Archive for Giants

JABO: Matt Duffy, The Other Breakout Giants Project

Over the past half decade, the San Francisco Giants have found ways of getting meaningful contributions out of players who were thought to be past their prime or not highly-regarded. This year, the Giants have nurtured the offensive development of three infielders who didn’t show much power before the major leagues, turning what might otherwise have been an average lineup into one of the best offenses in baseball.

Those three infielders are Matt Duffy, Brandon Crawford, and Joe Panik. Together they form three quarters of one of the most productive offensive infields in the game, and it’s fair to say not many people predicted that statement being made about the Giants before the start of the season. The stories behind Crawford and Panik’s breakouts have already been chronicled: through a few swing changes and pulling more fly balls, both Giants middle infielders have increased their power production by leaps and bounds this season. However, we can’t be terribly surprised by those two putting it together, as one was a highly-regarded prospect (Panik), and the other was a very good college player (Crawford).

The same cannot be said of Matt Duffy. An 18th round pick in the 2012 draft out of Long Beach State, Duffy tallied a total of 501 college at-bats, hitting zero home runs during them. Over parts of three years in the minors between 2012-2014, Duffy hit 13 home runs in 1,087 plate appearances: that’s a minor league home run rate of one every 84 plate appearances. To put it another way, Jose Altuve hit a home run, on average, every 77 plate appearances between the 2013 and 2014 seasons, so Duffy homered in the minors at a rate just below what Jose Altuve has for the past two seasons. Duffy was productive in other ways, however, showing doubles power and a nice balance of patience and limited strikeouts.

Then 2015 rolled around, and the 24-year-old forced himself into an everyday role over Casey McGehee by hitting everything in sight. Duffy had eight homers in the first half of the season, performing 27% better than the average major league hitter (while also barely showing his stolen base ability). His average fly ball and home run distance currently sits at 297 feet, ranking 34th in the majors — just behind Andrew McCutchen. That power explosion, coupled with his above average defensive work (something he was known for dating back to his college days), have put him in very good company among rookies in 2015. Take a look at the top 10 rookies in the first half of the season by Wins Above Replacement:

Top_10_First_Half_Rookies

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San Francisco Has the Best Infield in Baseball

The San Francisco Giants began the season with what appeared to be an adequate, but perhaps underwhelming, infield. Buster Posey was the star at catcher and Brandon Belt seemed like a solid young first baseman. Brandon Crawford looked to be a decent glove-first shortstop while not much was expected from Joe Panik at second — and even less than that was expected from Casey McGehee at third base. McGehee could not quite catch fire the way he had done in Miami the previous season and has since been replaced by the previously unknown Matt Duffy. Nearly halfway through the first half of the Major League Baseball season, however, the Giants’ quintet of infielders has been the best in all of baseball.

Buster Posey has been right in line with his very high expectations, and Brandon Belt has been solidly aboveaverage as expected, but Panik, Crawford, and Duffy have vastly exceeded expectations in 2015. The group as a whole was projected for 12.4 wins before the season according to the FanGraphs Depth Chart projections. Those players have already accumulated nearly 13 wins and have more than half of the season to go. That number is the best in MLB this season.

STARTING INFIELD WAR

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Chris Heston Is the Giants’ Latest Find

Chris Heston was listed on only two of the six major preseason prospect reports. John Sickels listed him in his “Others” section at the end of his top-20 list, and FanGraphs’ own Kiley McDaniel placed Heston 14th on his list. Kiley called him an “inventory starter” but did allow for some potential as well. Here was his final sentence on Heston:

Heston may be one of the small percentage of potential #5 starters that turns into more, but we’ll need to see how he performs his second time through the league.

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San Francisco’s Secret Home-Field Advantage

ATTPark4
ATT Park, from behind home plate, at game time for a night game.

Justin Upton has hit the ground running in San Diego. His power stats have not suffered as much as you might expect, at least, as his isolated slugging (.194) and home runs per fly ball (16.7%) are right in line with career norms (.201 and 15.1%, respectively). When I asked him about hitting in San Diego, he shrugged it off. He also said something interesting about San Francisco’s park.

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The Plays Behind Chris Heston

There’s a belief that, when a guy throws a no-hitter, that means that somewhere along the line a defensive player made a hell of a play to keep it alive. There are certain famous examples that prop the theory up, and without doubt, there are easier plays made, and more difficult plays made, every single time. One of the interesting things about Chris Heston‘s no-hitter is that no defensive plays really stand out. Granted, because of the strikeouts, there were just 15 balls put into play, but all of those turned into 16 outs, and no one had to make an all-out dive. It was, in retrospect, an easy-seeming no-hitter, if that’s not an oxymoron. (It is, but, anyway.)

