Ballparks' homer figures can be revealing, deceiving
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It's not necessarily how many home runs you hit. It's when you hit them -- and how you manage to keep the opposition in the park -- that can help shape a season.
"Home runs are overrated," said Fernando Rodney, the inimitable reliever now toiling for the Mariners. "It's the big hit and big innings you get that wins games."
Ballpark figures can be alternately revealing and deceiving. Some yards are highly conducive to the long ball, leading to inflated numbers that can distort a team's true home run values. More critical are the plus-minus figures -- how many homers the home side launches compared to how many it surrenders.
In 2013, the Major League leaders were Pittsburgh and Atlanta, each outhomering opponents at their home ground by 32. Their rewards were tickets to the postseason, all expenses paid.
Much of the credit went to pitching staffs succeeding in keeping the ball in play with remarkable efficiency. The Pirates yielded just 37 homers at beautiful PNC Park, while the offense was producing 69. The Braves' economical staff muted offenses in Atlanta with just 58 homers allowed, compared to 90 delivered by manager Fredi Gonzalez's attack.
Surprisingly, the Chicago Cubs were right on the heels of the Bucs and Braves. Taking full advantage of the cozy confines, the Cubbies outhomered the opposition by 29 in Wrigley Field. Colorado (17), St. Louis (eight) and Washington (five) also were on the plus side of the homer ledger at home.
Baltimore, powered by Chris Davis, and Detroit, with incomparable Miguel Cabrera, not surprisingly led the American League.
With Davis launching 22 long balls in Camden Yards, the Orioles went deep 127 times, while limiting opponents to 99. Cabrera (17) and Prince Fielder combined for 30 of the Tigers' 88 blasts at Comerica Park, 23 more than the visitors.
Boston (13), Texas (11), Oakland and Cleveland (nine each) and Seattle and Tampa Bay (six apiece) all took advantage of their home parks in outslugging opponents.
Overall, home and away, the Pirates (60), Braves (54) and Tigers (48) outblasted the other side by the widest margins.
Detroit supported its dynamic pitching staff with double the homer advantage of AL runner-up Cleveland (24). Oakland (23), Boston (22), Texas (19), Seattle (14), Tampa Bay (12) and Baltimore (10) also outmuscled the opposition.
Right behind the Pirates and Braves in the National League in outhomering the other side overall were the Rockies (23), Nationals (19), Cardinals (13) and Dodgers (12). At home, however, Los Angeles was dead even: 65 for the blue crew, 65 for the bad guys.
On the unhappy side of the long ball, no clubs were hurt as much as Houston and Kansas City, both yielding 43 more homers overall than their offenses managed to hit.
The Giants, stalled in their bid to repeat as World Series champions, were outhomered by 38. The White Sox (34), Yankees (27), Marlins (26), Mets (22), Brewers (18), Twins (17) and Phillies (12) all felt the sting of a negative homer count.
Player movement over the winter could play heavily into a shift of fortunes in the long-ball department.
Fielder's departure to Texas figures to serve the Rangers well while reducing the Tigers' home run production. Ian Kinsler, Detroit's prize in the Fielder swap, can go deep, but not with the regularity of Prince, who should love the dimensions and wind conditions of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
"I had Prince [as a coach] in Detroit," new Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He's a great player, a great slugger. He'll be a big factor in that park. The dimensions in Comerica were probably a little unfair to him. Prince is a hard-working guy, and he should put up some numbers in Texas."
What Detroit loses in Fielder's power, it hopes to replace with the speed and baserunning of Kinsler at the top of the order. In any case, McClendon doesn't believe Cabrera will be too adversely impacted by Prince's departure.
"Cabrera's a different animal," McClendon said through a knowing smile. "Once you get in the box, you've got to do it yourself. His numbers in Detroit speak for themselves."
The Yankees' 85-77 record in 2013 is somewhat remarkable when you consider how they were unable to capitalize on Yankee Stadium's famous dimensions. They were outhomered by 17 in the Bronx, something they hope to change with the additions of Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury.
The departure of Robinson Cano stings, but that trio should find a steady diet of the new park's inviting targets stimulating. Cano takes his multiple gifts to Seattle, where the Mariners will try to replace the electricity generated by Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales, who combined for 29 of the club's 88 homers at Safeco Field.
Mike Trout and the Angels are hoping to break out with a thunder-packed attack with returns to characteristic form by Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, along with additions Ibanez and David Freese.
Mark Trumbo, their most potent slugger in 2013, was sent to Arizona in a three-way deal that brought the Halos a pair of starters in lefties Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. Trumbo delivered 19 of the Angels' 77 homers at Angel Stadium last year -- more than Hamilton (nine) and Pujols (eight) combined. Trout had 13.
In Arizona, Trumbo adds a lethal presence to complement Paul Goldschmidt. The D-backs, outhomered by 13 at home, got 17 long balls from Goldschmidt at Chase Field but only eight from their next most productive slugger, Miguel Montero. The presence of Trumbo and the return of Aaron Hill should create a lot more noise inside the building.
Adding the force of Nelson Cruz's 30-homer bat can only help Davis and the Orioles. The Pirates and Braves, keeping their casts essentially intact, should manage to stay on the bright side of the homer ledger.
Atlanta will miss the power of McCann, who unloaded 12 homers at home last year, but anticipated comebacks by B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla would compensate offensively for the catcher's departure.
The Cardinals won in 2013 with an unprecedented .330 team average with runners in scoring position, but the long ball was not a major factor. They had 58 homers at home, led by Matt Holliday's 14, and will do without the 12 delivered by Beltran.
Idled by injuries, Allen Craig went deep only twice in St. Louis last year -- nine fewer than he produced at Busch Stadium in 2012. A full season of mashing by Matt Adams also should be a boon to the Cards, along with the arrivals of Jhonny Peralta and Peter Bourjos, both capable of going deep 12 to 20 times.
The Dodgers are positioned for a dramatic power surge. They plan to have Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig for a full season, and Matt Kemp's return from ankle and shoulder surgeries would be a positive jolt. Kemp unloaded 19 of his 39 homers in 2011 at Dodger Stadium. Last year, he was blanked at home.
The AL West champion Athletics similarly would benefit from a comeback campaign by Josh Reddick. Hindered by a wrist ailment, the eclectic right fielder homered just twice in 59 home games last year after launching 18 of his 32 homers in Oakland during his 2012 breakout season.
Reddick opened the spring soaring above the fences, robbing new Giants bopper Michael Morse of a pair home runs. Reddick intends to show he still knows how to clear those barriers and lift the A's fan base.
"A lot of people are saying I have something to prove," Reddick said. "I don't know that I have to prove anything, or think about this as a new start. I've shown my abilities and what I can do at this level. I just have to get back to that -- now that I'm healthy again."