When Park Factors Attack

Throughout the Rangers-Rays series so far, one of the overriding narratives has been, “This Rangers offense is so good, can the Rays possibly contain them?” And unlike other points the media loves to harp on, this is a fair question; the Rangers do have one of the most potent offenses in the majors (.348 wOBA, 2nd best overall), and their lineup is chock full of dangerous power hitters (210 home runs, 2nd most in majors). Meanwhile, the Rays have a strong pitching staff in James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, and Matt Moore, so the drama creates itself; power versus power, which side will win?

But if you’re a loyal FanGraphs reader, you’re probably already asking yourself a very different question: “Wait, what about Park Factors?” It’s one thing to look at a team’s raw offensive numbers and declare that they have a dominant lineup, but you always have to consider the context. The Ballpark in Arlington is one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in the majors, so maybe their offense is overrated? But no, even when you adjust for those effects, the Rangers still have an offense 13% better than league average — tied with the Yankees for 2nd best in the majors.

Yet, now that the action is moving from Arlington to St. Petersburg, everyone harping on the Rangers’ offense is in for a surprise. For the next two games of this series, these two teams are going to be much more evenly matched on offense than most people assume. The reason why? Tropicana Field.

In general, this is an easy concept to understand. The Rangers have a lineup that is chock full of right-handed power hitters. The Ballpark in Arlington is one of the best parks in the majors for right-handed power, inflating home run numbers by 14% and bumping up right-handed offense by 7% overall.* Meanwhile, in recent years Tropicana Field has become one of the biggest pitcher’s parks in the majors. It suppresses right-handed power by 8%, and overall right-handed offensive performance by 4%.

So when you compare the Rangers’ offense to the Rays’ offense, you have to keep these park factors in mind. Despite having a team .320 wOBA, the Rays’ offense is still considered 3% above average overall; compare that to the Rangers’ 13%, and the 28 point difference in wOBA may not seem so large. Just look at how both teams have fared at home versus on the road:

I highlighted the results that are most meaningful for these upcoming few games. The Rangers aren’t quite so other-worldly on offense once you get them out of Arlington, and the Trop will likely suck some power out of their right-handed bats. They still have the stronger overall offense at this point — heck, it helps that they don’t regularly start two players with season batting average below the Mendoza Line — but the difference between them and the Rays is closer than many people assume.

*All Park Factors were taken from Stat Corner.

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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

6 Responses to “When Park Factors Attack”

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  1. Aggie E says:

    The adjustment goes also in the pitching as well. Those cute ERA’s that TB’s starters have are aided by pitching in a pitcher’s park and Texas’ starters are hurt by pitching half their games in Arlington. Texas had the best road ERA in MLB and maybe that play’s out in Tropicana…

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    • The Rays’ ERA are also aided by their defense, but true enough. The Trop will likely help out Lewis to a degree…I’ve got to imagine that’s one reason the Rangers were fine tabbing his as the #3 guy.

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  2. Kernel says:

    Part of that is feasting on AL West parks and hitting, though.

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    • t ball says:

      The other AL West parks are quite pitcher-friendly. Playing a 3rd of your away games in those parks might exacerbate your home-road splits a bit. The home-road splits are also a significant reason that Colby Lewis is starting in Tampa and not in Arlington. He was terrible in Arlington this year, but pretty good in away games, with a much bigger home-road split than the other Rangers starters.

      Steve is not only correct, he’s just scratching the surface.

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  3. Slacker George says:

    I’d love to see the away numbers exclude bothh Arlington and Tropicana in order to get a better understanding. Or weighted by away parks, excluding those two.

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  4. Antonio Bananas says:

    Is there not a formula that automatically adjusts your runs for a game for the park factor? Like if teams score 25% more runs in a certain park, and you score 5, they count it as “4″?

    Then you could have a “true” total. Just seems like we have a lot of equations but that one would be fairly easy to do.

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