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.
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star
A six-game homestand begins tonight, which means that when the Royals offense is discussed for the next six games youre 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. Theres one problem:
Its just not true.
Kauffman Stadium is not a pitchers park, no matter how many times you hear otherwise. If anything, its becoming a hitters 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 dont want to adjust based on the changing factors that go into it.
Formans 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 Stadiums 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 shouldnt 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 isnt alone in having numbers that buck commonly held beliefs. Detroits Comerica Park rates as the best hitters park in the AL this young season, while Yankee Stadium rates as the second-best pitchers park. Other numbers are more in line with conventional wisdom: Seattles Safeco Field is the best pitchers park, and Baltimores Camden Yards is among the best hitters parks.
Its 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, ESPNs 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 dont 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 pitchers park.
If that was ever true, it no longer is. The two biggest variables in a stadiums 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 pitchers 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 weve 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 its 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 dont blame the stadium.
Peoples perceptions are easy to fool, Forman says. We often see what we want to see. Everybody does it. Its very hard to look at something objectively. Its really almost impossible.
So really, if you accumulate the statistics over 162 games or 324 games, youre going to see a broader, more correct way of looking at things than, It looks like the ball flies out of here.