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Home Parks Affect Fortunes Of Talented Youngsters




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See also: Three-Year Lefty/Righty Splits For Each MLB Park
See also: Extreme Home/Road Splits By Big League Regulars

Eric Hosmer smashed 19 home runs in 128 games as a 21-year-old Royals rookie last season, establishing himself as one of the brightest hitting talents in the game. However, the young first baseman hit just three of those 19 homers in his home park, highlighting one of the quirks of Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium.

Over the course of the past three seasons, lefthanded batters like Hosmer have hit home runs once every 59.4 plate appearances at Kauffman. Just three other big league parks have witnessed such long waits between homers by lefties, Minneapolis' Target Field, San Diego's Petco Park and San Francisco's AT&T Park.

Lefty batters at Kauffman, whether they be Royals or visiting players, haven't had the same difficulty collecting singles, doubles and triples as they have clearing the fences. In fact, lefties have hit .278 at Kauffman since 2009, and a robust .321 when putting the ball in play. Those figures rank third and second, respectively, among the 30 parks, considering performance by lefthanded batters only.

The Royals control Hosmer's rights through 2017, his age-27 season, so we may have to wait until at least 2018 to learn what his home run totals would look like in a more favorable home park. We won't have to wait that long to learn how other players will be affected by a switch in home venues, not after teams seemed more willing to deal top prospects last year than they had in the recent past.

Jesus Montero, Mariners: Seattle surrendered Michael Pineda to acquire Montero, but he must put his opposite-field power stroke to good use to overcome Safeco Field's bias against righthanded batters. As a group, they've hit just .234/.292/.353 in 10,028 plate appearances in Safeco since 2009. What's more, righties have homered once every 46.6 PAs (26th in baseball) and hit .272 on balls in play (29th).

Jarrod Parker and Brad Peacock, Athletics: Any pitcher would welcome a switch to Oakland Coliseum, with its spacious dimensions and miles of foul territory. Righthanders Parker and Peacock, who rank Nos. 1 and 2 on Oakland's revised Top 10 Prospects list, are no exception. However, southpaw Tom Milone, who checks in at No. 10 after coming over from the Nationals (along with Peacock and two others) in the Gio Gonzalez deal, might derive the greatest advantage from pitching at the Oakland Coliseum, which punishes righthanded batters to a degree similar to Seattle's Safeco Field. Lefty batters have a compiled a comparatively robust .706 OPS in Oakland since 2009, compared with .675 by righties.

Yonder Alonso, Padres: San Diego's Petco Park may be the most difficult venue in which to hit in affiliated baseball, but Alonso is up to the challenge after escaping from the Reds, where he would have continued being buried by Joey Votto for a second year in a row. Lefty batters homer only once per 60.9 PAs in Petco—which ranks just a tick behind the Twins' Target Field at 61—but the park grants some leeway to those lefties who hit line drives (.290 average on balls in play) and draw walks (.319 on-base percentage). The downside: Alonso leaves Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark, which favors lefty power.

• Anthony Rizzo, Cubs: No prospect caught a bigger break than Rizzo with his change in venue from San Diego to Chicago. Petco penalizes lefty hitters who pull the ball for power, like Rizzo, whereas Wrigley Field plays fairly neutral to both sides. Righties have fared slightly better in the power departments at Wrigley (.412 slugging vs. .398, and with greater home run frequency), but that could be a function of the Cubs' primary power sources of late being righthanded, e.g. Marlon Byrd, Derrek Lee, Aramais Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto.

• Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, Rockies: Colorado acquired these Indians first-rounders in the July 30 deal that sent Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland, and while no pitcher would look forward to the thought of making half his starts in Denver's Coors Field, its days as baseball's preeminent homer haven are through. Because of spacious outfield dimensions, though, the park does feature more hits than most yards, particularly by lefty batters, who have hit a big league-best .329 when putting the ball in play since 2009. This underscores the value of Rockies pitchers who miss bats.

Best And Worst Big League Parks For Home Runs

Let's take a closer look at which big league ballparks might benefit or harm the home run totals for promising young players. Cited here are the aggregate three-year rates for plate appearances per home run—with the lone exception of Minneapolis' Target Field, which opened in 2010. Righty or lefty splits consider all batters at each venue, not just the home-team nine.

