One of baseball’s most distinct characteristics is the varying dimensions of each individual field of play. Things like the Green Monster, McCovey Cove, and Tal’s Hill (the former ridiculous outfield incline at Minute Maid Park) all bring unique quirks to ballparks that aren’t found anywhere else. The implications of these distinctive dimensions is that a hit or a home run in one park might be an out or a foul ball in another. You don’t have to watch much baseball to realize that it’s a lot easier to hit a home run in Yankee Stadium than it is at Kauffman Stadium. If a hitter plays their home games in a park that favors a batter (like the high altitude air of Coors Field in Denver), their numbers may look better than they should. If they play in a park that favors pitchers, they could look worse.
For as long as the Blue Jays have played at the Rogers Centre, we’ve thought their home ballpark to be a hitter’s haven – one that could help elevate a hitter’s power numbers and wreak havoc on a pitcher’s ERA.
Anecdotal evidence seems to support this. While he has always been an elite hitter, Josh Donaldson saw his power production spike when he moved from the cavernous O.Co Coliseum to the Rogers Centre in 2015. Jose Bautista slugged .531 at home versus .482 on the road during his Blue Jays career. Many people expect Randal Grichuk to boost his power output this season now that he will be playing his home games at the Rogers Centre. On the other side of the ball, given the choice, pitchers will avoid the Rogers Centre whenever possible. Toronto has struggled mightily to lure free agent pitchers to the city in recent years, including 2014, when Ervin Santana backed out of a contract to play at the more pitcher friendly Turner Field in the less intimidating NL East.
In order to account for these differences, outlets have been developing metrics used to measure how much a ballpark suppresses or facilitates run scoring relative to other major league ballparks – park factors. Between 2010 and 2016 Toronto ranked as the 8th best hitting environment in baseball according to parkfactors.com.
But despite the common wisdom, has the Rogers Centre started to become less hitter friendly in recent seasons? Toronto’s reputation as a great place to hit might not be a true as it once was.
ESPN Park Factors – Rogers Centre
According to ESPN’s Park Factor data, the Rogers Centre ranked in the bottom third of the league as an overall run scoring environment in 2015 and 2017. And then when examining the number of hits and home runs that take place at the ballpark, the Rogers Centre still didn’t appear to be the hitter friendly park we assume it to be either. On the flip side, while 2015 and 2017 saw reduced run scoring, the Rogers Centre did appear to play as a hitter’s park in 2016, ranking 6th in run scoring.
In all three seasons, though, the park never ranked higher than 15th in home runs allowed – which definitely runs counter to our perception of the Dome as a homer heaven. Interestingly, 2016 also saw the Rogers Centre rank in the top 10 in hits allowed – somewhat of an oddity given that the ballpark doesn’t have particularly large power alleys or a spacious amount of foul territory (which can lead to fewer hits because more pop ups in foul territory can be caught).
Baseball Prospectus further breaks down their park factors by handedness in order to better account for non-uniform elements in a park’s dimensions that may benefit hitters that bat from a certain side of the plate. They do this because a left-handed hitter might be able to take advantage of Pesky’s Pole at Fenway Park more than a righty ever could.
Baseball Prospectus Park Factors – Rogers Centre
|MLB Rank – Left Handed Batters
|MLB Rank – Right Handed Batters
Like ESPN’s park factors, BP is showing the Rogers Centre to be far less of a hitter’s environment than we would have assumed in 2015 and 2017, with 2016 being in line with previous years. While the Rogers Centre doesn’t have any non-symmetrical dimensions that would favor hitters of a certain handedness, the park does appear to play slightly worse for left-handed batters.
What is also surprising is that in 2015, a year in which the ballpark ranked near the bottom of the league as a run scoring environment, the Blue Jays led the league in runs scored and possessed one of the best offences of all-time.
It’s unclear what may be causing the Rogers Centre’s change in run scoring patterns. The park’s dimensions obviously haven’t changed. And while there have been observed changes made to the baseball (hence Aaron Sanchez’s blister problem), these didn’t occur until 2017, either. Are more games being played with the dome open or closed? Maybe changes are occurring in other ballparks and Toronto is falling back to the middle of the pack?
Typically, using park factors in three-year sample sizes is more informative than single year samples. With this in mind, 2018 will help us understand a lot about the Rogers Centre. If 2018 sees the Jays’ ballpark again post pedestrian run scoring and home run totals, it’s likely the Rogers Centre’s days as a hitter friendly environment might be behind us for the time being.
If the trend continues into 2018 we should readjust our expectations – it might be the case that the Rogers Centre isn’t helping and hurting Blue Jay hitters and pitchers as much as it was in the past.
Lead Photo © Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports