Understanding Each MLB Team’s Performance in the Context of Its Ballpark Part 1


One interesting thing in baseball is that every stadium is different. Unlike any of the other four major sports, there are no set requirements for the dimensions of the different fields. And then there are the factors of grass verus artificial turf, open air versus dome, and how the ball travels in the air. The bottom line is that for each stadium, a different group of players is necessary in order to achieve success. How has each MLB team performed not in respect to other teams but in respect to a neutral team in their own ballpark? Today we’ll look at the hitters and the stat we’ll look at is OPS+, which is OBP plus slugging percentage but adjusted to ballpark with 100 being average and any number above or below being percentage points better or worse than the league average. We’ll look at these stats for each team and attempt to figure out which teams have succeeded in building the right team for their ballpark, and which teams have not.

1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 116 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 5th)

Raise your hand if you saw this one coming? The Angels have actually had a well above-average hitting team based on their ballpark, Angel Stadium. Their team OPS+ has a whole lot to do with one Mike Trout, but the Angels do have an excellent offensive ballclub this season.

2. New York Yankees: 112 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 1st)

This comes as no surprise. The Yankees always have incredible offensive teams, and even in the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium, their offense year-in, year-out is about as good as it gets.

3. St. Louis Cardinals: 110 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 3rd)

The Cardinals have quietly put together an extremely good season on offense in 2012- although it is worth noting that their team OPS+ was 112 with Albert Pujols a year ago. Nevertheless, the bats aren’t the reason that the Cardinals have dropped off this season. But watch out- the Cardinals now sit in the NL’s second wild card slot.

4. Detroit Tigers: 106 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 6th)

It’s hard not to be a great offensive team with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in your lineup. The Tigers still thought that they would be better than this.

5. Texas Rangers: 104 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 2nd)

The Rangers hit extremely well, but then again, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is an extreme hitters ballpark. Still doesn’t mean that any pitcher in baseball would like to face their lineup.

6. San Francisco Giants: 103 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 20th)

This is the first real example of the point that we’re trying to make here: success is relative. Are the San Francisco Giants a great offensive team? Of course not! But given their pitcher’s ballpark, the Giants have put together an above-average lineup and that is one of the principal reasons that they’re in first place in the NL West this season.

7. Cleveland Indians: 101 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 17th)

Here’s another example of a team that isn’t so great offensively on the surface but has been solid given its ballpark. Unfortunately for the Indians, they haven’t been nearly good enough offensively to negate their pitching woes.

8. Boston Red Sox: 99 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 7th)

Wait a second- the 8th-best hitting team in baseball is 1% below average? Yes. Because of the great pitching this season, the MLB average OPS+ is 97.

The Red Sox have been pretty good offensively, but not nearly as good as they have been in the past (114 OPS+ in 2011), and that along with disastrous pitching has completely derailed their season.

9. Washington Nationals: 99 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 12th)

The Nats’ turnaround has been keyed by their pitching, but their offense has improved from an 89 OPS+ in 2011 to 99 in 2012, and that has been a big part of emergence as one of the best teams in baseball as well.

10. Minnesota Twins: 99 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 16th)

With Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau back, the Twins’ offense has been far from prolifically bad. The pitching on the other hand? Well…

11. Chicago White Sox: 97 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 11th)

The White Sox’ offense has been solid, with Adam Dunn‘s return to prominence doing a whole lot to make that happen. They managed just a 90 OPS+ back in 2011. As we’ve said a bunch of times already, good pitching + improved hitting= good ballclub. With the Tigers and the rest of the AL Central sputtering most of the season, the White Sox have taken advantage.

12. Milwaukee Brewers: 97 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 10th)

How much has Price Fielder’s departure hurt the Brewers? They had a 102 OPS+ in 2011. The Brewers should not be quite as bad as they have been this season (you’ll have to see Part 2 for that) but losing that much offense certainly hasn’t done them any good.

13. Cincinnati Reds: 97 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 8th)

The Reds really don’t have a great offensive team given their ballpark and they have actually been slightly worse offensively than they were in 2011 (98 OPS+). Joey Votto‘s absence has a lot to do with that. But their offensive hasn’t dropped off too much, and their improvement pitching-wise has made them one of the best teams in baseball as they’re running away with the NL Central. Their 8-game lead over the second place Pirates is the biggest difference between first and second place in any division in baseball.

14. Tampa Bay Rays: 97 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 23rd)

Considering Tropicana Field might as well be Petco East, the Rays have not been so bad offensively overall. As we have seen all season, their biggest problem has been inconsistent offense- their team OPS has gone up from .686 to .695 since the Felix Hernandez perfect game as they have gone on an offensive surge, but they’re going to need a whole lot more consistency to continue playing well, especially in the postseason. As we can see, if the Rays can manage just halfway-decent offense, they’ll be a great team. But even that has been a challenge for them way too often this season. The Rays hope that with Evan Longoria back, that won’t happen for a prolonged stretch again this season.

15. Atlanta Braves: 96 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 15th)

Nothing special going on with the Braves offense, but the resurgence of two players at opposite stages in their careers, Chipper Jones and Jason Heyward, has provided enough of a list to keep this team solid offensively all year and let the pitching carry the team.

16. New York Mets: 96 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 17th)

The Mets have not been that bad offensively… until you consider how much of their team OPS comes from David Wright and Scott Hairston and how high their payroll is. To put it one way, the Mets offense has been good enough to get leads for their bullpen to blow.

17. Arizona Diamondbacks: 94 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 9th)

The Diamondbacks have managed to contend as they’re only 5.5 games out in the NL West, but frankly the D-Backs have to have a better team playing in Chase Field and although their pitching has struggled at times as well, their offense is the reason that they’re that far out.  It seems crazy to say that when they’re 9th in baseball in OPS, but OPS+ shows us that it’s true.

