What’s happening to PNC Park?


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.


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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)