Hanley, Panda and the Monster

No, this is not the title of a new children’s book, or a remake of Kukla, Fran and Ollie. I’m dating myself with that one. After a relatively quiet weekend baseball-wise, it’s the big story of Thanksgiving week. The Boston Red Sox made a huge splash, diving hard into the position-player end of the free-agent pool, remaking a significant portion of their offense in the process. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval are now set to move into the most distinctive offensive environment in the game, one defined by the presence of a large man-made structure in left field: the Green Monster. What does the Monster hold in store for the two newest members of the Red Sox?

As a backdrop for our analysis, I’m going to post a fairly simple table. Each year, I calculate my own set of park factors utilizing granular batted-ball data. Basically, I compare the actual results of each batted ball hit in each park to what each batted ball of that approximate speed and angle would have produced in a neutral environment. Give each actual and projected event a run value, and divide the actual average run value per 27 outs to the projected average run value per 27 outs, and voila, you have your park factors, adjusted for batted ball quality. Below are the 2014 park factors for all BIP and for fly balls specifically for Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium and AT&T Park:

BOS 116.5 149.7 105.7 92.6 84.3 110.2
LAD 93.3 121.5 110.4 126.8 86.1 104.8
SF 81.4 77.5 92.4 81.3 102.3 84.7
—————- ———- ———– ———- ———- ———- ———-
BOS 163.0 277.1 112.0 85.8 81.9 146.6
LAD 108.4 177.1 163.8 163.6 71.8 125.1
SF 75.0 61.6 75.6 63.8 92.5 67.3

There are a few quick take-aways here. Secondarily, you’ll notice Dodger Stadium was quite hitter-friendly last season, especially in the air to the middle of the field, and that AT&T Park simply stifles offense — especially in the air to the gaps. Primarily, however, the uniqueness of Fenway Park jumps off of the page. (For reference, the overall park factors for 2013-2014 had a correlation coefficient of .65; the fly ball park factors had a .70 correlation coefficient.)

Based on overall park factor, Fenway wasn’t much more hitter-friendly than Dodger Stadium last year. Once you zone in on fly balls — and fly balls to LF and LCF more specifically — the Fenway effect is quite stark. Fenway’s 2014 LF and LCF fly ball park factors of 163.0 and 277.1, respectively, were by far the highest in the game. It’s no one-year phenomenon, either, as they also paced the majors in both field sectors in 2013.

As I explained in a recent article that discussed a variety of park factor-related topics, including Michael Cuddyer’s move to Citi Field, it’s all about the doubles in Fenway. Scores of routine fly balls in almost any other park become doubles when hit in the direction of the Monster. For instance, MLB hitters batted .071 AVG/.142 SLG on fly balls hit between 87.5 mph to 90 mph to LCF in 2014. They batted .444 AVG/.917 SLG on such fly balls at Fenway in 2014. Thirty-six such fly balls and 15 doubles. That is simply staggering. At 12 other MLB parks — including Coors Field — hitters garnered zero hits on those fly balls in 2014.

Fenway’s RCF and RF are actually fairly difficult for hitters, as suggested by the park factors listed above. The Pesky Pole might be inviting, but it gets real deep real quick as you gravitate away from the RF line. If you get a chance to visit Fenway, locate the red seat in deep RF that marks a particularly long Ted Williams homer. Do so from a home plate vantage point, if possible. The sheer distance speaks volumes not only about Williams’ greatness, but about the challenges lefty pull hitters face in Fenway. It’s a long way beyond a fence that’s a long way away. There aren’t many cheap homers to that part of Fenway.

Ramirez and Sandoval are veteran MLB hitters with fairly defined strengths, weaknesses and overall tendencies at this stage in their respective careers. Let’s see how those traits fit in with their new home environment, and estimate what type of performance effects might be in store for both players moving forward. To do so, let’s take a look at their 2014 plate-appearance outcome frequency and production by BIP type data. First, the frequency info:

FREQ – 2014
H.Ramirez % REL PCT
K 16.4% 80 33
BB 10.9% 143 87
POP 7.8% 101 50
FLY 26.8% 96 39
LD 20.7% 99 47
GB 44.7% 103 66
————– ———- ———- ———-
Sandoval % REL PCT
K 13.3% 65 13
BB 6.1% 80 27
POP 7.2% 94 43
FLY 32.1% 115 83
LD 20.0% 96 34
GB 40.6% 94 36

The single most important piece of information in each player’s frequency profile is the low K rate. If I’m working for a club that inflates offensive production on balls in play, I want players that put the ball in play very often. Ramirez and Sandoval had 2014 K rate percentile ranks of 33 and 13, respectively, which is especially good for players possessing at least a modicum of power potential. This is a career best K rate percentile for Ramirez, though his K rate has been better than the average of his league’s regulars in four of the past six seasons. This also was a career best K rate percentile rank for Sandoval, but he has always been better than league average, and he’s never posted a K rate percentile rank over 30.

Their BB rates are starkly different — Ramirez’ BB rate percentile rank of 87 is his second best ever, and best since 2008. Sandoval’s 27 mark is his career worst, and his first time below his league’s average since 2011.

Ramirez has been a ground ball-oriented hitter throughout his MLB career — his 2014 grounder percentile rank of 66 is actually his second lowest over the past five seasons. His 2014 liner percentile rank of 47 is actually a tad high compared to his career norms — he posted an outlier liner percentile rank of 86 in his outlandish but shortened 2013 campaign.

