The Cohen/MacPhail Thesis

April 11, 2018
                                               The Cohen/MacPhail Thesis

 

              His argument came down to this:  Wrigley Field is schizophrenic.  You cannot build a team with its particulars in mind because it has no particulars. On paper, it looks like a hitter’s park.  And is.  When the wind blows out. On such days, no pitcher in the world can keep the ball from going over the fence.  That’s why you get scores like Phillies 23, Cubs 22.   But on days when the wind blows in, it’s a pitcher’s park, and would-be home runs become easy outs.  In Boston, a general manager can fashion a team for Fenway, loading up on right-handed hitters who can bang the ball off that big green monster. At Yankee Stadium, it’s the close right-field fence, the "short porch", which turns good left-handed hitters into sluggers.  "Wrigley has nothing like that," MacPhail told me.  "There is no home-field advantage.   To win you need to be an all-around good team—pitching and hitting, everything.  It takes a long time to build a team like that." 

Rich Cohen, Page 287

The Chicago Cubs:  Story of a Curse

 

              I have heard this since the 1970s, since WGN and TBS had a duopoly on afternoon baseball games and I used to watch about 60 Cubs games a year because you could.   Reading Mr. Cohen’s Opus, however, it suddenly occurred to me that there was a very simple way to check out the underlying truth of it. 

              If it is true that Wrigley Field is unusual in this way, there should be a statistical indicator of this, in the standard deviation of runs scored per game.   Suppose that you have two teams, both of which score 350 runs and allow 325 runs in their home games.   One team, however, does that in a park which is not "schizophrenic", very different on some days than on the others, while the other team does this in a park which is schizophrenic as Mr. MacPhail described it.   Suppose that we add together the runs scored and allowed in each game, which we could call TR (Total Runs).  The Standard Deviation of TR should be higher in the Schizophrenic Park than in the "normal" park. 

              I have a file which has game scores for every game from 1952 to 2013, basically.  It’s quite easy, within that file, to calculate the standard deviation for, let’s say, Cleveland Indians games at home, or Boston Red Sox games at home, or Cleveland Indians home games when they were in the Municipal Stadium and when they have played in Progressive Field. 

              Having put not a lot of time into this study, 90 minutes or so, and checking data for just 20 teams or so, it quickly becomes apparent that the proposition that Wrigley Field is schizophrenic, and that it is unusual in this respect, is probably true.   It has the strong hallmark of being true; let’s put it that way. 

              In the data in my file—4,850 games in Wrigley Field—the Cubs scored and allowed 9.18 runs per game, with a standard deviation of 4.89.   This 4.89 figure is very high.   It is hard to generalize about the scale, but the 4.89 figure is the highest that I found for any team/group.   The Astros scored and allowed 9.20 runs per game in the games played in their current park (1,132 games), but the standard deviation was only 4.56.  The Kansas City A’s scored and allowed 9.26 runs per game in their games in Kansas City (997 games), but the standard deviation was 4.61.   The Oakland A’s have scored and allowed 9.29 runs per game since they moved to Oakland (3,737 games), with a standard deviation of 4.57.  Toronto has scored and allowed 9.28 runs per game in their games in current park (through 2013), with a standard deviation of 4.55.   We have more data points, but you get the drift:  if you score and allow 9.18 runs per game in your park, you would expect to have a standard deviation of about 4.54.   It is much higher than that, 4.89.   It’s not a small difference. 

              If there was nothing there, we could not conclude that the proposition was false, for this reason.  There could be all kinds of other things that could inflate this figure; for example, the park could have been remodeled in a more significant way than I have understood, depressing runs in some of the games and increasing it in others, or it could be a park where the weather is cold for 20 games a year which significantly depresses run scoring for those games, or many other things.   Those things could mask a real effect if a real effect was there.

              But the Wrigley Field data sticks out like a sore thumb—meaning that the masking problem isn’t there.   It doesn’t absolutely prove that the "schizophrenic" assertion is true, but it is consistent with the theory. 

 

 

* * * * * * * * *

              Either Mr. Cohen or Mr. MacPhail, I can’t tell which, rushes from the apparently valid assertion of the facts on the ground to what I believe is a completely untrue, 100% untrue, interpretation of the general condition:

              In Boston, a general manager can fashion a team for Fenway, loading up on right-handed hitters who can bang the ball off that big green monster. At Yankee Stadium, it’s the close right-field fence, the "short porch", which turns good left-handed hitters into sluggers.  "Wrigley has nothing like that," MacPhail told me.  "There is no home-field advantage.  

