It's easy to have tunnel vision when it comes with baseball. The seasons are long, and guess what happens before and after every long season? Another long season. There are changes that you can get used to quickly -- Ryan Vogelsong good, Jason Bay bad, for example -- but even those take a year or two to get completely used to.
But even if the changes can be glacial, they happen. Baseball now is much different than it was a decade ago, and before the "oids" can come out of your mouth as the second half of the word you're thinking, there's more to it than that.
For example, ERA+ is a stat that takes an ERA, accounts for league and home park, and turns it into a number based on a scale where 100 is average. Matt Garza had a 3.91 ERA for the Cubs; the league average ERA was 3.94. His ERA+ was 100. In the year 2000, Masato Yoshii threw 167 innings for the Rockies. His ERA+ was 99, meaning he was essentially as good at Matt Garza at preventing runs, after adjusting for Coors Field and the 2000 NL.
Yoshii's ERA was 5.86.
We're not that far removed from a time where a pitcher could allow almost six runs for every nine innings he pitched at Coors Field, and be something close to average. Good job on that six-run complete game, now hit the showers, Masato.
This comes up now because I've found a little toy at Baseball Reference. The whole site is stacked with amazing little tricks and widgets and links and squidgets, of course. It's easy to spend hours and hours on the site and miss something, just because there are so many neat things. Here's the one I just caught onto: On a player's page, click the "more stats" tab.
All the way at the very bottom is a section titled "neutralized stats", where you can take a player's career and shift it to another year. You can take Miguel Cabrera's season and see what it might have looked like in 1968, for example. There's a detailed description of how it works here.
In 2000, Neifi Perez hit .287/.314/.427 for the Rockies. If you take those raw stats and adjust them to what they might look like on the 1968 Dodgers, he becomes a .214/.236/.317 hitter.
This toy is a great way to waste hours.
Kevin Correia, 2012
Stats with Pirates: 4.21 ERA, 171 IP, 20 HR
Projected stats with 2000 Rockies: 7.66 ERA, 148 IP, 25 HR
But it's also kind of instructive. Correia just got a two-year deal. Do you think he would have got anything but a spring invite with those Colorado stats? I'm not going to argue the neutralizing tool is infallible, but it probably gets you in the neighborhood. You don't have to play around with Coors, either. Correia's season was the equivalent to a 5.75 ERA if he pitched for the 2007 Diamondbacks. GMs might look at Correia's 4.21 ERA and think, "Not bad." But it kind of is bad. It's so easy to forget the league context after years and years of thinking a four-something ERA is solid innings-eating territory.
The reverse is true. If 1968 Bob Gibson were on the Rockies in 2000 …
Bob Gibson, 1968
Stats with Cardinals: 1.12 ERA, 304 IP, 11 HR
Projected stats with 2000 Rockies: 2.42 ERA, 264 IP, 15 HR
... instead of a historical treasure, that season becomes the kind of year we expect from Justin Verlander. Booorrring.
Here's where we get to the thesis of this article: Holy crap, we lived in a time when Coors Field was a real thing. The hitter-friendly, moist-balled facsimile of Coors Field today? Bah. It's a shadow of what it used to be. And baseball is much, much, much better for it. But it's easy to forget that it used to be the moonball stadium that it used to be. Players like Vinny Castilla used to get big contracts because there were teams that didn't understand how park effects worked. Those Neifi Perez numbers up there convinced the Royals to swap their best trade chip straight up for him.
Stats with Mariners: .372 AVG, .414 OBP, .455 SLG, 8 HR, 262 H
Projected stats with 2000 Rockies: .420 AVG, .464 OBP, .514 SLG, 10 HR, 320 H
The neutralized stats also make us realize the missed opportunity of the old Coors Field. There was never a truly, truly historic season there. Sure, there were amazing Todd Helton seasons, and Larry Walker's career there was anything but a mirage. But there wasn't anything like the Ichiro season up there. There wasn't a Rickey Henderson, either.
Rickey Henderson, 1990
Stats with A's: .325/.439/.577, 28 HR, 119 R, 65 SB
Projected stats with 2000 Rockies: .399/.518/.709, 39 HR, 194 R, 89 SB
There wasn't, uh, one of these guys, either:
Barry Bonds, 2001
Stats with Giants: .328/.515/.863, 73 HR, 137 RBI
Projected stats with 2000 Rockies: .385/.576/1.012, 93 HR, 197 RBI
In the decade of thin-air nonsense, there wasn't a once-in-a-generation season with gaudy counting numbers that laid waste to anything baseball had seen before. And there could have been. There could have been a season that statheads and conventional folk still argued about today. But there wasn't. They're once-in-a-generation or once-in-a-lifetime seasons for a reason. Which is that they happen once in a … well, you know.
No point, other than Coors Field used to be weird. Baseball used to be weird. We used to accept that Coors Field was a part of baseball, we used to expect 19 players to break a 1.000 OPS in a season, whereas it's not a big shock that no one did it in 2012.
If you're so inclined, dig through the Baseball Reference archives and find the best seasons to translate into 2000 Coors Fieldese. I can't get enough of this!
Well, off to the Jeff Mathis page I go!