Tuesday night, I was watching a little bit of the Padres and the Giants. More truthfully, I was watching highlights of the Padres and the Giants, but highlights count as a little bit. I navigated to the broadcast so I could find something that Logan Forsythe had done, but from there I saw something that Carlos Quentin had done.
In the bottom of the second inning, Quentin hit a home run, which I'm pretty sure no other Padre had done this year. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Quentin hit a double, which I'm pretty sure no other Padre had done this year. Then, in the bottom of the eighth inning, Quentin hit another home run. It was a clutch home run, as it evened the score 5-5, although you could question whether a clutch home run could exist for a team with the Padres' record.
And it was an ... odd home run. You can watch the video here. Quentin hit the ball 409 feet to straightaway center, which is no small accomplishment, but something seems off. It doesn't look right, as Quentin looks like he swings slowly and hits a shallow sinking liner. And it doesn't sound right, as it sounds like Quentin cracked his bat. Watching that highlight, nothing suggests a home run until the ball sails over the fence for a home run.
You don't expect a weird home run like that to be hit in Petco Park, which doubles as a mass grave for fly balls. Dig beneath the surface of the outfield and you'll find deceased baseballs, older and newer. Baseballs that once had promise, and that failed to live up to their potential. When a baseball dreams about Petco Park, it wakes abruptly in a cold sweat and gets up to double-check the doors.
If that home run could be possible, though, I got to wondering about other times Petco might have been unusually generous. I'm quite fond of the Home Run Tracker. For every home run hit, the Home Run Tracker notes how many ballparks it would've left, out of 30. Some go as high as 30. Some go as low as zero, if they were barely hit out and were, say, aided by wind. I was curious to see if there have been home runs in Petco this year that wouldn't have left most other ballparks.
The answer is that, yes, there have. Below are four home runs hit in San Diego this season that would've have escaped at least ten different stadiums.
On April 30, Braun went 4-for-5 with three home runs and a triple. This was his third home run, and he hit it 381 feet to left-center. It cleared the wall by just about the narrowest of margins, and according to the Home Run Tracker, this fly ball would've gone for a homer in nine ballparks. Nine is a lot of ballparks, but nine is also the minority of ballparks.
Before the Padres knew that they would be bad, Denorfia hit this clutch home run to dead center on April 11. The listed distance is 405 feet, and the ball would've left all of five stadiums. It was so close to being catchable that Diamondbacks center fielder Chris Young lost his glove. Said announcer Mark Grant after Denorfia rounded the bases:
And I'll be quite honest with you, Dick -- as soon as that ball was hit, I didn't think he got enough of it.
This is the home run noted above. It isn't yet embeddable, but in case you missed the earlier link, here it is again, and you are incompetent. Quentin, like Denorfia, went to straightaway center. The listed distance is 409 feet, aided a couple feet by wind. Home Run Tracker says it would've left two ballparks. I don't know what those two ballparks are, and I don't know if Petco is one of them, and if that sounds nonsensical to you it's because the Home Run Tracker strips environmental boosts when it's running these calculations. Quentin's home run seems odd in the highlight because it is odd. Balls like that are not commonly home runs. Although even taking away the whole home-run thing, I don't know how Quentin's drive didn't end up with or in front of the center fielder.
The grandaddy of them all. Like Quentin's home run, this one doesn't sound right off the bat. Like Quentin's home run, and Denorfia's home run, this one goes to dead center. The listed distance is 407 feet, aided a couple feet by wind, and according to the Home Run Tracker, this ball -- without the wind -- would've left a grand total of zero fields of play. It barely got out as is, giving Kemp a homer on what would've normally been a double or an out.
What we might have here, then, is a pattern. Three of these home runs that wouldn't have left most stadiums were hit to dead center. We see the same thing when we look back at Petco in 2011. Petco Park doesn't ordinarily play nice to hitters, but it does seem a little friendlier to straightaway center, at least as far as dingers are concerned. Balls can be hit out to center in San Diego that wouldn't be home runs in a lot of other places.
So why is Petco still so much of a pitcher-friendly park? Because center field isn't a frequent home-run destination. So far this season, according to FanGraphs, 1,076 home runs have been pulled, and 177 home runs have been hit the other way. 377 home runs have been hit up the middle. Even if Petco is a little kinder in center, that advantage is obliterated by the murderous power alleys. It's not so hopelessly dreadful for right-handed batters, but left-handed batters might be justifiably peeved.
Petco Park isn't very nice to hitters. We've known that from the beginning, and the Padres might finally do something to change that this coming winter. For the time being, Petco is capable of playing nice, sometimes. A hitter just has to know the right thing to do.