Park factors. We all have a general idea of what they are and why they're important. For Padres' fans it explains why their team sees almost no offensive production via the long ball. For Mariners' fans it's an occasion to celebrate the acquisition of Cliff Lee and his minuscule HR/FB ratio. For Mets fans, always looking to blame something, it's the reason why David Wright only hit 10 HRs. But for a lot of people, this is where the analysis stops, and park factors simply become this weird, intangible force that exists without a greater understanding. Worst of all, they can be used as a quick and dirty way to write off legitimate performance on the part of some players: "Oh, Ryan Howard only hits a lot of taters because he gets to play in that bandbox in Philly." False.
As the baseball world embraces more advanced measures of ability, statements like these should raise a few more eyebrows than in years past. Yes, Citizens' Bank Park is tiny, and yes, it does undoubtedly allow a few more HR because of this fact, but to denigrate performance simply based on this general set of circumstances is more of a jumping to a conclusion than an actual substantive claim. Well, fear not, because the advent of hit tracking may be taking a lot of the uncertainty out of statements like these. And we're all going to be better off for it. Come with me after the jump to see a great example.
At the risk of aggravating the loyal Philly readers of this site, I won't be focusing on Ryan Howard (or any Phillies player) this weekend. However, I would like to focus on a guy that did receive a lot of remarks similar to the one I conjured up about Ryan Howard. That player is Johnny Damon. Damon's successes at the new stadium in the Bronx were well-documented as he showed a penchant for hooking balls into the shallow right-field seats. Again, a lot of people wrote this off because of the stadium itself (or the mythical "jetstreams"; this is me wanking). Is this fair though?
Well, thanks to this awesome site, we can know far better than in days of yore. It basically tracks all hits by stadium and you can sort by batter or by pitcher. Pretty awesome, right? Let's look at Johnny Damon at New Yankee Stadium. Click to make bigger.
The blue dots are obviously Damon's HRs from 2009. As you can see, he was definitely quite hook happy. But now, let's exploit this site's best feature and overlay these same HRs into a new environment. Let's try the "cavernous" Citi Field and see if any of Damon's blasts would have stayed in the park.
So, a little bit different results here. I think we can definitively say that at least two stay in the park for sure and there are at least three that are hitting the wall, maybe the top of the wall, to the point that they're no longer the sure things they were in Yankee Stadium. But let's try one more example, just for argument's sake. To PETCO!
Wow, BIG difference there. So what does this tell us? Yes, Johnny Damon benefited from playing in the new digs, but you would probably have to venture to complete opposite end of the stadium spectrum, size-wise, to see a noticeable drop in his HR total. So what do you think? I encourage you to play around at the site with different batters and report any interesting findings. This is some pretty cool stuff, if I do say so my nerd-self.