Home on the road
Well, here comes the issue again. RFK vs. The Field. The Nationals will take The Field, thank you very much.
"You guys have seen it," Ryan Zimmerman told me last night.
"Everybody sees it," Ryan Church said.
For some clues about this, read last night's gamer, which recounts how the Nationals hit three homers in beating the Orioles. It has some interesting stuff not only from players, but from Manny Acta himself, talking a bit about how his team seems to relax away from its home digs because the hitters feel that they will be rewarded for well-struck balls (and, occasionally, for some balls that aren't that well-struck).
(There's also the notebook with some John Patterson information, as well as GM Jim Bowden addressing the issue of character. This could be an issue if the Nationals, indeed, are trying to land troubled Tampa Bay outfielder Elijah Dukes. We'll save that discussion for another day. Here's the podcast from Camden Yards, and keep in mind we've got a 1 p.m. chat, so go out and get your sandwich and hurry back to your desk by 1. Oh, and there's a tiny minors notebook that again deals with Brandon Watson's ridiculous 39-game hitting streak for Class AAA Columbus.)
Here are the parks that have given up the fewest homers this season:
AT&T Park, San Francisco -- .562 homers/game
Petco Park, San Diego -- .625
RFK Stadium, Washington -- .636
Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles -- .672
I've been to San Francisco for series over the past two years, and I guess I never thought about how big it is. But I asked both Dave Sheinin and John Dever, the Nationals' director of baseball information last night, and they both responded, "Huge." Which, upon further review, it is. Here's a little tour.
I would also argue that the teams in the N.L. West aren't equipped with sluggers such as Carlos Delgado, Miguel Cabrera, Chipper and Andruw Jones and Ryan Howard. Other than Philadelphia, the N.L. East doesn't have a real good homer park to reward its big-time homer hitters. The N.L. West has big parks - you can get rewarded in Colorado and Arizona - and has only a couple of true sluggers (Barry Bonds, maybe Todd Helton, but not Adrian Gonzalez, though I admit I'm doing this off the top of my head so if I leave one or two out let me know).
The point is this: The Nationals feel like they hit a lot of balls at RFK (and it's my belief that this year, Ryan Zimmerman and Austin Kearns have been victimized the most) that would have gone out other places. I don't want to get into the discussion about whether the balls would have been homers at Philly or Cincy, because those places are ridiculous (particularly Cincy (a park so bad I don't think the Reds will ever win there).).
Zimmerman, from my gamer this morning, when I asked him to compare the experience of hitting at Camden Yards to hitting at RFK: "There's really nothing to compare. This is a good ballpark to hit in. Ours isn't."
The Nationals are, in general, a little wary of getting all caught up in this. I talk to guys more on background than on the record about it, because they don't want to seem like they're complaining - and also because they know what's happened in the past. Let's review the history of this issue for a bit.
But it's worth pointing out some of the stats.
Batting average -- .243, 15th of 16 teams in N.L.
On-base percentage -- .306, 15th
Slugging percentage -- .348, 16th
Homers/game - 0.48, 16th
Runs/game - 3.58, 16th
Batting average -- .251, 9th
On-base percentage -- .325, 9th
Slugging percentage -- .378, 13th
Homers/game -- .77, T-13th
Runs/game - 4.16, T-9th
So it's not just that the Nationals score more and hit better away from RFK, because the league should do that, too. It's that, relative to the league, their performance goes up more than you would expect when they get on the road. They're basically the worst offensive team in the N.L. when they play at RFK, and they're kind of a middling outfit when they play on the road.
You'll recall that when baseball returned to Washington in 2005, Tony Tavares, then the club president, asked GM Jim Bowden what his thoughts were on the dimensions. "I told him I could tweak it slightly," Tavares told me in the summer of '05. Bowden, knowing he had a team on which the mightiest sluggers were Jose Guillen and Vinny Castilla, decided that making it a pitchers' park was the best move.
Well (and I think I mentioned this maybe a month ago), the measurements weren't accurate (as Boz and I discovered when we measured it with the 300-foot tape measure). Whether they really are now, I don't know. It says 380 to the alleys, but I think the alleys are closer to the line than they should be. In that summer of '05, Guillen, Castilla and outfielder Preston Wilson appeared to be the players most psyched-out by the dimensions.
Then, last year, there was this argument between Tavares and Jose Vidro. Ah, those were the days. Some level of tension in the clubhouse every day.
Anyway, I'm not trying to make too big a deal out of this. Really, I'm not. And it's a less pressing issue, because next year the team will move into the new park, which we now know has the following dimensions:
Left field - 332 feet
Left-center - 377 feet
Center field - 409 feet
Right-center - 370 feet
Right field - 335 feet
Fences: 8-feet high in left, 12-feet high in center and right.
So all this blah blah blah doesn't really mean much unless it translates to wins and losses. Here's some of that info.
National League Winning Pct. On Road:
1. New York Mets - 19-11, .633
T2. Arizona - 17-14, .548
T2. Atlanta - 17-14, .548
11. San Francisco, 14-18, .438
T12. St. Louis, 13-18, .419
T12. Washington, 13-18, .419
National League Winning Pct. At Home:
1. Milwaukee, 22-12, .647
T2. Los Angeles Dodgers, 20-12, .625
T2. San Diego, 20-12, .625
12. Florida, 14-17, .452
13. Washington, 14-19, .424
So what you're telling me is I just wrote all that for nothing?
I'm off today, so this is probably my last post. Off tomorrow as well, though you never know if I'll chime in. Back in the chair from Skydome ... er, Rogers Centre in Toronto over the weekend. Canadian Shawn Hill gave me a dinner recommendation last night. Baton Rouge. "Do you like ribs?" he asked. I said I did. Ryan Langerhans, from Texas, said, "Ribs in Toronto?" and then walked away.
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