Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 4/11/13
Probably my favorite Petco Park story is everybody’s favorite Petco Park story. Some time ago, when the Padres had Phil Nevin and Phil Nevin was good, and Petco was still pretty new, Nevin drove a ball deep to right field that wound up going for a double instead of a home run. Nevin subsequently slammed down his helmet and pointed at where he figured Kevin Towers was, as if to suggest the park was ridiculous. Indeed, it was ridiculous, for dinger-hitting. My favorite Safeco Field story is Felix Hernandez‘s perfect game but that doesn’t have anything to do with anything. Basically, as everybody came to know, Petco and Safeco were extreme ballparks. They had areas to which it wasn’t that hard to hit a home run, but by and large, taken overall, home runs were difficult. Too difficult, it was determined. So this past offseason, Petco and Safeco both brought in the fences. Not everywhere, but in the difficult bits. Here, you can read about the Safeco adjustments, if you’re in the dark. Here, you can read about the Petco adjustments, if the same. Interestingly, the Padres had already moved in the fences at Petco once before, but that was years ago and they didn’t actually change that much. This most recent renovation was far greater in scope, and in intended consequences. So, we’ve come into 2013 with an understanding that Petco and Safeco ought to play a little differently. The big question is how differently they’ll play, once we have a big enough sample size of data. Of course, we won’t have that sample size for years, but we can still observe little things in the short term. The Padres made big changes to right field. The Mariners made big changes to left and left-center field. The Padres have hosted two games. The Mariners have hosted three games. And already, we’re seeing the new effects. Already, there have been home runs that probably wouldn’t have been home runs before. Now, this isn’t as simple as just overlaying old dimensions onto new dimensions. Park effects are complicated, and wind patterns change, and backdrops can change, and hitter psychology can change. There’s a lot more going on than we can begin to keep track of. But, in Petco, Juan Uribe hit a dinger that, before, probably wouldn’t have been a dinger. In Safeco, J.D. Martinez hit a dinger that, before, probably wouldn’t have been a dinger. We discuss. Here’s a link to video of Uribe’s home run. Here’s a link to video of Martinez’s home run. According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, Uribe’s homer left the bat at 96.7 miles per hour, and the ball had a distance of 367 feet. It was given a horizontal angle of 70.5 degrees, indicating where it flew between the lines. Meanwhile, from the same source, Martinez’s homer left the bat at 99.6 miles per hour, and the ball had a distance of 395 feet. It was given a horizontal angle of 97.7 degrees. Uribe went deep the other way. Martinez went deep beyond the left-center power alley. Used to be that right field in Petco was a graveyard, and left-center in Safeco was…a…sister graveyard? They were bad, and now they are less bad. Screenshots: Uribe Martinez: Clearly, Martinez’s homer got out by a little more than Uribe’s did. Uribe’s was practically a wall-scraper. But the changes to Safeco were dramatic, so let’s deal with some math. I’ll also note, for the record, that Uribe has hit ten career opposite-field home runs in the regular season. This was his first since 2007, when he played for the White Sox. He did hit one in the playoffs for the Giants, on the road in Philadelphia. Juan Uribe is not much of a threat to go yard to right field, but he just pulled it off, in Petco of all places. Because “Petco” doesn’t mean what it used to, in this regard. Using data from the ESPN Home Run Tracker, we can generate some nifty charts. I went back to 2010 and collected all home runs in all parks with similar horizontal angles to Uribe’s and Martinez’s. I then plotted distance versus speed off bat, and I think the charts are pretty self-explanatory, so let’s just- The red dots signify such homers hit in Petco and Safeco. The lowest red dot up top is the homer hit by Uribe in San Diego the other day. The lowest red dot down below is the homer hit by Martinez in Seattle the other day. Not that we needed it, but this is evidence that it has become easier to hit these home runs in those ballparks. Uribe hit his homer two miles per hour slower than the next-slowest homer hit to that location in Petco since 2010. It’s the shortest home run in Petco hit to that approximate location by 12 feet. Martinez hit his homer two miles per hour slower than the next-slowest homer hit to that location in Safeco since 2010. It’s the shortest home run in Safeco hit to that approximate location by 14 feet. Martinez’s homer had a distance of 395 feet; previously, the shortest such home run was measured at 409 feet. I could have gone back further than 2010, but I’ll confess to being lazy, and I think the point’s already made. San Diego made changes to the dimensions in right field. Seattle made changes to the dimensions in left and left-center field. Already, after just five combined home games, we’ve seen dingers that previously probably wouldn’t have been dingers. Which, naturally, is the whole point. I guess in a way we should just assume this, so we hardly need the proof, but allow this to address your curiosity. Going forward, we’ll find out just how much easier it is to hit homers. And we’ll find out how the dimensions change other things, like hit rate and 2B/3B rates. But it’s home runs like Uribe’s and Martinez’s that allow us to start changing the way we feel about Petco Park and Safeco Field. It’s been branded into our brains that Petco and Safeco just don’t allow many home runs. In keeping with the imagery, it’s time now for the brains to start healing. Now, Petco and Safeco get to make second first impressions.
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