This year was the first time in five seasons that Sandoval posted a better than league average popup rate (43 percentile rank). Despite this decline, he did post a career high — by far — 83 fly ball percentile rank. Maintaining such a high fly ball rate would serve him extremely well in Fenway Park in light of the park factors highlighted above. Sandoval can also expect some positive regression in his liner rate moving forward. His 2014 34 liner percentile rank is his second lowest over the past six seasons, well below his 2011 and 2013 marks of 74 and 62, respectively.

One can only learn so much about a player’s true talent level by examining his frequency data — batted-ball authority drives production, and inferences about both players’ ability in that area can be made by analyzing their production by BIP data:

PROD — 2014
FLY 0.301 0.763 119 158 181
LD 0.750 1.125 145 126 129
GB 0.265 0.290 117 107 107
ALL BIP 0.350 0.557 122 123 130
ALL PA 0.283 0.364 0.451 135 137 143
—————- ———- ———– ———- ———- ———- ———-
FLY 0.258 0.609 80 103 126
LD 0.606 0.723 77 101 107
GB 0.309 0.335 158 122 117
ALL BIP 0.324 0.483 98 108 117
ALL PA 0.277 0.322 0.412 109 120 128

Both players’ actual production on each BIP type is indicated in the AVG and SLG columns, and is converted to run values and compared to MLB average in the REL PRD column. That figure then is adjusted for context, such as home park, luck, etc., in the ADJ PRD column. For the purposes of this exercise, SH and SF are included as outs and HBP are excluded from the OBP calculation. Also for the purposes of this exercise, another column, BOS PRD, is included which estimates each player’s true talent 2014 production if half of their games were played in Fenway Park.

Ramirez was unlucky on fly balls in 2014 — despite the fact that his home park inflated fly ball production quite significantly, he batted just .301 AVG/763 SLG in the air, for 119 REL PRD. After adjusting for context, primarily his hard/soft fly ball rates, his ADJ PRD figure climbs significantly to 158. When adjusted specifically for the context of Fenway Park, that mark climbs still further to 181. Fenway’s impact on Ramirez’ fly balls is not that straightforward. Sure, he pulls the ball in the air quite a bit, and a good number of would-be fly outs to LF/LCF will now become doubles. However, he will lose some CF homers — Dodger Stadium is one of the easiest straightway homer parks in the game — and some of his would-be homers to LF/LCF will now be intercepted by the Monster. This is a hard liner guy, not a high towering drive guy, on balance, who could hit 50 doubles if he stays healthy.

Ramirez’ crushes his liners — even after some downward contextual adjustment, his superior REL PRD of 145 slides down to a slightly less superior 126 ADJ PRD, and 129 BOS PRD. On all BIP his REL PRD (122) an ADJ PRD (123) are almost identical — Fenway-specific contextual adjustments inflate that mark to 130. Add back his strong K/BB data, and his 135 REL PRD is adjusted to a 137 true talent level, and a 143 Fenway-adjusted figure.

How about the Panda? Sandoval hit a relatively puny .258 AVG/.609 SLG on fly balls last season, adjusted only up to 103 for general context. He hits an awful lot of garden-variety fly balls that are routine outs in most parks. In Fenway, a bunch of those are going to hit the Monster, as his 126 BOS PRD on fly balls attests. While the switch-hitter obviously logs more at-bats from the left side, he hits more fly balls to LF/LCF by a fairly sizeable margin — in 2014, he hit 75 fly balls to LF/LCF and only 57 to RCF/RF.

He was extremely unlucky on line drives last season, with a lowly 77 REL PRD, adjusted upward to virtually MLB average for general context (101 ADJ PRD) and higher still to a 107 BOS PRD. Interestingly, Sandoval posted an extremely high 158 REL PRD on grounders — while that is in large part due to random chance, he does have quite a knack for grounding the ball up the middle from both sides of the plate, doing so at a much higher than MLB average rate in both 2013 and 2014.

On all BIP, Sandoval’s REL PRD is a slightly below average 98. General contextual adjustments boost that figure to 108, but the Fenway effect ramps it up substantially higher to 117. Add back the K and BB data, and Sandoval’s 2014 REL PRD is 109, his true talent level is 120, and his Fenway-adjusted mark is 128. Moving Pablo Sandoval from AT&T to Fenway makes him an entirely different, happy Panda. He’s likely destined to lose at least a couple RF homers from the left side, but that will be more than offset by impact of the Monster to LF-LCF, and to a lesser extent, the relative reachability of the deeper RCF stands in Boston compared to that particularly cavernous sector of his former home.

No doubt, the Red Sox did an awful lot of research — with regard to traditional scouting, makeup, etc., in addition to analytics — before making such substantial investments in these two players. How they will deploy Ramirez defensively remains to be seen, though my somewhat educated guess has him destined for left field. Both of these players make plenty of contact — the largest, and likely most underrated factor of all — and, on balance, make the types of contact that should be favored by their new home park.

Ramirez is the more talented offensive player, but Sandoval is younger, more well rounded and stands to be helped a good bit more by his new environs. Averages of .300 are within reach for both (though my gut is more .290-ish), with scads of doubles. And one parting prop bet: Sandoval, he of the 19 triples in the past six seasons, will go triple-less as he exits the most three-bagger-friendly park in the game.

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7 years ago

Thanks, Tony, for doing what I tried to do here (http://www.faketeams.com/2014/11/22/7251613/the-panda-in-beantown-pablo-sandoval-in-boston) only with much more detail and better use of batted ball data.