One of the least discussed impacting factors in the game of baseball is the ballpark itself. A pitcher instantly becomes much more valuable playing in PETCO Park in San Diego, rather than Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
After all, Jon Garland went out west and never came back. He went on a bona fide tour of the west coast ball clubs: Los Angeles Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Diego Padres. As a fringe groundball pitcher with a below-average strikeout rate, the cavernous parks in the AL East and the NL East extended his career as a legitimate back-end starter. Those ballparks has helped him post a lower earned run average than his FIP in each of the past three seasons.
How do the ballparks rank in the NL Central? Which one is the most hitter friendly, and which one is the most pitcher friendly?
The ballpark traditionally considered the most pitcher friendly has always been PNC Park in Pittsburgh, but Busch Stadium in St. Louis has actually surprised the run environment more than any other ballpark in the NL Central. Specifically, it severely depresses the amount of home runs that are hit each year because the power alleys are massive. Last season, Busch Stadium owned the fourth-lowest park factor for home runs, below traditional pitcher-friendly ballparks such as PETCO Park, Target Field, and O.co Stadium (Oakland). No wonder the Cardinals pitching staffs are routinely amongst the best in the league. Pitching in a home ballpark that is an absolute beast to opposing hitters certainly doesn’t hurt the team ERA.
While PNC Park is certainly a pitcher’s park, it receives a worse reputation than it really deserves. The main culprit is the 410-foot death zone that is left-center field, which depresses the home run power from right-handed batters. At the same time, the ballpark allows more extra-base hits due to the large area to cover in the outfield, and it also has short porches down the line that helps make up for the ridiculously deep left-center alley. Right-handed hitters — Andrew McCutchen notwithstanding — generally struggle in PNC. Hence, the majority of the power hitters in Pittsburgh over the past decade have been lefties: Adam LaRoche, Ryan Doumit (technically a switch-hitter), Garrett Jones, Nate McLouth, Brian Giles, etc.
Minute Maid Park is fascinating (and somewhat frustrating) because it is a gimmicky ballpark. The left field bleachers sit far too close to home plate at only 315-feet, which causes some mere pop ups to leave the ballpark, and a center field that is far too large in an attempt to overcompensate for the Crawford Box in left. Not only that, but the ballpark then has a massive hill in center field to make things more difficult. So, unsurprisingly, the ballpark yields far more home runs than an average big league ballpark, but ultimately suppresses the run environment as a whole due to the cavernous nature of the remainder of the outfield. The fact that a ballplayer can launch the baseball 430-feet to dead center and conceivably be retired on a simply fly out is ridiculous.
Since it was constructed in 2001, Miller Park has been considered a hitter’s park. The home runs have always been above average due to the short porch in right field and the relatively small power alleys to left center and right center. Miller Park can also generate some jet streams in the summer when the window panels are open and the ball jumps out of the park. The small power alleys, however, suppress the total number of runs scored by allowing outfielders to cover a higher percentage of the outfield grass than in outfields such as the one in PNC Park. The outfield walls have jagged edges in places, which was hyped as creating a triples ballpark. The amount of triples given up in Miller Park has never remained consistent, though.
Ever since I can remember, Wrigley Field has always been considered a pitcher-friendly ballpark. Of course, the biggest variable at Wrigley has never been the dimensions of the outfield or the height of the walls. It is — and will likely always be — the wind. A wind blowing from the south will generate some of the highest scoring affairs in baseball, while a wind blowing from the north will make hitting a home run next to impossible and cause a myriad of baseballs to die short of the warning track (as Brewers fans have seen each of the past two games at Wrigley).
As the informational graphic says to the left, Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati is an extreme hitter’s park. It is a bandbox. It possessed the third-highest home run factor last season — behind ballparks in Texas and Colorado — and has ranked in the Top 10 in each of the past seven years. The 330-foot dimensions in each corner are rather short, especially when one considers the power alleys are nothing special. The baseball also seems to carry in Cincinnati rather well, though that is an anecdotal observation rather than anything objective or scientific. Take all of this into consideration, and it’s no wonder the Reds have posted the third-worst FIP (4.66) in all of baseball since 2000.
Informational Graphics from ParkFactors.com.