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A Different Approach to Fence Moving

October 22nd, 2012 by Melvin

Petco Park ScoreboardFences have been a popular topic among Padres fans since the team moved to Petco Park in 2004, including our little corner of Padre-land-ville.

We approach the subject from different angles, from chats about what type of baseball is most entertaining (and to what type of fan), to how the park affects free agent signings, or most annoyingly the “other teams can hit in Petco just fine” crowd, which is clearly not true.

After so many keyboards have died discussing the subject, the Padres today announced they’re finally moving in the fences. Lets have fun and approach this a little differently. Lets re-write Padres history. Pretend for a moment it’s 2004. Petco Park debuted and played perfectly neutral to hitters and pitchers. Phil Nevin never pointed and glared at Kevin Towers after that long fly out. We were then more aware that Brian Giles kicked all kinds of ass on offense, and we spent more time talking about the best looking Padres ever and a lot less time discussing the fences.

Now you’re sitting in 2012 following 9 years of completely neutral baseball reading The Sac Bunt on your tablet or phablet or whatever, and I make a rather indecent proposal:

The Padres should move the fences out. Way out, so far that Petco Park becomes the most extreme ballpark in baseball.

When looking at making a change, it helps to imagine what things would be like had that change always been the case, and propose the opposite. This process is a great way to remove potential bias based on what we know and are used to. And it’s helpful with the fences debate, because taking a neutral park and making extreme seems rather silly. Don’t you agree?

There’s more to it than that

Of course this isn’t the only way of looking at it, but it is enlightening. Other things to consider include the result–how sure are we that the changes will make the game neutral, or close to it? That’s a hard question to answer without looking at what studies have been done. Considering the Zona Boyz have been with the team 3 years now, and the Padres have presumably been collecting data for the 9 years it has been available, I’ll assume they’ve done their homework as best as can be done and this isn’t something taken lightly.

Another consideration is the potential advantage of an extreme environment. Opinions from people I respect about that possibility vary. Dave Cameron writes that the Mariners, after adjusting their fences this year have been “freed from [the] bondage” of having to rely on players with a particular skill set  in their formerly non-neutral park.

MGL asks if anyone has evidence that pitching, speed, and defense can be tailored to provide a home field advantage. He doesn’t seem convinced by what’s out there (in 2009). Interestingly, in the comments section the same Dave Cameron suggests a team can indeed build a roster that creates an advantage for the home team. This discussion was from 2009, perhaps Dave has since changed his opinion about what’s possible or advantageous.

Differing ideas exist from inside the baseball world as well, even from former Padres employees. Former GM Jed Hoyer famously said he’d prefer to move the fences OUT rather than in, believing he could build a team around the park. Or he was just making a point, I wouldn’t know as I interpret everything I hear literally.

Former CEO Sandy Alderson favors a more neutral environment, supporting the potential move for the Padres and later an actual move as GM with the Mets. But I take anything an employee says about their employer’s ballyard with a blue and white grain of salt.

After following the debate for a large part of the decade, it’s obvious to me that anyone who’s absolutely convinced they know what’s best either knows something everyone else doesn’t, or needs to chillax a bit.

How many teams are there again?

“Uh sir, I have some bad news. Remember when you put me in charge of designing the bullpens at Petco Park, and I said that probably wasn’t a very good idea because I’ve never watched baseball before in my life, then you said ‘It’s cool brah’ and went back to your game of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3? That may not have been so cool, brah, because apparently there are supposed to be 2 bullpens.”

A conversation I’m pretty sure happened circa spring 2004. It’s about time that gets fixed. Same for doing something else with the weird party area in left field that never made any sense and no one will miss. Except maybe that dude who passed out there while simultaneously being only interesting event that happened in 9 years of that area being a thing.

Sorry to bring this up

It sucks the Padres won’t be able to use the park as an advantage, but we considering nobody knows if that’s even possible it’s hard to get upset about it. And if the Padres can fix other ballpark issues in the process, I say great. I also say we want Sculpin available while your’e at it. And that’s one more seemingly endless discussion we can put to rest. If we can move in the fences on Matt Bush I’ll be golden.

