Ludwick, Lee, and Road Field Advantage

Over at SweetSpot, we’ve assigned letter grades to each team two months into the season. I gave the Padres a grade of F but tried to accentuate the positive, finishing my writeup with a snappy one-liner: “Also, they don’t owe Carlos Lee $37 million over the next two years, so there’s that.”

I hope it’s snappy. That’s what I was going for anyway.

But seriously, can you imagine how much worse the Padres’ situation would be if they had Lee’s contract on their hands? We complain about Ryan Ludwick, who clearly isn’t the player he was a few years ago (although apparently there is a campaign to get him to the All-Star Game as a participant), but at least he is relatively inexpensive. To the obligatory chart:

Player       Age  PA   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+ Yr/$ TmRec
Ryan Ludwick  32 220 .258 .320 .414 109  1/7* 24-31
Carlos Lee    35 215 .251 .284 .384  87  2/37 21-34

*Okay, it’s actually $6.775, but I didn’t want to make the column wider. So in the interest of saving space, I added this long-ass footnote instead, which makes as much sense as paying Lee $37 million over the next two seasons.

There is unmovable, and then there is unmovable. The fact that the Padres don’t have Lee made me consider pushing their grade up to D-minus.

Ludwick, for his part, collected four hits in the Padres’ 5-4 victory over the Braves in Atlanta on Tuesday. He is 10-for-20 over the past week, and the Padres have won a season-high four straight games… all on the road.

We’ve discussed this at length, but it bears repeating because it is so remarkable. The Padres suck at Petco Park but are a great — not good, but great — road team this year:

      W  L  RS  RA
Home  9 20  65 116
Away 15 11 122  96

The only National League teams with better road records are St. Louis (18-13) and Florida (17-10). Those two teams are contending right now because they don’t have MLB’s worst home record (I’m told it helps).

Meanwhile, folks are still whining about Petco Park. And while “Why do the Padres play so poorly at home” is a valid question, there is another one that isn’t being asked…

Since Petco Park opened in 2004, the Padres own a .487 road winning percentage. During that same stretch, all MLB teams own a .454 winning percentage. Never mind for the moment that the Padres yield nearly that same advantage (.518 vs MLB average of .546) at home, what I want to know is this: Why do the Padres play so well on the road?

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44 Responses »

  1. The Padres’ home/road splits this year are entirely inexplicable. I could not be happier with how the team has been performing on the road, but I’ve only witnessed two victories at home in person this year over 6 trips to Petco in 2011. Furthermore, the starting pitching is uncharacteristically allowing more runs at home which will ultimately result in a less than stellar at home record. I cannot help but wonder what the real problem is when I’m watching games on Channel 4 and Tony Gwynn plainly states that line drives will result in base hits. So many are complaining about the park dimensions, but I have to agree with Tony Sr. in that the Padres are flat-out not hitting at home… I’m sincerely hoping the summer will bring us more runs at Petco.

  2. Great comparison of Lee and Ludwick. I was horrified at the contract he received, but not at all surprised I ran into fans online who were upset we hadn’t signed him to something similar instead of letting him go to the Astros. This illustrates the point beautifully!

    Other possible reasons to upgrade the team to a D- : not having Vernon Wells’ contract around their necks in LF; not having Alfonso Soriano’s contract around their necks in LF. ;-)

  3. Is .487 really a huge deviation from .454? There doesn’t have to be a reason. Every sport is going to have a team or two that has randomly played better on the road than at home and vice-versa. I find myself begging the question too, then remember that we are only 2 months into the season. I have wondered if the batters eye is bad at Petco since the Padres, this year, are striking out so much more at home. I have also wondered if the thicker air somehow makes it more difficult to see the ball and thus recognize what is coming. Then I remember that the other teams have the same disadvantage with any of these explanations. So alas, I conclude only 2 possible reasons…. statistical randomness or it is purely psycological. Maybe the Padres should invest in some sports psycologists.

  4. @PadresFuture: The .487 vs .454 is over 6+ seasons. That’s 594 road games for SD and 17,824 for MLB, so pretty decent sample size. My biggest concern is that the dimensions become a crutch to lean on when things aren’t going well. I know this is the case with fans and I fear that it may be so with some players as well.

  5. @GY – I had no doubt that “since 2004″ was a large sample size. Even large sample sizes have statistical skews and some team was bound to be on one side of the curve. However, it may very well be psycological as you seem to be getting at.

  6. And when I say 6+ seasons, I mean 7+ seasons. Counting is hard…

  7. @Geoff Young

    That’s what she said!

