Bringing in the fences

In an effort to get their struggling teams to hit more home runs, the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres early during the offseason that they are pulling in fences in their respective ballparks. Whether or not this will actually work is up for considerable debate. Field dimensions are only one factor of many that influence a team’s HR total. As of the end of the 2012 season, we even have evidence from team that moved in fences last year, the New York Mets. In 2011, the Mets hit 50 HR at home. How many did they hit in 2012? 50.

None of the West Coast ballparks have changed their dimensions in the last decade, which allows for an nice comparison. Over the last nine years (since Petco Park opened), the numbers of HR hit by the home team and visiting teams per park have varied greatly per ballpark.

Home Runs hit in West Coast ballparks. H: Home team, V: Visiting team. Bold: First, Italics: Last

Home Runs hit in West Coast ballparks. H: Home team, V: Visiting team. Bold: First, Italics: Last

All West Coast ballparks have been historically considered pitcher friendly or neutral at best. What’s surprising is the lack of consistency from year to year for most teams. The A’s were the most consistent when it comes to giving up jacks at the Coliseum, but vary wildly from one year to the next, with the power figures acting as a leading indicator for team success. While the Padres have tracked similarly to the A’s recently, the Mariners have been straight up bad for nearly a decade. They lead the WC in HR given up at home in four of the nine years, while sustaining a gap of -139 HR hit vs. given up. The A’s are a net-positive (653 for vs. 614 against) at the Coliseum, thanks to 2012’s power surge.

No discussion of home runs on the West Coast can be had without a frank discussion of the dreaded marine layer. What we call our natural air conditioning (thanks California Current!) acts as a wet blanket for sluggers, who have frequently found the dense, moist air challenging for hitting bombs. The LA ballparks are less impacted because of their slightly inland locales, but during the April/May/September months they can be just as tough as the conditions at their counterparts to the north (and San Diego).

climate-westcoast1

Average high and low temperatures during baseball season

As for the actual field dimensions, well, we’ll just have to wait and see about that. Adjustments at Safeco Field are slight, with the biggest change happening in deep left-center.

safeco

Changes at Safeco Field are welcome, though not particularly severe.

After spending a month in San Diego in April/May, I echoed the same sentiment as everyone else that has been to Petco: It’s too big in right. No secret there. The park should play much more neutral now.

petco

At Petco, the terribly deep right field has been tamed, though right-center remains among the deepest in MLB.

In this new “dead ball” era, the real problem for the M’s and Friars is one of personnel, not fences. The M’s have a number of guys who could hit 25-30 HR annually in the near future, but they desperately need someone – anyone – to hit at least 10-12 at home. The leading basher at home was Michael Saunders with 8. Maybe the new fences will garner some badly needed confidence. What would probably help the M’s more is Giancarlo Stanton. As for the Padres, things may only get worse if Chase Headley is traded as expected before or during the season. Headley led the Pads with 12 HR at home, while no one else other than Carlos Quentin had more than 5. With the team expected to finish 4th or last in the NL West, the HR total could drop despite the dimension changes. The A’s have frequently sought out power via low-risk (financially), high-reward veterans at the end of their careers. The M’s signed Raul Ibanez and traded for Kendrys Morales, which should help with the HR numbers combined with the drawn in fences. And if you’re Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick, you have to like your chances in Seattle a little more too.

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