Safeco, Citi, and the Complexity of Ballpark Adjustments

Ever since it opened in 1999, Safeco Field has been a horse, and hitters have been mosquitoes. No matter how much the hitters have tried to inflict damage, Safeco has hardly even noticed. Now, ever since it opened, Petco Park has been a whale to the hitters’ mosquitoes — they haven’t even ever interacted — but just because Safeco wasn’t the most pitcher-friendly ballpark doesn’t mean it hasn’t been an extremely pitcher-friendly ballpark, and now, as announced Tuesday, the dimensions will be changing. The Mariners will bring in the fences in an effort to make the ballpark more neutral.

The planned alterations, of course, have been welcomed by the hitters, and they haven’t been condemned by the pitching staff. Fans, too, are pleased, as baseball fans in the Northwest have grown weary of low-scoring ballgames. People want dingers, basically, and Safeco hasn’t allowed enough dingers. The changes should make for more dingers. Yet just what sort of effect will there be, really? When discussing the changes to Safeco Field, one might keep in mind last offseason’s changes to Citi Field in New York.

Citi only opened in 2009, but it didn’t take long for people to notice its run-suppression qualities. More specifically, its homer-suppression qualities, and most specifically, its David Wright-suppression qualities. And so it was announced in October 2011 that Citi’s fences would be moving in. This appeared to be likely in September. I’ll include some choice quotes below:

“We decided that an adjustment was in order,” said Dave Howard, the Mets’ executive vice president for business operations. “We came in hoping to make it a pitcher-friendly park, but maybe it was too friendly for pitchers. Bring your gloves, there are going to be a lot of home runs hit here.”

More:

“One of the things that played to my strength at Shea was driving the ball to right-center,” Wright said. “You’ve really got to hit it at Citi Field to get it out there.” So, he added, he would welcome the changes, because “I’m not great at pulling the ball with a lot of power.”

What was said about Citi is similar to what’s been said about Safeco so far. Citi, once, was a fly ball graveyard; Citi would change into something not quite hitter-friendly, but something more fair. Makes sense, right? Closer fences means more dingers, and more dingers means more runs, and more runs means more offense, and more offense means more neutrality. On paper it’s a perfectly sensible idea. Yet it’s interesting to see how Citi played in its first full season with the new dimensions. Citi has hosted all of its 2012 games, and below you’ll find a simple table. For each stat, you can see the approximate Citi Effect, before it was changed and after it was changed.

Year(s) BABIP 2B% 3B% HR% BB% K% OPS
2009-2011 -3% -6% 24% -17% 3% 3% -4%
2012 -6% -20% -35% 10% -1% 6% -6%

For example, over its first three years, including all plate appearances, Citi Field reduced BABIP by three percent — not three percentage points — relative to Mets games on the road. You can see the effect that it had on home runs, and it was pretty significant. For every five home runs hit in Citi Field, there were six home runs hit away from Citi Field. Overall, offense was reduced — Citi was pitcher-friendly, or run-suppressing, however you want to put it.

Now look at 2012. We have only one year of data, and that’s an important point to make, because numbers can fluctuate over one year, especially when you’re talking about home/road splits. The things we expect to average out over time might not have actually averaged out. But one year of data is better than zero years of data, and what we see is that Citi did correct its home-run problem. Home runs were actually up in New York, relative to on the road. But offense overall was down even more, thanks to further reduced BABIP, reduced doubles and triples, and increased strikeouts. Reduced walks, too, now that I look at the table again. Used to be that Citi reduced OPS by four percent. In 2012, it reduced OPS by six percent.

The Mets changed Citi Field to make it more hitter-friendly, and in its first season as a new ballpark, Citi Field was even more pitcher-friendly. It was just more hitter-friendly with regard to home runs, which, granted, was the big complaint. While it’s too soon to say anything conclusively, what’s evident is that these things are a lot more complicated than they might seem at first. Bringing in the fences makes home runs easier, but it also reduces outfield surface area, increasing the likelihood of ball-in-play outs.

The Mariners, for their part, have acknowledged that the Safeco changes could well reduce doubles and triples. Those quotes are out there, and the Mariners still expect that Safeco will be a pitcher-friendly park. The hope is that it will be less extreme, but that is by no means guaranteed. There’s no substitute for actual evidence, and that has yet to be generated.

