Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Didn't Soriano Teach Us Anything?

The Post runs its baseball preview today. The theme of the thing seems to be 'how will the new park affect the players?' It's an interesting question, and one that's going to shade everything that happens this season, moving from RFK's canyon-like dimensions.

But, in some cases, they're falling into the same sort of trap that many fell into before the Soriano trade. Pure Home/Road splits, especially in a small sample, aren't enough. You need to look at a player's range of skills.

Take this pdf, for example. It lists every Nats' home/road splits for the last few years.

You'd be surprised to see that Matt Chico's ERA is higher at RFK than on the road. That leads Boswell to conclude that Chico had little help from the stadium.

The numbers show it, but is that a firm conclusion? You mean to tell me that an extreme flyball pitcher (4th in the majors in flyball % last season) wasn't helped by RFK? Does that make sense to you? It doesn't, despite what the numbers say. One season isn't really enough to get a good read on it. He faced different opponents home and away. He went through hot and cold streaks throughout the season, regardless of where he pitched as he worked on mechanics and developed as a pitcher. There are so many other variables, that focusing on just one -- while ignoring other things -- doesn't make a lot of sense.

Given his flyball ways, you don't have to struggle too much to imagine him getting completely shelled had he pitched all his home games in Philly, right? That's what matters. What he does and how he pitches translates well to RFK regardless of what the misleading, contextless stats say.

Take a look at Bergmann. He's around 4 at home and near 7 on the road over the last few seasons. His style is similar to Chico's. They both walk a lot. They both give up lots of homers. (It's just that Bergmann can get the ball by the occasional batter.) Bergmann's splits are more indicative, even if they're subject to some noise. (Bergmann's performance before and after his injuries -- as well as before this season -- make a direct H/R split full of all sorts of variables)

On the other side, we know that Dmitri Young has a line-drive, gap-to-gap swing. He's a good match for RFK, and the stats showed it. Austin Kearns is more of a flyball-hitting slugger, and RFK punished him. The stats show that, too.

So sometimes we need to think about the context of the stats, and not just look at them.

As it is, Sheinin's piece on how teams adapt to their new parks is a fair look, especially on how initial impressions aren't necessarily correct. I like this quote by Gerry Hunsicker, formerly with the Astros:
"We were ridiculed all over the country when the new park opened. But four or five years later, it settled back into the middle of the pack. So I really believe it's a little dangerous to try to tailor your team to your park -- because it's the players who have to make adjustments, especially pitchers, more so than the team making adjustments."

By and large, tailoring your players doesn't work, since they have to play a bunch of games on the road, too. Get good players, period, and you'll have a winning team! (Warning: does not apply to Jose Guillen or Vinny Castilla in RFK!)


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