A park-factor puzzler

I was looking up something else when this caught my eye. Among active players with at least 70 career home runs:

  • The highest percentage of HRs hit at home belongs to Andre Ethier — 66% (85 of 129).
  • The lowest percentage of HRs hit at home belongs to James Loney — 34% (25 of 73).

Both bat left-handed and have spent virtually all their careers with the Dodgers, both starting in 2006. (Loney played 30 games with Boston last year.)

But wait — there’s more!


Loney has become known as a guy who doesn’t hit enough generally (and especially not enough HRs) to be a starting first baseman, averaging a 104 OPS+ with 13 HRs per 162 games. He was a throw-in to last year’s big Dodgers/Red Sox trade, and in December he signed with Tampa for one year at $2 million. Ethier, with a 124 OPS+ and 21 HRs per 162 games, is starting a five-year deal that will pay him at least $85 million.

But away from Dodger Stadium, Loney has hit better than Ethier — .293 BA and .807 OPS for Loney, .272/.775 for Ethier. That’s in 1,700 to 2,000 PAs each way for each player.

Loney has hit 4 more road HRs than Ethier (48-44), in about 260 fewer PAs.

The splits for each player are consistent from year to year. Loney has a higher OPS away in each of his 7 seasons, while Ethier has been higher at home in 6 of 7 years.

A hitter who thrives in Dodger Stadium?

Ethier’s Home/Road OPS split is .903/.775, a ratio of 1.17. I didn’t know there were any longtime Dodgers who hit that much better at home. So let’s check with the Batting Split Finder.

  • Out of 41 Dodgers with at least 1,000 PAs in Dodger Stadium, only Joe Ferguson had a higher ratio of Home/Road OPS than Ethier.
  • And only Adrian Beltre had a lower ratio of Home/Road OPS than Loney’s 0.88.

In that group of 41 longtime Dodgers, Ethier ranks 3rd in Home OPS (.903), right behind Mike Piazza (.921), 5th in Home BA (.309), and 3rd in Home SLG (.525). He’s 1st in ratio of Home/Road BA, and 3rd in ratio of Home/Road HR%.

Which way to the nearest exit?

Getting back to the Ethier/Loney home run conundrum … Their directional splits may tell some of the tale (although they’re not broken down home and away). Neither is a pull hitter; they each pull about 25% of the time and go up the middle about 57%. When they do pull, their HR rates are very close — 7.3% of ABs for Ethier, 6.6% for Loney. But up the middle is quite another story: 4.5% for Ethier, just 1.6% for Loney. (As for left field, neither one has any power that way.)

Is Dodger Stadium a tough place to hit one out to center? Or does Loney only have pull power? Looking at other long hits to CF, there’s a smaller gap in their rates of doubles and triples (combined) — 6.4% for Ethier, 5.2% for Loney. By itself, that might not be significant, since it’s just about 100 hits apiece. But the fact that it points in the same direction as their HR gap gives it a little more weight.

The listed distance in CF is 395′, but various sources say it’s really 400′ — not unusual, either way. It’s 375′ to both power alleys. There is a rather sharp in-curve right at the foul lines, making both 330′. But I don’t see how that would explain anything about Loney and Ethier. Our working hypothesis is that Loney has only pull power; but if he were adept at pulling it right down the line, his home HRs wouldn’t be as rare as a packed house that stays through the 9th. And if that 330′ line was working to Ethier’s advantage, you’d think he’d have become more of a pull hitter over time, but no; his pull rate over the last 2 years is right in line with his career.

Even in 2009, when Ethier hit a career-best 31 HRs and 22 at home, his pull rate was still 25%. So, from the splits I have, I can’t infer any short-foul-line benefit for Ethier, nor any particular attempt on his part to hit that spot.

Anywhere is better than here

Loney showed even less power in the minors, so maybe his road HR rate is the real surprise. Where has he hit them? As you’d expect, his best rates are in the two HR-friendly parks in his old division. With 10 HRs in Chase Field and 9 in Coors, Loney has averaged 31 HRs per 650 PAs in those two — three times his rate at Dodger Stadium. In no other park has he hit more than 5 taters.

Ethier, meanwhile, has not really enjoyed his visits to Coors and Chase, with a combined rate of 15 HRs per 650 PAs. (By the way, both players have just over 100 games in those two parks combined, so it could be meaningful.) Ethier hasn’ hit more than 5 HRs anywhere but his home field. He has 6 HRs in 106 combined games in San Francisco and San Diego, while Loney has 9 in 90 games in those two.

I guess I’ll stop here. I started this journey mainly from the shock of Loney’s respectable road HR rate — about 20 HRs per 650 PAs, vs. 10 at home — and sort of hoping that he might gain some traction now that he’s out of LA. I’m not a fan or anything, I just hate to see a guy get buried by his home park. But I wouldn’t be too hopeful on his behalf. Because all we really know for sure is that he can jack ’em out in the mountains and the desert — and he’ll get no more than 5 games there with Tampa this year, instead of the 18 per year that he got with the Dodgers.