Citi has generated lots of games and lots of numbers of actual evidence. Within a single game, the park doesn’t seem easier. Yet it might be better psychologically, because batters care more about homers than they do about singles, doubles, and triples, and now homers are easier to come by. It might feel like a friendlier ballpark, even if it isn’t one. Along the same lines, it might be easier to attract free-agent hitters because they want to play somewhere they can hit dingers, and people can hit dingers in Citi now. Less attention is given to the rest of the splits.

I think this was interesting as well:

The [Mets’] general manager also received a vote of confidence from pitching coach Dan Warthen, who told his boss that the spaciousness of the ballpark sometimes inspired a more lax attitude toward execution among his pitchers.

Pitcher-friendly ballparks might not only encourage bad habits among hitters. They could, conceivably, encourage bad habits among everyone, and then that’s something to avoid, because it has the word “bad” in it.

Psychologically, the changes to Citi Field should be good for the Mets. Psychologically, the changes to Safeco Field should be good for the Mariners. The players can feel like they’re playing somewhere more normal, and potential players might be less turned off. But when you look at the actual park effects themselves — nothing about this is simple. You can make your hitters feel better, and you can change a pitcher-friendly park to a more hitter-friendly park, but the two do not necessarily go hand in hand. Based on the numbers, Citi, in fact, is even more extreme than it used to be. That might just be noise instead of signal, but for now it looks like a strange thing.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Mr. McGillicutty
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Mr. McGillicutty
3 years 10 months ago

More like COMPLEX-ity, am I right, Jeff? You work on those pun skills and you may one day have a shot at the fine homepage of the MLB, kid.

Bradsbeard
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Bradsbeard
3 years 10 months ago

Seems like one year’s worth of data could easily be distorted by changes in the performance of Mets pitchers and hitters between this year and ’09 through ’11. For instance, Wright was healthy and played all year, R.A. Dickey became an ace, etc.

Ralph
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Ralph
3 years 10 months ago

As he admitted, but again, like he said, one year of data is better than no data and its the best we’ve got at the moment.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 10 months ago

The comparisons are between the Mets home stats and away stats. Improved performances by a couple of players are irrelevant.
Jeff mentioned several times that one year’s data can be misleading.
If you had actually read this very fine post instead of skimming it, you might have gotten something from it.

grant
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grant
3 years 10 months ago

On a one year sample, isn’t the improvement in the Mets pitching staff likely a significant factor? The Dickey Effect?

Kevin
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Kevin
3 years 10 months ago

I believe the stats given were comparisons between games the mets played at home and games the mets played on the road. So improvement in the team should be normalized out since the same team played in away games.

Michael
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Michael
3 years 10 months ago

I’m pretty sure it says that those splits are home game performance in 2012 relative to away game performance in 2012, not relative to the performance from ’09 to ’11. Unless Dickey made an inordinate amount of starts at home, I don’t think that would have made any difference.

Ralph
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Ralph
3 years 10 months ago

Wasn’t Dickey nearly as good in 2010 and 2011?

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 10 months ago

See my reply to the comment above.

MikeS
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MikeS
3 years 10 months ago

Could the decrease in walks be due to hitters being more aggressive since the fences are closer? Has that ever been looked at in other ballparks, especially those that change their dimensions?

JMS
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JMS
3 years 10 months ago

One imagines that a certain paucity of Pagans and Reyes’s might have been (a) responsible for the decreased triples and (b) by extension the less depressed doubles rates.

brendan
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brendan
3 years 10 months ago

I think the numbers are for the same players home vs. away, not comparing 2012 vs. 2010-11 rosters. i.e. absence of reyes wouldn’t show here. rather, only the guys on the mets during 2012 are counted, and those guys (and opponents too) hit fewer triples at citi vs. on the road.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 10 months ago

Three totally ignorant comments in a row is not a record on this site, but you people who can’t even read the post correctly are really annoying me.

Ken
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Member
Ken
3 years 10 months ago

I rather like the bigger parks. Doubles and triples are more exciting to watch than homers, particularly with runners on base.

