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The Padres are playing poorly at home. This is nothing new.

A few weeks ago, a fellow writer asked me about the phenomenon and so I ran numbers. Here are home/away winning percentages for the Padres and for MLB as a whole in each of the seasons since they moved downtown to Petco Park:

     |           Padres                    |               MLB
     |     Home     |     Away     |       |      Home      |      Away      |
Year |   W   L  Pct |   W   L  Pct |  Dif* |   W    L   Pct |   W    L   Pct |  Dif*
2004 |  42  39 .519 |  45  36 .556 | -.037 | 1299 1129 .535 | 1129 1299 .465 | +.070
2005 |  46  35 .568 |  36  45 .444 | +.123 | 1306 1124 .537 | 1124 1306 .463 | +.075
2006 |  43  38 .531 |  45  36 .556 | -.025 | 1327 1102 .546 | 1102 1327 .454 | +.093
2007 |  47  34 .580 |  42  40 .512 | +.068 | 1318 1113 .542 | 1113 1318 .458 | +.084
2008 |  35  46 .432 |  28  53 .346 | +.086 | 1351 1077 .556 | 1077 1351 .444 | +.113
2009 |  42  39 .519 |  33  48 .407 | +.111 | 1333 1097 .549 | 1097 1333 .451 | +.097
2010 |  45  36 .556 |  45  36 .556 |  .000 | 1358 1072 .559 | 1072 1358 .441 | +.118
2011 |   7  14 .333 |   7   6 .538 | -.205 |  264  244 .520 |  244  264 .480 | +.039
Tot  | 307 281 .522 | 281 300 .484 | +.038 | 9556 7958 .546 | 7958 9556 .454 | +.093

*Contains rounding errors

I’ve heard a few theories on what might be causing this and a few more on how to fix it, but none seems terribly satisfying. It would be nice, seeing as how they play half their games there, for the Padres to take better advantage of Petco Park.

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28 Responses »

  1. My theory on why this is goes to two underlying concepts.

    1) When this ballpark was designed, not built but designed, it was made to heighten the skill set of two Padres greats and lessen those of other NL West teams. Petco is designed to play to the hitting style of #19 and the pitching style of #51.

    Power is best displayed if the player has it down the lines or more specifically, to left field near the pitch count display. If you don’t have that power, then learn to drive the ball instead of lofting it. Play for the ringing doubles and triples down the lines and to the alleys. Forget about the home run ball if you can’t consistently bounce it off of the WMS Building. The two biggest factors for a hitter in Petco is bat control and his legs. Have the bat control to take what the pitcher gives you. Have the speed to turn the singles to doubles and doubles to triples.

    2) The Padres front office has consistently drafted and brought in through free agency players that play opposite to those characteristics. It is necessary to be drafting players and developing players more like how Jose Reyes is playing this year and how Ichiro has played his career.

    Name one player the Padres have drafted or brought in from free agency since 2004 that has speed, hits over .300, and can be a league leader in doubles, triples, and steals? I can’t think of one. Until the Padres start doing that, Petco will always be underutilized by the team.

  2. I don’t believe Petco was built with any particular players in mind. If memory serves, the team expected the park to be far more favorable to players with power to right field. The extent to which it suppresses hitting surprised everybody.

    Petco softens everything. It softens line drives and lets fielders run under them. We’ve seen fast, line-drive hitter struggle badly here.

    I expect the overarching problem is that any park that is so wildly pitcher-friendly might tend to flatten out overall performance. Even a really good offensive team is not going to consistently have the margin for error that lets you survive a bullpen meltdown or a bad starter performance. It’s a difficult concept to test, because the team composition has changed so much since 2004.

    Are we sure this is even a problem you really want to fix? Couldn’t we say that if the 2005 and 2007 teams had been “less” biased towards Petco they would have performed better?

    As for drafting Reyes, how many guys like that are available? For every Reyes there are 40 kids in the minors who can fly but can’t hit. Drew Cumberland is probably our best comparable. There aren’t many available in the draft, ever. It’s like saying “You should only date supermodels.”