              That could not possibly be more wrong.  It represents a very fundamental failure to understand baseball history, and/or to understand why teams win.

              The Red Sox tried for many years to bring in right-handed sluggers to "take advantage" of the wall.  That was a terrible, terrible, terrible strategy, which cost the Red Sox dearly in many, many pennant races.  I may not have used enough "terribles" there; I probably should have used about 200. 

              The problem basically is that a good player is a good player, and a bad player is a bad player, regardless of what park he is playing in—and you only play half of your games in your own park, anyway.  It doesn’t make a bad player a good player.   Your ballpark is not going to get up and win the game for you.

              The problem with that strategy is that it deludes you into misjudging your talent.  The Red Sox for years terribly overrated their right-handed sluggers, and filled up the lineup with slow right-handed sluggers, apparently on the belief that somehow these players would be better players because they were in Fenway Park; I don’t want to offend anybody by mentioning names, but Tony Armas.  It’s nonsense.   The consequence of doing that was that they would lead the league every year in grounding into double plays. They’re NOT better players because they’re in Fenway Park.  If you’re not a winning player, you’re not a winning player. 

              I wrote that it was a terrible strategy before I worked with the Red Sox.  When I joined the Red Sox in 2002, the media had an expectation that we would continue to do that, and we took a few shots because we didn’t continue to do that.  We had Shea Hillenbrand, who was a right-handed hitter who took advantage of the wall, and he was an All Star.   We got rid of him, and we gave his job to a small switch-hitter who had washed out with the Cubs.  It wasn’t popular, but once we started to win, people got used to it.  We just don’t do that stuff.  We don’t do it because it doesn’t work.  (I don't speak for the Red Sox, and I suppose I should make that more clear, but any time we have somebody who makes that argument, I am opposed to it.  Let me put it that way.)

              And the Yankees did not beat anyone in a pennant race, ever, because they have a short porch in right field.  They beat people because they had a better team.   

              A few facts, first about the Yankees. . .and this is a ramble, but these are facts inconsistent with the Cohen/MacPhail thesis. 

              In the 1950s, the Yankees were obviously the best team in the American League, and the Cleveland Indians were the second-best.  But the Yankees were not better than the Indians because they had a short porch; anything but.   From 1950 to 1959 inclusive, the Yankees were only 11½ games better than the Indians in their home park.   But they were 40½ games better than the Indians in their road games.   The Yankees didn’t beat the Indians in their home games, at all.   They beat them on the road.

              Roger Maris, in his 1960-1961 Most Valuable Player Seasons, hit a total of exactly 100 Home Runs.  44 were in Yankee Stadium, 56 on the road.

              Whitey Ford actually had a higher career winning percentage on the road than he did at home.

              The 1962 Yankees, who won 96 games and the World Series, had only one left-handed hitter (Roger Maris) in their regular lineup.   Two switch-hitters, five right-handed hitters.

              Many, many Yankee players from that era were right-handed hitters who had absolutely TERRIBLE home/road splits.  Gil McDougald has probably the worst career home/road splits of any player ever with a 10-year career.  In his career, McDougald hit .255 with 29 home runs at home, but .296 with 83 home runs on the road.  His career slugging percentage was .348 at home, .469 on the road.

              Bill Skowron in 1955 hit .290 with 4 home runs at home, but .353 with 8 homers on the road.

              In 1956 he hit .258 at home, but .356 on the road.   He hit 6 home runs at home, 17 on the road.

              The next year it was worse.  In 1957 Skowron hit just .232 at home, with 3 home runs, 25 RBI.   On the road he hit .366 with 14 homers, 63 RBI. 

              In 1961 he hit .251 with 7 home runs, 30 RBI in Yankee Stadium.  On the road he hit .282 with 21 homers, 59 RBI.

 

              Elston Howard in 1959 hit .237 with 5 home runs, 21 RBI at home.  On the road, he hit .305 with 13 homers, 52 RBI.

              In 1962 Howard hit 3 homers and drove in 31 runs at home.  On the road, he hit 18 homers and drove in 60.

              In 1964 Howard hit .279 with 3 home runs, 35 RBI at home, whereas he hit .344 with 12 home runs, 48 RBI on the road.

              In 1961 Clete Boyer hit .190 with 5 home runs at home, whereas he hit .256 with 6 homers on the road.