  8. This is a theory with no facts to back it up, but I notice the Padres play worse when they are behind. Maybe being at home and the fact the other team always gets first crack to score plays against the Padres? I’d be interested to see what their record is when they score first compared to when the other team scores first over those years.

    The Padres do deserve the F so far for this season, but luckily they are only 6 games back in the division, so if they can make a statement with this home stand coming up maybe, just maybe there will be some hope for the rest of the season.

  9. It’s been a tough start at home, but 2/3 of the home schedule is left. The next home stand tomorrow is the longest, and with Houston, Colorado and Washington coming in, there’s an opportunity for a turnaround. In fact, there are only six games in June against winning teams. If the Padres are going to turn the season around, it’ll have to be in the next 30 days.

    It’s helpful that the division is still up for grabs, and the Padres have played the fewest intra-division games in the division. The head-to-head schedule is backloaded this year, so we relentless optimists still have some juicy steak to chew on.

    BTW, the Padres CAN say they owe Orlando Hudson $11.5 million over the next two years. I fear greatly diminished returns from him with the bat AND the glove, and a sneaky suspicion his loquaciousness doesn’t play well in the Padres clubhouse. Rah-rah guys can keep teammates on their toes, but for some, the constant chatter can be as annoying as a yapping dog.

  10. LF – from afar, it seems O-Dog is very much a net positive … I’ve become a fan … OTOH, his 76 OPS+ is a far cry from what I saw in spring training …

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hudsoor01.shtml

  11. Just a theory of mine, but I never hear this mentioned:

    The Padres play more road games in hitters parks than many other teams. Plus they don’t have to play road games at Petco.

    Because of the division weighted schedule, they play 9 road games in Colorado, and 9 in Arizona. The only other teams that get to do this are the Giants and Dodgers – but they also have to play 9 road games at Petco.
    Granted, the Padres play 9 road games in pitcher friendly Dodger Stadium, but even with that factored in, they appear to have the most hitter friendly road schedule in the NL West.

    Now I realize there are many hitters parks in the NL Central, while the NL East has two pitchers parks, but I think this is worth exploring. I’m not saying it is the sole reason the Padres hit well on the road, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it plays a significant role.

    Maybe during the next home-stand, I’ll research this further.

  12. Imagine if the Padres trade Heath Bell before the All Star Game. With MLB’s requirement that every team be represented, which true all star will sit while someone like Ludwick makes the team?

  13. @ Sammy, I would hope that they send Mike Adams instead.

  14. @Sammy – If Hundley gets back soon, he could be the rep. But Adams could also be the rep. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bell and Adams go anyways.

    @Parlo – Although I have not yet done the research, I suspect that the Padres play no more road games in hitters parks than do most teams.

  15. The Padres need to pry away Tony Gwynn from San Diego State (again). If they hired Gwynn as their hitting coach he would make bad hitter avg. and good hitters great. In 1998 Tony Gwynn would work with Greg Vaughn using old school, currently unorthodox methods like… hitting off a tee. Does any MLB player currently hit off a tee before a game to ensure balance at the plate? Doubt it. Certainly not on the Padres. Greg Vaughn enjoyed his best year ever because of it blasting 50 bombs into the quallcomm palms.

  16. @Parlo – Here is what I came up with: 7 hitters parks…. col, ari, cin, chi, mil, hou, and phi
    NL East hitters park team Philadelphia plays 20 road games in hitters parks
    NL East non-hitters park team Atlanta plays 30
    NL Central hitters park team Chicago plays 35
    NL Central non-hitters park team Pittsburgh plays 42
    NL West hitters park team Arizona plays 25
    and the Padres play 36

    This is based on this years schedule and does not include AL ballparks.
    As you can see, clearly the NL central teams play the most road games in hitters parks. The Padres play quite a bit too, more so this year since they have several 4 game road series against the NL central this year.

  17. I considered Mike Adams, but All Star Managers seem to have a blind spot to relatively “unknown” middle relievers. Especially on teams without much “name” presence.

    @PF: I hope you’re wrong. If the Padres do make a turnaround in the next couple of years, I wonder who would take over the closer’s role if Adams was shipped off? Adams will be 33 next month, and is still cheap, and relievers are still in their prime years in their mid-30s.

  18. @sammy- for clarification, when I said “I wouldn’t be surprised if Bell and Adams go anyways” i was talking about the All-star game. I think Bell is traded this year and Adams could be traded next season. The Padres have several good minor league RP’s that will be ready by late next year to take over closing. Frieri and Gregerson are already possibilties. Spence looks very good and Brach may be ready in 1-2 years.