    Since 2005 or so, what free agent hitter has come to Petco except when almost all other options were exhausted? Name the players with speed, who CONSISTENTLY hit for a high average with vast numbers of double, triples, and steals? You can count them on one hand. When they’re free agents, they get paid a ton. And some of them have been so smashed by injuries (Rollins, Brian Roberts, Reyes) that they’d have weighed us down, at least in the post-divorce era.

  3. I’m so sick of people blaming the park. We’re not losing at home because of petco. We’re losing because we can’t score runs. I’d love to know how many times we’ve failed to score a guy from third with one out or less. I’d be willing to bet that if you compared our conversion rate to last year’s that we’re probably about half as effective this year.

    The d-backs and the pirates didn’t have too many problems scoring over the past week. I wish more people would see how other teams can rake at petco and realize that maybe its not the park’s fault.

    By the way, love what you’ve done over the last few years, geoff. Even though I don’t comment as often (stupid work), I still read (hooray for mobile devices!).

  4. Were the Padres’ home/road records any different prior to Petco? Maybe playing in San Diego, with our gracious hospitality toward fans of opposing teams, there’s never been a home-field advantage for the Padres.

  5. while I agree with the ‘only date supermodels’ argument for why the Padres haven’t been able to been able to draft or bring in any FA that really capitalize on the the ballpark, the fact of the matter is, the Padres have been down right terrible at drafting and developing players. Kalil Greene may have been the best position player the team has developed in the last 30 years or so, and Greene isn’t exactly a hall of famer. I don’t want to give up on Venable because he has so many tools, but at some point, hitting .235 isn’t going to cut it, and Headley is, at best, average. And, unlike the firesales of the early 90s, we haven’t really been able to bring in any top flight talent when trading away our too expensive talent. The trades for Peavy and Adrian are both far from complete, but does anyone really believe we got any future all-stars in those hauls? Add to that the teams aversion for drafting close-to-major-league-ready college talent (they don’t want to pay the bonuses), and we just don’t ever seem to have anyone to get excited about in our system. All we are left with is to sigh every time someone like Justin Verlander throws a gem (who we should’ve drafted instead of trying to be el cheapo’s with Matt Bush) and Carlos Lee crushes a ball (the FA left fielder we should’ve signed and probably cost us 2 NL West titles because of the offensive black hole known as playing LF for the Padres).

  6. @Adam

    Oh, I don’t disagree that our draft record has been awful. The Alderson-era drafts were so risk-averse that our chances of finding a supermodel or a Reyes were almost nil. But if we look at the terrific hitting, speedy players who were drafted over that time, how many were there, period, and how many of those have made it? They’re rare to begin with and it’s more rare for them to survive the minors. This is more to Robert’s point than yours, but you can’t build a draft strategy based on picking tons of players who largely don’t exist. Our problem was that we didn’t pick them when they were available. Really, Latos is about the only premium talent we signed under Fuson.

    I absolutely do not regret not signing Carlos Lee. His peak WAR in Houston was 2.6 and the last two years it was a -1.6, with his terrible defense overwhelming a bat that looks better than it is because of that park.

    If we’d picked either of the two players we’d identified as the best available in that 2004 draft, we still wouldn’t have Verlander, but we would have Weaver or Drew.

  7. Who wouldnt take Weaver or Drew at this point?

    So, this question has to come up today right, any interest in Milton Bradley?

  8. @zmac

    Only the insane would not want Weaver or Drew, and you could have fairly said that 7 years ago when the picks were made.

    I’ve defended Jenga many times, but I bet the Padres front office does not want him around Maybin or Latos. They’ve got 7M sunk in Ludwick and the only way to recoup any of it is for him to play. He’s all the way up to an 86 OPS+. Doubt they’re ready to cut bait with Venable right now either.