Heston’s not the best pitcher to ever throw a no-hitter. Nor is he the worst. In fact, we don’t yet really know what Heston is, because his big-league career is barely underway. All we know for sure is he’s something of a groundball machine. There are only so many ways to analyze a game like this, such that you’re in any way original, but then there is that new Statcast wrinkle. We’ve got some Statcast information for all of Heston’s balls in play allowed. That’s potentially useful.

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Giants’ Chris Heston Throws a No-Hitter

Throwing a no-hitter can seem like a random occurrence. Edwin Jackson has a no-hitter. Dallas Braden has a no-hitter. One of Bud Smith’s 24 starts in the majors was a no hitter. Philip Humber has a perfect game. Tim Lincecum threw zero no-hitters in his incredible prime, and has thrown two since entering his decline. Pedro Martinez never threw one. Steve Carlton never did, either. No-hitters in major-league baseball require incredible skill, opportunity, and some luck. Thousands upon thousands of pitchers have had all three of those things, but fewer than 300 pitchers in MLB history have thrown a no-hitter. Chris Heston is now among that rare group.

Tidbits using the Baseball Reference Play Index:

  • Chris Heston is only the 13th pitcher in MLB history to throw a no-hitter within his first 15 games in the majors. The last pitcher to match that feat was Clay Buchholz in 2007.
  • Heston’s no-hitter was only the third in history in which the only hitters to reach base did so by means of a hit-by-pitch (HBP). The other two were Kevin Brown in 1997 and Lew Burdette in 1960.
  • Heston’s three HBPs are the most in any no-hitter.
  • Only ten pitchers have thrown a nine-inning no-hitter with a higher Game Score than Heston’s 98. Clayton Kershaw’s 102 mark from last season remains the top score.
  • Of the 24 pitchers to throw a no-hitter within their first 30 games, Heston is the fifth-oldest at 27 years and 60 days. Bobo Holloman was the oldest at 30 years and 60 days when he threw his no-hitter in 1953 for the St. Louis Browns. Read the rest of this entry »

Joe Panik: The Other Brandon Crawford

Strictly based on WAR, the top middle-infield tandem so far has been playing half the time in Miami. The season hasn’t been a complete disaster for the Marlins, because they’ve observed steps forward by Dee Gordon and Adeiny Hechavarria, and that bodes well for the future, if the present is a little bit shot. Also based on WAR, the Marlins’ lead is about as small as it gets. Right on their heels is the Giants’ tag-team of Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik. The difference is something like one-tenth of one point. Let’s not split figurative hairs.

It’s a really interesting evolution that’s taking place in San Francisco. Crawford’s offensive development has been something to behold, starting out as a glove-first shortstop with a better bat than most pitchers. Crawford, now, is one of the best shortstops in baseball, provided the season doesn’t wear him down. But any attention paid to Crawford is attention not paid to Panik. And while Panik didn’t begin his big-league career in the same sort of way, he’s also reaching a level at the plate few would’ve imagined. Joe Panik isn’t just a slap hitter. Joe Panik is a genuine threat!

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Brandon Belt Looks to Break Out Again (Again)

Brandon Belt has shown this before: a 10- or 15-game stretch in which he looks to be the real slugging threat everyone talked about during his prospect days. He did it in August of 2013, and then he did it again to open the season in 2014; the latter seemed like it might be the one that would stick, but Belt broke his thumb on a hit by pitch in early May, suffered a concussion in July, and his season was effectively derailed.

In truth, we haven’t seen this sort of thing too often from San Francisco’s giraffe-like first baseman:

Belt_Coors_Homer

Sometimes a hitter just runs into one, and sometimes balls go very far at Coors Field. Regardless, his homer from last week was quite a punctuation mark — a mic drop, if you will — and it should at the very least force us to ask that familiar question concerning Belt: what can we really expect from him?

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Brandon Crawford’s Development in Just a Few Pictures

As I look at things now, Brandon Crawford has been as good a hitter this year as Matt Holliday and Kris Bryant. But, I understand it’s just May. Small samples can turn opposites into comparisons. So, turning to the past calendar year, I see beside Crawford’s name those of Torii Hunter and Aramis Ramirez. By now, it seems evident that Crawford is at least an average hitter or so. He’s showing signs, this year, of being something greater than that.