Average_Casey
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Average_Casey
3 years 10 months ago

Try being a Mariners fan and watching a number of balls crushed by your offense die in the outfield and be caught. Then you may change your mind a bit. Hitters purposely have loft on their swings for the purposes of hitting homeruns and so I doubt doubles have a perfect inverse relationship with homeruns. You would have to develop your hitters to use a completely different swing plane that way.

I like a good pticher duel about as well as anyone but watching an offense flounder because the field castrates the hitters isn’t much fun. Especially night after night and the opponent pitcher isn’t that great. There have been many times I watch King Felix get matched by another pitcher because Felix is dealing and the park is helping the other guy. It’s not much fun. Thank you Seattle for finally changing things.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 10 months ago

I’m with you 100%, Ken. To me, home runs are boring: the ball went out of the park, so all the action stopped.
The game is exciting when there are baserunners, and especially when there are baserunners in scoring position.

Daniel
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Daniel
3 years 10 months ago

Its not the distance to the fences that makes a park a hitter or pitchers park. Look at Coors, the most infamous park of them all. Nothing can be done because the dimensions are already huge. It’s the air. It’s the barometric pressure. If the ball doesn’t fly, it just plain doesn’t fly.

Simon
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Simon
3 years 10 months ago

Good job taking the one park where this might actually be a legitimate point and generalising from that. Are you seriously trying to suggest that the size of a park doesn’t affect how the park plays?

nemo1
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nemo1
3 years 10 months ago

While the dimensions of the park are important too, Daniel has a valid point. This is part of the Safeco problem. Cold heavy air blowing in from Puget Sound deadens the ball. The ball just plain doesn’t fly.

hk
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hk
3 years 10 months ago

According to the Mariners PR guy, 30-40 outs and XBH’s per year in the current configuration would have been HR’s if they had been using the planned configuration.

Richie
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Richie
3 years 10 months ago

Simple as it is, the table really needs to be captioned. Apparently some are seeing it as raw totals changes, by the comments.

To which end, the Marlins park changing from pro-pitcher to neutral would account for some of the 2012 change of Citi re road games.

nemo1
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nemo1
3 years 10 months ago

It’s not Jeff’s fault that some people are morons.

Slartibartfast
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Slartibartfast
3 years 10 months ago

How is Citi “more extreme” now? I missed that. (sorry if it’s obviously in there somewhere)

Richie
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Richie
3 years 10 months ago

When a small sample leads to a nonsensical result, all the more reason to doubt the small sample.

Bringing in the fence will change some amount of fly balls (XBHs and fly outs) to home runs. And transform a triple or two into a double, as the closer fence enables an outfielder to get to the ball off the wall a step or two quicker. And perhaps lead to outfielders playing just a bit shallower, so transform a few singles into outs.

Of course moving in the fence helped offense at Citi. Just not that much, as noted by a previous commenter visibility, altitude, weather all play a role, too. And this season combined with other noise to subsume the closer fence.

Mcneildon
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Mcneildon
3 years 10 months ago

I agree with this:
“When a small sample leads to a nonsensical result, all the more reason to doubt the small sample.”

But, I don’t think you’re giving enough weight to this:
“And perhaps lead to outfielders playing just a bit shallower, so transform a few singles into outs.”

From my completely unscientific observations of baseball, I think there is a higher percentage of shallow-outfield pop flies and short fliners each game than there are 350-foot fly balls. Of course, the effect of each long fly ball that is now a homerun or double on offensive output is greater than each single that wouldn’t have been during 2009-2011. So, I don’t know.

Renan
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Renan
3 years 10 months ago

No disrespect intended at all, but I’m not sure what the point of this article is. I think it’s pretty intuitive that just bringing the fences in, while holding everything else more or less constant, would lead to an increase in home runs and a decrease in all other hits. The balls that were dying on the warning track or hitting the fence now leave the ballpark which leads to a decrease in doubles, triples and BABIP (since BABIP removes home runs from the calculation of what constitutes a “ball in play”). But isn’t the point of bringing the fences in to increase the number of runs scored, as opposed to increasing the various component statistics? The idea being that home runs generate more runs than any of the other discrete offensive events that occur during the course of an average baseball game so teams like the Mets (and now the Mariners) are willing to sacrifice the latter in favor of the former. I haven’t seen the numbers, and they’re not included in the table, but I would think such a substantial increase in home runs year over year would lead to an increase in the overall run scoring environment. Or at least would, once the statistics are given an opportunity to normalize over time (i.e. I’m not sure a two percent decrease in OPS in a given season can be ascribed to anything more than noise and random variance).

