Wow. I think that one word sums up the flurry of moves the Padres have made in the last couple of weeks to turn their team from one of the worst offensive teams in baseball to one that is competitive. By adding Justin Upton, Derek Norris, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, and Will Middlebrooks, they are demonstrating that they are in love with power-hitting righties. They already had Jedd Gyorko, a right-handed slugging second baseman. All of these guys can hit the ball hard, strike out way too much, and bat from the right side.
Here's the problem with all of that: everyone knows Petco Park is a pitcher's paradise, a place where power goes to die and hitters leave frustrated. So, do the Padres know something we don't about their park, especially for right-handed power? Let's dive into some park factors and stats and try to characterize just what Petco does to these types of hitters.
This table shows the Fangraphs Guts park factors for Petco and the parks that the newest Padres came from, for comparison. 100 is league average, so Petco is clearly suppressing offense overall. It has the lowest basic park factor of this group (also second lowest in baseball, behind only AT&T Park). It suppresses homers, singles, and doubles while giving a small boost to triples, but not like the boost in Oakland or Tampa. Strikeouts, walks and grounders are just above average. Basically, all types of offense are reduced by this park. That's obviously not good news for the newcomers, but let's turn our focus to right-handed hitters specifically.
The table below shows the right-handed park factors for these same stadiums. Hmmm. Interesting. Suddenly, Petco looks a lot closer to the other stadiums in singles, doubles, and triples (especially Dodger Stadium and Tropicana). It no longer looks significantly worse than the other parks, except in homers, which got even worse. It was fourth worst on the previous table for homers, but is now the worst by a safe margin. That's not good for our sluggers.
|1B as R||2B as R||3B as R||HR as R|
Let's take a look at the park itself. This image, from hittrackeronline.com, shows all home runs hit in PETCO in 2014 overlaid on a map of the park with distance lines drawn on it.
From this map, we can see why righties have it harder hitting homers than lefties. Lefties have that little cut-out area right down the first base line and they seem to take advantage of it, judging by the number of dots in that little area. This was helped greatly by the fence move in early 2013, which turned Petco from the worst homer park for lefties in all of baseball, to an above average one.
Righties do not have such an area in left field. It's just a flat wall, except for a tiny little upper deck corner (Western Metal Supply Building Porch) that extends over the wall. It looks like right-handed hitters have attacked that very small corner as much as possible, but it is still 335 feet away from the plate, while that little spot in right field down the line is 322 feet and is much larger. Also, the fence move had no impact on right handed homers, according to park factors from 2012 and 2014.
Now, I could show you park overlays for all of the above parks on top of PETCO, but I will let you do that on your own. Instead, I will just show Turner Field overlaid onto the previous image.
I'm a little surprised too. What happened here? It looks like Turner Field is actually worse for homers for both lefties and righties, but the park factors say otherwise. What is going on? Well, first we have to account for wall height. Petco's left field wall is 4 feet high, while Turner's is only 8 feet. Wait, what? That can't be right, isn't that backwards? So, it's not wall height, it's not entirely the distance from home, what else is going on here?
The marine layer that settles in on San Diego on a nearly nightly basis may be to blame, but it's not clear. We can all agree that home runs really get hurt by Petco, so I expect big power reductions from all of the new sluggers in their new home. I would reduce their homer projections by 10-20%, but be careful not to reduce their average or on-base numbers too much, since Petco isn't nearly as hard on singles, doubles, and triples as it is on homers. Also, with all these good hitters in the same lineup, I would not be surprised to see run and RBI increases for all of these guys except Kemp, who was in an all-star heavy lineup last year.
Also, to address some very interesting thoughts posed by our Fake Teams leader, I thought I would discuss park factors a little. Ray mentions that Padres hitters were terrible in 2014 and that might be bringing down the park factors for the whole park. I think park factors are more complex than that and attempt to account for the offensive abilities of the home team, so I decided to dig into it a bit.
Look at what happened to Petco's park factor when they moved the fences in. The basic park factor went from 92 in 2012 to 94 in 2013. That increase is clearly due to the fence move, as are the significant increases in left-handed home run park factors since 2012. In 2014, the basic factor was again 94, even though the Padres offense was worse in 2014 than in 2013 (146 HR down to 109 in 2014, for example). The Red Sox offense took a huge step back in 2014 (219 fewer runs than 2013!!), but Fenway's basic park factor remained at 104 in both years. In the highest scoring year in recent Red Sox history (2003, 961 runs), the basic park factor was actually lower at 102. At least at Fangraphs, the home team's offense does not seem to have any effect on the park factors, as it is accounted for. Therefore, I do believe Petco will hurt all of these new hitters.
One final note that you may or may not find interesting:
Early afternoon games at Petco, as my co-worker Joe who lived in San Diego tells me often, are dangerous for pitchers because the lack of a marine layer early in the day may allow balls to fly further out than usual, leading to more hits and homers. Now, this is purely anecdotal, but I did get burned a few times starting Ian Kennedy or Tyson Ross last season in early afternoon games, so I'm at least curious. Next time (click here to read part 2), I'm going to do some research and see if this is a thing or not. It might be very useful when setting lineups and especially for daily leagues. That's all for now! Tschus!