And maybe that’s something you’ve grown used to. We adapt with remarkable speed. But, try to remember what Crawford was when he was younger. Or, failing that, let me just remind you. In the minors, in Double-A, Crawford managed a .682 OPS. In Triple-A, he was dozens of points worse than that. As a major-league rookie, Crawford didn’t exactly hit like a pitcher, but he hit like one of those people we call a good-hitting pitcher. This was the first paragraph of an article from March 2012:

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San Francisco’s Offense: A Glass Half Full and Empty

The San Francisco Giants’ offense should be better than we have seen thus far. On the other hand, the Giants’ offense should be a lot worse than we’ve seen thus far. But then again, maybe the Giants’ offense is about what we expected it to be. Below is an attempt to determine how much water is currently in the San Francisco Giants’ glass.

The Optimist’s View

The Giants have been unlucky and they are bound to turn things around. Since the beginning of the season, the Giants’ offense has been one of the best in the league, but has failed to score runs. The defending World Series champions carry a solid .268/.332/.398 line after 39 games. Their .319 wOBA ranks eighth in Major League Baseball and their wRC+ of 105 is sixth. Removing pitcher statistics makes their numbers even better, as the wRC+ of 113 is fourth in all of baseball and just one point away from second place (if also a mile behind the 134 wRC+ of the Dodgers). Despite their solid hitting numbers, the Giants have scored just 3.8 runs per game, ahead of only the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Angels, and the woeful Philadelphia Phillies, who have scored just 3.2 runs per game this season.

There is a disconnect between the Giants’ hitting performance and their runs scored. Here’s a graph depicting MLB teams’ runs scored versus wOBA so far this season, with the Giants denoted as the orange dot.

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A Far-Too-Early 2015 MLB Mock Draft

I wrote yesterday about the uncertainty surrounding the #1 overall pick, but that doesn’t keep scouts from trying to figure out who will go in the subsequent picks. It’s way too early to have any real idea what’s going to happen beyond the top 10-15 picks, but the buzz is growing in the scouting community about how things will play out and you people are sustained by lists, predictions and mock drafts. You’re welcome.

I’d bet it’s more telling on draft day to make judgments using the buzz and all the names I mention, rather than the one name I project to be picked, but you guys already don’t read the introduction, so I’ll shut up. For reports, video and more on these players, check out my latest 2015 MLB Draft rankings, or, if your team doesn’t pick high this year, look ahead with my 2016 & 2017 MLB Draft rankings.

UPDATE 5/11/15: Notes from this weekend’s college games: Dillon Tate was solid in front of GM’s from Arizona, Houston and Colorado. Dansby Swanson was even better, in front of decision makers from all the top teams, including Houston, who may still be debating whether they’d take Swanson or Rodgers if given the choice (Rodgers’ season is over). Carson Fulmer did what he usually does and probably has a home from picks 7-17 depending on how things fall on draft day, with an evaluation similar to Marcus Stroman and Sonny Gray as previous undersized righties with stellar track records and plus stuff.

Andrew Benintendi went nuts at the plate again (I’ll see him and Fulmer this weekend). And, finally, Jon Harris was excellent, rebounding from a not-so-great start, so, at this point, I would make Harris the 9th pick to the Cubs and slide Trenton Clark down a few picks, but still comfortably in the top 20. I also updated the 2016 MLB Draft Rankings as a few top prospects came off the DL and impressed, further strengthening the top of that draft, which is far and away better than this year’s draft.

1. Diamondbacks – Dansby Swanson, SS, Vanderbilt
I wrote about this more in depth yesterday, where I wrote it’s down to CF Garrett Whitley, C Tyler Stephenson and CF Daz Cameron with some chance RHP Dillon Tate is still in the mix and SS Dansby Swanson possibly involved. After writing that, I heard that Arizona is definitely considering those prep players, but teams don’t think they’ll pull the trigger on a way-below-slot prep option and they are leaning college, with Tate and Swanson the targets and SS Alex Bregman also getting some consideration as a long shot.

I’ve heard Arizona wants a hitter here and GM Dave Stewart was in to see Vanderbilt last night. I had heard they were laying in the weeds on Swanson, so, for now, I’ll go with Swanson here. To be clear, Arizona hasn’t made any decisions yet, so this group could still grow or they could change course. One scouting director told me yesterday when asked what he thought Arizona would do that “it sounds like they are going to do something crazy.” Until a few hours before this published, I had Arizona taking Whitley, so this is still very much in flux. There’s also some thought that Tate or Swanson were the targets all along and the rumors of cut-rate high school options have just been a ploy to get the price down–you can pick your own theory at this point.

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The Madison Bumgarners That Once Were

We have a Madison Bumgarner, right now. He just put a whole team on his shoulders and blew our minds last October, even. And with that Paul Bunyanesque workmanlike yet fiery demeanor, he seems a snowflake. Unique and alone. But maybe we have we seen pitchers like him before?

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Career Retrospective: Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan has had Tommy John surgery before. Joe Nathan will need to have Tommy John surgery again. He has proclaimed that he intends to come try to return, but the odds are against that — 41-year-old major league pitchers are in short supply (there are just two this season). Whether he does or doesn’t make it all the way back, any subsequent seasons are unlikely to add much to his statistical ledger. And an impressive ledger it is.

A sixth-round pick in the 1995 draft, Nathan has been one of the few players left in the game who saw action back in the 90s, as he debuted for the Giants back in April of 1999. He was a starter back then, though he wasn’t particularly good. He only struck out three more batters than he walked in those 14 debut season starts. He would get another crack at starting the next season, but in his 15 starts in 2000 he struck out four fewer batters than he walked, and that was the end of that chapter.

Well, sort of. He would be a starter for the bulk of the next two seasons, at age 26 and 27, but he would do so in the minor leagues. His 2001 was an unmitigated disaster — he struck out 54 against 70 walks in Double-A and Triple-A — he walked more guys than he struck out at both levels. He was better in 2002 — 117 Ks against 74 walks, all at Triple-A Fresno — but he allowed 20 homers, had a 1.647 WHIP and 5.60 ERA. Better, but not good. He would come back up to San Fran in September for four scoreless relief appearances, and never looked back.

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Lucius Fox Throws A Wrench Into July 2nd Signings

As I tweeted yesterday, Bahamas-born and recently but shortly American-educated shortstop Lucius Fox was declared an international free agent by Major League Baseball. He won’t be eligible to sign until July 2nd when the 2015-16 signing period opens and the team bonus pools reset, but he would’ve waited until then to sign anyway, since most of the 2014-15 signing pool money had been spent.

Fox was always seen as likely to land as an international prospect since he was born in the Bahamas and moved back home, but it wasn’t a slam dunk because MLB is very aware of player moving out of the U.S. to potentially get more money by ducking the draft. Many elite domestic prospects have investigated this process and found the red tape to make it nearly impossible to work through.

As I wrote last week, the 2015 international signing markets, which opens on July 2nd, is already mostly shaken out at this point. I currently project 25 players to get $1.2 million or more and it appears that 22 of them have deals already. Of those three, the highest bonus should be about $1.5 to $1.7 million while the five top bonuses in the class range from $3.0 million to $4.4 million.

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The Top-Five Giants Prospects by Projected WAR

Yesterday, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the champion San Francisco Giants. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not San Francisco’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Giants system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the San Francisco system by projected WAR. To in this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.

t4. Clayton Blackburn, RHP (Profile)

IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR
50 7.5 2.5 0.8 3.63 0.2

Blackburn is projected as a reliever here. That’s not the capacity in which he’s made the vast majority of his minor-league starts, nor is it the role he’s likely to assume this year at either Double- or Triple-A. It is the role in which he made all six of his Arizona Fall League appearances, however, and that might be what’s influencing Steamer here. It matters with regard to the projection because it renders the rate stats more attractive but the overall WAR figure less so. It matters less, however, because Blackburn’s promotion to the majors isn’t imminent. In either case, he’s something slightly better than replacement level.

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Evaluating the Prospects: San Francisco Giants

Evaluating the Prospects: Rangers, Rockies, D’Backs, Twins, Astros, Cubs, Reds, Phillies, Rays, Mets, Padres, Marlins, Nationals, Red Sox, White Sox, Orioles, Yankees, Braves, Athletics, AngelsDodgers, Blue Jays, Tigers, Cardinals, Brewers, Indians, Mariners, Pirates, Royals & Giants

Top 200 Prospects Content Index

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

Draft Rankings: 2015, 2016 & 2017

International Coverage: 2015 July 2nd Parts One, Two & Three, 2016 July 2nd

The Giants aren’t the most prolific system in baseball, annually ranking in the bottom third of the league in terms of org system rankings. Due to the big league club’s payroll and success, they’re generally picking near the bottom of the round and recently haven’t had much in their international and domestic bonus pools, in addition to generally not trading for prospects. San Francisco tends to play the draft straightforward, taking the best player at each spot, recently avoiding huge bonuses in the international markets and not being a huge player with Cuban free agents.