              In 1962 Boyer hit .258 with 6 homers at home, whereas he hit .282 with 12 homers on the road.

              Hank Bauer in his career hit 70 homers at home, 94 on the road.   

              Joe DiMaggio in 1936 hit 8 home runs and .313 at home, 21 and .332 on the road.

              In 1939 DiMaggio hit .350 with 12 homers at home, but .413 with 18 homers on the road.

              In 1946 DiMaggio hit .246 with 8 home runs at home, whereas he hit .321 with 17 homers on the road.

              In 1950 DiMaggio hit .277 with 9 homers, 47 RBI at home, whereas he hit .322 with 23 homers, 75 RBI on the road.

              Of course you can find some examples of left-handed hitters who did most of their damage in Yankee Stadium, notably Bill Dickey—but you can find many more examples of Yankees right-handed hitters who did almost all of their damage on the road.  On balance, these players were not less great, not less good, than their stats made them appear; on balance they were better.  Moose Skowron in another park would probably have won an MVP Award.  Gil McDougald might have. 

              My point, though, is not about the Yankees but about the general truth asserted by MacPhail:

"Wrigley has nothing like that," MacPhail told me.  "There is no home-field advantage.   To win you need to be an all-around good team—pitching and hitting, everything.  It takes a long time to build a team like that." 

 

              It is understandable that MacPhail would believe this, because he had in fact won two World Series in Minnesota (1987 and 1991) with teams which had large home field advantages, teams which, adding them together, were under .500 on the road, but which won enough games at home to make the playoffs and then won everything in the playoffs.  He naturally thought that that was how teams win, and was naturally frustrated when he could not do this in Chicago. 

              But his interpretation of what happened to the Cubs, and of how teams win in general, is just wrong, wrong, wrong, and not 99% wrong; it is 100% wrong. 

              First, the Cubs home-field advantage is historically normal.  In my data—almost 10,000 games, 1952 to 2013—the Cubs’ winning percentage at home was .508.  On the road it was .429—a 79 point home field advantage.    The overall home field winning percentage for all games in the data is 79 points. 

              Second, the home field advantage does not come from the peculiarities of the park, generally; perhaps the Humphrey Dome emphasized these, but that would be the exception rather than the rule.  But if baseball standardized its parks as football and basketball did—which was popular to advocate in the 1960s and early 1970s—if that had been done, baseball would still have the same home field advantage that it does now, just as football and basketball do, because the peculiarities of the park are not a major source of the home field advantage.

              Third, in almost every case of a great team which people think won by doing this, if you look at it more carefully you will realize that that isn’t what happened, at all; rather, that what actually happened is that it was simply a great team, and the park happened to emphasize some feature of the team, thus drawing the attention of sportswriters and causing them to misinterpret what was happening.  The Yankees are exhibit 1.

              The Dodgers of the 1960s.  People talk about the Dodgers of the 1960s building up their high mound to take advantage of Koufax and Drysdale, and collecting tall pitchers to maximize this advantage; people talk about this, and I talk about it.  I am one of the people who has made that theory famous.

              But if you look at the facts. . .Dodger Stadium opened in the 1962, and the Koufax-Drysdale years are 1962-1966.  The Dodgers had the best won-lost record in the National League on the road in 1962, 1963 and 1966.  

              In 1962, when the Dodgers and Giants tied in the pennant race and the Giants won the playoffs, the Dodgers were 6 and a half games better than the Giants on the road.   They lost because they were 7 and a half games worse at home.

              In 1963, when the Dodgers held off the Cardinals in September to win the race, the Dodgers and the Cardinals had the same record at home, 53-28.   The Dodgers won because they were 6 games better on the road.

              In 1965, when the Dodgers beat the Giants by two games after the Marichal/Roseboro incident, the Giants had a better won-lost record at home than the Dodgers did.   The Dodgers beat them on the road. 

              Taking all of the years 1962 to 1966, the Dodgers had a 79 point home field advantage. 

              The 1948 Indians are a famous example, in that it is reported (and may be true) that Bill Veeck had the outfield wall mounted on standards so that it could be moved out when the Yankees came to town, moved in for weaker opponents.  Many people assume that the Indians won the pennant by playing this trickery.   The Indians and the Red Sox tied for the pennant, and the Indians won the playoff.     But in fact the Red Sox were six games better than the Indians in 1948 in their home parks.   The Indians won because they were seven games better on the road.

