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FRANCISCO -- Don't let the big park fool you. Despite a lingering perception that they're all-pitch, no-hit, this year's edition of the San Francisco Giants features a deep and dangerous starting lineup. Just because AT&T Park masks their potency, doesn't mean the Giants can't hit.
Regardless of whose flavor of park factors you prefer, the Giants' home ballpark ranks as one of the toughest places to hit in baseball on a yearly basis. The spacious dimensions (especially in right field), cool temperatures and tricky winds make for an uninviting place to swing the bat.
That doesn't mean the Giants are a poor offensive team. Quite the contrary. By any fair measure, they were one of baseball's best hitting teams this year. They led the National League and finished second in the Majors in runs scored on the road, with 410. They were second in road batting average, fifth in road on-base percentage and fifth in road slugging percentage.
At home, they were 25th in runs, 11th in batting average, 13th in OBP and 25th in slugging. All of which actually draws up a good picture of what it's like to hit by the Bay: There are base hits to be had, thanks to fairly small foul territory and the spacious outfield. But hitting for power, especially for left-handed hitters, becomes a herculean task.
"When it does get tough here, it is somewhat the dimensions," said Giants first baseman/outfielder Brandon Belt. "But also, when you hit the ball up in the air, the wind plays a huge factor, especially for a lefty. ... It just doesn't carry as much. If you can hit line drives, you can usually cut through that and get your base hits."
According to Statcorner.com, AT&T Park played relatively neutral this year for singles, doubles, and strikeouts. But it radically sapped home run power for both right- and left-handed hitters and thus kept run scoring down more than nearly any other park in baseball. Other systems tell a similar story, of a stadium basically fair for most in-the-park base hits but extremely difficult to hit the ball out of. In fact, the Giants hit 72 of their 103 regular-season home runs on the road, ranking last among all 30 Major League clubs in home runs at home but tying for 20th on the road.
Conventional wisdom, and simple dimensions, present AT&T Park as especially tough on left-handers. The 421-foot corner in right-center field combines with a very high wall in right field to make hitting homers quite a task for pull-happy lefties. Straightaway center is "only" 399 feet away, providing a more reasonable challenge.
"For me it's been one of the worst ones in baseball," said the Giants' Aubrey Huff, a left-handed hitter who played briefly for the Tigers as well. "Here and San Diego. You see the dimensions out there? It's 50 degrees at night, and 421 to right-center with a [24-foot-tall] wall."
Likely no coincidence, the Giants offense is well suited to the team's home ballpark. It's not a homer-happy lineup. Instead, it raps out base hit after base hit, puts the ball in play and takes advantage of opportunities for doubles and triples.
That approach might not only be a good fit for the ballpark but for the Tigers' pitching staff. Detroit has thrived at run prevention by taking the ball out of its defenders' gloves. The American League champs are not a good defensive team, particularly in the infield. But by striking batters out, avoiding walks and keeping the ball in the park, they manage to minimize the effect of that shaky fielding.
In the Giants, though, the Tigers' pitchers meet a team poised to take advantage of that defense. The Giants don't need to hit home runs to score, and they don't draw a lot of walks. They play their park, hitting singles, doubles and triples and stringing them together. That can still be a difficult way against a high-strikeout staff, but if you were building an offense to go against the Tigers, it would look a lot like San Francisco's.
"They do what's needed to be done, and they play the game with many different facets," Tigers pitcher Doug Fister said. "Whether it's small ball, whether it's a big home run guy. OK, the ballpark isn't a hitters' ballpark per se, but guys are getting it done and making it work."
When the series shifts to Detroit at the end of the week, the perception will be that it's going from a pitchers' park to a similarly tough place to hit. That's not entirely correct. Comerica Park has played much more hitter-friendly than its reputation in recent years, with neutral to hitter-friendly ratings depending on the system.
Yet the shape of the production is a bit similar. Even when Comerica favors offense, it doesn't really favor the home run. It's more or less neutral on most types of offense, save for triples, for which it's extremely friendly.
Still, it's a better place to hit than San Francisco. So as the games go on at AT&T Park, it's worth remembering that it's not just the pitchers that are making things difficult for Giants and Tigers hitters. It's the environment as well.