The Giants have their idea of the kind of player they like, don’t usually fall into industry-wide consensuses and it’s hard to complain about their results. This system has produced Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, Zack Wheeler, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain, among others. You can choose to not like the process, but the same guys have been in charge for this whole run and they built a multiple time World Champion team mostly from within, which is the whole point of having a farm system, so kudos to them.

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The Complications of Hector Olivera

The situation for Cuban free agent infielder Hector Olivera is still a bit muddled, even though he’s now a free agent that may sign any day now. Here’s a more complete background with a full scouting report, recap of his workout that I scouted last month and a breakdown of which teams fits him best. Here’s the video from that workout:

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With Hunter Pence Out, Giants Have Options

Spring Training statistics might not matter, but injuries can certainly make an impact on a team’s outlook heading into the season. After being hit by a pitch in yesterday’s game against the Chicago Cubs, Hunter Pence is expected to be out six to eight weeks with a broken forearm. Missing the first month of the season is far from a catastrophic loss for the San Francisco Giants as they defend their World Series crown, but if they want to fill Pence’s vacated role from outside the organization, there are multiple teams with too many outfielders.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres, and Cleveland Indians are all teams that should be willing to move outfielders this spring, per Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated. The Dodgers currently have Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Joc Pederson, and Scott Van Slyke in their outfield with Andre Ethier apparently the odd man out. The Dodgers are eager to move Ethier and are reportedly willing to pay around half of the $56 million owed to Ethier over the next three years. A trade with the Dodgers is not impossible for the Giants, but as Dave Cameron recently noted, some rivals rarely trade with each other. The Giants and Dodgers have completed just one trade since 1985, when they traded Mark Sweeney to the Dodgers in August 2007 for a player to be named later that turned into Travis Denker.

Outside of the difficulty of trading with a rival, the Giants current outfield poses problems with taking on a long term deal for a player who expects to start. The Giants currently have an interesting composition of present and future. At 31, Pence is the youngest projected outfield starter for the Giants with Angel Pagan and Nori Aoki expected to start in center field and left field, respectively. Pence is also signed through 2018 and has the contract with the longest duration among the Giants outfielders. He is not the only Giant signed past 2015. Angel Pagan has one more year to go after 2015 and is scheduled to receive $10 million in 2016. The Giants have a club option on Aoki for 2016 at just $5.5 million. It is conceivable that the Giants projected outfield for 2015 will be the same for 2016. The age, term, and relatively small amounts owed to Pagan and Aoki do not preclude a long term solution for the outfield. However, even if Ethier were to cost the Giants under $10 million per year, a three year commitment through his Age-35 season to cover one month of missed time is likely more than the Giants would want to take on.
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Tim Lincecum’s Last Best Chance

What you probably already know is that next winter’s free agent starting pitching crop has the potential to be historic, not only due to the amount of talent currently unsigned beyond 2015 but for the hundreds of millions of dollars they’ll surely command. With the obvious caveat that extensions for some of these guys are possible before they hit the market, just bask in the names entering the final years of their contracts.

There’s David Price, and Jeff Samardzija, and Johnny Cueto. Over there, you’ve got Rick Porcello and Mark Buehrle and Doug Fister. Next to them, Jordan Zimmermann and Yovani Gallardo and Scott Kazmir. Say hi, Mike Leake and Hisashi Iwakuma and Mat Latos, and also Justin Masterson and Kyle Lohse. There’s Bud Norris and Ian Kennedy and Wei-Yin Chen out there as well, to say nothing of the near-certainty that Zack Greinke exercises that opt-out.

It’s a simply stunning collection of names, and it’s going to make the July trading season fascinating, as well as provide Philadelphia even more incentive to move Cole Hamels while they can. Lefties, righties, young, old, flamethrowers, junkballers, whatever you want in a pitcher, you’ll be able to find it on the menu.

Oh, and there’s also Tim Lincecum. Hi, Tim Lincecum. Read the rest of this entry »


Should You Build Your Staff To Fit Your Home Park?

You play 81 games at home a year, so it seems like it might be a good idea to think about that park when you’re building your team. Then again, you play 81 games on the road, maybe it’s not a good idea to worry too much about one half of the ledger, particularly if your home park is an extreme one.

Extreme parks lead to extreme home-road splits. That part seems obvious, but it bears out in the winning percentage, too. Take a look at how teams that have called extreme parks home have faired over the last five years compared to the middle.

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