Determining what a player can do is always a tricky task. The great thing is that if you do it accurately, you’ll look like a genius, and if you make the wrong call, nobody will call you on it, so long as you sounded like you knew what you were talking about. Hopefully I’ll accomplish the former as I weigh in on Carlos Quentin’s 2012 campaign.
There are a number of factors that we can measure analytically to make an educated guess as to what Quentin will do with the Daddies next season. We could look at the ballpark change (U.S. Cellular Field vs. PETCO Park), his BABIP, his batted ball data, the difference in his competition, or we could ignore these things and chock up his success or failure next season to the cliche “change of scenery,” saying that he will succeed or fail because he was either sad or happy in Chicago (this would save me a lot of work). Let’s assess the ballpark situation.
PETCO is notorious for destroying offense and making pitchers look good. In Carlos Quentin’s case, I’m not so sure this will be the case. Using a nifty little tool I learned about through Jason Collette of BaseballProspectus and DRaysBay, I generated a hit chart of where Quentin hit the ball at US Cellular in 2011 and where those balls would have landed at PETCO. I included on the chart homeruns, doubles, lineouts and flyouts (Quentin didn’t hit any triples in 2011). Take a look:
The dark blue dots represent homeruns, the light blue dots are doubles, the orange dots are flyouts and the red-orange dots are lineouts.
As you can see, Quentin hit only seven homeruns at home last season. Of those seven, one would not have gone out at PETCO. Of his doubles and flyouts two, or three (depending upon your judgment of the orange dot in deep-center), additional balls would have left the park. So there’s another zip-a-dee-doo-dah or two right there. Since I don’t currently have a girlfriend I’m a baseball nerd, I thought it would be fun to take a look at every stadium that Quentin played in in 2011 and see if what his homerun total would have been had he played all 118 of his games at PETCO.
If Quentin hit every ball in the exact same location, but hit them at PETCO, he would have hit 22 homeruns in his 118 games. This suggests that the park may not be as bad of a place to hit for power as conventional wisdom would have you believe. Another thing to keep in mind is that Quentin will not have to play all of his games in San Diego. Playing in the NL West, San Diego visits Coors Field, Chase Field, Dodger Stadium, and AT&T Park nine times each per season. Quentin has a solid track record at Chase Field (he began his career with Arizona) and everyone has a solid track record at Coors Field. He’s been awful in small samples in the other two parks, but neither park has a reputation as a hitter’s park.
The problem with this research is that the ability to hit a baseball 422 feet over the left field wall can not be replicated even with the same exact swing on the exact same pitch. There are a ton of other issues that go on as a baseball flies off the the bat and into the lucky fan’s glove. Wind tunnels and other physical phenomena that I’m just not knowledgeable enough to discuss can affect where the ball lands. Perhaps Christopher Lloyd prevents the ball from leaving PETCO and guides it out at Coors Field. The main point is that I don’t know all about the factors that can keep a ball in the park.
What we can gather from Quentin’s hit charts is that PETCO isn’t as “spacious” as the world seems to think. Perhaps we’ll see a small decline in power due to the ballpark, but Quentin is going to the National League, where players often see boosted performance because many teams lack rotational depth. All in all, I think it’s fair to expect a moderate improvement on 2011 from Carlos Quentin, assuming he stays healthy.