Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Petco Park - Part I

There have been a number of comments/questions so far regarding Petco Park, so that's as good a place as any to start.

As far as plain old quality of life, it's tough to compete with San Diego. Though my wife is from Mexico City, she moved to San Diego when she was in junior high so she's essentially a native. On the other hand, when we met I was East Coast personified - born in Philly, grew up in DC, and my entire extended family in Connecticut. I had never even been to California. Therefore, whenever she talked about San Diego, which was all the time, I thought to myself, "Southern California... yeah, right." Now that I'm here, I'll be the first to admit that she was on to something.

I'm not alone - SI recently did a study of all the ballparks, and Petco ranked #1 in MLB for the surrounding neighborhood and atmosphere. Petco, itself, is a beautfiul park, and the playing surface is recognized by players as the best in the league. Finally, many baseball players live in San Diego and for good reason.

So, as it pertains to our ability to lure players, San Diego and Petco Park are huge selling points, as they should be.

Now let's talk about how the park actually plays. There isn't a dispute that this is a pitcher's park (unless you talk to our pitching coach, Darren Balsley). In the 4+ years of the park, the National League has combined across all venues for an approximate average of .265 with a .335 obp and a .425 slg. However, batters at Petco have combined to hit .244 with a .312 obp and a .377 slg.

Every ballpark, to some degree, becomes a lightning rod in the first few years as people try to figure out how it plays, and since Petco is a rather extreme park it has received a lot of attention. As evidenced by all the comments, Petco is very much in everyone's mind this spring. That's probably because the Padres have hit .215 with a .296 obp and a .309 slg at home. That line isn't going to lead to a lot of runs, and when teams don't hit they look lethargic. Do you know what our opponents have hit in Petco so far this year? Try .207/.279/.308.

In each of the past 4+ seasons, the Padres have had a higher OPS than our opponents while playing in Petco. The total line since the opening: .246/.321/.379 for the Padres and .243/.303/.376 for the opposition. Over 342 games, that's a significant spread. So big deal - Petco suppresses run scoring, and we all already knew that. What is interesting to me is the relative aspect of this puzzle. Scoring runs in an absolute world isn't as important as in the relative world in which we compete - you win by scoring more runs than your opponent, not by scoring a certain number of runs.

Given the difference in batting lines between the Padres and their opponents, one would expect the Padres to have had a winning record at home, which has been the case. The Padres worst home record in Petco came in the inaugural season when the 2004 team posted a 42-39 record at home (interestingly, that team had the best home batting stats of any Padres team in Petco). The total record at Petco for the Padres, including this season, is 186-156, which pro-rates to an annual record of 44-37 at home. Does anyone happen to know what the average record at home has been for all Major League teams since the beginning of 2004? Drum roll....

44 and 37.

That relatively superficial analysis tells me two things: one that is discouraging and one that is encouraging. The encouraging takeaway is that the Padres are solid at home, and the way Petco plays in terms of wins and losses is on par with other home ballparks. So our fans have plenty of reasons to come to Petco to enjoy the best atmosphere in all of Major League Baseball while also watching a winning team. The discouraging takeaway is that I'd rather be on the high end of the spectrum rather than the middle. Last year's team moved in that direction, as we posted a 47-34 season at home, which outside of 1998 was the best home record in 19 years for the Padres.

A lot of questions regarding the park pertained to specific personnel and certain attributes that our players need in order to be successful here. I'll try to tackle those questions in Part II sometime later this week.

In the meantime, fans of the Padres should remember that the only four year run of consecutive winning seasons in franchise history has coincided with our four years with Petco as our home.


notsellingjeans said...

Paul, please put yourself in the imaginary driver's seat of designing your own new stadium if you would (perhaps Cisco Field, the A's new park).

You have a once-in-40-years opportunity to create a built-in home field advantage in building this park.

Given that pitching is such an expensive, finite resource (because it breaks down and gets hurt more than hitting does), do you make it a pitcher's park with deep fences?

Do you make your park as neutral as possible, so that you don't have to alter your roster significantly to succeed at home? (i.e. Feeling compelled to start three CFs in a huge outfield because you can't hide a Jack Cust/-type defender, or stacking the roster with lefties to capitalize on a short RF porch - roster constructions which could hinder you on the road in a drastically different park).

Or do you risk taxing your pitchers by having a short outfield fences and a more offensive home environment, perhaps gaining some increase in fan excitement/attendance due to increased scoring and home runs?