Best Parks for Home Runs by Lefthanded Batters
Plate Appearances per HR, 2009-11
1 Yankee Stadium, New York 24.8
2 Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati 28.3
3 Rangers Ballpark, Arlington, Texas 29.9
4 Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia 32.2
5 Miller Park, Milwaukee 32.4

Yankee Stadium's primary beneficiary: Robinson Cano, Yankees. At home: 46 homers, one every 22 PA. On the road: 36 homers, one every 28.9 PA. Switch-hitters Mark Teixeira (plus-19 homers at home) and Jorge Posada (plus-18) certainly can't complain.

The Yankees signed 39-year-old free agent Raul Ibanez to take advantage of the Stadium's conditions, but they don't have a prospect or unestablished young player waiting in the wings. Same goes for the Reds after their trade of Yonder Alonso, though Jay Bruce and Juan Francisco are both still 24 with room to grow. The Phillies' Domonic Brown seems perfectly tailored to Citizens Bank Park, but Philadelphia appears to be favor John Mayberry Jr. as the starter in left field with Laynce Nix and Juan Pierre (minor league deal) as supporting players. Prince Fielder homered once every 16 PAs in Miller Park during the past three seasons, but the Brewers don't really have a lefty slugger waiting in the wings, unless Mat Gamel or Taylor Green dramatically exceed expectations.

Best Parks for Home Runs by Righthanded Batters
Plate Appearances per HR, 2009-11
1 Rogers Centre, Toronto 28.0
2 U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago 28.7
3 Rangers Ballpark, Arlington, Texas 30.7
4 Camden Yards, Baltimore 31.1
5 Chase Field, Phoenix 31.8

U.S. Cellular's primary beneficiary: Paul Konerko, White Sox. At home: 63 homers, one every 14.7 PA. On the road: 35 homers, one every 27.5 PA. (The Blue Jays' Jose Bautista hasn't shown a dramatic home/road split, homering once every 14.8 PA at home, and once every 17 PA on the road.)

Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie stands poised for a breakthrough 2012 season, not least of all because his home park is tailored almost perfectly for his skills. The 22-year-old slugged .612 with five homers at Rogers Centre last year during an August and September test run. The White Sox intend to give 23-year-old slugger Dayan Viciedo a look in right field, and he might be able to eclipse the 20 homers he hit last year in Triple-A while playing half his games in The Cell. Further evidence that Rangers Ballpark is the best home run hitter's park in the majors: both righties and lefties strike homers about once every 30 PAs. Righty hitter Mike Olt will shift from third base to first as he moves to Double-A this season, and if that goes well the 2010 sandwich pick could be ready to mash in Arlington in the second half.

Worst Parks for Home Runs by Lefthanded Batters
Plate Appearances per HR, 2009-11
                
1 Target Field, Minneapolis* 61.0
2 Petco Park, San Diego 60.9
3 AT&T Park, San Francisco 59.8
4 Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City 59.4
5 Citi Field, New York 55.0
  O.co Coliseum, Oakland 55.0
  *2010-11 only  

Target Field's primary victim: Joe Mauer, Twins. At home: one homer in 457 PA. On the road: 11 homers, one every 41.8 PA.

This cross section of power-dampening parks is home to a number of up-and-coming, lefty-hitting first basemen, such as Yonder Alonso (Padres), Brandon Belt (Giants), Eric Hosmer (Royals) and Ike Davis (Mets). Target Field didn't seem to bother Twins first baseman Chris Parmelee much in 2011—he smacked two of his four homers at home during a September callup—but how will he fare during a cool Minneapolis spring? Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas faces the same challenges as Hosmer in Kansas City, but he did manage to bash three of five homers at home last year.

Worst Parks for Home Runs by Righthanded Batters
Plate Appearances per HR, 2009-11
1 Citi Field, New York 52.7
  PNC Park, Pittsburgh 52.7
3 Progressive Field, Cleveland 50.8
4 Turner Field, Atlanta 50.5
5 Safeco Field, Seattle 49.4

Citi Field's primary victim: David Wright, Mets. At home: 22 homers, one every 38.2 PA. On the road: 31 homers, one every 28.9 PA.