David
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David
3 years 10 months ago

Closer fences also means there is less ground to cover for the outfielders, so fewer balls fall between them. It means less of a distance for the defenders to cover when throwing the ball back to the infield to nail an advancing runner. Depending on exactly WHERE the in play XBHs went, moving particular pieces of the fence in or out could potentially rob XBH without necessarily adding the equivalent offense in HRs. Moving the dead center fence can affect the batter’s eye, resulting in a change in their ability to pick up pitches … affecting Ks and BBs most immediately, but possibly quality of contact as well.

danny
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danny
3 years 10 months ago

Reasons and outcomes.

Since we’re all baseball fans, we probably have seen one or two instances when brilliant plans don’t work out, because… baseball. I’m with Jeff- we just don’t know what this change will do.

That said, I’m full of Mariner optimism. Here’s why: I think that extreme run-suppressing limits the value of elite pitchers. If Felix allows 2.5 runs/game in an environment where teams normally score 5 runs/game, that’s more valuable than if he allows 2.5 runs/game in an environment where teams score 4 runs/game. Obviously Felix has to deal with the new dimensions, but he’s Felix, so he will. The Mariners may see another elite starter emerge in the next year or two. The benefit to hitters, like Montero, is obvious and discussed everywhere.

Seems like a win-win, based on reasons. So I won’t be surprised to see Tajuan Walker destroyed by home run problems because baseball is where randomness happens as often as the best laid plans (chump ass Angels).

Gabriel BatCat Bogart
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Gabriel BatCat Bogart
3 years 10 months ago

This sounds like a well-informed version of the argument I had with my buddy at the game today at Safeco. Thanks for the statistical value backup that I can throw in his face.

Doug B
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Doug B
3 years 10 months ago

With the long running emphasis in big contracts on power hitting and starting pitching, it seems like a low budget team would do best to have a big park with good defensive outfielders (range and arms). Then all you need is average pitching.

I don’t see any teams do that. Cameron Maybin and Chris Denorfia at San Diego seem OK. But Carlos Quentin and Will Venable are not.

The Tigers gave up on Commerica and became the Red Sox. So they didn’t need to try the low budget way.

Sure you would have a hard time signing a slugger who wants to hit 40+ homers. But I’m talking small market here. They don’t have much chance with those guys anyway.

The park could be tailored to high average gap hitters who make contact. A small foul territory for instance. Could you imagine if Coors looked like this?
Lines: 370
Power Alleys: 400 feet
Center Field: 425 feet

Get guys like Michael Bourn and Gerardo Parra out there. Who would need an Adam Dunn? Lets face it, speed is a young man’s game and young players in baseball are less expensive than older slower power hitters.

But the talk is always the other way. I expect the Padres will soon announce that the fences at Petco will be moved in as well. I realize a team has to win on the road. But if you are running a team on $60 million in payroll you’ve got to find an edge.

Brian
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Brian
3 years 10 months ago

The Mets had a crazy stretch in Aug/Sept when they could not score at Citi. I think it was 15 straight games of scoring 3 or fewer runs (and only scoring 3 runs in 4 of those games). Over that period they were 13-92 with RISP. For whatever reason they could not hit for that stretch at home especially with runners in scoring position.

Mcneildon
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Mcneildon
3 years 10 months ago

Jeff, I’m rather disappointed that you didn’t include a gif of a Mets pitcher demonstrating lax execution of a pitch followed by another gif of Dan Warthen shaking his head disapprovingly.

Mr Punch
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Mr Punch
3 years 10 months ago

The basic point here is sound, and it can be approached another way: by comparing park effects at different ballparks. Dodger Stadium, for example, has historically favored homers but suppressed doubles, while Fenway Park favors doubles but not homers. Induced wind effects (the higher structure behind home plate at Fenway) make a difference; changing the amount of foul ground affects BABIP and offense overall. It’s complicated.

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