A more simple of looking at this might be, if you had designed PETCO yourself, and somehow could know beforehand exactly how it would play, would you have done anything different? If so, what?

I discussed this recently in relation to Cisco Field (http://www.athleticsnation.com/2007/7/2/75647/76297), and I was interested in your take.

el caballo said...

One question that has always seemed important to me is specifically how a park suppresses or raises run scoring. In terms of personal selection it seems important to know if a park gives up a ton of gap doubles but has long corners etc. I am sure the organization tracks this data and it seems that there is an advantage in tailoring your personal to the specific nature of your park

K'sper9 said...

Thanks Paul,

I have never agreed with everyone saying the Padres should bring the fences in. One thing I am wondering is, does the front office plan on trying to add more team speed? I like that Tad has been running more and Gerut looks healthy and quick. I am not looking for steals but just more guys going from 1st to third...

Mike said...

.308 slugging this year, even allowing for the atrocious start Padre hitters have gotten off to, is well below the .379 average for the home 9 at Petco since it opened. Does the data show a downward trend overall since the 2004 season? Would you consider more phyiscal changes to Petco (like moving the fences in) to try and boost that number?

Tom said...

Petco offers enormous possible advantages; it's discouraging to hear fans ignore the winning records we've posted there. But one thing that doesn't seem to have been addressed is the (possible) need to rebalance offensive and defensive abilities. In a neutral park, the bat's more important. In a hitter's park, the bat is way more important. In an extreme pitching park, teams might need to put somewhat more emphasis on defensive talent - not ignoring offense in any way, but making sure the OF can cover ground. Looking at the Padre farm system, I see a lot of future LF, some of them marginal defensively, no true CF above Low A, and one likely RF (Hunter), who may not have the power to play there.

bullpeners said...

Thanks for the interesting numbers.
The endless discussions about the park continue. The goal was to build a neutral park, or so we were told originally. No one anticipated the moist air and cool downdrafts would have the effects they have. With that in mind, doesn't it make sense to try to acquire players who hit to gaps (contact hitters), have speed and play good fundamental ball?
Home run hitters, as we have seen constantly, are frustrated to death in Petco.
Is there going to be a conscious effort made to acquire that type of player (think young Tony Gwynn) for the future?

David Harris said...

"So our fans have plenty of reasons to come to Petco to enjoy the best atmosphere in all of Major League Baseball while also watching a winning team."

Paul, just like you make a disctinction between relative runs and absolute runs, I think it's very important to make the distinction between winning baseball and entertaining baseball. I think people often make the assumption that winning baseball equates to more fans at the ballpark. While it is no doubt part of the equation, I think the average baseball fan wants to see entertaining baseball.

From a baseball purist standpoint, PETCO and the Padres are great. A winning team, incredible pitching, a great ballpark, etc. But, to the novice fan (of which a vast majority are), where are the home runs, the high scores, the big name hitters?

It seems to me that over the past couple of years, a disconnect has existed between Padres Front Office expectations of what will draw fans to the team and the fans expectations of the team.

It would be interesting to survey fans to rank what draws them to the park.

you undoubtedly have a tough job building a winning team within a budget and building a team that brings in fans ($). I wish you continued luck with this challenge.

Brian said...

Hello Paul! First off let me thank you creating this blog. To have such direct access to someone like yourself in the front office is amazing! I hope this communication channel remains open going forward.

These statistics you cite are exactly what needs to be said. I believe the true success of this team is hidden, some times I wonder if intentional, and people should recognize it!

That being said, I enjoy the Park tremendously and I would not change a thing as far the physical properties are concerned.

I'll be very interested in Part II of this discussion as players are really the only variable in this equation of winning that can be altered.

Eli Cash said...


First off, I am very excited to read your postings. This blog is a great, innovative idea. Thank you.

As an avid Padres/baseball fan I actually prefer the lower scoring affairs that Petco offers. I am not sure that I can say the same for the largely fickle fan base that the Padres have. Do you think that winning and a great ballpark trumps what casual fans would call 'boring' games?

From a business perspective have the Padres considered the fact Petco maybe so pitcher friendly that it may turn off the casual fan due to a lack of what they may consider 'excitement'? Since avid fans will likely be supportive no matter what, is it logical to suggest that all of the Padres business decisions should be geared towards making the casual fans interested and excited about following the team? I know that thought has been given into making the park more hitter friendly but the Padres have not made any drastic changes. Can you divulge any information regarding the Padres line of thinking?

el caballo said...

