Home sweet homers.
That might be the lasting impression fantasy owners had of new Yankee Stadium, which in its inaugural season quickly earned itself the nickname "Coors Field East," for the massive offensive numbers in its early weeks of existence. As they say, first impressions are the ones that stick, so it's only natural that even experienced fantasy owners might have a hard time shaking the idea that the Yankees' new venue is a bandbox that entirely favors hitters.
Folks, that assessment is simply not true.
As Rob Neyer pointed out in a recent blog, Yankee Stadium might be a great home run ballpark, and that it registered a 1.261 number in the category on ESPN's Park Factor page does underscore that fact, but the truth is that for overall offense, it was actually middling in rankings. Sure enough, in its first year, Yankee Stadium ranked 20th in runs (0.965) and 15th in hits (0.995), and if you combined doubles and triples and recalculated that as its own category, it would have ranked 29th (0.784).
Ultimately, Yankee Stadium's short, 314-foot right-field porch, not to mention its 360-foot distance in right-center, might make life for left-handed sluggers much easier than your typical ballpark. However, if wind currents were truly responsible for some of the park's gaudy first-year numbers, then it'd be irresponsible of fantasy owners to expect a repeat of the 237 homers that were hit there in 2009, if only because it's practically impossible for any of us to predict what shifts in wind currents might take place in 2010.
And therein lies the problem with ballpark factors: Perceptions are too often incorrect; trends can shift, often rapidly, from year to year; and people often put too much stock into them when crafting their rankings and projections.
For a few examples of why you should never go overboard with ballpark factors, consider that Andre Ethier was a .307 hitter with 22 home runs last season at Dodger Stadium, widely regarded as a pitching-friendly park, but had only .238/9 numbers in his road games. Conversely, Nick Swisher hit 21 of his 29 home runs and had an OPS 169 points higher on the road than at home, despite the fact that his home park, Yankee Stadium, was great for power hitters.
Now, all that said, ballpark factors are still important. They just should not entirely drive your player evaluations, with the possible exception of players whose homes reside at either extreme of the scale.
We'll get into the specific ballpark factors below, ranking them from most hitter-friendly to most pitcher-friendly, using statistics from the past five seasons instead of 2009 alone. Why five? That provides a larger sample from which to make stronger judgments about a ballpark's leaning, whereas fluctuations in one season can skew the data. But before we get into that, let's take a look at two of the other new ballparks of the past two seasons, to see what conclusions we can make, as well as take a closer look at the Minnesota Twins' new home, Target Field.
Citi Field: 2009's other new park
Like Yankee Stadium, Citi Field has but one year's worth of data from which to draw conclusions, and going by Park Factor calculations it actually looked like a neutral to slightly homer-friendly venue in 2009. On that often-misleading page, Citi Field ranked 22nd in runs (0.943), 12th in home runs (1.057), 25th in hits (0.955) and 17th in the aforementioned doubles plus triples (0.980).
But be careful -- Citi Field allowed the sixth-fewest homers in baseball last season (130), and high, distant fences in the alleys probably won't help in that department in the future. The New York Mets' injury-depleted offense might have had a lot to do with the low total, yes, but the ballpark certainly didn't help matters. Ask David Wright a little about what it was like to hit at Citi Field; he hit only five home runs in 70 games at the Mets' new home in 2009.
The Mets can claim that lowering their center-field fence from 16 to 8 feet will help improve offense; it's just not going to change things much. Citi Field seems likely to rank among the top five pitchers' parks again in 2009, and while talk that it compares to Petco Park might be premature, in the worst-case (or best-case, depending upon your perspective) scenario it could pose a challenge to the holder of the crown of most pitching-friendly venue in baseball.
Target Field: 2010's new park
The Twins move from the Metrodome to open-air Target Field this season, and we know just what you're thinking: A team from Minnesota thought it a good idea to sign up for outdoor baseball in the month of April?!
No question the cold temperatures might have a profound impact on the Twins from this point forward, with snow-outs a definite possibility in some of the rougher years. Wind will also become a factor, if only because it wasn't in the past due to the domed stadium the Twins are leaving. Though the right-field fence at Target Field will remain 23 feet high, as it was at the Metrodome, and with comparable distance to home plate (331 feet, compared with 327 at the Metrodome), the ballpark has an opening to a boardwalk area behind it that could conceivably create a jet-stream effect. Of course, we'll have no way of knowing if that's true until games get under way, so it'd be foolish for fantasy owners to prepare expecting significant shifts in stats due to that.
What does appear different, however, are the dimensions of Target Field in left and left-center field compared with those at the Metrodome. Listed below are the field dimensions for both parks, from the team's official Web site, which might hint at it being a little easier a ballpark for a right-handed hitter. The Metrodome did shape up as a bit of a pitchers' park this past decade, though, so it might only mean Target Field will be more neutral for righties.
