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What to expect from Nolan Arenado offensively?

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Going from Coors Field to Busch Stadium will affect his numbers.

Colorado Rockies Nolan Arenado Press Conference Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

I have, for most of the past few years, been against the grain on Nolan Arenado. I both did not want a trade to happen and did not believe it would happen. I had the same reasoning for both thoughts. I thought the Rockies front office would be delusional about Arenado’s true value, given his massive contract, and the Cards would have to overpay quite a bit to get him. I did not think the Cards would do that, hence why they have the same reasoning. As it turns out, the Rockies needed to trade him evidently, so they took the best offer. In other words, an offer similar to the value he had, given his contract.

Yeah, I might as well spend a paragraph on this here. I think the Rockies did alright, if you accept the premise he needed to be traded. I think people are being a bit hysterical and unreasonable about what a player like Arenado would return given his contract. Talks of negating the trade on the basis of unfairness are insane. Arenado’s contract was something like $40-50 million underwater. The trade reflected his trade value. It’s really hard to wrap your head around a superstar having negative trade value, but sorry it’s the case here.

Now, with all that said, just because this was a fair deal does not mean that the Cardinals didn’t come out smelling like roses. They basically got Arenado because they were willing to take most of his deal. It’s a very rare case of a superstar being still in his prime (well hopefully), his contract being underwater, and a team feeling like they have to trade him. Right place, right time for the Cardinals.

I was alerted to an article posted by our sister site, Bleed Cubbie Blue, by actually a Cubs fan who came over here to complain about it weirdly enough. In it, Al Yellon goes over the fact that Nolan Arenado’s home/road splits are extreme. We’ve heard this story before. I was actually like legitimately shocked the article, not once, not a single time, referenced wRC+ or OPS+. It just listed his splits at home and on the road. And some splits at other parks.

The author of the piece is a bit like my dad. My dad, similar to me, expressed doubt about trading for Arenado. He was too against it. However, unlike me, who largely didn’t want to part with Nolan Gorman and take on a bad contract at the same time, he is also somewhat in agreement with the author of the BCB piece. That his road splits are so much worse than his home splits.

So this is for my dad. The Coors effect is twofold. Not only do your numbers while you play at Coors increase, your numbers away from Coors decrease. It’s not a normal home/road split. On Fangraphs Community back in 2014, Juan Pablo Zubilliga looked into this and found that, although 19 of the 30 ballparks saw a statistically significant benefit from playing at their home parks, the Rockies being 27% better was quite a bit ahead of the second place team at 10% better. The Cardinals meanwhile were 2.3% worse.

Another great article from Purple Row that I always go to whenever I’m looking at Rockies related dropoffs is also from 2014. The writer of that piece looked at the home and road wRC+ of the Rockies since 2002. From 2002 to 2014, the Rockies home wRC+ was 99, or essentially average. Their road wRC+ however was 82 wRC+. He compared that to the rest of the NL: the next highest difference was 9.

Random maybe? Well, he also decided to look into how the Rockies wRC+ each of their individual seasons at home or away compared to the league average. At home, the Rockies function as a normal offense. Some good years, some bad. They had a 98 wRC+ at home compared to the league 99 wRC+ in that span. On the road, they had an 82 wRC+, in comparison to a league 90 wRC+. The Rockies don’t just get a home field advantage. They get a disadvantage offensively whenever they play on the road, moreso than any other team.

So to make my point as clear as can be, you cannot just take Nolan Arenado’s road OPS and assume that this is now his new normal. If anything, you can probably expect his actual numbers to be better than his road OPS in the past, assuming he is the same player he was before anyway, which is a whole different discussion. Arenado turns 30 in April, so I assume he is the same player for a little bit anyway.

But I suspect people will have unreasonable expectations about Arenado on offense. Because here’s the cold, hard truth. Arenado will not hit .293 in St. Louis. He will not hit 40 HRs, he might not even hit 30. He will probably not get 100 runs scored or 100 RBIs. But it doesn’t matter. A player moving from Coors to Busch Stadium is a really good illustration of why those stats have fallen out of favor. Arenado will appear to be a much worse offensive player even if he’s the same player.

This is why we have stats like wRC+ and OPS+. It’s kind of weird. For years, I’ve argued Arenado was overrated, because people tended to have blind spots with his offense coming at Coors. (People saying he’s a future Hall of Famer are getting just a bit ahead of themselves for instance. He has a lot of work to do). That same very thing may very well make fans expect too much out of Arenado offensively.

I’ll use an example. Offensively at Coors, Nolan Arenado was apparently Albert Pujols, if you strip out the park effects. I’ll take Arenado’s best four offensive seasons, from 2016-2019, and take Albert Pujols’ tenure as a Cardinal.

Arenado: .303/.372/.575, .391 wOBA, 39 HRs, 106 runs, 123 RBIs

Pujols: .329/.421/.618, .431 wOBA, 40 HRs, 117 runs, 121 RBIs

Did I compare him to Pujols, just so I can post Pujols’ stats? We’ll never know. Because they aren’t really that close, but a .391 wOBA produced “just” a 129 wRC+ while a .431 wOBA produced a 167 wRC+. Those lines do not feel anywhere near that different. Okay I’ll come up with a better example.

Player A: .303/.372/.575, .391 wOBA, 39 HRs, 106 runs, 123 RBIs

Player B: .260/.376/.497, .371 wOBA, 27 HRs, 96 runs, 76 RBIs

Player A is obviously Arenado, but Player B is Matt Carpenter from 2015 to 2018. Carpenter batted leadoff for a good portion of that run, so the RBI comparison is absolutely not fair, but the rest is fair game. And while Arenado has a 129 wRC+ in that span, Carpenter had a 135 wRC+. How many people, if polled, would say Carpenter was a better hitter than Arenado during that time? Like if you asked people on the street, back in 2017, who is a better hitter right now? 5% would say Carpenter?

I’m not trying to knock Arenado here. I’m saying hey, let’s be realistic about what he’s going to bring to the table offensively. He’ll be a very good hitter. But you can expect a lower average (which is a thing my dad will notice), a lower OBP, less HRs, less runs, less RBIs. This will happen no matter what, unless he miraculously becomes a better hitter than he was before, which would be amazing, but I wouldn’t expect it.

Ben Clemens posted two alternate scenarios from ZiPS and click here to read the full post. But the important information I am using from that is that what we can expect from Arenado offensively entirely depends on his shoulder. If 2020 is something to be concerned about, his projection is a 109 wRC+. If we can essentially ignore 2020 happened, then his projection would be a 123 wRC+.

So what to expect from Arenado offensively? Hopefully, a 123 wRC+. And I just want to reiterate that a 123 wRC+ hitter at Coors is a very different looking hitter than a 123 wRC+ hitter at Busch. Most people who have found their way to this site understand that, but I hope I can convince some who maybe have accidentally stumbled here to temper their offensive expectations purely based on the fact that he’s going from the absolute best place to play as a hitter to a bottom 10 park to play as a hitter (specifically, according to 5-year park factors on Fangraphs, the 23rd worst place)