  19. @PadresFuture
    I think it is a little more complicated.
    You are treating all hitters parks equally. Are 9 road games in Houston really the equivalent of 9 games at Coors Field or Arizona? Not in my book. I wouldn’t even include Houston in the list.

    The number of games in pitchers parks need to be factored in as well. And the same is true here: all pitchers parks are not created equally. Just ask Ludwick.

    If it was simply a matter of tossing each stadium into Group A or Group B, and then counting road games in each column, I would have already done so

  20. Just to complicate things even more, parks are not consistent year to year any more than players are. They evolve over time. Coors doesn’t play the same now as it use to. dodger stadium is nowhere near the pitcher’s park it used to be before the added seating ate up a big chunk of foul territory.

  21. @parlo – even if you assigned a well researched weight to every ballpark, the results are not going to change much.

    you said: “The Padres play more road games in hitters parks than many other teams. Plus they don’t have to play road games at Petco.”

    you didnt say: “The Padres play more road games in tougher hitters parks than many other teams.”

    Either way, whether or not their road games are skewed towards hitter friendly only explains why the offense is better on the road. The home team they would be playing against has the same hitting advantage and thus should not account for a difference in wins.

  22. It might be interesting to look at where the “tipping point” of the padres pitching is on the road. What I mean by this is essentially the balance between the Padres runs allowed and the runs scored on the road. We may find that the Padres pitching is not as skewed as much with home versus road as the hitting. Therein may be the difference. If our pitchers experience a small drop in performance on the road but our hitters experience a much bigger increase in performance on the road, then more wins should be expected. The Padres play a lot of 1 run games, thus several more wins.

    I am not sure the Padres could pitch much better at home, so bottom line is the offense needs to manufacture more runs at home. Scoring 3 runs at home versus 4 may be a huge sway in win percentage, wheras scoring 6 runs instead of 5 on the road may not make a difference in win pct. Where is the tipping point at home for runs scored to make them a winning team at home?

  23. After a little analysis, it appears that Padres have actually been statistically lucky in the win column at home. They are averaging about 2.2 runs per game at home, based on their runs allowed distribution they should be about 6-23 at home. They are in fact 9-20.

    If the Padres scored exactly 3 runs every game at home so far this season, they would be about 12-17. 4 runs would make them 18-11. So, on a normal distribution the Padres would need to average about 3.5 runs per game to be .500 and perhaps a lil less runs per game to be .500 with their statistical luck at home this season.

    I am gonna just take a wild guess and say the Padres will average more than 2.2 runs per game at home the rest of the season. If the pitching holds up or only slightly regresses at home, then I expect the team to start winning more games at home. I am pretty sure that no Padres team has averaged anywhere close to only 2.2 runs per game at home in the petco era.

    In conclusion, there is still hope this year as we are only 6 games back.

  24. @PadresFuture

    The Padres starters absolutely could pitch much better at home. They’ve been pretty bad, we’re on pace to give up 324 runs in Petco and that’s mostly the starters. If they don’t improve and normal summer hitting trends continue, we could give up more than 360. It was 262 at home last season.

    I’ve said before that it may be very hard to build a team that can both dominate at home and win on the road, for the very reasons you lay out. One extra run in Petco might have a huge impact, but at the same time it’s the hardest one run to come by in MLB.

    As I’m typing this Clayton Richard decides that every hitter with two strikes should get a cookie. I like pitchers who don’t dawdle, but maybe he ought to take his time and focus every once in a while.

  25. @PadresFuture
    So you’re telling me that your gut instinct should overrule any research I was going to do? No thanks! I want to look into it more, regardless of what some some nameless person is telling me online.

    You are right, however, about me only looking at the offense. That doesn’t add up necessarily to more wins, but I do think it is worth looking into. Especially since several people here think there may be a psychological factor at work. Fall behind in Denver or Arizona, I think even the pitchers believe there is still a good chance to win. Fall behind at Petco,,,not so much.

    Over 20% of their road games are played in Colorado and Arizona combined. I think it is a big confidence booster and impacts their overall road numbers.

  26. @parlo – Wasn’t trying to offend you. I just don’t think it takes a lot of research to come to the conclusion that the NL central teams play more games in hitter parks than other teams. One only needs to know what a MLB schedule is comprised of and understand the number of hitters parks in a division to reach my “gut conclusion”. Perhaps I am just not understanding what it is you are trying to research.
    I actually agree that there may be some psycology in place, although i heard a recent statistic on a broadcast that suggested in the Pecto era the Padres have hit for .242 and the opposition the exact same number.

