By Dave Darling
|For the casual
baseball fan, about the only things that set apart a good ballpark from a
bad one are parking, the price of beer and quantity of restrooms. OK, well,
perhaps the park's overall atmosphere matters, too.
But to the more discriminating fan -- aka fantasy geek -- there's much more to consider. For where a player calls home can make or break his production.
When considering a player's value, his home certainly should not be the most important issue you consider -- bottom-line skills and potential come first. But for most major leaguers, a stadium can have a huge effect on his numbers. And knowing the difference between a pitchers and hitters park can prove to be the difference between first and second place in your league.
So as you work on your rankings list this year, pay close attention to offseason moves. For example, the values of Robert Fick, Mike Hampton, Jeff Kent, Ted Lilly, Damian Moss and Preston Wilson have risen with their moves. Conversely, players such as Ray Durham, Damian Miller, Russ Ortiz, Ivan Rodriguez, Brett Tomko and Todd Zeile could take a hit.
Some notes on the rankings:
Say what you will about the humidor, it
definitely had an effect on play at Coors in 2002. Nearly every offensive
category -- including runs, home runs and batting average -- declined from
2001. Still, don't let this mislead you: from batting average, to homers to
triples and everything in between, Coors still is by far the best hitters
park in baseball.
City, Kauffman Stadium
The Big K treats righthanded and lefthanded
hitters equally well. It's easily the best hitting park in the AL in terms
of batting average. Visiting teams batted .294 and scored 6.2 runs a game in
2002, while the Royals' pitching staff posted a 5.79 ERA, all MLB highs.
Home runs dropped by 34 percent from 2001
(216 to 143), and we're not quite sure why, but Minutemaid still is one of
only four that rank in the top five in all three categories. It's very kind
to lefthanded hitters (.293 batting average and 239 homers during last three
Bank One Ballpark
Surprised to see the BOB this high? Don't
be. Its 1,090-foot elevation puts it second only to Coors Field. It treats
lefthanded and righthanded hitters equally in terms of batting average and
it favors righthanded power hitters. And think of what the numbers would be
Randy Johnson and
Curt Schilling weren't accounting for 35 starts here every year.
Ballpark in Arlington
Another equal-opportunity hitters park, the
Ballpark ranks above the AL average in every offensive category. Teams bat
.287 here and have hit more homers over the past three years (624) than at
any other AL park (second overall to Coors at 670). And it yielded the
second-highest ERA in the majors in '02 (5.67).
Pittsburgh, PNC Park
After two seasons it's becoming clear that
PNC is more of a friend to singles hitters than power guys. Interestingly,
as deep as the park is to left field as compared to right field, lefthanded
hitters don't appear to benefit greatly in the power department - and in
fact they had considerably less success in 2002. It appears to have one of
the worst infields in baseball (1.38 infield errors committed per game the
past two seasons), which can lead to more runs scored.
(AL), U.S. Cellular Field
Interestingly, after moving in the fences
substantially down the lines in 2001, the number of homers hit on the South
Side have remained nearly unchanged (198, 199, 199), though batting averages
have dipped a bit (.279 in 2000 to .269 in '01 and '02). Its only drawback
is that the gaps are narrow, which cuts down on doubles and triples.
Olympic Stadium is much kinder to
lefthanded hitters than righties (.277 vs. .260 batting average the past
three seasons). But the main issue to keep in mind this season when
selecting Expos players is that they will be playing 22 (27 percent) of
their home games in Puerto Rico at Hiram Bithorn Stadium - and this place is
a bandbox even in comparison to newer AL stadiums (averages 314 down the
lines, 350 to power alleys and is 400 straight away).
Must be something in the air, because
Skydome's numbers are nearly identical to its Canadian counterpart in
Montreal. Skydome is a symmetrical park that treats righthanded hitters
slightly better than lefthanders.
It's still one of the better power parks in
baseball, but is pretty middle-of-the-road in terms of batting average and
It's no longer known as a homer dome, and
with good reason. During the last three seasons, only 416 home runs have
been hit at the Metrodome, which makes it one of the bottom five power
fields in the AL. And curiously, there was a severe drop-off in power there
in 2002 compared to 2001 and 2000, particularly for lefthanded hitters.
Still, those same lefthanded hitters fare pretty well in terms of batting
average (.285 over the last three seasons).
Overall, it boosts batting averages, but
hurts power. It favors lefthanded hitters, particularly in the power
department (righthanded batters have averaged 94 homers there during the
past three seasons).
Edison International Field
The last park on our list with three
categories in the positives, Edison might be one of the most deceiving
stadiums in baseball. While the left-center field wall is one of deepest in
the AL (387 feet) and the right-center wall is one of the closest to homes
plate (370), righthanded hitters are far more likely to homer here than
there lefthanded counterparts. It treats each about the same, average wise.
It also should be noted that almost all hitting indexes were down in 2002
from 2001 and 2000 - particularly power numbers -- and we're not quite sure
why, but it's something we'll continue to monitor.
T14. New York
(AL), Yankee Stadium
Enter the neutral parks. The Stadium still
is one of the best places in baseball to jack up power numbers if you're a
lefthanded hitter, but it still hurts batting averages from both sides of
the plate (batters hit .264 there over the last three seasons).
Fenway easily is the most unpredictable
park in baseball - and its no wonder, given its irregular dimensions. One
thing is for sure: The Green Monster takes away homers but adds base hits.
It's the most difficult park in the AL to hit a homer from the left side.
Also, beware: it's one of the most difficult places to play in the field.
The infield has the worst rating in the majors over the past three seasons
(1.19 errors per game by home and visiting teams). And the irregular fence
dimensions make things just as tough on outfielders to field balls.
NR. Cincinnati, Great American Ball Park
After playing in one of the better NL
hitting parks for more than three decades, the Reds move next store to a new
facility this season. The dimensions are fairly similar to what Cinergy was
until two years ago (though they've avoided making this a symmetrical cookie
cutter): 325, 379, 404, 370, 328 feet from left to right. The walls measure
eight feet high down the lines and in center field and 12-feet high in the
gaps. Also, there is six more feet of foul space from home plate to the
seats, which will lead to more pop outs in foul territory.
17. Tampa Bay,
This place is about as neutral and
predictable as they come. It's a little easier to hit for average here that
for power, and despite the fences being closer to home in left field,
righthanders struggle in the power department.
18. St. Louis,
That 12th overall home run rating might be
a bit misleading because power numbers at Busch have been on a steady
decline during the last three seasons - from 220 homers hit there in 2000,
to 174 in 2001 to 143 in 2002.
Is it a coincidence that the only two
stadiums in baseball named after breweries have similar statistics? Probably
not. Offensive numbers were down across the board during Miller's second
season, so what you see above is an average of both seasons. It definitely
favors lefthanded hitters in both the power and batting average categories.