And just for the sake of completeness: Matt Kemp, the only other current Dodger with 1,000+ PAs in Chavez Ravine, has homered 39% more frequently there than on the road. But his OPS split is almost level; what he loses in road HRs, he gains back in singles, doubled and triples.

Your thoughts? Conjectures? Far-fetched fancies? Want to appear on our show? Just send a stamped, self-addressed envelope….


A park-factor puzzler — 39 Comments

  1. Randomness?

    Seriously, I guess that has to be considered. It could just be a statistical fluke in the case of Loney. I need at least three years of data before I’ll take home/road splits seriously. Yet this extends beyond a few years. I haven’t checked yet, but I wonder if digging deeper into the numbers will show an odd pattern in certain ballparks.

    Last, if a player had the ability to pull the ball consistently, would his park have a substantial impact either way. Pulling the ball down the line or near it is the shortest trip out of all parks.

  2. Perhaps some players feel relaxed at home and and not so much away (just because it’s a different routine). Others feel pressure performing in front of the home crowd and relaxed away without that pressure.

    I think you may have hit on it when you mentioned the sharp curve-in of the Dodger Stadium fence (right after the bullpens). Loney’s limited power may be that he can only hit it out at home if he pulls it right down the line. Just pulling it into the power alley won’t get it out for him. In other parks with a more uniform arc in the outfield fence line provides a bit more opportunity to get one out by hitting it down the line, or a bit more towards the power alley.

    In Tampa, Loney may miss Coors and Chase, but he could do well with plenty of visits to inviting porches at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.

    • His AL East visting parks are all inviting, from Fenway, Camden Yarks, YSIII to Rogers Centre. All rate positive for hitters. Looking at park effect one year/multi-year:

      Camden — 109/102
      Fenway — 106/106
      Rogers — 103/103
      YSIII — 100/103

      Unfortunately, he’s going to be spending half his games at the Trop, which rates 95/94 one year/multi-year, pretty much right in line with Chavez Ravine’s 94/96. So he should feel right at home at the Trop, but road cooking will be more to his liking, even without Coors.

  3. John: One thing I notice is that there’s a big difference in their splits against righties and lefties. They struggle equally against lefties:

    Ethier: .649 OPS, one HR every 58.4 PAs
    Loney: .658 OPS, one HR every 63.2 PAs

    But against righties, Ethier has the clear edge:

    Ethier: .913 OPS, one HR every 26.1 PAs
    Loney: .792 OPS, one HR every 44.1 PAs.

    So perhaps there’s some sort of pitcher handedness/ballpark interaction? But since I know of no way of doing a split within a split, I’m not sure how we’d find out.

  4. Quiz time!!!

    Since John’s post isn’t generating many comments, I thought I’d hijack it with a related quiz. (sorry John!).

    John mentioned that 41 Dodgers have at least 1,000 PAs in Dodger Stadium. But there are also two players with 1,000+ PAs in Dodger Stadium who never played for the Dodgers. Can you name them?

    Bonus points if you can solve the quiz without using the Play Index! :)

    • Probably would have to be a player who played most of career in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and in the NL West, when they would have played 9 or 10 games a year in LA. But, even at that, you would need 200 to 250 games to reach 1000 PAs, or 20 to 25 seasons worth.

      I don’t think there there are any players like that. Probably, Pete Rose has the most with 16 full seasons in the NL West, 5 in the NL East (6 games/yr) and a few more partial NL West seasons at the end of his career. So, not enough, even for Pete.

    • If Rose isnt one this has to be a trick question a little bit, didnt the Angels play in Dodgers stadium in their infancy? It must be 2 guys from the early 60s Angels, however I dont think I could name any of them except for Dean Chance

    • – Buck Rogers
      – Albie Pearson

      The hint:
      the Angels played in Chavez Ravine from 1962 to 1965, before moving intotheir current park in 1966.

      • Ding ding ding! Congrats to Lawrence and Richard for solving the quiz. The two players with 1,000+ PAs in Dodger Stadium who never played for the Dodgers are Albie Pearson and Jim Fregosi.

        I’m continually amazed at the collective knowledge and intelligence of the posters on this site!

        • I guess I lose points because I used the PI. First I ran it for visiting players only. Rose and Morgan had the most PA but easily fell short of 1000+ PA. Then I suspected it was some sort of trick question so I ran PI for home players only and searched for players whom I thought never played for the Dodgers. I checked Fregosi first, posted the answer and by that time Albie Pearson had been posted.

          • I didn’t use the B-R P-I, but when I remembered that the Angels 1st played in Dodger Stadium, I looked up what years on Wiki, then I looked at the season PA totals of players on the 1962-65 Angels, from the team pages.

      • Fregosi is the other one.

        Of the 87 players who played in Chavez Ravine (that’s what the stadium was called for Angels games) for the 1960s Angels, only one also played for the Dodgers in Dodger Stadium during his career.

        That player was a pitcher named Bob Lee, with all of 4 games for the Dodgers in 1967, two at home. Previously, he played 3 seasons for the Angels, two at Chavez.