  27. I’m one of those Carlos Lee fans that thought we should’ve signed him a few years back, but yes, he’s basically completely fallen off. That said, my baseball psychy didn’t exactly escape un-scarred from the Hairston/Cruz/Headly era of LF.

    Nice that the guys are playing a little bit better. Ludwick finally got around to appeasing Jobu and is hitting like crazy, and Hawpe traded in his oar for a nice shiny new bat.

    Now if Hundley and Maybin can get healthy, this could be a team that isn’t incredibly painful to watch for the next 3 months. Heck, they might even compete considering how banged up SF and COL are. Just as long as we keep playing on the road…

  28. @Tom – the Padres have only given up more than 4 runs 8 times at home this season. Even in a pitchers park, 4 runs allowed should be enough to keep you in the game.

  29. @PadresFuture

    That’s just not true. 4 runs at Petco is a bad outing, and in most years we haven’t given up nearly the number of runs we’re on pace to give up this year. It’s completely possible for the Padres to pitch better. They DID pitch better at home from 2004 through 2010.

    Besides the 8 games you count, 6 other times they’ve given up 4 runs. That’s 14 home games in which the pitching performed badly, one short of half our home games. The pitchers got no help from the defense in some of those, but it was mostly the SP. Poor starting pitching is a huge part of the reason our home record is so bad.

    Being “in the game” doesn’t mean you win it. They were “in” several of those contests, but they didn’t get “over.”

  30. @tom – the home ERA is 3.11 this year. Pretty damn solid. Unfortunately, the Padres have given up 27 unearned runs just at home this season. Seems like maybe it is the home defense and not the home pitching. They gave up 21 unearned all of last year at home. On the other hand, since 2004 the padres are averaging 3.8 runs scored per game at home, with 2.24 runs per game this year. I ascert that the Padres need only average about 3.5 runs per game with this years pitching staff to play .500 at home… of course now I understand that the defense will have tyo improve for this to be true.

  31. @PadresFuture

    3.11 is hugely buoyed by the relievers. I’m speaking specifically of the starting pitchers. Besdies, ERA is far too dependent on an official scorer to use for serious evaluations. The defense has definitely regressed, though, and the offense was certainly bad. But the fact remains that the team can pitch better in Petco. That home record is everybody’s fault, not just the hitters.

  32. @ tom – then you might be interested to know that last year the Padres starters at home had an ERA of 3.73 and this year so far 3.88. This seems statistically not too significant. I have seen very little evidence that suggests home pitching accounts for a large part of the home win loss record. It seems rather clear that it is defense and offense at home that accounts for 95% of the bad home record.

  33. And here’s the trade possibility:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/trade-targets-relief-pitchers/

    Our starters are just aren’t as good this year (i’m looking at you Clayton).
    @TW: re: Clayton, GY and I was discussing that exact point of his taking a little bit more time to focus instead of just chucking the baseball everytime he gets it back quickly, especially when he is getting hit and dinked all over. Perhaps, the catchers need to do that for him since he can’t seem to do it himself.

  34. oh, btw, the Padres was .500 in May. yay, progress!

  35. @PadresFuture

    I’m not very interested in any number that is not only not park-adjusted but subject to the whims of an official scorer. And make no mistake, last year’s starting pitching wasn’t as strong as commonly believed. The weakness of the 4th and 5th spots, especially in the last half of the season, was a major factor in missing the playoffs. So being close to as good in SP as we were last year would not be a great sign for 2011.

    Dustin Moseley is the only SP with an ERA+ over 100 right now. Stauffer is close at 97, everybody else is well off the pace. They’re all trending upwards, which is good, but they played a huge part in our bad April record overall and our terrible home record. It’s hard to go 9-20, giving up 51 more runs than you score, without everybody dipping an oar in the water.

    @Didi

    The bloops are one thing, Richard gave up a few blasts on elevated 2 strike pitches yesterday. It’s probably more a matter of not having put-away stuff than his pace, but still, he might want to try something different.

  36. I thought this was interesting:

    Early 1970′s Dodgers Home/Away W-L record

    1970
    H 39-42
    A 48-32

    1971
    H 42-39
    A 47-34

    1972
    H 41-34
    A 44-36

  37. Responding to various fascinating points…

    @Michael Scott: I knew you couldn’t resist.

    @Jasonb619: “I’d be interested to see what their record is when they score first compared to when the other team scores first over those years.” That is a good question…

    @Parlo @PadresFuture: The hitters park issue is interesting as well. My suspicion is that NL Central teams get a bigger boost, but I haven’t studied it. As Pat notes, this would be tricky to study anyway because there are so many variables.