Justin Upton‘s 97 OPS+ is pretty pathetic. Would you believe that it’s worse than his brother B.J. Upton, who has at least managed a 101? Of course, Justin’s OPS is nearly 40 points better because the difference between Chase Field and the Trop is so extreme, but that’s still pretty crazy because everyone knows which brother is better.

18. Pittsburgh Pirates: 95 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 22nd)

The Pirates’ pitching improvement has gotten more attention, but the Pirates’ OPS+ in 2011 was just 90. Andrew McCutchen‘s insane season probably accounts for most of that extra 5% but you also have Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez , and Garrett Jones all playing very well, so this lineup isn’t nearly as laughable as they used to be. (Although they just got swept in a 3-game series by the Padres, combining for 8 runs in the 3 games to fall out of the second wild card slot.)

19. Kansas City Royals: 95 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 15th)

Starting pitching has been the Royals’ biggest weakness this season, but their offense has suffered a precipitous fall from their nice 103 OPS+ in 2011. Losing Melky Cabrera (in hindsight not a bad move) and Jeff Francoeur (expected) and Eric Hosmer (uh-oh) completely imploding can do that.

20. Colorado Rockies: 94 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 4th)

Gotta love OPS+. The Rockies have an outstanding offensive team by conventional measures, but OPS+ illustrates just how much of a drop-off the Rockies have experienced without Troy Tulowitzki in the lineup most of the season. Wait a second- the Rockies had just an 89 OPS+ in 2011! That really makes you appreciate how good Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, and Tyler Colvin have been this season for Colorado and also just how bad the Rockies’ pitching is if their offense has improved by 5% compared to the league average yet the team has lost nearly 50 points on their winning percentage (from .451 to .402).

21. Toronto Blue Jays: 94 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 12th)

The Blue Jays had high aspirations this year. But their starting pitching has been godawful and their offense hasn’t done much to help ease the blow. Edwin Encarnacion has been hitting out of his mind and Jose Bautista is great if not quite at his 2011-2012 levels, but no other player minimum 150 PA’s has managed even an 100 OPS+. The Blue Jays’ 94 mark is actually the same that they managed in 2011 (yes, it’s the pitching’s fault that they’re losing).

22. Baltimore Orioles: 92 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 21st)

Remind me how this team is contending again? Their pythagorean winning percentage won-loss record is 56-68 while their record is 67-57. Incredible. Their offense has completely faltered, going from a 98 OPS+ in 2011 to just 92 this season. To be fair, a lot of that decrepit OPS+ comes from Robert Andino and J.J. Hardy, who have received 874 plate appearances despite an OPS+ of 61 by Andino and 74 by Hardy. And why is this team contending? An ERA- improvement from 114 in 2011 to 98 this season, I guess. That’s a big improvement, but a well below-average offense and a slightly above-average defense don’t add up to a playoff team. We’ll talk more about this in Part 2.

23. Oakland Athletics: 92 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 24th)

The A’s offense is still terrible, but their 3% OPS+ improvement this season courtesy of Yoennis Cespedes and Josh Reddick has certainly made an impact in their turnaround.

24. San Diego Padres: 92 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 27th)

This seems extremely weird to say, but it’s not the hitters’ fault that the Padres are so bad. The Padres have actually improved quite a bit offensively, going from an 86 OPS+ in 2011 to 92 this season behind Chase Headley and Carlos Quentin, but their pitching has been downright pedestrian this season, as we’ll discuss in Part 2.

25. Philadelphia Phillies: 90 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 18th)

And we thought the Phillies’ offense was bad last year when they posted a 95 OPS+! The pitching is probably more at fault for the Phillies’ train wreck of a season than the offense, but wow. If Carlos Ruiz didn’t decide to up his OPS+ from 107 last year to 154 this year, they would be even worse. Remember the multiple championships this team was supposed to win? At least Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt didn’t say “Not 1, not 2, not 3….”

26. Los Angeles Dodgers: 88 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 26th)

Ladies and gentleman, the classic Los Angeles Dodgers are back. Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley aren’t exactly Koufax and Drysdale, but the great-pitching, horrific-hitting Dodgers have certainly returned. They would certainly be better if Matt Kemp had been healthy more of the season, but this team does not hit well to put it mildly.

27. Seattle Mariners: 87 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 30th)

The Mariners have been a whole lot better on the road than at home (98 sOPS+ verus a measly 64), but this lineup is a disaster. Michael Saunders and Kyle Seager, who both have a 101 OPS+, are the closest this team has to good hitters other than John Jaso, who hit right-handed pitching like he has a personal vendetta.

28. Miami Marlins: 87 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 25th)

Miami’s offense has been MIA all season. Take out Giancarlo Stanton and it would get a whole lot worse. At least they didn’t go into fire sale-mode and trade Hanley Ramirez… oh, wait. Chris Coghlan has gotten 105 plate appearances for the Marlins this season. Do you know what his OPS+ is? 9. No, that’s not a typo. NINE. 91% below league average. Holy smokes.

29. Chicago Cubs: 84 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 28th)

The Cubs have lost 11 OPS+ points this season. No use rubbing it in. At least Anthony Rizzo has been solid.

30. Houston Astros: 84 OPS+ (actual OPS rank: 29th)

At least Jed Lowrie, Jose Altuve, and Jason Maxwell have been pretty good.

Some interesting things going on here with the Giants, the Rays (obviously why I did this article because RCG is a Rays site after all), and the Rockies among others, and once we look at the pitchers we’ll try to make sense of how much all these stats which adjust to ballpark have to do with winning. We’ll continue this series over the next couple of days with the pitchers, looking at them through ERA- and xFIP-.