The San Diego Padres left Qualcomm Stadium and moved into Petco Park in 2004. I can never get enough openings to tell this story. At one point, Phil Nevin hit a ball to right-center that he thought would be gone. Instead of watching the ball clear the fence, Nevin had to settle for a double. Once he arrived at second base, he looked up to the owners' box, and he and general manager Kevin Towers got into it after the game.
Nevin is one of countless hitters to be frustrated by Petco's unforgiving dimensions over the years. The numbers show that Petco is perhaps the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in baseball, and the Padres are now strongly considering bringing in the fences after 2012. There's no guarantee that they'll do it, but there is reason for them to do it.
The Miami Marlins just this season moved into Marlins Park as a part of their total identity overhaul. In front of a national audience, Marlins Park hosted its first meaningful game on April 4. The Marlins took on the Cardinals, and the game ended 4-1 St. Louis. There wasn't any activation of the home-run feature, and all the talk after the game was about why that was. Simply put: Marlins Park was too big. It was death to fly balls.
"You're going to have to make sure it stays out of your head," Stanton says of his new home park. "The first bit, you're kind of soaking it up. You're thinking maybe it's not that bad. But the more we play in it ... it's worse than we thought. Balls that you feel should go way out are barely scraping. You can still get some out, but you've got to get all of it."
But Marlins Park has become the issue's flashpoint. From the night the park opened on April 4, the Night of the Long Fly Outs, the park has been the source of laughing disbelief among hitters.
Kyle Lohse of the Cardinals pitched the first game at Marlins Park, and after Stanton hit two 400-foot outs to center, Lohse stood on the mound and said to himself, "OK, I might want to make them hit it to center." On the first, Lohse was so sure it was gone that he didn't even turn around. There's a good chance both would have been home runs in just about any other big league park. After that opener, the Cardinals' Lance Berkman told ESPN's Jayson Stark, "If they don't move the fences in after this year, I'd be surprised."
And so on. I don't need to quote the entire piece. Thanks in large part to Marlins Park's first-ever game, the stadium developed a reputation. Now, when people think of Marlins Park, they think of it in a similar way to how they think of Petco Park. It isn't impossible to hit for power or score runs, but it's less possible than it is in almost any other place.
Wednesday night, the Marlins hosted the Rockies. The Marlins got out to an early 3-0 lead, and they set their sights on a series sweep, but the Rockies rallied and wound up doubling up the Marlins, 8-4. The Rockies salvaged the series despite getting out-hit in the finale, 9-8.
Wednesday's was the 19th game in Marlins Park. Over those 19 games, there have been a total of 177 runs scored, or an average of 9.3 runs per game. The Marlins have played 25 games on the road. Over those 25 games, there have been a total of 162 runs scored, or an average of 6.5 runs per game.
Of course, that's a little too simplistic. Over a large enough period of time, we can look at runs splits, but it would be wise here to be a bit more granular. Here are the current home/road splits for Marlins hitters:
Home: .770 OPS
Road: .621 OPS
And here are the current home/road splits for Marlins pitchers:
Home: .710 OPS allowed
Road: .646 OPS allowed
We could still use more. Here, take a look at a bunch of numbers in a table:
In the early going, Marlins Park does have a lower home-run rate. But batters in Marlins Park have posted an isolated slugging percentage of .126, whereas, in road games, they've posted an isolated slugging percentage of .123. Those could be more even, but only barely. As for the claims that Marlins Park doesn't allow any weak home runs, here's a homer by Rod Barajas that was measured at 96.4 miles per hour off the bat:
Here's a homer by Donnie Murphy that was measured at 97.6 miles per hour off the bat:
The league-average home run comes off the bat at 103.5 miles per hour, for reference. You don't necessarily have to get all of a pitch to knock it out of Marlins Park. There are parts of the stadium where it's more difficult to go deep, but then, that goes for every stadium. Of course it's hard to go deep to straightaway center. Where isn't it?
This is not to say that Marlins Park isn't a pitcher-friendly environment, or that it isn't a difficult place to hit for power. All of those batters who have spoken up have done so for a reason, and keep in mind they're out there taking batting practice, in addition to hitting during games. They have a feel for how the park plays. Our data samples right now are limited, and they aren't controlled for team identity, and we'll have to see how the numbers look at the end of the year, and at the end of next year.
But then, the 2012 numbers in Coors Field look how we'd expect. Same with the 2012 numbers in Petco Park, and the 2012 numbers in Safeco Field. We have to let these things normalize, but letting these things normalize doesn't mean they'll eventually look different.
Marlins Park is brand new, and it already has a reputation as being an extraordinarily difficult place to hit. It might very well be an extraordinarily difficult place to hit. The evidence we've collected so far is curious, though. It doesn't prove anything, not yet, but it's curious. If this keeps up, we'll see how long it takes the reputation to follow.