              Whitey Herzog’s Cardinals; what we all say about them is that they took advantage of the artificial turf to run run run, and this is what made them a great team.   But if you study their records, you will find that (a) their home-field advantage was small, not large, (b) Whitey’s Cardinals had the best won-lost record in the league on the road in two of their three championship seasons, and missed having the best by just one game in the other season, and (c) if you break down their road games into "turf" and "grass", they were actually better on grass (on the road) than they were on turf. 

              All of these teams—and all great teams—win not because they take advantage of the park, but because they are simply better than the other teams.   MacPhail was trying to cheat the system; not cheat in the sense of keeping an ace in his shoe, but cheat in the sense that an infielder cheats toward second in a double play situation.   He was trying to find a short cut, and he believed that other teams won because they had found shortcuts.   It’s not true; it’s not how teams win.  

              "To win you need to be an all-around good team—pitching and hitting, everything," MacPhail said.   But that’s actually how all teams that win consistently do it.   I would argue that even the Twins of MacPhail’s era, who were not really a great team but who were a very good team, I would argue that they won, when they won, because they were just better than other teams.  If they were built for their home park, how was that?   How was Frank Viola better in the Humphrey Dome than he really was, or Kirby Puckett, or Gaetti?   Other than the theory about the air conditioner, which is unproven and which is actual cheating if it is true, but other than that, how did the park win games for this team?   It was the players that won, not the park; it merely happened that they won most often at home. 

              In fact, I would go a step further.  I would argue that when teams try to build for their home park, they wind up hurting the team, rather than helping it, probably 80% of the time.   When you think about it, it makes sense.   What are you doing, when you bring in a right-handed slugger who is not really a good player to try to take advantage of the wall in Fenway, or when you bring in a player who is not a good player but who is fast to try to take advantage of the turf, what are you doing?   You are saying that this player is good enough for us.  He’s not really good; he’s just good enough for us.  If you bring in a J. D. Martinez or a Manny Ramirez or a Jim Rice, that’s one thing, because J. D. Martinez and Manny Ramirez and Jim Rice are going to win games for you no matter where you play. 

              But when you start bringing in. . .well, I don’t want to mention names because I’ll offend people.  But when you bring in Dick Stuart because he is a right-handed power hitter, or when you bring in Mike Stanley or an old, no-longer great Tony Perez or Don Baylor, you’re not helping the Red Sox, you’re hurting the Red Sox.   If you play a fast player on turf because he is fast, you are hurting the team.   

 
 

COMMENTS (29 Comments, most recent shown first)

Marc Schneider
David,

I'm reading the book now and just wanted to mention that, as a huge history buff, I read and enjoyed "No End Save Victory" several years ago.
4:14 PM Apr 20th
 
KaiserD2
Thanks for your interest, Marc, and I look forward to your comments on the book.

The point about the Giants is actually broader and I develop it at length in the book. All through the Horace Stoneham years, the Giants had a habit of balancing a few all-time greats with a few dreadful players, and as a result, they didn't win nearly as many pennants as they should have. Thus in the early 1930s they won just once with Hubbell, Terry, and Ott, which is almost incredible, and they won only once in the 1960s with Mays, Cepeda, McCovey and Marichal and Gaylord Perry, which is equally bizarre. Who the bad players were and how bad they were is spelled out in the book. I thought about talking about this at SABR this year but I submitted something else instead.

Having Aaron certainly should have gotten them over the top more often in 1961-6 and particularly in 1965-6 when all their other outfielders were dreadful.

David K
3:40 PM Apr 17th
 
Marc Schneider
DK,

Thanks for that. Sounds like a great book, which I am going to get. I was not saying that I thought Koufax was overrated, but that the thrust of some of the comments I have seen was that he was, in part, a creation of Dodger Stadium. I'm frankly glad to debunk that idea, although, obviously, his stats were helped by the park and era he pitched in.

I also find interesting your thesis that the Dodgers won in those years because they didn't have any terrible players in the lineup, suggesting that the Giants did. That makes some sense because I always wondered why the Giants, with Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, Marichal didn't win more pennants, while the Dodgers, with a seemingly pedestrian lineup did. I guess it shows that star power is not enough in baseball.

