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