    @PadresFuture: Not sure how helpful this is, but you may find it interesting…

    RS Home Away
     0  0-6  0-3
     1  1-4  0-3
     2  0-7  1-1
     3  3-1  1-3
     4  2-2  1-0
     5  1-0  5-0
     6  1-0  0-1
     7  1-0  1-1
     8+ 0-0  6-0

    Also, the Padres are 1-8 in home games where they’ve allowed more than 4 runs, compared to 3-4 in road games.

    @TW: I’ve thought for a while that Richard has Adam Eaton Disease… gets a little too much adrenaline going sometimes. And yeah, 4 runs at Petco is a bad outing.

    @Parlo: Thanks for the early-’70s Dodgers info… another team that played in an extreme pitchers park. Curious…

  38. @ Adam A.: Hi Adam. Hope you didn’t think my comment about Lee was directed at you. It was not directed at anyone personally, just a general observation about folks I’d discussed it with (and not even on this site). That being said, it’s true we did not have many great players out there, but we didn’t have the huge cost of a Lee, or Wells, or Soriano contract, which freed up cash for other positions. So in terms of value we were still much better served, even though it may have been painful to watch. :-)

    @ GY: So, what you’re saying is we lose TWICE as often at home as we do on the road when scoring zero runs!!! Wow, Petco is killing us!!! ;-)

  39. Why the good road record over the last 7 years?

    They have had good teams that were masked by Petco. Rather the dominating at home and adding to it on the road. Petco with all of its’ one run games has pulled their home record down towards .500 (this year is an exception).

  40. @Pat: I didn’t think it was directed right at me, but i’ve definitely commented a few times in past post about wishing we had signed Lee. While all the advanced stats indicate that it would’ve been a bad signing over the past few years (and all the “regular” stats saying it would’ve been bad this year), the black hole in LF since Roberts went to SF makes me feel that he couldn’t have been THAT bad for us. But all the years and $ left on his contract would’ve made it a bad deal. Of course, as much as I hate Andruw Jones, I wanted the Pads to sign him too. But if you look at his career numbers @Petco, and his defense, I feel like I could make a better argument for that deal. Of course, in hindsight, thank god we didn’t.

    That said, at some point this team needs to develop or sign a guy that is going to consistently produce more than what’s expected from an average middle infielder. Will Venable is basically the only OF we’ve produced in the last 15 years or so, and he doesn’t exactly look like a future all-star, and the best INF was probably Kalil Greene (though I liked Josh Barfield more), and he could star in one of those “where are they now?” sort of columns. KT could find pitchers everywhere, but he really struggled drafting hitters. Good thing he could swindle ATL (Klesko/Boone), TEX (Adrian) and LAA (Nevin).

  41. @adam – The good news is the Padres farm system is about ready to “pop”. Jaff Decker still has a little more development but he could be a legit answer to corner outfield. Maybin looks like, when healthy, he is starting to hit ML pitching now. Blanks could be back in left field. Headley may be the best homegrown infielder in the last decade and Darnell will push him. Add Rizzo and Gyorko and this could be a good young talented mostly homegrown team by next year.

  42. @PadresFuture

    I have a bit of a fan-crush on Maybin, but he wasn’t really developed by us; we were just the first team to really give him a full time spot with no real pressure on him. And nothing Blanks has done so far has convinced me he’s going to do anything in the major leagues. The rest of the guys, I really hope they turned into something, but George Arias and Sean Burroughs (to name but a few) were suppose to hit a ton in the ML too. And honestly, I just flat out don’t like Headley. I thought Kouz played just a good 3B, and was a better hitter (though he really struggled with sliders down and away). Headley hits like a 2B, and long term, I think that’s where he should be. He has exactly HALF of one season (91 games in ’08) where he managed to slug above .400! I know Kouz isn’t exactly an all-star, but he was a run producer his 3 yrs here, and Headley isn’t. I know their OPS are similar, but I would rather have Kouz’s 2Bs and HRs over Headley’s walks. 2B and HR drive in runs, and thats exactly what this team needs (well, that, and better SP at home)

  43. Hey Adam, glad we’re cool. Couldn’t agree with you more that the organization MUST draft and develop MUCH better than it did under Towers!!!! It’s the only way we’ll be competitive in this market. I’m OK with trading established players for prospects and developing them, too, but we simply have to bring in our own (whether through the draft or through trade), cost-controlled talent in order to compete; we cannot afford to rely on the Free Agent market.