It seems to me also that projecting relative park effects on players seems like one of the areas teams can take advantage of differing values of players between teams. For instance if a team like the Padres were to get three good defensive outfielders, combined with the expansive dimensions of the ballpark, pitchers who are generally effective but prone to allowing homeruns would prove significanlty more valuable to the padres than to a team like Houston playing in a small park will mediocre defenders in the outfield. This would allow the Padres to trade for that player while surrendering less than they would have to for a player who would put up a simaler pitching line in Petco by being more of a groundball pitcher.

Andy said...

I love petco, I love that homers aren't cheap, and I love that we can build a winning team focusing on the winning attributes of pitching and defense. I would like the one right handed power hitter (I think our park plays power wise better to righties), but I think the padres focus should be on pitching and defense. Though, as someone previously mentioned, I do not see that sort of focus on the younger players. They are more strike out prone, and slow, and not very good defensively.

I love the padres and have been going to games since 1983. Keep Petco the way it is! Please do not move any fences!

Anonymous said...

Paul, since the Padres have been exactly league-average at home since the opening of Petco, yet the team as a whole has been above-average over the same time, doesn't that mean that we're (relatively) a below-average team at home? Regardless, I agree that the Padres have been underrated offensively in the past.

field39 said...

Paul, This may skewed by my point of view, but I read you defense of Petco, as a solid argument for nornmalizing the park. The Padres are league average at Petco, yet they pay a large price in public perception, due to its' severe bias in favor of pitchers. Last season Padre hitters performed quite well on the road, yet if you ask anyone in town about their offense, they will tell you how horrible they were. Adrian Gonzalez is a potential marquee offensive player, but look around town and you won't see many kids wearing #23.
Win 65% of your home games (Which will be extremely difficult, consiering how many single event games you play at Petco.), and they can all be 2-1 scores, but if you are going to hang around league average at home, you best score some runs.

Nshepherd42 said...

I would be interested to see how the Padres pitching skill tracks in your argument of comparable/better Padre offense at PETCO than the competitor.

You seem to be saying that the Padre teams have not been bad offensively, based on their comparable statistics with the opposing teams who encounter the cavern at PETCO.

But, I already know that the Padres tracked WAY lower on ERA, BB/K per 9, and so on. Basically, even with pitching and defense that is vastly statistically superior to that of the opposition...the Padres are about the same offensively as the clubs who are subjected to our Jake Peavy's and Chris Young's.

The Pads have to turn their pitching into a competitive advantage by scoring more than the other team do, with the decreased threshold of opposing teams offense, this should not be hard. We need to score fewer runs to win than the average team, yet here you are saying that we offensively track about the same as others.

Underbruin said...

A couple of things that piqued my curiosity -

1) Does the general lower-scoring nature of a pitcher's park engender more close games (in other words, more susceptible to luck)?

2) Do you believe that hitters can get into a rhythm based on production, as opposed to performance - in other words, as we know, a player can go 3 for 4 and have it be a relatively weak day at the plate (3 groundball singles swung on early in the count), or go 0 for 3 but have had a good day at the plate (2 or 3 line drives just hit right at people). Park effects shouldn't really change a player's at bat (I think?) - but they can change a player's production.

So could it be that poorer production at home can cause hitters to struggle? (Alternatively, could the opposite be true for pitchers, with a positive effect?)

Steve Adler said...

Which also coincides with the organization spending money to bring in/keep talent here.

Steve Adler said...

Instead of moving the fences in, how about moving right field in. Give A Gon an opportunity to rake, put up all start numbers and give us something to get fired up about.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious what reason we have to expect even league average performance from Shawn Estes. What do you guys see that contradicts the years of evidence suggesting he can't perform at that level?

Anonymous said...

I always thought San Diego should look to acquire flyball junkballers with pinpoint control (think Jamie Moyer, or the Bob Tewksbury of yesteryear), since you don't need K's when the stadium eats up balls in play, and hitters whose game is based on patience, line drives, speed, and defense. Khalil Greene and Adrián González are terrible fits for Petco; their home numbers suffer much more than the park effect in general would indicate. Give me a Rafael Furcal or a José Reyes at shortstop, someone who can leg out doubles and triples, steal second, and gobble up every ball hit their way, or a peak Bobby Abreu.

Gus said...


