Ranking MLB's Most Pitcher-Friendly Ballparks, by the NumbersApril 20, 2015
Ranking MLB's Most Pitcher-Friendly Ballparks, by the Numbers
Everybody loves a high-scoring game, one that features multiple lead changes, a handful of big knocks—maybe even a moonshot or two—and a final score that more resembles your weekend softball league than what we've come to expect in Major League Baseball.
If you're looking for such a game, might I suggest taking a trip out to Colorado's Coors Field, the granddaddy of all hitter-friendly ballparks for the better part of two decades.
But if you're itching to see a pitcher's duel, one where strategy plays a bigger part in the outcome and one mistake can be the difference between winning and losing—believe it or not, there are those among us who prefer such a battle—may I suggest scheduling a trip to one of the ballparks on this list.
What follows is our exercise in ranking the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in the game, and we'll use ESPN's Park Factors as the basis for our results. What exactly is a "park factor," you ask, and how does it pertain to our ranking system?
Let's take a look.
Park Factors Explained
Chances are that at one point in the not-so-distant past, you've looked at park factors from somewhere—ESPN, FanGraphs, perhaps even the latest edition of The Bill James Handbook—nodded your head and walked away not really understanding what it all means or how those numbers were calculated.
While there's no universal formula for calculating these park factors, what follows is the method for calculating ESPN's Park Factors, which is what we've used as the framework for our rankings. You might be surprised to learn that the formula for figuring these out isn't as difficult as you'd imagine.
First, let's start with the information you absolutely need. For our example, we'll use the 2014 Colorado Rockies and figure out what the park factor for runs scored at Coors Field would be.
|Team||Runs at Coors Field||Away||No. of Games|
With that information in hand, we can proceed.
- Step 1: Add the number of runs scored at Coors Field by the Rockies (500) to the number of runs scored by the opposition (444), which gives us 944. Now, divide that number by the number of games played (81). 944 divided by 81 works out to 11.65432098. (Note: Rounding the raw data in the first two steps throws the final calculation off.)
- Step 2: Repeat Step 1, but this time using the figures from away games. So it's 255 runs for the Rockies added to the 374 scored by the opposition, giving us 629 runs. Divide that number by 81 road games, and you get 7.765432098.
- Step 3: Divide the final number from Step 1 (11.65432098) by the final number from Step 2 (7.765432098), and you get 1.500794911. It's safe to round up at this point, so we're left with a park factor for runs at Coors Field of 1.501—by far the highest in baseball last year.
You could substitute any statistic for runs scored, so long as you have data for both home and away games of the team whose ballpark you're looking into. A score of 1.000 means the park is neutral for that statistic; a score above 1.000 favors the hitter, and a score below 1.000 favors the pitcher.
So What's Total Park Factor?
ESPN's Park Factors, which serve as the backbone of our rankings, apply this formula to six statistical categories: Hits, doubles, triples, home runs, walks and runs scored. Last year, I added up the two-year average (2012-13) for each ballpark in each category, divided by six (the number of categories) and was left with our total park factor.
But I've since realized that by doing so, I was giving unfair weight to triples, which aren't what you'd call a common occurrence. You're almost always guaranteed to see a run scored, a hit, a double and a walk at a given game, and there's a decent chance that someone's going to go yard. But a triple?
Nobody expects to see a triple.
So I've tweaked the formula. This year, I've combined doubles and triples into one category with the hope that it'll provide a more accurate picture of how often a park plays host to an extra-base hit that isn't a round-tripper.
We'll add the numbers from each of those five categories—runs scored, hits, doubles/triples, home runs and walks—and divide by five. What we're left with is the number that will determine where each ballpark lands on our list.
As with ESPN's Park Factors system, a score of 1.000 means the park is neutral for that statistic; a score above 1.000 favors the hitter, and a score below 1.000 favors the pitcher.
Take, for example, the two-year averages (2013-14) for Yankee Stadium.
Now that we have our total (sum), we divide that number by five and get 1.0268, which we round up to a total park factor of 1.027—which gives a slight edge to hitters, but nowhere near as great an advantage as we've been led to believe.
Got it? Good. Now on to the rankings.
I don't pretend that this is a perfect way to gauge a particular ballpark's tendencies, but this is the method I've chosen. If you've got thoughts on how to improve the process, let's hear them in the comments below. I'm always open to suggestions.
12. Busch Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals)
While it's historically been an extreme pitchers park, Busch Stadium has played more like a neutral venue in recent years and, were it not for a lack of power from the home team (only six home runs on the year), would look like a hitter-friendly venue in 2015.