Andrew McCutchen holds three of the top four home run totals (23, 16 and 12) by Pirates righty batters since 2009; Andy LaRoche hit 12 bombs in 2009 and Ronny Cedeno eight in 2010 to rank Nos. 3 and 5. With 13 homers apiece, Jayson Nix (2010) and Mark DeRosa (2009) share that distinction for the Indians. The Mariners have featured righthanded home run hitters in the Safeco era, such as Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson, Bret Boone and Edgar Martinez, but Jesus Montero still faces an uphill climb in moving from New York to Seattle this offseason.

Best And Worst Big League Parks For Other Hits

Some parks with large dimensions may be difficult places to hit home runs, but spacious outfields or unique dimensions can contribute to more singles, doubles and triples than a smaller park. We can get an idea of the best parks for safe hits by examining batting average on balls in play, which excludes home runs and strikeouts from the equation, thus telling us how many balls hit into the field of play fall for hits.

Most Hit-Friendly Parks for Lefthanded Batters
Batting Average on Balls in Play, 2009-11
1 Coors Field, Denver .329
2 Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City .321
3 Minute Maid Park, Houston .319
4 Fenway Park, Boston .314
5 Chase Field, Phoenix .311

Most Hit-Friendly Parks for Righthanded Batters
Batting Average on Balls in Play, 2009-11
1 Fenway Park, Boston .311
2 Sun Life Stadium, Miami .309
  Coors Field, Denver .309
4 Comerica Park, Detroit .306
5 Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City .305

Coors, Kauffman and Fenway appear on both lists, and sure enough the Rockies (.260) rank fourth in the National League in average since 2009 (clustered with six other teams behind the .266-hitting Cardinals), while the Red Sox (.273) and Royals (.269) are bunched among the top four in the American League.

Boston's Kevin Youkilis has hit 91 points higher when putting the ball in play at home (.374) than he has on the road (.283) since 2009. Similar deal with Red Sox DH David Ortiz, who gains a 71-point advantage, .335 home vs. .264 road. To put those numbers in context: Those are the second- and fifth-largest favorable splits in the game for the period 2009-11, considering players with at least 500 home PA and 500 road PA.

The Royals' Billy Butler gains a 52-point edge in Kansas City, while the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki (plus-32 at home) and Carlos Gonzalez (plus-30) enjoy homestands in Denver.

Least Hit-Friendly Parks for Lefthanded Batters
Batting Average on Balls in Play, 2009-11
1 Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla. .280
2 Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia .287
  Safeco Field, Seattle .287
4 Petco Park, San Diego .290
5 Yankee Stadium, New York .293

Least Hit-Friendly Parks for Righthanded Batters
Batting Average on Balls in Play, 2009-11
1 Petco Park, San Diego .266
2 Safeco Field, Seattle .272
3 O.co Coliseum, Oakland .281
4 Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla. .282
5 U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago .283

Safeco and Petco provide the double-whammy of being brutal parks for safe hits, while also serving to suppress power from lefty (Petco) and righty (Safeco) batters. Conversely, they're great venues to build confidence in pitchers, particularly Padres righthanders (such as Casey Kelly and Joe Wieland as well as offseason trade acquisitions Andrew Cashner and Edinson Volquez) and Mariners lefthanders (Danny Hultzen and James Paxton).

Two Padres hitters, in particular, have had their averages artificially quashed by Petco, Chase Headley (minus-93 points on balls in play at home) and Will Venable (minus-65).

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field isn't especially tough on power hitters (probably because it's 315 feet down the left field line, and 322 feet down the right), but it has not been conducive at all for safe hits by any batters. The Rays' defense has a say in that, too, and they have converted more balls in play into outs than any other club during the past two seasons.

While it seems odd to see Yankee Stadium suppressing safe hits by lefties (314 to right field foul pole) and U.S. Cellular doing the same to righties (330 feet to left field), that's probably a function of those parks' favorable home-run conditions resulting in fewer balls in play.