Pardon me for another digression, but looking at the blurb for your book on Amazon brought up something I had asked Bill about some time ago. I read that either the Giants or the Braves had a chance to sign both Willie Mays and Hank Aaron and I was wondering what the effect of having both of them in the same outfield might have been on the pennant races in the late 50s-mid-sixties. In other words, would having Aaron with Mays have been enough to push the Giants ahead of the Dodgers, especially in 1965-66?
12:38 PM Apr 17th
 
KaiserD2
Not only was Koufax pitching in Dodger Stadium, he also was pitching (after 1962) in a generally low-offense era which helped his ERA. But I certainly would not say that he was overrated. His WAA for 1963-66 by my calculations were 7.1, 4.7, 4.9, and 6. That's an astonishing run. Kershaw from 2013 through 2016 had 5.6, 5.6, 5.2 and 4.2, and slipped to 3.5 last year. The only two pitchers in Koufax's generation with more than 4 seasons of 4 WAA or more were Gibson and Phil Niekro.

The rest of the Dodgers' pitching staff in 1963-6, however, WAS very overrated thanks to Dodger Stadium and the low-offense era. The only good year Drysdale had in those years was 1964, when they didn't win (that was a pattern for him.) Overall the Giants had better pitching than the Dodgers in 1965-6, although they also had worse fielding. The real comparative advantage of the Dodgers over the Giants and the Reds and Phillies was that they didn't have any terrible players in their lineup. All this is in my new book, Baseball Greatness

DK
2:54 PM Apr 16th
 
steve161
Marc, it makes sense to me. It reminds me of Ted Williams saying that he'd hit 75 home runs if he played in Yankee Stadium. Somebody (don't remember who) replied, "Gehrig didn't," and that ended the discussion.​
9:09 AM Apr 16th
 
Marc Schneider
I know this is a digression from the point of the article, but it brings up a point about Sandy Koufax. The thesis in recent years is that his stats were inflated due to pitching in Dodger Stadium and, therefore, he was perhaps a bit overrated. But does the argument that good players are good players anywhere sort of refute that? In other words, even if Koufax's stats were better in Dodger Stadium than on the road, a lesser pitcher's stats in Dodger Stadium would not have been as good as Koufax's. So, following this logic, Koufax really was a fabulous pitcher; presumably most players have better home stats than road. Does this make sense?
8:27 AM Apr 16th
 
BobGill
Kaiser's comment about the Yankees' pitchers got me thinking about something.

I guess everybody here is aware of how unusually quick the Yankees were in Stengel's time to dump a pitcher -- Kucks, Sturdivant, whoever -- who had gone 16-7 for them a year earlier. Maybe that just reflects their understanding of what Kaiser is talking about: that a so-so pitcher could post an impressive record with the Yankees. But if that same pitcher slipped to the point where he seemed no better than average, that really meant he was quite a bit below, and it was time to trade him while the other teams might still think he had above-average value.

It makes sense to me.
1:29 PM Apr 15th
 
KaiserD2
I agree with what most of what Bill said. I have my own slant on it, though.

A player "suited to your park" is a player whose key stats will be be exaggerated, if you will, by playing in your park. If he hits lots of home runs, he'll hit more home runs in Wrigley, or, if he's right handed, in Fenway. The problem is that those home runs won't be as valuable as they would be in other parks, because everyone is hitting more home runs in those parks.

I concluded in my book that the biggest impact of extreme parks is to conceal the real strengths and weaknesses of your team. In 1948-50, and again in 1977-8, the Red Sox had significantly better pitching than the Yankees and the Yankees had significantly better offense than the Red Sox. [sic]. The parks they played in covered that up, and many people still believe the opposite, but any park-adjusted look at those teams will convince you that that is true.

Here's how I think that impacts organizations. Let's look, not at stars, but at average players--infielders hitting .275, pitchers who throw 200 innings a year with an ERA around the league average. The point is, those infielders, if they play for the Red Sox, are actually terrible. Those pitchers, for the Red Sox,. are very good. For the Yankees, the opposite is true. In other words, to be a respectable starting pitcher in Fenway,. you actually have to be quite a good pitcher. To have a winning record in Yankee Stadium, with a decent ERA, you just have to be an average pitcher. And the Yankees in the 1950s-early 1960s had a LOT of average pitchers. Some of these guys--Grim, Kucks, Sturdivant--won 15-20 games once or twice just because they were playing for the Yankees, and pitched on the right days. But I digress.

I do have to disagree with Bill, however, on one point. The 1987 and 1991 Twins, he said,. were not a great team, but they were a very good one. Well, the 1987 Twins had a negative run differential--the first team to win the World Series with a negative run differential. I would not be able to call such a team a very good one.

