AT&T: Fair or foul to hit­ters?

Many Gi­ants ad­mit park is rough on home run hit­ters but don’t want to see fences al­tered

The Mercury News Weekend - - SPORTS - By An­drew Bag­garly abag­garly@ba­yare­anews­group.com

SAN FRAN­CISCO » Out of the most in­nocu­ous en­vi­ron­ment, Gi­ants short­stop Bran­don Craw­ford cre­ated con­tro­versy.

It hap­pened at the end of a youth baseball camp he held on a sunny day in late July at Ran­cho San Ra­mon Com­mu­nity Park. The day was a suc­cess. Kids laughed and had a good time while re­ceiv­ing per­sonal in­struc­tion from a two-time Gold Glove Award win­ner. The last event on the sched­ule was a Q& A ses­sion.

The campers were aged 5 to 14. It was go­ing to be breezy and fun.

But be­tween the ques­tion about when Craw­ford started play­ing baseball and the one about who has the most fun per­son­al­ity in the Gi­ants club­house, there was this:

How big are ma­jor league fields?

“They vary in size,” Craw­ford told the kids. “Ours is one of the big­ger ones, 421 feet to right- cen­ter, which should be changed…”

Craw­ford’s re­sponse ap­peared in his blog, which is hosted by MLB.com, and while it never truly went vi­ral, it at­tracted enough at­ten­tion to re­sult in some blow­back.

The Gi­ants have played 18 sea­sons at AT& T Park. They have never al­tered the di­men­sions. They have no plans to al­ter them

now. And they tend to bris­tle at the sug­ges­tion.

“We do not an­tic­i­pate chang­ing the di­men­sions of the ball­park for 2018,” Gi­ants CEO Larry Baer said via text mes­sage.

“It’s a non- starter,” Gi­ants ex­ec­u­tive vice president Brian Sabean said.

But should it be? Does it merit con­sid­er­a­tion, at least? Does the ball­park play in­tol­er­a­bly un­fair? And if the Gi­ants were to en­ter­tain al­ter­ing the di­men­sions, how should they go about it?

A re­cent anony­mous poll of 12 cur­rent Gi­ants hit­ters yielded two solid yet seem­ingly con­flict­ing opin­ions: Eleven of the 12 play­ers agreed that the ball­park is un­fair, yet when asked if the Gi­ants should al­ter the di­men­sions at AT&T Park, 10 of them said no.

A sam­pling of their side com­ments:

“Every park has its ad­van­tages or dis­ad­van­tages. If you change it, you’ll upset some­one ei­ther way.”

“The park is what it is. We all know how it plays.”

“I love the sta­dium as it is with withit.” left-hand­ed­not should­should­like…” “Both“I “It’s “I re­ward­edI’m tryall it don’t def­i­nite­lyon use my mak­ing­not teamsbe.a it want heart.”givento hit­ters.as But the have think ex­cuse.”no­tan to day.” way no­body ex­cuse.fairto sound You’re­about dealyou for it fair? No. I don’t

care.” par­tic­i­pate­ing ““Life’sOneIs he was hit­ter­not in al­ready­fair.”the de­clined­poll, try­ing say- to to com­peteThat’s get prob­a­bly­his there mind next­the re­spon­seright sea­son. to that rency will with find man­agerthe most Bruce­curBochystaff, who and are his loathe coach­ingto dis­cuss­they want­the ball­parkit as far re­moved be­cause pos­si­ble.from their hit­ters’ minds as

The men­tal ob­sta­cle is one thing. But just how tough are those phys­i­cal di

It’s not as if the 25-foot brick men­sions?wall in right field is in­sur­mount­able, or the night breezes make home runs im­pos­si­ble. Even the 421foot mark in Triples Al­ley can be reached, although it helps if it’s a rare warm af­ter­noon or Gian­carlo Stan­ton is at the plate, or both.

But since Barry Bonds left the scene in 2007, the Gi­ants have strug­gled to at­tract power-hit­ting free agents while also strug­gling velop their own hit­ters ca­pa­ble of find­ing the seats. And this sea­son, with the home run more cen­tral to scor­ing than any time in baseball his­tory, the Gi­ants ap­pear hope­lessly out of fashion as theythatthe ants home leaguesTheyIt shoreswas soughtis have have run­sno by tai­loredof sur­prisea hit to 119. McCoveyin wide buildthe the Theto mar­gin.thata win fewest ma­jor ros­terPitts-Cove. Gi-on burgh141 tion Thatof Pi­rat­es­theis mostly Gi­ants’are nexta per­son- func-with nel. en­tire­lyIf theirto home blame park­for their­were power wouldn’t de­fi­ciency,rank tied then­for 28th they among the 30 ma­jor league teams with 75 home runs on the road this sea­son, too. They’ve been out­slugged at nearly the same rate at home (66 to 44, or 1.5 to 1) as they have on the road (10575, or 1.4 to 1). And sure, the home run sup­pres­sion at AT&T Park has played to the Gi­ants’ ad­van­tage in past sea­sons. They won a World Se­ries in 2012 de­spite hit­ting the fewest homers in the reg­u­lar sea­son. Even this year, when the Gi­ants have the worst record in the ma­jor leagues and their pitch­ing staff has taken such a se­vere step back, they have given up just 66 home runs at home — tied with the Mar­lins for the fewest in the ma­jors hen you give up a siz­able power ad­van­tage to your op­po­nent, there are worse things than to neu­tral­ize that ad­van­tage in half your games. But one glance at the Gi- ants’ woeful 3-18-3 road se­ries record this sea­son and it’s clear: build­ing a team that can win at home has left them to­tally non- com­pet­i­tive on the road. They must add power this off­sea­son, es­pe­cially right-handed power, and the rep­u­ta­tion of their ball­park can make it tough to find at a rea­son­able cost.