Ballpark "Power Rankings"
Don't take that word "power" literally; this simply borrows the idea of our "Power Rankings" for other sports, which ranks the teams (or individuals, if appropriate, such as in golf or NASCAR). Listed below are all major league ballparks except the aforementioned Target Field, which has yet to host a game, ranked from the most hitter-friendly (No. 1) to the most pitcher-friendly (No. 29).
Again, "power" is only part of the equation. This isn't a straight list of the most and least homer-friendly ballparks. Rather, it takes into account each park's total package, with write-ups for each detailing whether the venue has a specific advantage to a particular type of statistic or player.
1. Coors Field (Colorado Rockies): Still the hitters' park to define all hitters' parks, humidor or not, Coors topped all ballparks in terms of runs and hits last season, as well as in 2005-09 combined. Though its dimensions are more spacious than most big league ballparks, Coors is a hitter's heaven because of its high altitude. The team's official Web site notes that a batted ball "travels nine percent farther at 5,280 feet than at sea level. It is estimated that a home run hit 400 feet in sea-level Yankee Stadium would travel … as far as 440 feet in the Mile High City."
Though the split is fairly balanced, right-handed sluggers do experience a slight advantage over left-handers in the power department, probably due to a left-field fence 6 feet shorter than in right field. According to the Bill James Handbook, which generates a ballpark "index" where 100 is a neutral park, anything significantly higher is hitter-friendly and significantly lower pitcher-friendly, righties had a home run index of 122 compared with 109 for lefties from 2007 to 2009.
2. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (Texas Rangers): The American League's most hitting-friendly venue, Rangers Ballpark ranked among the top seven from 2005 to 2009 in terms of runs, hits, home runs and BABIP, the only park other than Coors to do so. It has long been speculated that the high temperatures, low humidity and short fences have a lot to do with the ballpark's lofty offensive totals, and the advantage for right- and left-handed hitters is fairly balanced.
3. Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks): Surprised to see this ballpark at No. 3? You shouldn't be. Chase Field ranked No. 2 in the majors in terms of runs last season, and it has been in the top five in that department every year since 2006. Left-handed sluggers surprisingly get a slight advantage over right-handers in terms of power (homer indexes of 115 and 102 from 2007 to '09), despite the dimensions down the right-field line being 4 feet deeper than in left field. It seems Adam LaRoche might have picked a smart place to call home in 2010.
4. Great American Ball Park (Cincinnati Reds): Homers, homers, homers. During the past five seasons combined, there have been more home runs hit at Great American (1,119) than at any other ballpark. That doesn't necessarily mean it ranked first in the category when using Park Factor calculations -- it was third (1.257) from 2005 to '09 -- but considering the two parks that topped it were AL venues, Great American is the clear homer heaven of the Senior Circuit. It's also above average in terms of total offense, which partly explains why no qualified Reds pitcher has registered an ERA better than 3.21 since the park opened in 2003.
5. Citizens Bank Park (Philadelphia Phillies): Many fantasy owners believe the Phillies' home ballpark is more hitting-friendly than either of the two ahead of it, and perhaps even more so than Rangers Ballpark. Here's the scary reality: Citizens Bank ranked 12th in runs and 16th in home runs using Park Factor calculations last season, meaning it was about as neutral as they come ... in 2009 alone. That hardly changes the park's five-year statistical findings (2005-09), however, which say it was still top-10 in both categories. Strangely enough, the Bill James Handbook index numbers for right-handers last season (106 batting average, 114 home runs) were right in line with those from 2007-09 (101 and 117), but left-handers struggled mightily (99/90 in 2009, 104/111 in 2007-09).
6. Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs): Take your pick between the two ballparks from the Windy City, but Wrigley gets the nod here because in addition to boosting run and home run totals, it's also a good venue for doubles and triples and had a modest, league-average .300 BABIP from 2005 to '09. The problem with Wrigley, of course, is that predicting wind currents is about as easy a task as predicting Carlos Silva's lone 2010 quality start ... and that's no joke, as he had precisely one in 2009. Wrigley has had its years when it was utterly neutral. It has also had years where it ranked among the game's most homer-friendly parks, like 2004, when it ranked second. It's apparently tremendous for power-hitting lefties, with a 126 home run index from 2007 to '09, highest in the majors.
7. U.S. Cellular Field (Chicago White Sox): If you're looking for homer heaven, look no further. Since the White Sox's decision to bring in their outfield fences following the 2000 season, most notably shrinking the distance to the left-field foul pole from 347 to 330 feet and the right-field foul pole from 347 to 335 feet, U.S. Cellular has ranked no lower than 11th in Park Factor calculations in home runs, or registered a number beneath 1.193, which happened in 2009 yet still ranked the ballpark fourth in the category. If there's any knock on this park, it's that it tends to curtail doubles and triples and has a BABIP of .288 the past five seasons combined, the third-lowest mark in baseball.
8. Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox): Here's a ballpark that greatly enhances hitters' doubles and triples totals, yet reins in home runs as much as the best of them. Not that that's surprising, considering Fenway Park's Green Monster stands a scant 310 feet from home plate, yet is a massive 37 feet tall. That's the shortest distance down the left-field line in baseball, but it's also the tallest fence in the game. Left-handers have their deep fly balls gobbled up by Fenway's spacious center- and right-field alleys, while right-handers do experience a slight power advantage (95 homer index to lefties' 85 from 2007 to '09). But if you're targeting offense in Fenway, understand that it is typically not coming in the form of homers.
9. Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Baltimore Orioles): Upon its opening in 1992, Camden Yards was hailed as a hitter-friendly ballpark, but if you check the numbers over the years, it hasn't always leaned significantly that way. It sometimes borders upon neutral to slightly hitter-friendly, but the numbers the past five seasons combined do classify it as a definite hitters' park. If there's any advantage to be had, it's for right-handed power hitters, who need only a 364-foot drive to clear the fence in left-center field. Sure enough, it had the AL's top homer index for righties (129) from 2007 to '09, at least among parks open all three years.
10. Yankee Stadium (New York Yankees): It's an appropriate ranking for this ballpark, because each of the top 10 on the list can be classified as "hitter-friendly" to some degree, and it seems likely that Yankee Stadium will always be homer-friendly. But without more data, ranking it among the top five seems foolish.
11. Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City Royals): This is where we drop into more neutral territory, and unlike Yankee Stadium, which was great for homers but average at best for everything else, Kauffman was the exact opposite, great for any hit within the ballpark but a weak venue for power hitters. Expansive power alleys are presumably responsible, but that does help boost doubles and triples totals.
12. Rogers Centre (Toronto Blue Jays): This was one of the better home run ballparks in baseball from 2002 to '07, but in the two years since it has actually leaned more pitcher- than hitter-friendly. As a symmetrical ballpark with a retractable roof, it provides little discernable advantage to righties or lefties.
13. Minute Maid Park (Houston Astros): Remember when the Astros' home ballpark once earned the nickname "Ten-Run Field"? Today it's almost entirely a neutral ballpark, with its lone advantage provided to right-handed power hitters (112 homer index from 2007 to '09). It makes sense, as the "Crawford Boxes" stand 315 feet down the left-field line, a perfect target for righty sluggers.
14. Comerica Park (Detroit Tigers): Like Minute Maid, Comerica was once known for being something it is not today; it was actually hailed as a pitchers' park in its early days of existence. That changed following the 2002 season, when the Tigers installed a temporary fence to cut down the field dimensions, most notably dropping the distance in left-center from 395 to 370 feet. Sure enough, right-handed power hitters have capitalized, with a homer index of 118 from 2007 to '09.
15. AT&T Park (San Francisco Giants): To think there was a time when Comerica and AT&T were extreme pitchers' parks that suppressed home run totals. AT&T Park still reins in home runs with the best of them, especially those hit by left-handers (88 homer index from 2007 to '09), but for the most part it's a neutral venue.
16. PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates): Left-handed power hitters evidently get a significant advantage at PNC, despite the 21-foot-high wall in right field. Their homer index from 2007 to '09 was 107, while right-handers had an NL-worst 77.
17. Nationals Park (Washington Nationals): As middle-of-the-road as ballparks come, albeit with only two seasons' worth of data so far.
18. Sun Life Stadium (Florida Marlins): Fantasy owners often consider this a pitching-friendly venue, but recent statistics haven't backed it up. It's neutral.
19. Angel Stadium of Anaheim (Los Angeles Angels): Right-handed hitters get a slight boost in the power department -- a 107 homer index to lefties' 94 from 2007 to '09 -- but outside of that this is another neutral venue.
20. Turner Field (Atlanta Braves): This was much more of a pitchers' park in 2009 than the year before, with Park Factors that ranked 26th in runs (0.895) and homers (0.861), but typically speaking it belongs in the middle of the pack.
21. Miller Park (Milwaukee Brewers): Left-handed sluggers slightly benefit at Miller Park, as their homer index the past three years was 116, and it's not all a product of Prince Fielder's power. He has actually hit only two more homers at Miller Park than on the road during his career.
22. Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays): "The Trop" is not quite a pitchers' park, but it's not quite a neutral venue, either. Something to think about: Rays pitchers have registered an ERA more than a run lower at Tropicana Field than on the road in each of the past three seasons.
