What to Build? Part 1

Today we are starting a series! Instead of talking about the stuff that goes on around the park, it is my assignment to cover what goes on inside of it. Regardless of where a stadium may one day be constructed, the design of the stadium will have a real impact on the game.

You can go and read stories from back in the 90’s, you can read them from a few years ago, or you can read them in the past few weeks. Whenever a GM is asked “What do you want to see in a new ballpark?” they will give a similarly worded answer that say, “As long as it plays fair, I am okay with it.”

Hogwash! What is the point of having a home field if you have no advantage? What sport gives you more of a home field advantage than the only one with different playing field dimensions depending on where you are playing?

So, for the first installment, let’s tackle Home Runs.

“All this land is mine for as far as this ball shall travel!”

Who remembers this being shouted on Sportscenter? My personal favorite was the time I heard Craig Kilborn (I think?) say, “And Giambi says, ‘mecca lecca hi mecca hiney ho!’ to that one.”

While Home Runs inspire some irreverent banter on highlight shows, their impact on the game is much bigger than that. There are many angels we can look into here but I am going to focus on two interrelated concepts. Signing free agents and building teams that win games.

First, let’s start with a non A’s related factoid. As Marine Layer once semipredicted- Citi Field hath wrought havoc upon David Wright! Look at the precipitous drop in his slugging percentage… That sucking noise is future millions disappearing from David Wright’s future bank account.

And this brings me to my first point… What do Jason Bay and Adam LaRoche have in common? I’d say agents who understand park effects… except Bay’s let him sign with the Mets. Of course, Bay doesn’t have to worry about his future millions, so much, when he is getting 80 of them now. That’s right people… Randy Johnson came to SF because he believed it was a great place to pitch while two above average hitters decided they wouldn’t listen (in Bay’s case) or would turn down a metric tonne of cash (in LaRoche’s case) rather than to spend a summer in the coldest winter of San Francisco.

Or, more succinctly… Free agent hitters will come to a new Bay Area ballpark if there is a place they can hit home runs and get paid ridiculous amounts of coin. Free Agent pitchers on the other hand…

The next question is, on behalf of those free agent pitchers, “Are these park factors real or are they the result of the team that plays in the stadium?” It sounds dumb, right? Of course some parks are easier to hit in and others are easier to pitch in. Right?

In the sabermetric community, Park Factors, are used to normalize performance. The argument goes that, since Kevin Kouzmanoff played half his games in Hades for hitters (Petco Park has a PF of .721 for yard balls hit in 2009) than his 720 OPS is actually more like 800. Or, actually, if the park has a PF below 1.000 than it is harder to hit bombs than if it has a number above 1.000. For the record, in 2009, Petco was the worst with .721 while the next closest was Cleveland with a .838. These Park Factor numbers are published for offensive categories including Runs, HR’s, 2B’s, 3B’s, Hits and Walks.

Let’s check out Oakland, using the rate of runs scored as a barometer,  just to prove the point (all park factor numbers from espn.com, barf):

  • 2001- 1.357
  • 2002- .703
  • 2003- .515
  • 2004- 1.012
  • 2005- 1.061
  • 2006- .921
  • 2007- .833
  • 2008- .916
  • 2009- .974

Well… ugh. How the heck did the park move all over the place if the park is what drives the numbers? Or, is it that a team can be built to accentuate a given park’s factors? Or is it both?

When I think of teams built for the park in which they play, off the top of my head, I think of the Colorado Rockies in the mid 90’s. Also known as the Blake Street Bombers. That team always felt like a team that was built on the premise that, if slow pitch softball games are going to be played in the big leagues we might as well build the best slow pitch softball team possible. Or, if our park is suited to home runs, let’s get a bunch of dudes who can swing from their heels. Come to think of it… that isn’t all that different then the A’s in 2001.

But to cut to the chase on this team building thing… If I had a vote I would ask that the stadium be built with a short porch in left field, a plus 400 foot center field and an average right field. Then, I would get right handed sluggers (and borderline sluggers) to come play in my new digs. I would overpay for ground ball pitchers and a good defensive infield. It is a fool proof plan, says I.

While everyone else is chasing the left handed sluggers, like Johnny Damon, and I get the right handed bats all to myself. The pitchers will want to come where they will get run support and the punch and judy middle infielders will want a ring. I feel like a Doctor Evil pinky pose is in order.

What’s the worst that could happen? Like Rafael Furcal would turn down my offer (that is clearly superior to the Dodgers’ offer) or something.

What do you guys think? Do you want to see a Home Run hitter’s paradise?

28 thoughts on “What to Build? Part 1

  1. Do I want a homerun hitters paradise? No. I don’t want to see Arlington or Coors. But do I want Petco or even Oakland is it is now? Not really.

    I want a park that looks interesting, has its little kinks, maybe perhaps favoring a certain type of hitter that the A’s tend to produce, but that ultimately plays either average or a shade towards pitchers.

    I want my offense, but I also dont want it to feel like my pitching staff, however good, can never hold onto a game once they have the lead. Likewise, though, I dispair at the current trend: once we let go of the lead, we can’t get it back.

    • I don’t think you’ll ever have to worry about a launchpad ballpark on the West Coast unless it’s well inland. The marine layer is our natural humidor. There’s a much longer post due at some point about weather and climate, but for now let’s stick with the HR talk.

      • R.M.,
        After all these years, come clean! Why did you go with “Marine Layer”?

      • It’s something locals often talk about but don’t really understand. Many people think (thanks to meteorologists) that the marine layer is the fog when it isn’t. The marine layer is a cold air mass in which the fog may or may not develop. That misunderstanding is analogous to our general understanding of sports economics.