  9. I have always defended MB as well and I agree with you. This team seems to pride themselves on clubhouse guys more than talent and there really isnt room for him. Deno is playing very well as the 4th OF and the team isnt ready to give up on Ludwick or Venable.

  10. I’m interested in Milton Bradley going away and never being heard from again.

  11. @Robert: Your first point makes a lot of sense to me. I think Mike Cameron was about as close to an ideal Petco Park player as we’ve had (and I’m hoping Cameron Maybin will follow in his footsteps; despite Maybin’s longish swing, he seems to do a good job of shooting the ball into the right-center field gap without getting too much loft).

    @TW: Regarding your question, “Are we sure this is even a problem you really want to fix?” The problem I want to fix is the part where the Padres gain .038 in winning percentage home vs road while MLB gains .093. I’m not attached to a particular remedy, but it would be nice to enjoy a home field advantage, as most teams do.

    @Phantom: Always a pleasure to hear from you! Here’s what bugs me: Park effects should apply more or less equally to both teams in a given game. The Padres have been outscored by 62 runs at home since Petco Park opened. They have outscored opponents by 16 runs on the road during that same period. This shouldn’t happen.

    @bee1000: Great question. The first thing I mentioned to the writer who asked me about this phenomenon is that we must avoid making any firm conclusions before studying the Qualcomm era. I will address this in a future article.

    @zmac: Bradley is one of my all-time favorite Padres, but I don’t see a fit for him here. Beyond the starters and Denorfia, there’s Aaron Cunningham at Tucson and a slew of prospects behind him.

  12. Fire the hitting Coach!

  13. Carlos Lee may have peaked and fallen off, but remember who was starting in LF for those years? Tremmel Sledge, Scott Hairston, Jose Cruz and Chase Headley. I’m pretty sure Lee has more HR and RBI then all those guys combined over that time period. This is a team that twice (’04 and ’07) needed ever so slightly more on offense to get over the top and into the playoffs, and twice declined to make the move that would’ve done it (trade for Finley in ’04 and sign Lee in the offseason before ’07). The way the team is built, and the way the stadium plays, the team doesn’t need to be built like the Yankees, but it does need one legit 30-40HR guy. With our pitching (and sadly, offense), 30 HRs can equal 30 1-0 wins. The Adam Dunns and Carlos Lees of the baseball world are expensive, but so is owning a baseball team.

  14. Isn’t it a moot point? Didn’t Carlos Lee say he did not want to play on the west coast?

  15. @Adam

    HR are very park-dependent, and I’m one of those newfangled observers who couldn’t care less about RBI.

    The 04 Padres did NOT need more offense. Our team OPS+ was 104 compared to the NL average of 94. We were tied for the second-best offense in the National League that year. What we needed was at least one more decent starting pitcher. Only Peavy and Wells were above average.

    Using Baseball-References’s WAR, Carlos Lee has been worth 3.1 wins above replacement since signing with Houston. That’s total, over 4+ seasons. His offense is substantially park-inflated (although he was a very good hitter the first 3 years) and his defense took away a lot of it. In 2010, for example, Padre left fielders, bad as they were, outproduced Lee. He didn’t hit and his defense was so terrible he finished with a negative 1.9 WAR. Not having him didn’t stop us from making the playoffs last year.

    Similar thing happened in 2007. Lee, 1.7 WAR. Milton Bradley matched that all by himself, with a few games in center. Overall, the 4 main Padre LF in 2007 outproduced Lee by a full win above replacement. The defense matters.

    I’m not excusing the Padres’ cheap ways. Moorad at least has a legitimate reason, he’s buying the team with money the team is generating. But Carlos Lee would not have sent us to the playoffs in 2004 or 2007.

  16. @Steve C

    Also very true. He wanted to be in Texas for the ranching opportunities.

    Back to Adam: Of course we could have benefited from better LF production over the years. Carlos Lee still would have been a poor investment, even if he’d been willing to sign here. Last year’s LF were only better than Lee because he was so bad. Even an average LF probably would have pushed us into the playoffs. But Lee wouldn’t have done it, in fact we’d almost certainly have won fewer games with him.