23. Progressive Field (Cleveland Indians): Now we're into the clear pitching-friendly ballparks, and the one thing that keeps Progressive higher in the rankings than the venues beneath it is its ballpark BABIP -- a seventh-ranked .308 the past five years combined. It's especially poor for home runs, with a 0.857 Park Factor during that span, ranking it 26th.
24. Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles Dodgers): It's not impossible to hit a home run at Dodger Stadium, especially if you're a left-handed hitter. During the past three seasons their homer index was 111, which helps explain why Andre Ethier had such an impressive power output last season. But outside of that, everything about Dodger Stadium leans toward the pitchers. It's actually one of the worst venues for doubles and triples (0.895 Park Factor from 2005 to '09, 28th).
25. Citi Field (New York Mets): This is a low enough ranking for a ballpark that by all rights should be a pitching-friendly venue for years to come, and it's possible it might drop as low as 28th depending on how future seasons play out.
26. Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (Oakland Athletics): Taking a look at this ballpark's outfield dimensions, it might not seem like the Coliseum should be all that much of a pitchers' park. But what makes this venue lean in that direction is its expansive foul territory, reported by numerous sources as the largest in terms of area in the majors. That helps hurt hitters' batting averages, since pop-ups that typically might have snuck into the seats will comfortably land in fielders' gloves for outs. If anyone has enjoyed a small degree of success here the past three years, it's lefties in the power department (106 homer index).
27. Safeco Field (Seattle Mariners): It's the AL's most pitching-friendly venue, and it has been since its opening midway through the 1999 season. It doesn't matter what statistic or what split -- runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, BABIP, righties or lefties -- Safeco routinely makes its way into the bottom 10 consistently, a stark contrast to the hitter-friendly former home of the Mariners, the Kingdome.
28. Busch Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals): The Cardinals' new ballpark now has four years' worth of data, enough to make judgments about its leaning, and in none of those seasons did it shape up as anything short of an extreme pitchers' park. Overall its Park Factor the past five seasons combined was 0.937 in terms of runs, 28th in the majors, and 0.816 in home runs (29th), and that's in spite of the Cardinals boasting arguably the game's most lethal offensive force, Albert Pujols. Interestingly enough, right-handed hitters are the ones most hurt in the power department, with a 78 homer index from 2007 to '09, third-lowest in the game.
29. Petco Park (San Diego Padres): It's as much of a pitchers' park as Coors Field is a hitters' venue, and probably more so. To put Petco's Park Factor numbers into perspective, Petco had a 0.789 number in runs and 0.775 in home runs the past five seasons combined, and the next-worst numbers in those categories were 0.935 in runs (Safeco Field) and 0.816 in homers (Busch Stadium). Perhaps Petco's architects took their inspiration from the Grand Canyon, only about 500 miles northeast? Left-handed hitters would believe it; they had a miserable 61 home run index the past three seasons combined. In other words, if you're an Adrian Gonzalez owner, you're obviously rooting for him to get traded, because almost any other venue in the game would help his power stroke.
Park Factor calculations, 2005-09
The chart below lists every ballpark's Park Factor numbers in a few key categories for the past five seasons combined, as opposed to ESPN's Park Factor page, which offers statistics for individual seasons. The categories included: runs, hits, doubles plus triples (to provide a better sense of the park's strength in terms of extra-base hits), home runs and BABIP (which is not calculated using ESPN's Park Factor formula, but rather is the straight BABIP for that particular ballpark).
The Park Factor formulas are calculated the same way they are on ESPN's page: "Park Factor compares the rate of stats at home versus the rate of stats on the road. A rate higher than 1.000 favors the hitter. Below 1.000 favors the pitcher." The formula is ((homeRS + homeRA)/(homeG)) / ((roadRS + roadRA)/(roadG)), where homeRS is runs scored at home, homeRA is runs allowed at home, homeG is home games, roadRS is runs scored on the road, roadRA is runs allowed on the road and roadG is road games. Obviously different statistical categories would use those stats instead of runs scored, so for instance, "homeRS" would become "homeH" (hits at home) for the "hits" category, and so on.
A ballpark marked with an asterisk did not host every one of its team's scheduled home games from 2005 to '09. Those details are listed below.
* Ballpark notes: Yankee Stadium (NYY) and Citi Field (NYM) opened in 2009; only 2009 data was used. … The Astros played two games as the home team at Miller Park in 2008, but those stats were calculated as road contests. … Nationals Park (WAS) opened in 2008; only 2008-09 data was used. … The Rays played three games as the home team at Ballpark at Disney's Wide World of Sports in both 2007 and 2008, but those stats were calculated as road contests. … The Indians played three games as the home team at Miller Park in 2007, but those stats were calculated as road contests. … The Athletics played two games as the home team at Japan's Tokyo Dome in 2008, but those stats were calculated as road contests. … Busch Stadium (STL) opened in 2006; only 2006-09 data was used.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.