  5. Back to the Ethier splits, if luck really is the best explanation then his WAR totals are pretty inflated, just like Mike Trout. They both are performing better than average at home when their home park is ranked worse than average for hitters, giving them a big value boost.

        • I didn’t realize there was this much of a difference but Comerica (104/104) is clearly a better hitters’ park than the Big A (92/91). That explains why Trout’s lesser OPS number translates into a better OPS+.

          But, I see your more general point. OPS+ adjusts all of a batter’s results by the relative park advantage of his home park. A more accurate result would presumably be realized computing home/road splits for the OPS components and then adjusting for home park factor and all other park factor respectively.

          How much effect on Ethier’s results? Since he is the topic of this discussion because of the large home/road split, whatever “boost” he might be receiving on park adjustment being applied to his entire output is largely negated by that output being reduced by performing so poorly away from home. In other words, regardless of his home/road split, I still like Ethier a lot better than some other player with the same raw stats who plays for Colorado. I expect you do too.

      • Bingo.

        How in the world did Bilko not get nicknamed Sarge or Sergeant?

        Incidentally, Wrigley Field LA was modeled after its namesake in Chicago. When the Dodgers moved west, one of the options considered for their future home was a reno on Wrigley Field to enclose and double-deck, which supposedly would have resulted in a park looking something like the Polo Grounds.

        • Actually, he was nicknamed “You’ll Never Get Rich”.

          But seriously… the character in the show was named after _him_ (from Wiki):
          Nat Hiken, creator of The Phil Silvers Show, supposedly took the name of the character Sgt. Bilko from Steve Bilko.

          Bilko was a superstar for the 1955 LA Angels of the PCL (37 HR/124 RBI,.328 BA), immensely popular, so the timeline makes sense.

          • Physically, I can’t think of two men more unlike than Sgt. Bilko and Steve Bilko. Like others here, never knew Silvers’ character was named after Steve Bilko.

            He followed up that ’55 season with 55 and 56 HR seasons the next two years. He may not have been quite a AAAA player, but his Babe Ruth act never quite made it to the Majors.

            Two questions related to Steve Bilko’s end, baseball and on this earth. Both seemed too early. He was productive those last two years with the Angels. Maybe back then they didn’t know how productive? Last, he passed at only 49. His Wikipedia entry doesn’t mention why.

          • @MikeD- All I could find out on Mr. Bilko’s early passing, is that he died from an “undisclosed illness”.

          • @37, DaveR, that’s what I found interesting. For someone who may have been the most popular player in California before MLB made its way west, and who won three consecutive PCL MVPs (a record), and had a TV character named after him, I’m a bit surprised that his death at such a young age, and specifically the cause of it, went without much notice.

          • Lawrence, adding to that. I was curious why Nat Hiken used Steve Bilko’s name. Turns out it wasn’t so much that he was a fan of Steve Bilko (although he and Phil were). He knew the name from Steve Bilko, but he selected because he liked the name for other reasons. I found this explanation on the British Phil Silvers Appreciation Site:

            “Nat loved the name Bilko – it immediately had connotations of ‘bilking’ – a term used to describe the art of swindling, cheating or conning. The literal dictionary definition reads ‘to defraud, cheat, or swindle.’ He chose the first name Ernest as this again had a certain connotation – the character, although flawed and a rogue, was basically a decent everyman.”

            Phil Silvers and Steve Bilko did do at least one publicity shot together.


        • Thanks Lawrence,

          Evidently, Bilko was popular enough that the newly arrived 1958 Dodgers were willing to trade Don Newcombe to grab Bilko, and the expansion Angels wanted to pick him up in the expansion draft.

          Prior to joining the Angels, Bilko was just a 90 OPS+ in almost 1500 PAs, but had a 138 OPS+ in two seasons with the Halos.

  6. “How in the world did Bilko not get nicknamed Sarge or Sergeant?”

    Because the TV show was named AFTER him, not BECAUSE of him.

  7. I’m more of an AL east guy than a NL west guy (despite by godfather being a diehard SFG fan and rolling over in his grave from me saying that) so bare with me if I’m totally off base but maybe this is a fly ball vs line drive type thing? Dodgers stadium’s outfield dimensions aren’t that monstrously huge. It’s really more unkind in other ways to hitters. Is it maybe that Ethier’s more of a line drive hitter and Loney is more of a fly ball type hitter? Either’s power to center on a line drive really wouldn’t get cut much by Chavez Ravine. Not so much when he goes to visit the Giants or Diamondbacks.

  8. Paging Mr. Autin…..Bill James has some comments on his website re: LOOGY’s. I remember your discussion from a few months ago and just wanted to point out that Mr. James agrees 100% with you. (i.e., it’s better to have an extra bat on the bench than a LOOGY in the bullpen).

    You can read his comments here though act fast cause they’ll probably disappear from the website in a day or two unless you’re a subscriber.


    • Can I get an amen from the choir?


      There is absolutely no reason that everyone in the bullpen could not realistically pitch 125 innings in a season if used correctly.

      In 1970 the Minnesota Twins won the AL West with 10 pitchers and one of those was Dave Boswell who only lasted beyond the 4th inning in 6 of his 15 starts.

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