David K
7:16 AM Apr 15th
 
hotstatrat
Maris Fan -
You could be right: "I see it to be that teams shouldn't think it's good to make such moves unless the guys they get are good players." Yes, that is common sense. However, Bill likes to blow up common sense. It is also obvious - and Bill doesn't like to say the obvious. Admitedly, Bill has said some revolutionary things in the past and made them sound obvious.

I have been accused of being overly pedantic by my closest friends, so that could be what I'm doing with Bill's essay. I hope he understands that we - his fans - are analytical beasts. We are going to analyse his writings even if he calls us bonobos.

Back to your interpretation, MF61, Bill does say "unless" in his way when he says Rice, Manny Ramirez, and JD Martinez are going to be good for any team. Manny was. However, he doesn't mention that Jim Rice, over his career, hit .920 OPS at Fenway and .789 on the road. Bill didn't mention right-handed Hanley Ramirez whose away OPS was a mere 20 points better in the road in 2015, just 35 points better in 2017, but his OPS in 2016 was 163 points better at home (.940 to .783). Yes, Rice and Hanley are good players, but they are even better players in Fenway, are they not?

The history lesson was interesting, the writing was entertaining, but the conclusion leaves me scratching my head. If it is "don't play a bad player just because his one attribute plays well in your home stadium", then that was not a big revelation. Besdies, neither Hillenbrand, Perez, Baylor, Stanley, nor Stuart were considered bad players when Boston acquired them, but the middle three were all very old when they did. No team tries to get bad players, contenders get the best players they can for their budget. That some teams have historically put too much emphasis on matching their talent to their park is a fair point. That playing an aging now below average player because he fits nicely with your park is a bad idea - that's a fair point. But is Bill saying their should be no park considerations? That isn't clear to me, and part of the reason it isn't clear is because it is too hard to believe.

Perhaps, part of Boston's pre-James era problem is that slow bad fielding right-handed sluggers are over-rated for any team. The most successful teams in the American League in recent years - Kansas City, Cleveland, and Houston seem to stock up on good all-around players. But that's another study.
1:51 AM Apr 15th
 
MarisFan61
It depends on what you see as Bill's main point here.

I don't see the main point to be that teams shouldn't give significant attention to what you're mentioning. I see it to be that teams shouldn't think it's good to make such moves unless the guys they get are good players.

I do see that some of how Bill puts it could make it seem like the other.. But that's not how I see it -- maybe in part because I'm taking those past writings as somewhat of a 'foundation,' but also because.....how to put it .....I think it's just common sense that he couldn't possibly just mean the other.
11:47 PM Apr 14th
 
hotstatrat
Bill is being defended by some of you against my comment here that some degree of park consideration is not so terrible. That's loyal of you and you are probably right that I am misrepresenting his point. For example, thedanholmes states, "I don't believe Mr. James is advocating that teams refrain from building a team to can[sic] take advantage of their own park. Instead, he's arguing that to focus on it AT THE EXPENSE of the overall talent of the player is a mistake."

Well, let me reprint Bill's comment that comes closest to describing how much we should consider taking advantage of the home park: "The Red Sox tried for many years to bring in right-handed sluggers to "take advantage" of the wall. That was a terrible, terrible, terrible strategy, which cost the Red Sox dearly in many, many pennant races." Bill even uses just those words "take advantage" and puts quotes around them for emphasis. He does not use the words "AT THE EXPENSE" that Dan Holmes capitalized for emphasis. Perhaps, that is implied in the essay - and is the point of my comment. We can all probably agree that teams such as Boston in the pre-James era put too much emphasis on building a team for their park, but I maintain that some park nuances should be comsidered to some degree in some way. I see nowhere in Bill's essay that allows for that.

I'm not trying to put down Bill's essay. It was very enlightening. I thank him for it. I am just adding my additional thoughts to it by wondering out loud if he overlooked some cases such Bronx and Denver pitchers? Perhaps, "take advantage" only applies to the non-pitching posiitions.

12:34 PM Apr 14th
 
FrankD
re: Don Baylor. Just to complete the circle - Baylor went to the Twins in '87 and hit a huge HR to propel the Twins to win the WS .......
10:57 AM Apr 13th
 
jemanji
Sure, which is what I said in the 3rd and 4th paragraphs of my first post.


