Back on April 22nd, I asked a simple question, "Can Paul Goldschmidt Regain His Arizona Stroke?" In it, I looked at how he really left a lot on the table last year in terms of driving the ball to right-center field. I'd like to explore at least one more aspect of that today. Josh (Twitter handle joshisnothome) has pinch hit here on these pages before and done so quite admirably in my mind. He and I have worked for a while on an idea and Josh has outlined the idea behind it quite well here, so I'll let him finish (ok, really entirely do) the intro:
Cast your minds back - way back - to the long forgotten year of… 2014. I know it may be hard, but do try. 6 years ago may seem like an eternity for you, but imagine how long ago it must seem to the St. Louis Cardinals, or at least the ones still with us who were around back then. No, not because of their long and strenuous schedules or the three-year stretch of playoff-less baseball, but because of an issue that has gone under-the-radar up to this point. An issue that has stifled their usually potent offense for six long years. And what is that issue? Ballpark Village. Well, at least in theory. It may sound silly, but a seemingly innocent addition to Busch Stadium III could be the cause in a decreased number in home runs to left-field at the park, or perhaps worse, a silenced offense altogether. Finally, a reason for John Mabry to be reinstated as hitting coach. Now, in order to understand why this issue may exist in the first place, we must first form a basic understanding of wind-tunnels. If you live in a big city, you’re likely familiar with the experience of getting blasted with large gusts of wind at any given moment. That’s a wind- tunnel. Typically, this is caused by the building next to you standing in the way of a wind- stream, which then is forced to alter direction, usually towards unsuspecting pedestrians. So, let’s say we make the buildings bigger. Way bigger. Like the size of a baseball stadium bigger. Would the same wind-tunnel effect still apply? That brings us to the New York Yankees. In 2009, New Yankee stadium had been completed and was ready to host its first season of Yankees baseball, and it didn’t take local fans long to notice something strange: there appeared to be some magic in right-field. Within the first six games at the new park, 27 (!) baseballs left the yard. Twenty-seven. Of course, the Bronx Bombers were well-known for their prolific home run totals, but this was something else. Word began to spread quickly, and the Yankees themselves investigated. Although they insisted that they could not find anything conclusive, meteorologists disagreed, stating that “…the angle of the seating in the new stadium could have an effect on wind speeds across the field…” which, in theory, makes sense. In the time since, the abnormal number of home runs to right-field have been chalked up to the short porch rather than wind, but the point still stands; wind definitely can have an effect on a baseball stadium. So, for argument's sake, let’s assume that Busch Stadium III had a similar, albeit much less severe case of a wind-tunnel. Would it be possible that putting a giant building toward the end of that tunnel could have an effect on game play?
Let's dig in!
From 2015-2019, Busch Stadium III - the time period for which we have batted ball data by launch direction (horizontal), velocity, and launch angle (vertical) - Busch has been known as a pitchers' park. This is indisputable. But...is it because of the park or because the Cardinals have been more of a pitchers' team? Let's put some numbers to that.
In this article, I am going to try to look at this topic a variety of ways, taking the 10,000 foot view (so to speak) and looking at individuals (as referenced in the Paul Goldschmidt-laden intro). Let's get some terms out of the way first:
BA = batting average
xBA = expected batting average based on launch angle (LA) and exit velocity (EV)
SLG = slugging percentage
xSLG = expected slugging percentage based on LA/EV
wOBA = weighted on base average (Fangraphs link if you are unfamiliar)
xwOBA = expected weighted on base average based on LA/EV
Note: all of the "x" stats above use launch angle (vertical) NOT launch direction (horizontal) to calculate
The first thing I did was I looked at the league average vs. Busch III BA-xBA, SLG-xSLG, and wOBA-xwOBA (basically, how "lucky" or "unlucky" hitters were). I scaled it on a + or - statistic scaled, meaning that 100 is league average and each point above or below 100 is a percentage better or worse than league average. For plus (+) stats, higher is better. For minus (-) stats, lower is better.
Lastly, since ground balls would be unaffected by wind tunnels and such, the rest of this post will solely be focused on line drives and fly balls.
10,000 foot view
I broke stadiums down into 3 buckets. Those buckets are left field, center field, and right field. Directly down the center of the field from home plate, through the mound, over second base and directly past the center field wall is known as 0 degrees. Left field is defined as -45 degrees to -16 degrees. Center field is between -15 and 15 degrees. Right field is defined as 16 degrees to 45 degrees.
As you can see above, when you compare Busch III to league average parks, only right-handed hitters batting average vs expected batting average difference on pulled balls to left field was in line with the league. Lefties, meanwhile, when going to the opposite field (left field) were about 9% unluckier at Busch III than league average in batting average compared to what was expected. Left field suppressed slugging percentage by 7% for right-handers and 14% for left-handers, when compared to other parks. Center field suppressed average 3-4 percent and slugging 6-7 percent. Right field suppressed batting average 5-8 percent while right field suppressed slugging by 9% for lefties and 19% (NINETEEN!) for right-handed hitters.
This fits in nicely with what I found for Paul Goldschmidt! Right-center and right field were awful for Paul Goldschmidt in 2019 at Busch.
