Factoring in the Park Factor
Aaron Gleeman, writing on The Hardball Times about ESPN.com's Park Factor, discusses some of the interesting trends regarding several stadiums around Major League Baseball, including among others the home parks of the Twins, Red Sox, Mariners, and of course Rockies. However, Gleeman does not mention anything about the Phillies new park for 2004, Citizens Bank Park. "Why would he do that?", one might ask, "hasn't the 'Money Pit' been a bandbox all year? Harold Reynolds says so every night on Baseball Tonight." In response to that question, I would say, "Because CBP has been average."
That's right, average. ESPN.com's Park Factor is essentially a ratio that compares the number of runs scored per game at home and the number of runs scored per game on the road. A ratio over 1.000 means a park is hitter-friendly, and then of course a ratio of less than 1.000 means a park is pitcher friendly. To add a little context, the most hitter-friendly park in baseball, Coors Launching Pad, has a ratio of 1.404. The most pitcher-friendly park is the cavernous ballpark in Seattle with a ratio of 0.826. And of the thirty parks in Major League baseball, Citizens Bank Park ranks 13th with a ratio of 1.024, nearly neutral. Now, go get your beverage of choice, comeback, and read that sentence again: Citizens Bank Park ranks 13th with a ratio of 1.024, nearly neutral to pitchers and hitters.
But should we be surprised by this? Nearly two months ago, at the height of the FenceGate Scandal when we learned that the fences of CBP were mysteriously closer to homeplate than we thought, I had this to say:
This is bothersome to me. It doesn't bother me because I feel like it is a conspiracy by Phillies ownership to inflate homerun numbers in order to fill seats, which will in turn fill their coffers with money. And it doesn't bother me because Pennsylvania taxpayers (I know a few) got a smaller ballpark than they thought they were getting with their tax dollars. It bothers me because it doesn't give Jim Thome and the other Phillies batters credit for having some serious pop. All season long, we have had to listen to the ESPN Baseball Tonight crew mock every homerun hit at CBP because the place is a bandbox. One night Harold Reynolds called the new stadium "a joke" about four times during that night's Phillies highlight reel. Has anyone ever thought to consider that maybe there are a lot of homeruns hit at CBP because the team that plays half of their games there hit their fair share of homeruns?And a quick check of the numbers reveals that little has changed. Jim Thome for instance, now has more homeruns away from CBP (23) than he does at home (19), and the Phillies still have a higher ERA on the road (4.61) than at home (4.35).
As the Philadelphia Inquirer article that exposed the "scandal" points out, Phillies pitchers have a better ERA on the road than at home and Phillies batters average just 0.4 homeruns per game higher at home than on the road. Jim Thome, who leads the majors in homeruns has hit nearly an identical number at home (16) as he has on the road (15) in nearly an identical amount of at-bats (161 AB's at home, 159 AB's on the road). The Phillies second leading homerun hitter, Bobby Abreu, has 10 homeruns at home and 10 home runs away from home.
Yes, the Phillies have hit a lot of homeruns so far this year but maybe, just maybe, it is because they have some good homerun hitters.
In the end, it doesn't really matter that the nightly subjective observations have misled (to use the current political vernacular) phans and media commentators alike. But what really, really, really matters is the fact that it has misled the Phillies' pitchers. All season long, we have heard post-game comments such as "a lead is never safe in this park" and "we have to learn how to pitch here". And so, it is very easy to attribute the underperformance of the staff to attitude - being afraid of the gopher ball every time they take the mound.
The next logical question would be, if a non-rocket scientist phan like myself can quickly see that the ballpark is neutral, why hasn't the Phillies leadership - veteran players, coaches, and front office - tried to change that attitude among the pitchers? To be fair, if you isolate the Park Factor for just homeruns, CBP does rank among the most hitter-friendly parks, and homeruns stand out in one's memory more than singles (especially if you are the one that gave up the homers), but isn't that all the more reason for leadership to set the pitchers straight? And shouldn't the front office attempt to acquire high groundball percentage pitchers to negate the homers? Or, can't Joe Kerrigan or Larry Bowa get the pitchers to keep the ball down in the strike zone?
I realize that a lot of this is a lot to ask, attitudes, mechanics, and rosters can't be changed overnight, but I don't think it is a lot to ask for the Phillies leadership to make it known that Citizen's Bank Park is not a bandbox. Not only will it help with the pitchers on the staff, but it will help in the effort to recruit free agents and it will help the development of pitchers in the minors if they know they are not going to be pitching in Coors Lite Field when they grow up.
Oh, and by the way, let's not let the Phillies hitters in on any of this. Or opposing pitchers.
Update [5/16/05]: It appears as if many people are Googling or Yahooing "Park Factor" (or something similar) and turning up this post. If you'd like to read more on my thoughts about the Phillies or baseball in general, go to the new and improved Balls, Sticks, & Stuff at www.ballssticksstuff.com. See you there!