All the facets that either helps or harms a defensive club are magnified at Coors Field. The Rockies’ home park was built to partially counteract the high elevation, but at the expense of giving the outfielders more fair territory to patrol. So not only are home runs hit at a higher rate than elsewhere in baseball, but also doubles and triples. And the thin air has a deleterious effect on curve balls.
There’s nothing Trevor Bauer could have done to make one of his staple pitches break like it does closer to sea level, but the things he could have done to get through this game he didn’t execute today.
Let’s start and end with what ultimately caused Bauer’s early demise: his location:
The Pitch/FX robots classified Bauer’s curve as a “knuckle curve”, hence the KC abbreviation. The vast majority of his pitches were either the curve or his four-seam fastball. The curve in particular wasn’t effective, as there were only three instances of a batter swinging and missing at it (3 out of 28, or 10.7%). In comparison, two starts ago (against Oakland), Bauer’s curve incurred a “whiff” in 24% of his curves. You might blame some of that on the thin air, but Bauer was also in disadvantageous counts, so the batter was going to be less likely to chase. And there’s also the talent level difference; let’s give the opposition some credit here.
I should also further clarify that Bauer pitched very well in innings one and two, so it wasn’t a matter of him being horrible from the beginning. But he completely lost the zone in the third inning, and was not able to get it back. After Trevor Storey opened the third with a single, Bauer walked Ryan Hannigan on five pitches, helped himself by making a fine defensive to nab the runner at third on an attempted bunt, but then hurt himself by walking the next batter on six pitches. He had Nolan Arenado down in the count 1-2 with two outs in the inning, but hung a curve that ended up in the gap. Bauer would later walk another batter, and probably should have walked a fourth but got a favorable strike call against Mark Reynolds.
His command wasn’t any better in the fourth inning, and got burned again because of it. A solid single, a walk, and infield hit, and a weakly-hit double down the right field line gave the Rockies a 4-0 lead and ended Bauer’s day.
This loss wasn’t just on Bauer, as the offense did its part as well. The Tribe bats had almost no success against Rockies rookie starter Kyle Freeland, who was attacking batters in the strike zone and having a lot of success because of it. He last into the seventh inning, throwing 64% of his 100 pitches for strikes. The Indians did finally get some rallies going late into Freeland’s start, but couldn’t get a big hit. In the sixth inning Michael Brantley struck out with two runners on, while in the seventh, pinch-hitter Edwin Encarnacion hit a weak grounder with another two runners on base.
Thanks to the off-day tomorrow, Bauer’s short outing won’t hurt the Indians in their next few games. Terry Francona took the opportunity to give just about everyone in the bullpen some work, including Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. But this wasn’t a bullpen game (tm) of old, as the pen did allow the Rockies to score in their final three at-bats. Not that it mattered (as the Indians would manage just one run, a Jose Ramirez homer), but the way the entire pitching staff pitched was depressing. The defense didn’t help either, as a couple plays that could have been made weren’t, including a potential double play that went awry after a bad flip from Jason Kipnis. Cody Allen uncorked two wild pitches in his inning of work.
In this thankfully short two game series, the Indians were outscored by 15 runs. And even with the elevation inflation, that’s two awful baseball games.