Wrigley Field is a unique stadium. It’s really old, has a rich history, ivy on the brick walls, and a big, old fashioned scoreboard out in center field.
I know that, you know that, everybody knows that.
But Wrigley is unique in more ways than just aesthetics and history. In fact, Wrigley has a particularly unique quality that directly impacts the game on a day to day basis. Namely, it plays as both an offensive haven and a hitter’s nightmare … depending on the weather.
Indeed, Wrigley Field’s polarity has been well-discussed and well-documented. Early in the season, when it’s cold and the wind tends to blow in, it can be brutally difficult for anyone (not named Kris Bryant) to hit a ton of home runs. And then, when the weather warms up, the wind is often found blowing out and almost any ball put in the air has a solid chance of leaving the park. It’s an interesting quirk and one that may have a pretty serious impact on the Cubs’ early season numbers from both sides of the ball.
In order to determine just how much Wrigley Field’s early season offensive drought has positively impacted the Cubs pitchers and negatively impacted the Cubs hitters, we’ll have to take a look at the overall park factor data for the 2016 season – i.e., if you isolate the impact of the ballpark, itself, on player performance, how hitter or pitcher-friendly has Wrigley Field been this year?
At FanGraphs, Tony Blengino compiled all of this data into one useful chart here in the early going of 2016, alongside an article that thoughtfully deconstructs the various abnormalities. You can see the chart and his corresponding thoughts here at FanGraphs, and I’d definitely encourage you to check it out, because it can really color how you view player performance.
First, let’s take a look at some of the results from different stadiums across the league.
Unsurprisingly, Coors Field is the most hitter-friendly park in baseball so far this season, with a Park Factor (PF) score of 148.3 (league average PF is 100). The batting average on balls in play at Coors is an enormous .375, despite a projected .319 BABIP, and the actual slugging (.641) far exceeds the projected rate (.508). Hit a ball in the air at Coors in 2016 and you’re slugging 1.231. Hitter’s paradise. Behind Coors, are a couple of stadiums with retractable roofs. The ability to block out all external factors have made Miller Park (117.7 PF) and Chase Stadium (116.3 PF) great places to hit in 2016. [Brett: I guess no one told the Cubs about Miller Park this week … hey-o!]
By contrast, Wrigley Field has a park factor score of just 84.9, more than 15% lower than average, and second lowest in all of baseball (behind only Angel Stadium). The .292 BABIP at Wrigley is less than the projected .314 rate, and the .462 slugging on balls in play is well beneath the projected .507 rate.
Even more stark, is the slugging percentage on balls hit in the air at Wrigley Field: In 2016, hitters have slugged just .640 on fly balls (tied for lowest in baseball), despite a projected slugging percentage of .784.
It’s very, very clear. Hitters have had a more difficult time in Wrigley than just about any other park so far this year, and pitchers have been let off the hook quite a bit.
So what does that mean for the Cubs who’ve been playing there more than anyone? Let’s take a peak at some of the home/road splits of key players and see who’s been helped or hurt by Wrigley Field, and considering the interesting implications.
Jason Heyward has done much better on the road than he has at home this season, especially in regards to hitting for power. In Chicago, Heyward is slashing just .189/.294/.216 with .027 ISO in 86 plate appearances. However, on the road, Heyward’s line improves to .265/.359/.353 with a .088 ISO in roughly the same number of chances. No, he still isn’t hitting for enough power on the road to call this just a “Wrigley Field” issue, but it is a pretty big difference. Even Kris Bryant, who is a notoriously good hitter at Wrigley Field has provided much higher production on the road (.381 wOBA) than he has at home (.339 wOBA).
Perhaps, as the weather warms up and the wind starts blowing out, the Cubs’ already impressive offensive numbers will begin to shine even brighter (for a home run hitting team, I don’t think that’s too far fetched to imagine).
On the pitching side, then, you might expect things to start getting ugly for the Cubs, but that’s not really the case.
Despite throwing in a pitcher-friendly park more often than their peers, only Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey have been better at home than they have been on the road. In other words, Wrigley’s favorable pitching conditions haven’t been the reason for the 3/5 of the Cubs rotation’s early season success. That’s good news!
Although to be fair, it has seemed to help those two particular pitchers out a lot. At home, for example, Hendricks has allowed a slugging percentage of just .235 compared to .409 on the road. Both of the home runs he’s allowed have come from parks outside of Chicago. And Lackey has seen much of the same splits (.234 wOBA at home, .318 wOBA away). Like Hendricks, Lackey has allowed just a .303 slugging percentage at Wrigley Field, but when he leaves his home park, that number jumps all the way up to .456. The concern, of course, is that those two pitchers could soon find Wrigley Field to be very unfriendly confines.
None of this is guaranteed, however, and there are certainly examples to the contrary (Addison Russell has been much better and has hit for more power at Wrigley, for one example). Furthermore, although the league-wide, full park data is a large set, when you look at individual player splits, you’re still talking about small samples.
But it is an interesting data point here in the early season, especially with respect to a unique park like Wrigley Field. These park factors are something to keep in mind throughout the season. As the weather starts to turn, so may some of the Cubs’ fortunes.