Park Factoring

Lost in all the Productive Outs hyping and criticism, ESPN.com began tracking something that is actually extremely worthwhile this year, although I’m sure barely anyone noticed. On their stats page, along with Productive Outs, Rob Neyer‘s Beane Count and Cy Young Predictor, attendance numbers and the Rolaids Relief standings, is a page with Park Factors.

There are more advanced (and complicated) ways to determine how much each ballpark impacted the various aspects of run scoring, but ESPN.com presents the information very simply and makes it easy to understand, which is always half the battle. So with the season winding down this week, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how the ballparks around baseball “played” this year.

Starting from the top, we can confirm the obvious, which is that Coors Field in Colorado has once again been the best place to call home for hitters. According to ESPN.com, Coors Field has increased overall run scoring by 39.6% this year, which is nearly double the increase hitters have seen from the second-best hitter’s ballpark, Ameriquest Field in Arlington, home of the Rangers. Those two ballparks boosting offense isn’t surprising, and neither are some of the other parks in the top 10 for run scoring, like Fenway Park in Boston, Skydome in Toronto, Wrigley Field in Chicago, and Bank One Ballpark in Arizona.

There are a couple surprises in the top 10, with the biggest one being that SBC Park in San Francisco ranks ninth in baseball for hitters, increasing run scoring by 5.7%. This is a pretty big shock to me, as the-park-formerly-known-as-Pac Bell had been one of the most extreme pitcher’s ballparks in baseball in the past. In fact, according to Baseball-Reference.com, it had never played as a hitter’s park in four years and came close to being neutral only once, last season.

So while you could always add to the amazement that came from Barry Bonds‘ numbers over the past few years by saying something like, “Plus, he did all that in one of the best pitcher’s parks in baseball,” that hasn’t been the case this season. Although, one-year park factors are considered iffy by a lot of people, and when you’ve got someone as extreme as Bonds involved, he could skew a lot of numbers.

Another thing that surprises me is that the Metrodome in Minnesota has played as a hitter’s park this year, ranking 11th in baseball by increasing run scoring by 5.0%. It’s not that the Metrodome is a hitter’s park that surprises me (it’s been a hitter’s park for nearly its entire existence), but instead how it’s been a hitter’s park this year. Back when it was first built and people actually thought it was a nice place to watch a baseball game, the Metrodome got tagged with the “HomerDome” nickname and that has been difficult to get rid of, despite the fact that it hasn’t been good for hitting homers in for quite some time. This year, for example, the Metrodome has actually decreased homers by 6.8%.

The strange thing about this season is that the Metrodome has also cut down on doubles (-2.2%) and triples (-34.6%). So how exactly has it played as a hitter’s park if it’s been a bad place to hit doubles, triples and homers? Well, it’s been an outstanding place to hit singles, increasing hits in general by 1.9% despite all the decreases in extra-base hits.

Looking a little deeper into overall run scoring shows that U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago has been the best place to hit homers in this year, even better than Coors Field. “The Cell” has boosted long balls by 43.9%, which is a massive increase. Coors Field (+21.1%) actually ranks fourth, behind Wrigley Field (+30.5%) and Bank One Ballpark (+29.4%). While I knew the White Sox have been playing in a great place for hitting, it definitely surprised me that it’s been the best place for hitting homers this year, and by a pretty big margin.

The best place for hitting doubles this year has been Fenway Park, which should surprise no one. Being able to bounce a fly ball off the Green Monster has long led to more two-baggers than your average ballpark, and this year Fenway has boosted them by 34.0%. Right behind in second place is Coors Field, which has increased doubles by 29.5% thanks to altitude-aided fly balls and spacious outfield gaps.

For those same reasons, Coors Field has also been one of the best places to hit a triple this year, increasing three-baggers by 64.6% to rank third in baseball, behind Comerica Park in Detroit (+83.6%) and SBC Park (+80.5%). The park factors for triples are a lot more extreme than for anything else, simply because of the overall scarcity of triples compared to singles, doubles and homers.

Now that we’ve looked at the places that have been friendly to hitters, let’s check out the other end of the spectrum: pitcher’s parks. For overall run scoring, no place has been worse than Safeco Field in Seattle, which has cut runs by 18.0%. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as Safeco Field has been a great place for pitchers since it opened in 1999.

Interestingly though, it hasn’t been all that difficult to hit for power in Seattle this year (despite what the Mariners’ hitters would have you believe), as Safeco Field has actually been favorable for hitting both homers (+2.8%) and doubles (+3.8%). What has really cut down on the run scoring in Seattle is that Safeco Field has been the worst place in baseball to hit triples (-51.3%) and singles, as hits in general have been cut down by 14.5% despite increases in doubles and homers.

The second-worst place to score runs this year has been Petco Park in San Diego, which has cut run scoring by 16.9% in its very first year. Before a single game had been played there, people were complaining about the power alleys and the way the ball carried. To their credit, the complainers were right on the money, as Petco Park has decreased homers by 30.4%.

While a 30.4% drop in homers is huge, San Diego actually hasn’t been the worst place to go deep in this year, as that honor belongs to Kansas City. For anyone who has followed park factors in the past, the fact that Kauffman Stadium has been the most difficult place to homer in this season probably comes as a huge shock, as it has typically been one of the better hitter’s ballparks in baseball. However, the Royals moved the outfield fences back this season and the results are pretty clear. Kauffman Stadium has decreased homers by 30.5%, dropping from a hitter’s haven to a severe pitcher’s park by cutting run scoring overall by 7.7%.

Along with Seattle, San Diego and Kansas City, the other ballparks that have been particularly tough on offense this year include the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati (-14.6%), Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay (-11.4%), the Expos’ Olympic Stadium/Hiram Bithorn combo (-10.6%), and Pro Player Stadium in Florida (-10.0%). Some other renowned pitcher’s parks like Dodger Stadium (-8.4%) and Comerica Park (-7.5%) have also been tough on hitters.

What does all this mean to your average, baseball-loving human? Well, we all know to discount the offensive numbers that Colorado hitters put up each season, but similar things should probably be done to the numbers from hitters in Texas, Boston, Toronto and Chicago, at least this year. So when people talk about how the White Sox are too one-dimensional and rely too much on homers, you can at least point out that it’s partly due to the ballpark, which increased homers more than any other in baseball.

On the flip side, hitters in places like Seattle and San Diego have been a lot better than their raw numbers suggest this year, which makes what Mark Loretta (.336/.389/.502), Brian Giles (.286/.377/.479), Phil Nevin (.293/.372/.505), Ryan Klesko (.291/.397/.450) and Khalil Greene (.273/.349/.446) have done for the Padres a lot more impressive.

And perhaps most amazingly, what Ichiro! has been able to do while playing half his games at Safeco Field is incredible. His home ballpark has cut hits by 14.6% this year, more than any other place in baseball, and yet he’s hitting .374 and about the break George Sisler‘s all-time record for hits in a season. Not coincidentally, Ichiro! has hit .409 on the road this year, but “only” .334 in Seattle.

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