Right-handed pull power, at least in the­ory, should trans­late bet­ter at AT& T Park. So it is stag­ger­ing to re­al­ize that the Gi­ants’ top right-handed home run hit­ter this sea­son is backup catcher Nick Hund­ley, with four. Hunter Pence has hit three of his 11 home runs at AT&T Park. Buster Posey has hit three of 12 at home.

Over­all, the Gi­ants have hit just 21 right-handed homers at AT& T Park all sea­son.

But again, the righthanded power black­out speaks more to their per­son­nel: Pence’s de­cline, Posey’s up-the-mid­dle ap­proach and a to­tal whiff by the front of­fice in se­cur­ing thump from the right side. (Chris Mar­rero, Aaron Hill, Michael Morse, Justin Rug­giano and Mac Wil­liamson didn’t work out.).

For the ques­tion of ball­park fair­ness, it’s more help­ful to con­sider the home/ road splits of the Gi­ants’ left- handed hit­ters, who must con­tend with that 421foot crown in right- cen­ter and the 25-foot ar­cade.

No Gi­ants hit­ter has splits as ex­treme as sec­ond base­man Joe Panik, who has hit all 10 of his home runs this sea­son away from AT& T Park. He has a .287 slug­ging per­cent­age and .573 OPS at home. He has a .917 OPS on the road.

Panik is aware of the home run stat – he hit seven of his 10 homers. on the road last year, too – but said he tries to fo­cus on the pos­i­tive that he reached dou­ble dig­its for the sec­ond sea­son in a row.

“I’m not a guy who’s go­ing to look at every lit­tle num­ber,” he said. “For me, it’s about what you did to help the team win games. Some of my hot streaks have hap­pened to be on the road this year. We play in a big­ger ball­park, but hon­estly, there’s no ex­pla­na­tion for it.”

Ex­cept … the Gi­ants play in a big­ger ball­park.

Other teams have made al­ter­ations to bring big­ger parks more in line with the rest of the league. The Mets opened Citi Field in 2009 and have brought in the fences twice, re­solv­ing to make changes af­ter video anal­y­sis and con­tour stud­ies showed that their most im­por­tant of­fen­sive play­ers ( David Wright, Cur­tis Gran­der­son and Lu­cas Duda) all stood to ben­e­fit in an out­sized way from a co­zier right-cen­ter field.

The Padres changed their pitcher-friendly Petco Park af­ter the 2012 sea­son, mov­ing in the fences by 11 feet in right-cen­ter.

The Gi­ants, along with the A’s and Tampa Bay Rays, are one of three teams that still fea­tures on-field bullpens. Re­lo­cat­ing the re­liev­ers to a space that could re­duce the 415-foot Triples Al­ley was the most pop­u­lar of four po­ten­tial choices pre­sented to play­ers for al­ter­ing the ball­park.

Six of 12 play­ers said that if the Gi­ants were to change the ball­park, they would most be in fa­vor of mov­ing the bullpens to right­cen­ter. Two play­ers said they would ex­tend a yel­low line at the top of the padded wall from the 415-foot mark to the 365-foot mark in right-cen­ter, mak­ing any ball to strike the brick ar­cade above the line an au­to­matic home run. Four oth­ers de­clined to fa­vor any of the four choices, which also in­cluded low­er­ing the ar­cade wall by 10 feet or scrap­ping the gaso­line ad that makes the left field fence an asym­met­ri­cal height.

Eight of 12 re­spon­dents said the hit­ting back­ground at AT&T Park is about av­er­age, while three said it was worse than av­er­age while cit­ing the glare that of­ten re­flects off the score­board in the early in­nings of night games. One re­spon­dent said the back­ground was bet­ter than av­er­age.

Play­ers had some dif­fer­ence of opinion about whether the ball­park’s size puts the Gi­ants at a dis­ad­van­tage when it comes to sign­ing free-agent po­si­tion play­ers. Seven of 12 said that AT&T Park does not serve as a re­cruit­ing dis­ad­van­tage, while three said that they be­lieved it did. Two oth­ers said they didn’t know. All 12 re­spon­dents an­swered that they had never heard a for­mer team­mate or op­po­nent specif­i­cally com­plain that they would not con­sider sign­ing with the Gi­ants be­cause of the ball­park.

“It’s the other way around,” one player said. “I hear guys say all the time that they want to play here. They know what great fans we have, and that it’s a tremen­dous place to be.”

Given how far the Gi­ants have fallen, they might have to move moun­tains to con­tend again next sea­son. Here’s the re­al­ity: that’s more likely than mov­ing the fences.

NHAT V. MEYER — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Home runs are tough to come by for the Gi­ants as they have hit the fewest in the ma­jors with 119 this sea­son, with just 44 leav­ing the con­fines of their airy home yard.

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