  17. @GY

    My concern is that Petco is too extreme to ever (consistently) yield a great home field advantage unless you simultaneously reduced your chances of road wins by a similar or larger amount. The park itself may reduce scoring so much that talent and tactics can’t offset it, at least not as much as we want within our current limitations. Maybe only a juggernaut would be able to overwhelm the park year in and year out. That may not be true, but it’s my concern.

    The most common home recipe, and not one that I believe you would endorse, is the “mid-80s Cardinals” model. A bunch of fast defensive players who don’t strike out much, plus a loaded bullpen. I don’t see that team winning much more at home and I’d expect them to get killed on the road, relatively speaking.

    If Hoyer/Black embraced the idea that Petco makes a 12 man pitching staff LESS necessary, and instead carried pinch-hitters and/or platoon players, you might get a boost at home without suffering on the road. It often seems as if the 7 man bullpen and the defensive specialists cause close games — some of which we’ll lose — rather than giving us a real advantage in those contents. It’s sort of like we’re treating an infection after it takes root instead of preventing it in the first place.

  18. I vote for TW for MVC = Most Valuable Commenter … well done, sir! And THANKS!

  19. Blush.

    A MVC wouldn’t misspell “contests.”

  20. Re: the Padres being outscored at home, in their only full year losing record of 35-46 at home in 2008, they were outscored by 43 runs. The next year, they were outscored at home again by 43 runs, but had a 42-39 record. If the Padres were outscored by 62 runs at home since Petco opened, it was all due to those two years. They’re +24 runs the other five years.

    Also re: Bradley, he’s only a fit if Jed wants to give up on Hawpe and take a huge chance on Bradley playing 1B. I don’t see Hawpe hitting better than the .220s over a full year, and playing 1B might keep Bradley’s head in the game and give him less time to think. Jed won’t do it, but a waiver wire pickup is awfully cheap, and he could always be waived again.

  21. I second LM’s vote MVC for TW.

    At some point, the Padres are going to have to embrace the sunk cost that are Hawpe and Ludwick, and cut them loose. I don’t see either of them getting to have long streaks of hitting to get to OPS+ 100. The timing needs to be just right for that to happen whence the Padres switch from trying to compete still to getting the rookies some reps at the ML level. Certainly, Cunningham deserves to be at this level, to fail and adjust and improve, to help the team in the future. Blanks, despite his struggle at the moment in the minor, will get his chance if for nothing else than to show what kind of player do the team has in him and, perhaps, building some value for trading if Rizzo keeps up his hitting in AAA.

    Surprisingly, the catchers have been holding up both their parts and leading the team in offense, i think. This bonus would have been great had the rest of the team gets in on hitting. The Padres are bad at driving in runs (last in ML with .585 OPS w/ RISP, and still top in K’s (2nd in BB’s).

  22. @TW: This is a fascinating hypothesis:

    My concern is that Petco is too extreme to ever (consistently) yield a great home field advantage unless you simultaneously reduced your chances of road wins by a similar or larger amount. The park itself may reduce scoring so much that talent and tactics can’t offset it, at least not as much as we want within our current limitations.

    I have started digging into the Qualcomm era numbers, and you may be onto something. I hope to report back on this sometime within the next few weeks.

    As for the mid-’80s Cardinals, I’m not sure that style of play would work in today’s game. Among other problems, it would be difficult to assemble the necessary talent. The skills required to play that style are in much less demand now than they were 25 years ago, which means that aside from the occasional Juan Pierre, Willy Taveras, or Carlos Gomez, guys just aren’t being developed along those lines. And would you want an outfield of Pierre, Taveras, and Gomez anyway?

    @Larry: Even that +24 is a bit misleading. The Padres have outscored the opposition at Petco Park twice: in 2007 (+45) and in 2010 (+60).