Posted in petco park | 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “A Different Approach to Fence Moving”

  1. lonndoggie says:

    So yeah, it’s done, and we’ll see how it goes. I hope for the best, while concerned that it might not go well (see how the Citi field changes did for the Mets this year).

    The “others can hit fine in PETCO” crowd are right when it comes to home runs, which would seem to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, assuming we’ve been building a ball club designed around not trying to hit home runs.

    The ESPN park factors info you point to doesn’t give one the ability to determine if other teams can hit better in PETCO than the Padres do. But the ballpark splits available at baseball-reference.com do–here’s an example, for 2010:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/play-index/split_stats_lg.cgi?full=1&params=site%7CSAN02%7CML%7C2010%7Cbat%7CAB%7C

    Looking at the data for 2010-2012, here’s what I found as far as how the Padres did vs. their visitors for each number-of-base-hit per at bat, indicating who did better: Padres or the visitors (appologies if this doesn’t line up nicely–no preview on the comments):

    Year 1B 2B 3B HR
    2010 Pads Vis Pads Vis
    2011 Vis Vis Pads Vis
    2012 Pads Pads Pads Vis

    BTW, I didn’t cherry-pick these years, I just did the three most recent and stopped. I welcome anyone truly interested to do so, see if we ever won the Petco home run derby. I’d guess not.

    Padres had good years in 2010 and 2012 (second half, anyway), not so much in 2011, and to some extent, these numbers reflect that. However, the visiting teams always hit more home runs. At least we dominate when it comes to triples (not shown, but we’ve also ruled in stolen bases).

    So, yeah, it looks like we’ve been building a team to at least try to do well in Petco, even if we didn’t fully succeed.

    The damn Giants, however, did build such a team, at an even more extreme park, per ESPN’s park factors. The Dodgers aren’t doing too badly, either, in a park that’s listed as just slightly more hitter-friendly than Petco.

    How’d they do it? Well…they spent money. Better players. Hitters can hit, and good pitching is always a good investment.

    The Padres, meanwhile, are about to spend $25MM on moving the fences, for a team not necessarily built to take advantage of it. I only hope they’ll add at least that much money to payroll to upgrade the biggest factor for winning at Petco, and that’s the roster.

    And if Fowler brings in some of the brands of beer that Mesa distributes (Dogfish Head, Lagunitas), that’ll help, too.

    • Melvin says:

      Hey Lonnie, great comment. I should clarify about what I meant with that. I didn’t mean to imply that visiting batters can’t or won’t hit better than the Padres at Petco. What I meant to respond to were people who claimed that Petco is/wasn’t a pitchers park, by saying that visitors hit well. The relevant question being if visitors hit worse at Petco than they do at other ballparks, which is the case.

  2. lonndoggie says:

    Hey Mel–

    Ah, well, yeah, I’m surprised that people would try to make that argument. Petco is a pitchers park, no doubt about it.

    The argument that I have heard (and made myself) is as I described, that other teams hit at Petco better than the Padres do, because they have hitters who can hit mo’ better than the Padres hitters can.

    Looking again at baseball-reference’s team splits, here are the top five teams in OPS at Petco, and the Padres, who, at 8th place, are just above the middle of the pack. The first number is their OPS at Petco, the second their OPS for the year (across all ballparks):

    CIN .838 .695
    SFG .823 .706
    MIA .777 .726
    LAD .724 .675
    COL .718 .827
    SDP .685 .718

    So, oddly enough, there *are* teams that hit better at Petco than they do overall–notably, all of the top 5 except Colorado, who’s park has the highest combined OPS in the majors (surprise).

    The Padres, you’ll notice, have a higher overall OPS than their OPS at Petco.

    Hitters. Need hitters who can hit for hits. If we do both–improve the roster and change the dimensions–then this could be all good for the Padres.

    2013 should be an exciting year. Can’t wait!

    • Melvin says:

      Wow, that’s definitely interesting. Your point, as well as (I imagine) the point of people who bring up other teams’ performance in Petco is that talent trumps all. Which I totally agree with, and agree that it’s worth mentioning. The Padres need good hitters. If the Padres aren’t bringing in good hitters then they’re doing something wrong, period.

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