Busch Stadium's .371 slugging percentage is tied with Atlanta's Turner Field for the fifth-lowest mark among pitchers parks, but it ranks eighth in OPS (.687) and ninth in both batting average (.250) and on-base percentage (.316).
As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Joe Strauss recently wrote, the Cardinals' production in 2014 was far worse than their on-field results led us to believe:
The 2014 Redbirds were a marvel that refuted statistics. Most teams that average 3.82 runs per game see a spike in double plays and a significant decrease in power while constructing a Fielding Independent ERA worse than league norm can expect a struggle to reach .500, never mind reaching a fourth consecutive National League Championship Series. But that was who the Cardinals were last year — and what they can’t trust to repeat this year.
Such an erratic performance, both at the plate and on the mound, only helps to muddy the waters when trying to ascertain whether a park favors one side of the equation or the other.
11. Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays)
Tropicana Field comes dangerously close to being a neutral park—it's playing nearly completely neutral in 2015—but those on the mound have had a slight advantage over the past two years.
If the park factors aren't enough to convince you of that—runs scored, home runs and hits all favor the pitcher—consider this: Rays pitchers enjoyed a nearly half-run drop in their ERA at home (3.46) from their mark on the road (3.85) in 2013 and 2014 combined.
While the uptick in home runs isn't likely to continue—there's never been a 200-home run season at the Trop (199 is the high, achieved back in 2006), Tampa Bay's ballpark continues to trend back toward being a neutral venue at the least and at most, a slightly hitter-friendly place to play.
10. Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Baltimore Orioles)
I know, I know, how can the home field of the team that's hit more home runs than any other club in baseball since 2011 possibly be classified as a pitcher's park?
Because over the past two years, it's been a difficult place to record extra-base hits that didn't go over the wall. Only Dodger Stadium (0.698) and Safeco Field (0.751) were tougher venues at which to leg out a double or a triple.
While some regression from the early-season offensive explosion at Camden Yards is to be expected (Baltimore, New York and Toronto put a combined 72 runs on the board over six games), Oriole Park at Camden Yards figures to continue trending back toward being a hitter's park.
9. Turner Field (Atlanta Braves)
Typically more of a neutral venue, Turner Field cracks our top 10 after failing to find a home on our list last year. When you consider what Atlanta's calling card has been for the past, say, two decades, however—top-notch pitching—it's not surprising that its home field would favor the guys on the mound.
We can point to Justin Upton's arrival and Evan Gattis' emergence as reasonable explanations why Turner Field grades out as favoring the hitter when it comes to home runs, and with both of them now playing elsewhere, we've seen an expected drop in the power department.
With little in the way of your traditional slugger in the team's everyday lineup and a rotation that's been strengthened by the addition of Shelby Miller (an upgrade over Ervin Santana), the more pitching-friendly trend figures to continue throughout the season.
8. Progressive Field (Cleveland Indians)
Part of the early-season offensive explosion at Progressive Field can be attributed to a three-game visit by the juggernaut that is the Detroit Tigers, a series that saw 40 of the 51 runs scored in Cleveland cross home plate (25 of them for the Tigers, who swept the Tribe).
With the lake-effect winds having their way with fly balls and giving outfielders fits, it's no surprise to see Progressive rank 10th out of our 12 pitcher's parks in home runs (309) and 11th in both slugging percentage (.391) and doubles and triples (605).
7. Nationals Park (Washington Nationals)
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Nationals Park is playing as an extreme pitcher's park in 2015 given the addition of Max Scherzer to the rotation. Per ESPN, the team has pitched to a combined 1.57 ERA and 1.02 WHIP while holding the opposition to a .199 batting average over seven home games.
While I've pointed to a regression to the norm elsewhere—and that figures to be the case here as well, especially when you consider that the team's offense has yet to really get going—that regression may not be as extreme at Nationals Park as it is in other parks.
Ian Desmond's defensive yips don't figure to last all season, which will help to limit the opposition's offensive opportunities (try saying that three times fast), as will the eventual rounding into form of Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, who haven't looked like their elite selves thus far.
6. Angel Stadium (Los Angeles Angels)
As was the case in the early part of 2014, Angel Stadium is playing like a hitter-friendly venue, with 27 runs crossing home plate in the three games that Los Angeles has hosted (all losses to the Kansas City Royals).
And just like last year, things figure to revert back to the venue's two-year norms, which favor the pitcher, especially when it comes to extra-base hits. After all, a three-game series isn't nearly enough data to accurately portray how the park is actually playing.
