Fame drought? In my opinion, if HOF voters continue to hold the inflated offense of Coors Field over the head of possible inductees, then the answer is probably no. Don’t get me wrong, Nolan Arenado is a generational talent — as was Todd Helton, and as was Larry Walker. But for the Rockies, being a generational talent has never been good enough.

Even after delving deep into this topic, my opinion on Arenado hasn’t changed. To me, he is a gamer. The guy loves the game of baseball, he plays with heart, and that shows. He is the face of the Rockies franchise and is a perennial MVP candidate. There aren’t a lot of gripes to be had with Arenado’s game. With that being said, it is very obvious to me that Coors Field inflates Arenado’s offense along with every other hitter who has ever come through Colorado. Does he deserve to be punished for that? Probably not, but the sad truth is that he most likely will be. Arenado is not a product of Coors Field, but he definitely does benefit from playing at the park.

Would Nolan ever admit that a part of the reason he signed on to stay in Colorado for the next 8 years was because of the offensive success he has there? No, he wouldn’t. But should anyone blame him? At the end of the day, he’s living his best life, making lots of money, and playing professional baseball. Meanwhile, I’m here criticizing some of his inconsistencies. Sorry, Nolan.

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