June 27, 2012
The Other Thing About Petco
There’s a story that has been told about Petco for years. It’s about a ballpark that was built too darned big. In this story, all the long fly balls get caught at the warning track. “You have to change completely there,” said Ryan Klesko at the beginning. “You have to take the loft out of your swing. Will they admit that they were wrong? No. Will they bring in the fences? No.” This is the story. This story may take a twist next year, as the team explores bringing the fences in. That should fix it!
Quietly, though, there has been another story playing out at Petco. It goes like this: the Padres’ hitters this year are the second-worst in the National League on balls hit on the ground. The Padres’ pitchers this year are the third-best in the National League on balls hit on the ground. This has been going on for years, and Ryan Klesko never said a freaking word.
During the nine seasons since the park opened, hitters in Petco have hit .217 and slugged .235 on groundballs. No other city is within 10 points of that batting average, or within 11 points of the slugging percentage. On average*, San Diego groundballs have each year produced:
So those are some facts, and now we’ll discuss a little bit of the unknown, and then we’ll be done.
"You hit on a point there. Petco Park has a finely manicured infield. One of the best in the game. But it is also softer than most infields. Ground balls are much less likely to get through the grass and the dirt. You don't see choppers bouncing over infielders heads in San Diego. Luke Yoder's crew might be too good at their jobs."
“Too good at their jobs” implies that Petco’s low-offense environment hurts the team. That’s a leap. That’s a leap I wouldn’t necessarily agree with. Along the same line, here’s another U-T writer, Tim Sullivan, suggesting that the solution to Petco (again, if Petco actually needs a solution) is changing the surface.
Plastic grass is to batting averages as the microwave is to meatloaf. Whatever it lacks in aesthetic appeal — and that’s virtually everything — artificial turf never needs mowing and almost always means bigger bounces. It turns ground balls into singles and singles into gappers.
An artificial surface wouldn’t actually be such a simple fix. Toronto’s Rogers Centre, at .227, has the third-lowest batting average on grounders since 2004. Tropicana Field, at .235, has the ninth-lowest**. There might not be any simple fix. Maybe it’s just a result of playing in San Diego. I don’t mean “maybe” in the sense that it may be. I mean “maybe” in the sense that, at this point, I have no idea. It could be. Anything could be. For all I know it could be f***** magnets, how do they work? I do know the Padres’ offense finished last in the NL in OPS on grounders in two of the three years before moving to Petco, so the continuity here seems to run through either San Diego or the Padres as an organization, not just Petco.