The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

 

Home Sweet Hell

Today's Prospectus/Insider twofer covers the Phillies' odd home-road split:
On Sunday, the Phillies fell to the Orioles for their second consecutive sweep and third straight series loss at the hands of an American League team. Though they remained atop the NL East, the defending world champions finished their latest homestand with a 1-8 record, their worst since 2004. Indeed, Citizens Bank Ballpark hasn't lavished much brotherly love on the Phillies this year, and not because of their notoriously leather-lunged fans. The Phillies have gone just 13-22 at home, with a .371 winning percentage that ranks 29th in the majors, surpassing only the Nationals. On the other hand, their 23-9 road record, good for a .719 winning percentage, is the majors' best. What in the name of the Phillie Phanatic is going on?

...Looking more closely at the team's home/road splits and their overall numbers, it's worth remembering that these aren't the 2008 Phillies. The flaws of this year's squad start with the fact that while they're outscoring all other NL teams with 5.3 runs per game, they're allowing runs at the second-highest rate (5.0). The pitching staff has been in disarray all season long thanks to injuries, from Cole Hamels' elbow to Brett Myers' hip to Brad Lidge's knee, and, while healthy, neither Joe Blanton nor Jamie Moyer have lived up to last year's solid performances.

The main problem is that their staff isn't well suited to its home park. Where last year's pitchers generated ground balls on 46.4 percent of all batted balls, good for seventh in the league, this year's model is getting ground balls on only 42.9 percent of batted balls, the league's lowest rate. With Myers possibly out for the year, they lack a single starter above 46.0 percent; it doesn't help that his replacement, rookie Antonio Bastardo, is at 30.0 percent. Blanton, in his first full year with the team, is at 41.1 percent. Chan Ho Park, whose career-best 52.6 percent last year offered hope — both that he could survive outside Dodger Stadium and that the Phillies could add a ground-baller — regressed significantly and was blitzed out of the rotation. Park was replaced by J.A. Happ, who at 38.2 percent is another extreme fly-baller.

Particularly at Citizens Bank Park, those fly balls means more home runs. While its 1002 Park Factor in Clay Davenport's translations means that it's basically neutral as far as scoring is concerned, CBP is very home run-friendly. The park ranked in the top five in home runs in four of the past five seasons, including the major league lead in 2007. It dipped to seventh last year because the Phillies' staff allowed only 0.96 homers per nine at home, 0.37 lower than in any year since the park's 2004 introduction. They're yielding an astronomical 1.65 HR/9 at home this year, as 19.2 percent of all fly balls off of opponents' bats have left the CBP field of play, a rate 50 percent higher than the major league average.
Sample size obviously has a lot to do with the incongruity of the Phillies' record; their 348-point home field disadvantage (the difference between their home and road winning percentages) is more than double the largest full-season split, and eight of the top 20 teams that show up in a raw ranking from the post-1960 expansion era hail from strike-affected seasons (1972, 1981, 1994, 1995). Here are the full-season leaders:
Tm    Year  Hm W-L  WPCT   Rd W-L  WPCT     HFA
KCR 1998 29-51 .363 43-38 .531 -.168
BOS 1980 36-45 .444 47-32 .595 -.151
CIN 2001 27-54 .333 39-42 .481 -.148
NYY 1965 40-43 .482 49-32 .605 -.123
OAK 1971 46-35 .568 55-25 .688 -.120
LAD 1970 39-42 .481 48-32 .600 -.119
MIL 1999 32-48 .400 42-39 .519 -.119
SDP 2001 35-46 .432 44-37 .543 -.111
BOS 2002 42-39 .519 51-30 .630 -.111
NYM 1968 32-49 .395 41-40 .506 -.111
STL 1970 34-47 .420 42-39 .519 -.099
ATL 2001 40-41 .494 48-33 .593 -.099
MIL 1980 40-42 .488 46-34 .575 -.087
MIN 1973 37-44 .457 44-37 .543 -.086
CAL 1984 37-44 .457 44-37 .543 -.086
NYM 1979 28-53 .346 35-46 .432 -.086
CLE 2005 43-38 .531 50-31 .617 -.086
CIN 1999 45-37 .549 51-30 .630 -.081
CHW 1979 33-46 .418 40-41 .494 -.076
Those 2001 Braves are thge only team to make the playoffs with a sub-.500 record over the course of the full season. The list only goes to 19 teams there because the next six are tied with a 74-point deficit. The 2009 Diamondbacks, who are 14-23 at home and 15-18 on the road for a 165-point deficit, also have a shot at breaking the Royals' record; the current Marlins, who are 17-20 at home and 18-16 on the road, have a 143-point deficit that might work its way into the class photo as well.

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