        Also, the dearly departed Bill King, who was an avid sailor, frequently made mention of the marine layer during A’s broadcasts. So for me it’s also a reminder of my formative years.

      • Thanks R.M.!

      • Remember when Jane Dornacker did the weather on radio (before moving to NYC where they made her ride in a copter and she died in a crash)? She couldn’t say “marine layer” without giggling.

      • Long Live Bill King

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  3. I’m with Zonis. I don’t want a launching pad for a ballpark, but at the same time, I don’t want a park which will rob a batter of a home run on a well hit ball.

    I don’t see a new ballpark as being the total solution to all of the A’s attendance/financial challenges. IMO, they will still have a hard time competing with the larger market teams for power hitting. So, unless they can bring power hitters up through the ranks, they will have to be satisfied with the Suzukis and Sweeneys of this world. But for me, that’s okay. As much as I hate the Angels, I love Mike Sciocia’s style of baseball – hit and run, put pressure on the defense and hit to the gaps. We saw some of this with Rajai Davis this past season, and the fans loved it.

    So maybe I would like to see a ballpark with short left and right field porches, but wide open alleys. This would allow our average power hitters to hit to the gap, while at the same time neutralizing the opponent’s power hitters.

  4. Turns out that fans prefer teams that score runs. That said, I think most all of us would agree that we do not want the A’s to build a bandbox. Average sounds about right. If the park favors hitters, I would hope it does not do so by much. A stadium with an average park factor should contrast well with AT&T, since it is such a pitchers park.

    • GJ10,
      It might be interesting to see how park factors, such as runs, correlate with attendance peaks and valleys. We’d probably need a bunch more years worth of data.

      • I had read that their was a positive correlation. Let I downloaded this paper that said for MLB, results there is not a consensus. For minor league baseball, all studies suggest fans love scoring. From the link:
        Fans in the South Atlantic League appear to
        enjoy scoring which creates more on-field excitement and a greater desire to attend future games.
        This result is consistent with that of Siegfried and Eisenberg (1980) who find the number of home runs per game increases attendance at minor league games. Domazlicky and Kerr (1990) find similar results for Major League Baseball, but Bruggink and Eaton (1996) find the opposite result, while Rascher (1996) notes the insignificance of runs scored on attendance. In our results above, both specifications of the regression results suggest that an additional run scored leads to over 140 more fans for future games.

  5. I think the greatest home field advantage is in the playing field perimeter. Fielders who are very familiar with their surroundings make better plays on the ball that saves bases & runs, and gets outs. Outfielders who know how a ball will play off a non-uniform outfield wall is a big factor. As is a third baseman knowing exactly where the dougout steps are or the rolled up tarp. That is home filed advantage. Hitting seems like a wash. If the visitors can bash, then who cares what the dimensions are.

    • Good thoughts. We will get into that, eventually.

      The reason i focused on free agents and building a team that fits a park is because dimensions play an important part in where people choose to sign. On a game by game basis, the all the players deal with the same conditions, but over the course of a season the 24 guys on the home team roster have to deal with 81 games of a park that either limits or enhances runs.

      Look at David Wright’s stats in the link above. Or, for an A’s perspective, look at Kevin Kouzmanoff’s park adjusted stats last season. I heard all season about Wright’s “power outage” but it should not have been totally unexpected considering the changes in his home park. Give him another season of doubles power and he might be asking for a trade. We also hear how Kouzmanoff is a bad offensive third basemen, but if you use park factors to filter his stats… in a neutral park he is league average.

      The difference in the amount of cash a league average hitting, good glove third basemen and a horrible hitting, good glove third baseman can command on the open market is considerable.

      • I hear you. I think I would prefer a down the middle type of park (hitting vs. pitching) and let the quirks work in your favor. Also, we talk alot about “power outage” but are there similar numbers available on guys stats significantly improving due to their new home park?

  6. I just don’t want to see one of these gimmicky parks like they’ve built in Houston (and others) where the outfield dimensions are arbitrarily made irregular, not to mention the utterly bush-league little hill they put out there. Too many teams have tried to recreate the old-style parks like Fenway, but those had a reason to be the shape they were. AT&T is great because it is built for its location. It’s real. That’s what I want. A park that reacts to its surroundings. If the location requires a short porch, then fine. Just don’t create a hokey, wannabe replica of days gone by. Those are an embarrassment.

  7. Park factors are complicated when done properly.
    Check out what Baseball Reference and Total Baseball have to say on the subject:
    The ESPN park facors that you have posted are bizarre, and lack credibility on their face. (I’ve seen similar PF peculiarities before on their website.) No ballpark goes from 136 to 70 to 53 to 101 in successive years (ESPN’s claims for 2001-04), unless a team is constantly switching leagues or radically remodelling every season. Compare those figures to 95, 105, 94, and 98 for Baseball Reference — much more believable. ESPN’s standard deviation is 32%, while BBRef’s is 4%.

  8. How about bleacher seats shaped as giant ice plant blades?

  9. I would argue that fans love exciting plays more than just scoring. Here’s one man’s ranking of baseball’s top five most exciting plays:
    1) inside the park HR
    2) triple
    3) steal of third base
    4) standard HR
    5) steal of second

    Because of this, I would make the dimensions huge and field a track team. Think 1987 St. Louis Cardinals, who won the NL with nearly 248 steals, 49 triples, 252 doubles and a paltry 94 HRs. They pitched well, played great defense and ran like heck. For my money, a team like that in Oakland would be much more fun to watch than the ol’ “stand around waiting for the three-run homer” teams.

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