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What’s happening to PNC Park?

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SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – When Andrew McCutchen barreled-up a Mike Fiers 2-2 fastball in the bottom of the 12th last night at PNC Park, he had little confidence it was going to clear the fence. After all, he had made solid contact with two pitches earlier in the game, fly balls that seemed to lose life and velocity in the cool air above the playing surface.

 

“I hit the crap out of those (first) two balls, and they went nowhere,” McCutchen said. “So, right off my bat, I didn’t know. I figured I would book it and try to get a triple out of it. I still didn’t know, even when it went out.”

 

McCutchen’s drive just did clear the right-center field fence for his fourth career walk-off home run, and a rare Pirates’ win over the Brewers.

 

photo (6)

Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are going to like pitching here and not just because of baseball’s best stadium backdrop.

 

But more often than not, more often than at any time in its history, PNC Park has become a place where flyballs go to die.

 

We’re in the middle of May now, and PNC Park has been the toughest place to hit a home run in Major League Baseball, with a HR park factor of .632.

 

It’s been tougher to hit a home run in Pittsburgh than in pitcher-friendly Pacific rim stadiums where the Marine Layer swallows flyballs. It’s been tougher to hit a home run at PNC Park than at Petco or AT&T park in San Francisco.

 

(Miller Park leads MLB with an unreal hitter friendly home run park factor of 1.934. …. 1.000 indicates a neutral park).

 

Yes, PNC has typically ranked in the bottom half of HR-friendly parksr.

 

Yes, it’s been a chilly early season in Pittsburgh.

 

Yes, it’s a small sample size.

 

But it hasn’t been just this season. And it’ s not just home runs.

 

After being a neutral run-scoring park for most of its existence, PNC Park was the third friendliest pitcher’s park last season, ranking ahead of only Seattle’s Safeco Field and AT&T Park in run scoring. And that was with McCutchen having an MVP-caliber season and Pedro Alvarez reaching 30 home runs.

 

PNC Park is second to the bottom in park factor scoring, ahead of only Citi Field, with a .814 mark this season.

 

Park factors are subject to year-to-year fluctuations. Park factor compares the rate of stats at home vs. the rate of stats on the road.

 

Still, it’s not as if the Pirates have had Sandy Koufax in his prime on the mound the last eight months at PNC Park. In fact, adding a flyball, homer-prone pitcher like AJ Burnett should have made the park more favorable place to hit. Moreover, McCutchen’s 2012 season was one of the club’s best offensive seasons of the last two decades … and it’s still been the most difficult place to hit in the NL Central or the NL East.

 

What’s going on?

 

Did the Pirates move home plate back 10 feet without telling anyone?

 

Have the prevailing winds shifted?

 

Is it simply just the product of a small sample size, and will PNC eventually return to being a neutral park?

 

I’m not sure what’s going on. But I do know McCutchen was surprised to see a ball leave PNC Park last night. And I know PNC Park has been the Toughest Place to hit East of the Mississippi since the beginning of the 2012 season. (And the Pirates can thank me for that label when they add that to their mailings to free agent pitchers this offseason)

 

 

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Comments

  1. Clemson Travis,

    Excellent story, appropriate use of statistics, good information.

  2. JohnH says:

    have the prevailing winds shifted? That is a good question. I must really be bored to be giving this a lot of thought. There has been construction at PNC Park and the surrounding areas. New hotels and new amenities. could it be as simple at the change of the wind?

  3. JohninOshkosh says:

    Travis Bickle:

    This is good geek stuff. It’s funny looking at the other base hit stats. Not only is PNC a poor homerun park, apparently it is not a triples giver either. I’ve always been a proponent of building your club around the proclivities of the home park. A generation ago Whitey Herzog did that with the Cardinals, and the Giants are the best example now, I think. It also helps explain Anthony Rizzo trades and the like. Padres would certainly value the potential of a Cashner rather than a long ball threat. It would do the Buccos well to draft speed and pitching. One wonders if Pedro’s initial years would have been more eye popping if he had been been drafted by someone like say the Brewers. Also bit surprised the little box on the north side of Chicago is right in the middle with homers and somewhat accommodating to its three bagger cousin.

  4. Terry M says:

    Things heat up when the weather does. Watch.

  5. Terry M says:

    As much as Pedro swings and misses, don’t see what difference a ballpark makes.

  6. Travis Sawchik says:

    Osh,

    Good post. And, yeah, I’m a baseball geek and not ashamed.

    I think it would be interesting to explore if the Pirates have tailored their roster enough to their park. I think you almost have to have another CF caliber guy in LF at PNC, and the Pirates do have that now with Marte.

  7. JohnH says:

    Here is a bigger question. with the Pirates owning some of their minor league teams and stadiums why are they not built in the same way as PNC Park. 21 foot wall in right same left field notch. same depth in center?

  8. leefoo says:

    I believe State College’s park was built the same way as PNC. Not sure about Bradenton’s.

    As for other parks being that way, with the way teams move minor league affiliates around, it would be unfeasible to always have minor league parks built like the major league’s.

  9. leefoo says:

    ain’t that the truth!!

  10. Travis Sawchik says:

    I know Boston’s Low-A affiliate’s park (Greenville, SC) has a replica of the green monster and has replicated Fenway’s outfield dimensions.

    I think the trend will be for more MLB clubs to own minor teams and perhaps we’ll see more of the dimensions of the big-league park copied.

 
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