The San Diego Padres play in a ballpark sponsored by Petco. They came on board to capitalize on the most noteworthy feature of the park: the packs of St. Bernards that roam the outfield with small barrels of rum around their necks, providing comfort and aid to lost and emaciated outfielders until help can reach them. Now the St. Bernards are missing too. This is a disaster.
The following is a list of park factors for Petco since it opened. A park at 100 is an average park; anything below that indicates a park that is favorable to pitching. These are formulated using road numbers and opposing teams, too, so you can't blame Jason Bartlett.
Park factors change from year-to-year because of things like weather and sample-size hiccups, so it's probably not a good idea to make too much of single-year park factors. That means it probably wouldn't be a good idea to note that the Padres' two best years in Petco Park -- 2006 and 2010 -- came when the park was playing its fairest. But I'm going to leave that in there like a lawyer making a remark that he knows will be stricken from the record.
Pitchers' parks are great. One of the best things about baseball compared to other sports is that the dimensions of every ballpark are a little different. Imagine one football field with really wide dimensions, CFL-style, in the same division with another one that was much, much narrower. Imagine a hockey rink where the … lines are … circlier … or, wait … forget it, I've never watched a hockey game. But you get the idea. Baseball has a Green Monster, and baseball has the cavernous Petco Park. It's the same sport. That's kind of cool.
But Petco Park is ridiculous. The Padres usually lose anywhere from 10 to 30 points off their team on-base percentage and 30 to 70 points off their team slugging percentage when they play at home. A hitter has to crush a ball to reach the warning track in right-center. Hitters love it!
But Nevin's frustrations with Petco have caused him the most grief. The latest incident happened two Sundays back, in a loss here to Pittsburgh, when his opposite-field drive toward the short Home Run Porch missed being a homer and became a double when it struck the wall behind the seats.
Nevin, standing on second when the team failed to score, fired his helmet toward the Padres dugout, stared in the direction of General Manager Kevin Towers' suite and uttered expletives easily recognized even by those who cannot read lips.
Actually, reading that makes me giggle, and now I'm doubting my own argument. If Petco Park can annoy Phil Nevin, how is it not a great place to watch baseball? But the best description I've ever read about why the extreme dimensions are so distasteful compared to the other parks (even other pitcher-friendly parks in the same division) came from the new interim CEO of the Padres:
Baseball is a match between the pitcher and the hitter. We’ve seen a number of times here where the hitter wins that battle and gets nothing to show for it.
That's … almost poetry. I've struggled for years to find ways to explain why Petco bothers me. The above is almost perfect, except I'd add something in there about how it happens often. Balls can be kept in Chase Field because of the extremely high center-field wall, and there's a black void of homer potential in the right-center of AT&T Park, but Petco's pitcher-friendliness isn't confined to an isolated area. The whole park is a dead zone.
The good news is that the quote from above comes because the Padres are actively exploring moving the fences in. They've explored this twice before, but they seem especially serious about it now. Plans have been drawn up. More studies will be commissioned. Committees will be formed. This is a good thing.
Hyper-extreme ballparks usually don't last too long. The Baker Bowl was 300 feet to right-center, and 272 feet down the line, and it was something of a different sport. Coors Field was the kind of place where a 5.86 ERA could be considered pleasantly average before the humidor. The Tigers and Mets both moved their fences in after opening new ballparks. There was not a public outcry in either case.
The reason the Padres have been so stubborn under former CEO Jeff Moorad? Probably the evidence that shows that extreme parks offer extreme home-field advantages. But for whatever reason, that advantage has not trickled down to the Padres. They've received less of a boost from playing at home than just about any team in the majors.
Dodger Stadium is a pitchers' park. It's great. Safeco Park is a pitchers' park. It's fine. This isn't a screed against pitchers' parks. But Petco is a little too much. And it looks like the Padres are starting to agree.