2:59 AM Apr 13th
 
thedanholmes
I don't believe Mr. James is advocating that teams refrain from building a team to can take advantage of their own park. Instead, he's arguing that to focus on it AT THE EXPENSE of the overall talent of the player is a mistake.

The fact remains: it makes sense to build a team that can perform well in the park where you play the large majority of your games. The Red Sox are assured they will play 81 games at Fenway. They will only play 9 or 10 games at Yankee Stadium. And 9 or 10 in Camden Yards, and so on. That's at least 8x the number of games at Fenway than any other park. It would be one thing if the rest of the league had domed astroturf ballparks with 440-feet power alleys. Then the Red Sox should consider a strategy to address that for their road games. But, it surely makes sense to accept a slower left fielder with little range who can yank the ball into and over the Monster. Or to have a left-handed infielder who pulls the ball down the line a lot. Or to avoid left-handed starters all other things being equal. And so on.
2:35 AM Apr 13th
 
jemanji
Since we can't edit our comments :- ) one thing to add to the below:

With "closers" like Jansen or Kimbrel, GM's reason that there is a THIRD-ORDER effect to them: if you put a schlub in the 9th inning, the discouragement factor could affect the team's performance in unmeasurable ways.

In Seattle, Dipoto evidently believes that slow OF's could create a "third-order" effect: pitchers, watching balls fall in the gaps that should be caught, could get discouraged and have bad seasons.

It could be that certain parks have peculiarities that have to be taken into account when building a roster, due to these types of "domino effects" that are hard to measure.

.....

Of course I agree with the idea that you can't put an aged Tony Armas in Fenway because he's right-handed. Generally speaking, you don't want a certain type of player; you want a good player.


11:37 PM Apr 12th
 
jemanji
Excellent article, loaded with concrete examples and data, as always. Enjoyed it.

Added to the "color," and vividness, of the article to cast it in MacPhail's and the Cubs' terms also. The usual BJOL article that is by itself worth a month's admission.

.....

Am pretty sure that most sabermetricians would quickly concede that you would NOT choose a 6-Win Shares player over a 10-Win Shares player, because he fits your home park.

But I'll bet that most sabermetricians are very interested in this question: given two 8-WS players of differing skills, how HARD should you work to grab the one that fits your park.

Below was given the example of all the great NYY pitchers who were left handed. You would be think it would be worth quite a bit to lean towards RH pitchers in Fenway, given that they were of the same quality.

In Seattle, Jerry Dipoto is laser-focused on fast OF in the Safeco OF; I can't imagine him pulling a Billy Beane and putting Jack Cust in center for a couple of games.

So as convincing as the above article was, I still wonder if a GM might justifiably reason, "Our park will add, in effect, 1 Win Share to this particular player's impact."

Gracias,
Jeff


11:32 PM Apr 12th
 
Manushfan
Don Baylor in 86 did nothing but help the Red Sox. Not sure where you're getting that. He wasn't much in 87, sure, but his influence in the clubhouse and at bat--he was rather good the year before.

Tony Armas was awfully good in 84 for what it's worth. Point taken on him otherwise.


5:42 PM Apr 12th
 
ScottSegrin
re: Dodger high mound... Made me wonder - could a team "raise the mound" by literally raising the entire mound? That is, making the pitch of the infield slope downward from the front of the mound to home plate. Changing the pitch of the infield from 0 degrees to 0.1 degrees would effectively raise the mound by a full inch and I would suspect be unnoticeable. Has any team ever been accused of this? Caught? Suspected? Do the ever check this stuff?
3:54 PM Apr 12th
 
schoolshrink
You might appreciate this piece about former Kansas City Chiefs coach Hank Stram. In football, he said the same things 30 years ago. When interviewed in SI once, I remember his three rules of success: Assess talent, obtain talent, utilize talent. Like you said, it is all about having talent first. www.espn.com/classic/s/2003/0731/1587965.html
12:24 PM Apr 12th
 
MarisFan61
I remember the first time I saw a thing like this from you -- maybe it was the first time you said it bigly?

It was, I think, in the 1993 Annual, which came out before the '93 season, after the new expansion draft. I won't mention the name of the player but a lot of people will know who it is.

You wrote about how the Rockies' apparently were thinking (and anyway it was being said everywhere) that because of the Colorado air, it would be good to go after "fly-ball hitters" -- so they made this guy one of their first few picks. You pointed out that there were a couple of things wrong with that: He wasn't a good enough player for it to matter what kinds of balls he hit, and funnily, that anyway the data showed he wasn't really a fly ball hitter.

