June 10, 2005
RFK Park Effects, So Far
Before the season started, I predicted that RFK Stadium would end up being one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the majors. While it's still far too early to start arriving at any conclusions regarding the accuracy of that prediction, that hasn't stopped the Nationals' Jose Guillen from publicly demanding that the fences be brought in next year. It's nice to know Guillen's got my back on this one, but I suspect the main cause of his complaint lies in his personal splits (one HR at home, nine on the road).
One player's splits don't tell us much of anything, though. So how has RFK Stadium really played so far this year? Let's check the numbers (based on games through Monday):
Stadium HR Effect Petco Park (San Diego) 50.93 Kaufmann Stadium (Kansas City) 60.00 Shea Stadium (NY Mets) 61.59 RFK Stadium (Washington) 66.67 PNC Park (Pittsburgh) 74.19Guillen might be on to something, at least so far. Through just over two months of action, RFK has suppressed home runs at a rate higher than all but three other parks, and most of the ball yards grouped around it are among the ones you'd expect to find on a list of home run-suppressing parks. RFK has allowed home runs at two-thirds the rate of the aggregate of the stadiums the Nationals have played in on the road, a huge park factor if it holds up over the course of the full year.
OK, so it's been tough to hit a home run at RFK. How hard has it been just scoring runs?
Stadium Run Effect Petco Park (San Diego) 70.74 Camden Yards (Baltimore) 73.18 Chavez Ravine (LA Dodgers) 73.70 Dolphins Stadium (Florida) 81.44 RFK Stadium (Washington) 84.05Once again, if you judge a stadium solely by the company it keeps, RFK is one mean run-suppressing mutha. Again though, this is only based on two months-plus worth of games. Any number of factors, aside from RFK itself, could be skewing these results.
Breaking the Nationals' performance down by individual match-ups, however, points to a possible answer. Washington hitters, notably Ryan Church and Cristian Guzman seem to have faced tougher-than-usual opposition pitchers overall, according to Baseball Prospectus' Batters' Quality of Opposing Pitchers' report. The batter with the easiest schedule against (Guillen, as it turns out) still rates no better than average in the quality of his opposition. Nationals pitchers have had similar luck. Only Chad Cordero and Luis Ayala have had tougher than average opposition among the Nats' regular hurlers. Livan Hernandez, John Patterson, and even poor demoted Joe Horgan and his 21.00 ERA, have all benefited to some extent from the quality of the batters they've faced.
What does it all mean? At this point in the season, not much yet. With only 26 games played in RFK Stadium, a couple of 11-8 slugfests during the next homestand could significantly alter things. But leaving aside the small sample size caveats, what we're seeing in these numbers (and what Jose Guillen is seeing as his fly balls die at the warning track) is what we expected to see before the season began: The rates of a ballpark that suppresses offense just about across the board.
If you're the type of fantasy owner who likes to take chances, or you need to try something daring to get back in the hunt, this is information you can act on. Nationals hitters who are doing well--notably Guillen and Nick Johnson--should be prime sell-high candidates, while Washington pitchers (especially underachievers like Esteban Loaiza, and his single win) should be targets for acquisition. These park effects for RFK are by no means proven, of course, but calculated risks are part of the bargain when you're trying to bring home a title. As Virgil (no, not that Virgil, or that one either) said, "Fortune favors the brave." (You can insert your own Atlanta joke here.)
Erik Siegrist is a beat writer for RotoWire, covering the Marlins, Nationals and White Sox.