Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Is Kauffman Stadium too Neutral?

While watching the Oakland A's pull off one of the most magical seasons in recent memory, I thought back to a discussion I had with a friend of mine over the summer. The discussion began simply on the premise of what has Billy Beane figured out that has allowed his team to be so damn good. Eventually, what I started to realize was that the A's had simply developed a supreme understanding for what it takes to win at the Coliseum.

Of course, this thought got me to wondering how other team's have taken advantage of their home field advantages in the 2012 season. The Coliseum with its batting average and offensive suppressed environment. Yankee stadium with its distinctive jet stream blowing out to right field. The launching pads of Cincinnati, Texas, and Baltimore. The spacious outfields in Detroit and San Francisco. The more I thought about it, the more obvious it became.

As a Royals fan, this of course left me wondering one of two things. First, are the Royals not taking advantage of Kauffman like they could be? Or, is Kauffman Stadium too neutral?

Here's a snapshot of the percentage of home games won (out of total wins) by each of the 2012 playoff teams and the Kansas City Royals:

Detroit: .568 (t5th)
St. Louis: .568 (t5th)
Texas: .538 (12th)
New York: .537 (13th)
Oakland: .532 (15th)
Cincinnati: .515 (19th)
Kansas City: .514 (20th)
Atlanta: .511 (t21st)
San Francisco: .511 (t21st)
Washington: .510 (24th)
Baltimore: .505 (26th)

Interestingly enough these teams are incredibly, evenly dispersed. Obviously, my initial hypothesis that the 2012 playoff teams took advantage of their home fields more than other teams is not valid. However, that doesn't mean that improvement in the Royals' home field advantage is any less important.

Just think, if Kansas City would have managed to be average in home field advantage and win .53% of their total 2012 wins, they would have won three additional games. This would have made their home record 40-41 and their final record 75-87 for the year. Keep in mind that is only asking the Royals to be average in terms of home field advantage. 

What if the Royals could proficiently take advantage of the confines of Kauffman Stadium. For fun let's look at where they would have wound up if they would have been as dominate at home as Detroit and St. Louis. If the Royals would have recorded 56.8% of their wins at home in 2012, their final record would have been even at 81-81. 

Consider that number for a second.  The Royals, without improving their talent level at all and simply taking advantage of a strong home field advantage, could have finished the 2012 season with eight more wins. This leads us to the obvious question: does Kauffman Stadium offer a uniqueness that the Royals could exploit for more wins?

Below is a radar displaying the park factors of every Major League stadium. The farther away from the midpoint, the more extreme the park factor.

And here is that information in table form. Keep in mind that each park factor has been converted into a number displaying how far the factor is from zero. The cells are then color coded (green = neutral, red = extreme). The teams are organized based off of which teams won the highest percentage of their games at home, or if you'd prefer, which teams most took advantage of their home field.

Unfortunately, based on the park factors, there aren't any specific characteristics of Kauffman Stadium that stand out for being incredibly unique compared to other parks around the league. The only factor that even comes being close to not being league average is triples, where Kauffman Stadium boosts triple numbers to 25.7% above the league average.

For a team that is trying to increase their win total by about 15 games from 2012 to 2013, every win is crucial. One thing the Royals have to improve on is their home field advantage. In 2013, in order for the Royals to really start to close the gap, it would be a huge help to have at least an average home field advantage, even if that was only worth three additional wins in the standings.

Unfortunately, looking at the numbers it is hard to imagine the Royals building a team around Kauffman Stadium. Based off the above information, it would appear that Kauffman Stadium is simply too neutral. With that being said, there is another stadium whose park factors very closely resemble those to Kauffman.

As you can see, based off the extremity of the park factors (bottom two rows, displaying how far the park factor is from average), Kauffman Stadium and Busch Stadium are very similar to one another. However, when you look at straight up park factors, they are virtually mirror images over each other when straddling the league average marks.

Either way, both are very close to playing neutral and despite that the 2012 Cardinals were able to win the fifth highest percentage of their total wins at home. If the Royals can replicate that feat at Kauffman Stadium in 2013, it would only take marginal improvement from the roster for Kauffman to get to host its first playoff game since 1985.

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