  23. @GY

    Yeah, I don’t see the Cardinals model as viable either. They weren’t as competitive as most advocates seem to believe, anyway. Very good, with four division titles from 81 to 89, but also some 3rd, 4th, and even 5th place finishes.

    The Astros would be an interesting contrast to the Petco Padres. They seem to have often enjoyed a consistent and sometimes large home-field advantage in the Astrodome in the mi and late 70s. Look at their 78-79 seasons, 42 games over .500 at home, got their asses kicked on the road. Clearly that pitcher’s park, which was really extreme, didn’t prevent them from winning. But maybe a team that could take advantage of it was congenitally unable to play nearly as well outside the dome.

  24. re: mid-80′s Cardinals’ style … if “The skills required to play that style are in much less demand now than they were 25 years ago”, doesn’t that describe a “market inefficiency” that the Padres could/should exploit?

  25. @LM

    I don’t presume to speak for GY, but the market inefficiency “could” be counterbalanced by a small pool of players. If teams aren’t drafting/signing/developing those type of kids, then the Padres must do it all on their own, and that’s years of work.

    I’m not sure that other teams aren’t still looking for fast players with good defensive chops. You sure seem to read about them around draft time. Teams may not be so willing to give them a starting major league job, so maybe there is an inefficiency.

    There are two main problems with the Cardinal Approach, to my mind, and acquisition isn’t one of them:

    1. Does the 3 Center Fielder model help you win home games, or does it perversely work against you because those 3 CF won’t hit enough? If they can hit, different story, best of all worlds.

    2. What does it do to your road chances?

    My current suspicion is that only a real powerhouse, a team that can do almost everything well, would be able to win a lot at Petco and hold its own on the road. That’s only a hunch. We’ve yet to see a juggernaut in the Petco era, there’s really only been one such team in Padre history.

  26. @TW: I will have to look more closely at those Astros teams; thanks for the suggestion. This issue fascinates me because there is no obvious solution. Worse, as you have noted, it’s difficult even to pinpoint what (if anything) needs to be solved.

    @LynchMob: You raise a good point about market inefficiency. As TW notes, an absence of demand has led to an absence (or extreme paucity) of supply. For the most part, teams no longer draft and develop players who hit like Vince Coleman, Tom Goodwin, Brian Hunter, Darren Lewis, Omar Moreno, or Otis Nixon, to name a few.

    Those guys couldn’t hit a lick but had long and successful careers because their skills were in demand… whether warranted or not, which brings me to the other problem. Even if you could exploit this in some way, it’s not clear that you’d want to do so. If you end up cornering the market on players who can’t generate any offense, are you exploiting an inefficiency or disproving that any such inefficiency exists?

    In other words, maybe the weeding out of players with this skill set is an efficiency of sorts… at least in terms of how the game is currently played.

  27. There’s nothing wrong with having a couple of little guys who are fast and can play good or great defense and are below average in terms of power IF they can get on base. Someone like Kenny Lofton perhaps or Brett Butler. There don’t seem to be many of these sorts of players around though, and I doubt that is because of a concerted effort to avoid drafting/developing them. They just seem to be lacking the OBP if they don’t have at least an average or near average amount of SLG. Even if you do have them though, you still need some guys who can get on base and have some power in order to have a productive offense.

    For example, I used Play Index to search for guys with moderate SLG, good OBP and a high number of SB from 1980 to today. Even dropping OPS+ to 90 only yields 25 guys. Doing the same search (with adjustments to raw SLG and OBP to account for the lower offensive environment of the time) from 1960 to 1985 only brings up 20 other guys.

    A quibble, Geoff, none of the guys you mentioned show up on my list. So, I’ll grant they had long careers, but I’m not so sure they had successful careers. Guess it depends on how you define successful. ;-)

  28. @Pat: Lofton? Butler? Aim lower. Think more along the lines of Steven Seagal’s successful acting career or Britney Spears’ successful singing career.