While park factors do their best to put every park on an even playing field, disregarding the talent level of the home team, a somewhat shaky Angels rotation could contribute to The Big A inching closer to becoming a more neutral venue.
Since last we checked, there's been a substantial increase in the two-year average park factors in runs (.890 to .944), home runs (.831 to .870) and hits (.860 to .998).
5. Citi Field (New York Mets)
For the second time in four years, the New York Mets made changes to the outfield configuration at Citi Field. This time around, the club brought in parts of the center field and right-center field walls.
Per the team's official website, these tweaks make the team's new home more like its old one: "The new dimensions (380 in right-center and 370 in right) are similar to those at Shea Stadium (396 in right-center and 371 in right)."
Those changes certainly help to partially explain why the park has played like an extreme hitter's venue in the early part of 2015, though once the oppressive humidity that comes along with New York summers arrives, those numbers figure to revert closer to the venue's two-year averages.
4. Petco Park (San Diego Padres)
San Diego's Petco Park isn't quite the pitcher's paradise it once was—that's what happens when the walls are bought in by roughly 10 feet, as they were prior to the 2013 season—but it's still a place that pitchers love to call home.
While it leads the way in park factor for runs scored, is second in hits and fourth in home runs, Petco's spacious outfield—which some believe could ultimately fell the new-look Padres this season thanks to shaky defenders at all three outfield positions—is highly conducive to doubles and triples.
It makes sense—one person can only cover so much ground—and balls that land in the outfield gaps or down the line tend to bounce and roll their way to the wall, giving hitters ample time to stretch a single into a double or a double into a triple.
Given the perceived defensive shortcomings of the Padres outfield in 2015, it wouldn't be surprising to see this park factor number increase when we take a look at these a year from now.
3. Safeco Field (Seattle Mariners)
Like the changes in San Diego, the changes Seattle made to the outfield configuration before the start of the 2013 season at Safeco Field have had their desired result—an increase in offensive production. But not even a shorter porch—or the addition of Robinson Cano—was able to knock it from the top spot as the American League's most pitcher-friendly venue.
Among the 12 parks that made this list, Safeco has the second-highest home run total (310), trailing only Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which sits nearly 100 dingers ahead (407). But Safeco has only the seventh-highest park factor for home runs (0.969).
How is that possible, you ask?
Because when the ball flies out of the park in Seattle, it does so in bunches. Of the 310 home runs hit there between 2013 and 2014, nearly a third (95) came in only 27 games. As the park factors we've computed (and ESPN's as well) are based on a per-game basis, it's not quite as home run friendly as it may first appear.
2. Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Don't fret, Los Angeles Dodgers fans. The team didn't make some under-the-radar renovations to the ballpark configuration over the winter that took it from being baseball's second-most pitcher-friendly venue to a band box, as the park factors would seem to indicate.
No, the uptick in offense at Dodger Stadium thus far in 2015 can be largely attributed to Brandon McCarthy, whose nine earned runs, 15 hits and six home runs allowed over his first two home starts skew the early-season numbers.
While home runs have been more prevalent in recent years, especially for left-handed batters—of Andre Ethier's 146 career home runs, nearly two-thirds have come at home—Dodger Stadium remains one of the toughest places to thrive offensively.
1. PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Going deep isn't a regular occurrence at PNC Park, thanks to a unique outfield configuration, including a 21-foot-high wall in right field (honoring the late Roberto Clemente, who wore No. 21) and the "North Side Notch" in left field—a spot that's 410 feet from home plate and the place fly balls go to die.
“From where the seats end in right-center, to the foul pole in left, it takes a pretty good pop to get it out of there,” Pirates reliever Tony Watson told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Travis Sawchik. “Our approach—pound the fastballs in, get outs in three pitches or less—it kind of plays to the park."
Only St. Louis' Busch Stadium has seen fewer home runs over the past two years (220) than PNC Park's 224, while the venue trails only San Diego's Petco Park for the lowest slugging percentage (.352) around, playing to a .363 mark.
It's also by design that the Pirates field one of the more athletic outfields in baseball, a group that since the start of the 2013 season ranks sixth in defensive runs saved with 33.
“We spend a little more time on our pitching analysis and guys we feel would be productive in this ballpark,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle explained to Sawchik. “Outside of that, you try to construct an outfield that you think can play and go get balls—we've done that.”
Unless otherwise linked/noted, all non-Park Factor statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs. All 2015 Park Factors courtesy of ESPN and are current through games of April 18..
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