How does the Trop affect DeJesus and the Rays’ hitters? (Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Park factors. No, I’m not talking about the fact that you can buy sushi in Seattle’s Safeco Field and not in Philadelphia, where heart-stopping Philly cheesesteaks are preferred fare. Or that they round up innocent sausages off the streets of Milwaukee and make them run races in Miller Park. Those things factor into a different aspect of a park.
For those who may not be aware, park factors are statistics derived from a mathematical formula used in assessing how much a specific stadium contributes to the offensive production of a team or player. It is calculated by dividing all runs scored by and against a given team at its home stadium, by the number of runs scored by and against that team on the road, then multiplying the result by 100. By taking into account all runs scored in a given stadium, this statistic puts a quantifier on how hitter-friendly or pitcher-friendly a given baseball park is.
Imagine you’re a batter and you play for the Oakland Athletics. O.co Coliseum is famous for having foul ground galore and a foul ball at O.co is more likely to stay in play than it is at other stadiums. Over the course of 81 games, those pop-ups that stay in play at O.co begin to wear on your batting average in a negative way. The opposite of that is the Green Monster at Fenway. Anyone remember Bill Mueller? In 2003, Mueller won his first and only batting title, hitting .326. Mueller also belted 45 doubles, also a career high. How, you ask? He used the short left field and bounced balls off the Green Monster. What would have probably been an easy flyout in a lot of stadiums was going for a double and Mueller was well on his way to a career year.
But here: is where park factors become a bit murky: does the short porch in left field at Fenway mean David Ortiz‘s numbers are overinflated? The answer is no. Park factors are not absolute. Ortiz is a pull hitter and Fenway is not a good park for left-handed pull hitters. While Ortiz did hit 27 doubles in Fenway (as opposed to 11 on the road), eighteen of his thirty home runs came away from his home park. The past three seasons, Ortiz has hit six more homers on the road than at home. Given all this, how does Tropicana Field help or hurt Rays hitters? Is it the pitcher-friendly haven that many claim it to be?
In 2013, the Rays slashed a .255/.333/.407 line at home, extremely similar to their .259/.326/.409 on the road.They only scored 14 more runs on the road than at home. Tropicana is perennially near the bottom of MLB in Park Factor and yet, as a team, their OPS was lower on the road. In previous years, though, the Rays have hit better on the road. In 2012, they slashed .248/.319/.407 on the road and .231/.314/.380 at home, scoring 39 more runs away from the Trop. In 2011, it was a similar story–the Rays slugged a better line on the road (.251/.327/.415) than at home (.236/.317/.389). Could 2013 have just been an outlier?
The factor we are not considering as we simply compare the Rays’ home and away numbers the last three years are that the Rays’ lineup has continuously changed. Since 2011, only Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist have played at least 100 games in each of the last three seasons. Did the Rays’ hitters from 2013 have some inherent difference compared to the previous two years? One thing immediately comes to mind: making contact. James Loney and Yunel Escobar gave the Rays two hitters that did not have a lot of power but did a great job putting the ball in play, striking out just just 150 times between them. 14 players struck out that many times individually. Zobrist also hit for less power last season, becoming more of a gap-to-gap hitter, and David DeJesus only reinforced that approach after he was acquired in August. The park factors say that Tropicana is basically league average for singles while reducing extra-base hits. We need more data to be sure, but it is possible that the Rays have found the right combination of hitters to negate the effects that the Trop might have on their performance. The Rays analyzed and analyzed Tropicana Field’s idiosyncrasies, and they finally figured out their best course of action.
If a park is too foreboding, hitters will shy away from it. The Seattle Mariners had to overpay to convince Robinson Cano to come to Seattle, even with the increased offense after they moved Safeco Field’s fences in. Tropicana Field may be a pitcher’s park, but it is nothing like that. All the Rays have to do is find the right players to put in their lineup, and they can prevent Tropicana Field from limiting their offensive output. If the Rays can play their cards right, their pitchers can reap the benefits of the park while the hitters will not be adversely affected at all.