Royals

Here’s an eye-opener: Data show the K is a hitter’s park

Updated: 2013-05-23T15:44:24Z

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

The Royals need more offense, we all know that, and now that they are done playing the Astros (for now), we have another opportunity to see what they can do against actual major-league pitching.

A six-game homestand begins tonight, which means that when the Royals’ offense is discussed for the next six games you’re going to hear baseball people couch their analysis by saying that Kauffman Stadium is a really tough place to hit. This has become a baseball truism, with folks saying the spacious field serves as something like quicksand for bats. There’s one problem:

It’s just not true.

Kauffman Stadium is not a pitcher’s park, no matter how many times you hear otherwise. If anything, it’s becoming a hitter’s park.

“Once a park has a reputation, it seems to want to keep that reputation,” says Sean Forman, president of the awesome Baseball-Reference.com. “People don’t want to adjust based on the changing factors that go into it.”

Forman’s website includes a statistic called Park Factors, a complicated arithmetic based on work by Pete Palmer and the encyclopedia Total Baseball. The math includes home and road statistics for all teams as well as other factors to estimate how each stadium plays. There is a separate calculation for hitters and pitchers; anything above 100 favors the hitters and anything under 100 favors pitchers.

So far this season, Kauffman Stadium’s Park Factor is 102 for both hitters and pitchers. If that holds, it would be the third consecutive year it has played average or in favor of the hitters.

The Royals are scoring and allowing slightly fewer runs at home than on the road, but the advanced metrics indicate that Kauffman shouldn’t take the blame, or credit.

The arithmetic is complicated, in part to take away the impact of strengths and weaknesses of specific teams. When the Royals set a club record for runs and their pitchers had a cumulative 5.35 ERA in 1999, for instance, Kauffman Stadium actually played slightly in favor of the pitchers (99 for both hitters and pitchers).

The K isn’t alone in having numbers that buck commonly held beliefs. Detroit’s Comerica Park rates as the best hitter’s park in the AL this young season, while Yankee Stadium rates as the second-best pitcher’s park. Other numbers are more in line with conventional wisdom: Seattle’s Safeco Field is the best pitcher’s park, and Baltimore’s Camden Yards is among the best hitter’s parks.

It’s worth noting that ESPN also has a Park Factor stat, which ranks The K as the 16th-best hitting park in baseball. The last four years, ESPN’s metric has had the K as the 12th-, 13th-, 12th- and fifth-best hitting park among 30 big-league stadiums.

Whichever metric you prefer, we can at least agree that the numbers don’t support the notion that Kauffman Stadium is a difficult place to hit. This is a hard thing to accept, because for so long — except that bizarre, carnival period in the 1990s when they moved the outfield wall in — it has been universally viewed as pitcher’s park.

If that was ever true, it no longer is. The two biggest variables in a stadium’s changing Park Factor are usually weather and other stadiums either being built or changing dimensions. Even something as innocuous as putting in high-priced club seating on the field can change things, because less foul territory means fewer balls in play.

When one stadium is built or changes dimensions, it pushes the others one way or the other. When Coors Field in Denver opened, for example, every other National League stadium became more of a pitcher’s park by comparison.

Not everyone believes in numbers, of course, which is probably part of why it was decided 40 years ago that the Royals’ home stadium was a hard place to hit and we’ve never change our minds.

Some of the misperception is in dimensions. Kauffman Stadium is symmetrical, and leans big: seven AL stadiums are bigger down the left-field line (330); six are smaller. Four are bigger to left-center field (387); 10 are smaller. Three are bigger to center (410); nine are smaller.

The K has no cheap spot to hit home runs. Yankee Stadium is 399 feet to left-center, but just 318 down the left-field line and 314 down right.

Minute Maid Park in Houston is 435 (and up a ridiculous hill) to center field, but 315 down the left-field line and 362 to left-center.

But it’s also true that while the Royals hit seven fewer home runs at home than on the road last year, they gave up 11 more at home compared with the road. Overall, Royals home games included 20 more extra-base hits and 24 more runs than road games. Not an enormous difference when spread over 162 games, obviously, but it is a slight offensive tilt toward Kauffman Stadium and certainly part of why its reputation as a difficult place to hit is misguided.

If the Royals struggle offensively these next six games, there will be reasons. Plate discipline is a prime suspect. Consistent approach is another.

Just don’t blame the stadium.

“People’s perceptions are easy to fool,” Forman says. “We often see what we want to see. Everybody does it. It’s very hard to look at something objectively. It’s really almost impossible.

So really, if you accumulate the statistics over 162 games or 324 games, you’re going to see a broader, more correct way of looking at things than, ‘It looks like the ball flies out of here.’”

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow him at Twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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