Mile high view
Seeing this data from high up, I wanted to step closer and see if this is just because the Cardinals simply had above average pitchers and below average hitters more often. Was that the case? The next two charts, that will look similar to the one above, will show Away hitters only (both league-wide, and at Busch) and Home hitters only (Cardinals at Busch and league-wide with teams in their respective parks).
You can see that slugging is still subdued at Busch quite a bit to left field and right field - especially right field. This is true for any player that comes to play at Busch. The numbers get more pronounced when you look at Cardinals hitters the last 5 seasons.
As you can see, the Cardinals right-handed hitters have been worse than league average when pulling the ball and much worse than league average when going up the middle and the opposite way at Busch Stadium. Cardinals left-handed hitters have actually done better than away hitters when going to the opposite field, but well worse up the middle while being about the same pulling the ball. The problem with that is that players pull the ball far more often than they go the opposite way, so the success Cardinals left-handed hitters have had at Busch III when going the opposite way occurs far less often than when they are attempting to hit the ball hard up the middle and failing.
Hopefully these go to set a groundwork for seeing just how oppressive Busch III is to hitters! Let's look even more closely.
Bird's Eye View
For the stadium-style, launch direction (on the horizontal axis) images, brought to you by Nicholas Childress, the coloring scheme will be using this scale. Basically if it's within 91-109 on the 100 scale, we're considering that "normal" - or at least close to normal. For every 20 degrees beyond that either direction, we get a darker shade of blue (if worse than average) and darker shade of red (if better than average). Something like this:
Earlier, I mentioned that x-stats are created using EV/LA, not launch direction. However, on Baseball Savant's Statcast search engine you can sort out batted balls by which direction they went off the bat from foul line to foul line and beyond into whatever sized "buckets" you want. Within those buckets, you can see the x-stats for balls only hit into those areas of the field. I broke the field up into 10 different buckets of 10 degrees each. With the first and third base lines forming a right angle, this required me to use 5 degrees to either side of the foul lines as two of my buckets because I wanted there to be a divide down the middle of the field at 0 degrees (we discussed where 0 degrees was located earlier).
Now, we're going to look at what I am calling the Bird's Eye view. This is only looking at Busch Stadium in particular first through the lens of two specific Cardinals, Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna. I am looking at Paul Goldschmidt because of my article from a few weeks ago and I'm looking at Marcell Ozuna because of Zach Gifford's incredible piece that you probably already read back in January. If you didn't read it after seeing it at Birds On The Black, then maybe you saw it linked at Fangraphs, at Viva El Birdos, or at MLB.com (or elsewhere). In any case, you should read that.
Let's start our Bird's Eye view with Goldschmidt. Last month we discussed how Goldschmidt had really had some hits taken away from him - mostly extra base ones - at Busch Stadium (and, frankly, on the road as well) in 2019. His SLG just wasn't there compared to how he hit the ball, for whatever reason. But how much was he hurt by it? Incredibly. Astoundingly. Unbelievably. Staggeringly. I'm sticking with staggeringly. Look at this stadium-style view of how much his slugging was decimated by Busch III last season.
In left field, his SLG-xSLG was somewhere between 32 and 49 percent "unluckier" than league average. Now, don't get me wrong. From -50 degrees to -20 degrees, his SLG still outpaced his xSLG, but by a much lower margin than did everyone else's. This was for 37 of his 232 batted balls - a not insignificant portion.
A larger portion of his balls were hit between -10 and 30 degrees, 143 of them to be exact. That's well over half of his line drives and fly balls, nearly two-thirds of them. He was anywhere between 20 percent "unluckier" than league average to nearly 70% "unluckier" on those. That deep sea of blue in right center is where Paul Goldschmidt doubles and triples went do die. The reddish portion of right field represents just 4 batted balls.
The portion of the outfield which I have failed to mention as of yet is the -10 to -20 degree range in right-center field. That's because he absolutely did much better than league average in that "bucket." It was on a not insignificant portion of his balls, too - 48 of them! That's just over 20% of his batted balls in that 10 degree range just to the left of center. That's where balls like this went - this ball and 15 others:
You read that right. 16 of Goldschmidt's 34 homers (47.1% of them) went to the same 10 degree section of left-center field. FORTY-SEVEN POINT ONE PERCENT.
However, what happened to Goldschmidt pales in comparison to what happened when Marcell Ozuna sliced the ball to left-center field. I mean seriously, take a look at that left-center area from -30 to -10 degrees for Ozuna. Holy cow! The difference between his SLG and xSLG on 29 of his 183 fly balls and line drives was 134 percent worse than league average and on 37 of his 183 fly balls and line drives was 842% worse than league average. It doesn't get a ton better elsewhere around the outfield for Ozuna. The reason that the two lines were neutral? He didn't hit a single line drive or fly ball left of -40 degrees or right of 40 degrees. Zero batted balls, so neutral it is.
And lastly, just look at what Busch III did, in general, to every right-handed hitter who stepped into the batter's box and hit line drives and fly balls - compared to an average stadium around the entire league.