Find the Grass, Find the Offense


I’m starting to lose count of the number of articles I’ve written with a Petco Park theme either overtly or subtly. If it’s a player profile, the park comes into play. If it’s a question of offense verse pitching, the park comes into play. If it’s a matter of home record and home field advantage, the park most certainly comes into play. I have little doubt that any other ballpark in America is written about in so many articles. The sheer number of times Petco is mentioned in pieces seemingly having little to do with Petco, is incredible. The Yankees, the most popular team in the country, likely have far fewer mentions of Yankee Stadium when talking about the team than stories about the Padres do Petco Park. The fact is, Petco Park has such an intense effect on the outcome of games, the make-up of the team, and the Padres successes or failures. Yet one thing is clear: There’s a lot of grass to be found.

Phil Plantier recentl spoke with Tim Sullivan of the San Diego Union Tribune about the team’s plans for utilizating two hitting coaches and how they will address the anemic offense going forward. Plantier is certainly optimistic.

"I see a lot of grass (at Petco Park). If you’re a good hitter, there’s a lot of grass."

It’s a true statement, but it does not take into account how difficult it is to find that grass. The thick marine layer and the large dimensions generally mean a hitter’s best shot at finding said grass is a hot shot ground ball. Most players can hit flyballs. Not many can hit line drives and hard grounders with authority.

I’ve always been a huge proponent of Petco Park, one of the few out there. Most people want to move the fences, allow more balls to sail into the stands, and help attract free agent power hitters. I say, every park has that going for it to a certain extent. Petco Park is unique and more useable as a true home field advantage than any other park in baseball. Much of it is perspective. Many people see the offensive struggles. They see the low batting averages and minimal home runs. However, mediocre pitchers suddenly become stars in San Diego.

I’ve made this argument before, and people accuse me of not taking park factor into account when I’m looking at the numbers. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I have a firm grasp on the way ballparks can affect statistics. I understand park adjusted numbers. But I also understand the clear fact that the Padres have had more success at Petco than they had before moving into their shiny new park downtown.

The Padres winning percentage at Petco has been .497. It’s below .500, but above the team’s winning percentage prior to moving to Petco. At their previous home (San Diego Stadium, Jack Murphy, Qualcomm), the team’s winning percentage was .455. But I digress. This is not necessarily an argument for or against Petco Park. At least, it’s not designed to be.

This is a simple piece outlining the possibilities that exist for hitters in San Diego. Simply* making better contact, not looking for home runs, and avoiding lazy flyballs will help the team produce much better offensive numbers. Opposing pitchers know all about San Diego. They come in and challenge the Padres’ hitters because they know they won’t be hurt by the long ball. Walks are reduced, hits are reduced, runs are reduced. The Padres hitters must turn this challenge into their advantage. By getting around on pitches, slapping the ball to all fields, finding gaps, and hitting hard grounders, the team can force opposing pitchers to be more selective. Once this happens, the Padres can take more walks. It’s a cycle that ends with more runs being scored.

*I say simple so cavalierly. There’s nothing simple about the game of baseball. This is evidenced by the emphasis we place on batting averages over .300 (30% of the time the batter gets a hit). Swinging a bat at a 90 mph fastball, or trying to stay behind a 75 mph change up is not simple. Deciding to hit the ball on the ground, towards a hole, or driving it into the gaps is not like picking a meal off a dinner menu. It’s hard. Yet, the solutions are out there. It is up to the hitters and their coaches to figure out how to achieve them.

The outfield grass of Petco Park just begs for ball to be hit to it. With the helpful coaching of Phil Plantier and Alonso Powell, this group of 2012 Padres hitters may be able to find the grass. If they do, they’ll find their offense.