There are things you've said which superficially could be seen as going against what you're saying here, and actually when I started typing this paragraph that's what I was going to say. You've pointed out (although long ago, so anyway they could be 'inoperative') things like that the Yanks have never won "without left handed power, and a ton of it," and, after a few years of the Rockies' existence, that all of most of the pitchers who'd been successful with the team had a change-up (which is what I think Hotstatrat meant with his reference to the team). But those things don't really go against the article, because it's not like you ever meant that the Yanks or the Rockies would do well to go after mediocre lefty power hitters or mediocre pitchers with change-ups.
11:47 AM Apr 12th
 
llozada
Haven't finished yet. But I am a Venezuelan and it hurts that Tony Armas wasn't the superstar slugger we all thought he was. I am not taking offense at all, I just wish it was different. I saw Tony play a lot in the Venezuelan Winter League when I was a kid on my first baseball seasons ever as a fan, and he was one of my favorite players, then almost became a national hero when he led the AL in homers and rbi's, but he really wan't as good as we thought.
11:41 AM Apr 12th
 
CharlesSaeger
hotstatrat: Bill isn’t talking about not taking the guy suited to your park given two guys of equal overall ability. He’s talking about looking for guys whose only remaining skill is suited to your park, and whose overall ability isn’t good.
11:39 AM Apr 12th
 
hotstatrat
I can see how teams make the mistake of taking the part effect too much into consideration when choosing their players, but I can't believe if the proper attributes are considered, their aren't some players that are better suited for a team due the park effects of their home field.

Possibly. loading up on left-handed batters doesn't work for Yankee hitters because they try too hard to take advantage of the short distance to the right field foul pole. However, is it a complete coincidence that four of Yankee Stadium's five greatest pitchers were lefties? Whitey Ford, Andy Pettitte, Ron Guidry, and Lefty Gomez had significantly lower ERAs at home than on the road - Gomez & Guidry by almost a full run.

Haven't the Rockies figured out which type of pitchers are more suitable for their stadium than others?

Didn't your Red Sox worry less about Manny Ramirez's lack of outfield range because he played half of his games in Fenway where there isn't as much leftfield to cover?

Perhaps, dear Bill, you were overzealous with the number of "terrible"s and need to take one or two back. (Oh, boy, that could put me in the firing line, but I'm hoping you take it for the fun it was intended.) Yes, half a team's games are played on the road, but half are at home. Given two players of equal overall talent, I would rather have the one who has an attribute that fits better with my stadium.

Perhaps, the greater lesson is that it is better to have a balance of strengths rather than concentrating on a few things, but that is another study.​
11:19 AM Apr 12th
 
Fireball Wenz
When Mr. James asserts that the Red Sox spent too much time trying to find right-handed sluggers who would wear out The Wall, he is overlooking the storied contributions to the franchise of men such as Ken Keltner, Bob Bailey, Deron Johnson, Bobby Darwin, Jeff Newman and Gary Gaetti.
11:13 AM Apr 12th
 
3for3
I forgot about the "Trash Bag". How was that even possible in a major league ball park...
10:59 AM Apr 12th
 
FrankD
Interesting article. About the '87 and '91 Twins with their great home record and not losing a playoff game in the "Hump", I agree with you that this was not do to the Twins getting players with specific skills that matched the peculiarities of their stadium. I think it was due to the Twins having good/great ballplayers that learned over time how to best play in the "Hump". Things like knowing that: the ball bounces high off the turf in the outfield; the ball drops after hitting the "Trash Bag" in right field; a player can't look away from a flyball without risking losing it in the white ceiling; etc. I think a lot of home field advantage is be due to players experience and comfort being at their own "friendly confines", but the team with the best players will win out over the long season.​
10:54 AM Apr 12th
 
wovenstrap
Is road record a decent proxy for "actual team quality," a bit like the Pythagorean theorem? Even as I type the question I realize it must largely be true.
10:25 AM Apr 12th
 
3for3
Is the converse true as well? Should teams avoid having a player who may have a weakness that is exposed by his home park? I am thinking of LHP in Fenway, or perhaps a slow outfielder in a place with a big outfield, like Coors, or old Yankee Stadium.
10:21 AM Apr 12th
 
bjames
There's a typo in there one place. . .I typed 1966 when it should have been 1965, in re Dodgers having best road record in the league.
10:10 AM Apr 12th
 
 
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