MLB Handicapping: Changes to Petco Park and Safeco Field
by Aaron Smith - 4/25/2013
Over the last few years, Major League Baseball has really been dominated by the pitchers. A decade ago it would have been unheard of to have a posted total under seven, but now that can occur in multiple games in a single day. Those who follow the game closely don’t have to be told how much more frequent no-hitters and perfect games have been in the last few years. The edge has certainly swung from the batter over to the pitcher.
Ardent fans of the game might not mind a lot of 2-1 or 1-0 final scores, but the casual fan certainly likes to see runs scored. We’re seeing a trend develop among ballparks to try to create an environment that is friendlier for hitters. Citi Field drastically moved in the fences before the 2012 season. Petco Park in San Diego and Safeco Field in Seattle decided it was time to move in the fences before the 2013 season. Let’s take a closer look at what has changed at these two parks. How will the changes affect baseball bettors?
Petco Park Changes
Petco Park became the San Diego Padres home field in 2004. The Padres have finished dead last in scoring in four of the last nine seasons. They have finished second-to-last in two other seasons. Since the debut of the ballpark, Padres hitters have a .236 average at Petco Park compared to a .256 average on the road. At the same time, Padres pitchers have had a 3.48 ERA at home versus a 4.59 ERA on the road.
Padres’ executives decided they had seen enough of the hard hit-balls that ended as long outs at the warning track in Petco Park. Before this season, the fences were moved in by more than 10 feet in both right center and left center field. In right center, the fences were also lowered from a level of 11 feet to just less than eight feet in height.
Petco Park is still going to be a pitchers ballpark for many reasons. The dimensions are still larger than most parks, but even more important is the marine layer of air in night games at the park. This layer of air is thick and difficult for a ball to fly through. Don’t expect the Padres to score runs in bunches this year, but look for a few extra fly balls to leave the yard.
Safeco Field Changes
It’s no secret that Safeco Field is one of those parks that pitchers love and hitters love to hate. Alex Rodriguez once called Safeco Field, “The hardest park in the history of baseball to hit in.” Mariners’ executives studied all the numbers last year and decided that Safeco had swung too far in the direction of the pitchers. In fact, ESPN’s MLB Park Factors listed Safeco as easily the most pitcher-friendly park in the majors in 2012.
Before the 2013 season, Safeco Field underwent some major changes. From the left field corner to the left-center power alley, the wall was moved in by four feet. The fence was also lowered from almost 17 feet to just eight feet in height. The left-center power alley used to be 390 feet from home plate, but now it is only 378 feet away. Dead center is now 401 feet away instead of 405 feet like it was last season. Right-center field was moved from 385 feet to a current level of 381 feet.
How These Changes Affect Bettors
What will these changes mean for bettors in 2013 and beyond? The first thing we need to remember is that both the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners are far from offensive juggernauts. It isn’t only the home park’s dimensions that have kept these two teams from piling up the runs in the past few years. Don’t expect lineups filled with borderline major league talent to start lighting up the scoreboard.
Past history of similar changes is something to look into in these situations. How did the changes at Citi Field change the game? There were 155 home runs hit at Citi Field in 2012. In 2011, there were just 108 home runs hit at Citi Field. A further study showed that of the 46 home runs hit that wouldn’t have cleared the wall at Citi Field in 2012, 25 of those were hit by the visitors rather than the Mets. It appears the moves at Citi Field brought the intended results of more runs, but it didn’t necessarily help the home teams.
We shouldn’t be surprised if the changes at Petco and Safeco help the opponent more than the home team as well. San Diego and Seattle might actually have a slightly smaller home-field advantage this year because their offenses just aren’t as good as most of their opponents.
It’s still very early in the season, but the “over” is 5-3-1 at Petco Park this year. The Padres are just 2-7 on their home field. The over is 3-6-1 in Safeco Field. The Mariners are 4-6 on their home field.
There will still be plenty of pitching duels at these two ballparks. At the same time, the next time you see a very low total posted at either of these parks with two questionable starting pitchers, it might not be a bad move to take the over. Also, look for spots to play against the home team when the opposition has a lineup that is more likely to cash in on the new dimensions of these two parks.
Read more articles by Aaron Smith
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