I appreciate your analysis of Padre performance at Petco Park. The Padres need to get this kind of information out to the public and the media. Just last night on the post-game show on 1090 they were talking as it were an established fact that the Padres are out hit by their opponents at Petco Park...and it didn't sound like they were referring to just this year. They made it sound like that's the way it has been for the last 4 years.

I really hope the fences aren't pulled in as I'm not convinced it will improve the teams run differential, which as you point out, is what is important.


Xeifrank said...

Coob, those junk ball fly ball pitchers would get eaten up in Colorado and Arizona.
vr, Xei

Kris said...

Paul, this is very informative. Thanks. The one question i have is can the padres schedule more day games at petco earlier in the year or is that all on MLB? Adrian talked on the postgame show a few nights ago that if we played more day games in the early months our scoring would go up a little because when it is warmer the ball travels better. Can we do that or are we at the mercy of the schedulers and major league baseball?

Paul DePodesta said...

We do not set our own schedule. Wish we could.

jay in SF said...

Thanks for the blog and the analysis. Sorry to say, I am strongly against Petco's dimensions. Yes, they have a winning record, but I think the best way is to compare home vs. road performance. Almost all teams play better at home, some quite strikingly so. The Padres have a very small homefield advantage. What is more, this attribute seems to be true with teams with "biased" parks, either strongly skewed towards hitting or pitching. Coors seems to the sole exception, in that the Rockies get a big homefield lift. But for other teams, like Seattle (pro-pitching), Washington (pitching), Philadelphia (hitting), Phoenix (hitting), Miami (pitching); they tend to have smaller homefield advantages than "neutral" parks.

I did a summary of this awhile ago, and needs to be updated and made clearer, but it might be useful.



Ryan said...

Paul, I know you didn't mean the article to be anything more than a quick and dirty comparison, but selection bias plays a huge role in skewing your numbers. Sure, Petco has an affect on opponents batting line, but the quality of the Padres pitchers does much more to supress their triple slash stats. You'd need to do some normalization to come up with a more real analysis of Petco's affect.

Paul DePodesta said...


You're absolutely right. We take that into account when performing our more detailed analysis.

renee6542 said...

Paul, many props to you and the Padres for providing this forum.

After looking at the splits at the end of this April, I too had noted that the Padres were not out-hit or out-slugged at Petco and in fact, have not been much of the time in the Park's previous seasons. This must be the biggest fallacy about the ballpark and it is not being corrected in the media.

However, that does not mean that I don't think that Petco does not affect our hitters to a fairly significant degree, particularly in April. A number of our hitters who I've had the chance to ask about it say that they do adjust their swing and/or their approach due to Petco. It is my opinion only but I would think that there are not many ballparks where the home-team hitters regularly adjust their hitting style at home vs. away. I'm sure the Rockies' hitters did pre-humidor. This going back-and-forth between home-style hitting and away-style hitting would possibly cause them to get in hitting slumps more often. So much of the game is mental.

I think you noted that the 2004 offense was the best of the at-home offenses at Petco. Our at-home OPS has declined every season since then. Our pitching staffs on the other hand have gotten progressively better at home since 2004. These two things have compensated for each other over the past 4 seasons. However this season, the offense has declined even more and the pitching has not been able to compensate as much as in the past, particularly in the bullpen. Our home bullpen ERA last season was 2.56. So far this season it is 3.68. We've also been allowing inherited runners to score at around a 66% clip (home and away). It seemed to me before the season started that we had less quality depth in middle relief than we had in past seasons. We didn't have the kind of quality veteran relievers like we had in the past like Brocail, Embree, Hammond or Seanez. We also didn't have the kind of arms who could be called upon to strike a hitter out. Why wasn't more money and effort spent on this year's bullpen?

Ryan said...

sd-changeup, I would warn against putting too much stock in such a small sample size of stats. The first month of the season is far from credible and when you start splitting it by home/road you are really marginalizing its value.

Pizza Cutter (weird internet name, smart and well respected stat guy) published a couple articles recently on when stats become reliable/credible/significant/real, whatever you want to call it.



tad swifty said...

I could really relate to this post. Wife was born and raised in ct and I in socal. I would always babble on about the differences in the way of living on the west coast versus the east. West won out during one winter blizzard and we moved west that summer. She now understands.

As a dodger fan that has been to the old stadium and petco, I am pretty envious of the park in a few ways. Public transportation to the park is great. Lines at concession stands aren't long. Getting into and out of the park is easy. Now, if my friend who invites me down there will stop picking the games Jake Peavy starts so my dodgers will have a chance everything would be perfect.