By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com
How many times have you been on the road for work, or even on vacation, and when you get home you realize how nice it is to be in your own bed? Its not that different for ballplayers. Its good to be home as the Sox proved this weekend. After ending spring training and their first road trip of the season in miserable fashion, they came home to the Nation and took two-of-three from the Yankees.
Fenway is this teams comfort zone. Every major league ballpark has 90 feet between the bases and six feet six inches from the rubber to the plate, but then the similarities end. There was time in the 1970s when new stadiums were built to eliminate those differences. Ballparks like Riverfront in Cincinnati, Busch Memorial in St. Louis and Three Rivers in Pittsburgh were symmetrical, cookie-cutter, multi-purpose. They were dull.
Then in 1992, in Baltimore, Camden Yards, the beautiful baseball-only facility became the official home of the Orioles and changed the face of newly constructed stadiums. It was asymmetrical with natural grass turf and was built with the great ballparks of the 1900s in mind. It brought to mind legendary parks like Brooklyns Ebbets Field, Chicagos Wrigley Field, and, of course, the iconic, the idiosyncratic, and as John Updike so eloquently described a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark Bostons Fenway Park.
If there ever was a team that needed to get home, this season it was the Red Sox. Starting with six straight losses on the road they needed a reassuring endorsement from Theo Epstein, the grit of Dustin Pedroia, and the love of Red Sox Nation as they battled through another poor start from John Lackey to win the home opener. Add to the mix a national audience on Sunday night and the Sox had their first series win of the season.
You think that coming home doesnt matter? Since 2001, the Sox are now 8-3 in their first game at Fenway and have won seven straight home openers. But there are 80 games beyond the home opener that matter. Playing at Fenway is a critical part of the success of the Red Sox and you can judge the overall Sox season in many ways, by their home performance.
Take a look at the Sox at home over the last decade:
RED SOX AT HOME
Year Sox at Fenway AL avg. @ Home Sox Final Record
2010 46-35 .568 45-35 .563 89-73 .549
2009 56-25 .691 46-35 .568 95-67 .586
2008 56-25 .691 45-35 .563 95-67 .586
2007 51-30 .630 44-36 .550 96-66 .593
2006 48-33 .593 45-35 .563 86-76 .531
2005 54-27 .667 43-37 .537 95-67 .586
2004 55-26 .679 44-36 .550 98-64 .605
2003 53-28 .654 43-37 .537 95-67 .586
2002 42-39 .518 43-37 .537 93-69 .574
2001 41-40 .506 42-38 .525 82-79 .509
Since 2003, the Red Sox have been better at home than the league average and have had a better winning percentage at home than the winning percentage of their overall record.
Is this a coincidence? I think not. Following the 2002 season, the Red Sox were purchased and each season the John Henry-Tom Warner-Larry Lucchino triumvirate has made capital improvements to make Fenway a state-of-the-art ballpark both for the fans and the players. Add the fourth musketeer, Theo Epstein, and they have dramatically improved the team by understanding the ballpark.
For those of you who still have the old school perception that Fenway is a homers ballpark, take a look at this:
FENWAY HOMERS AND DOUBLES
Year Homers Doubles Red Sox HomersDoubles
2010 165 345 98189
2009 180 360 114198
2008 133 377 79211
2007 139 347 79191
2006 147 372 83186
2005 170 379 92191
2004 180 382 111218
2003 172 362 111216
2002 135 317 77172
2001 163 304 97166
Fenway is a really more of a doubles ballpark, than a home run park. Heres how the ballpark has fared compared to other parks. Under the new ownership, with the exception of 2007, Fenway has produced the most doubles every year. It has trailed in homers each year to a variety of stadiums.
FENWAY HOMERS AND DOUBLES
Year Homers Doubles
2010 -59 35
2009 -46 44
2008 -81 28
2007 -50 -9
2006 -89 24
2005 -54 51
2004 -75 43
2003 -60 14
2002 -96 -10
2001 -60 -41
Finished second in the league Finished fifth in the league
Why does Fenway lead in doubles but trail in homers? Look at Fenways dimensions:
HEIGHT OF OUTFIELD WALLS
Left Field: 37 feet
Center Field: 17 feet
Bullpens: 5 feet
Right Field: 3-5 feet
LENGTH OF LEFT FIELD WALL
231 feet (228 feet in fair territory)
While there are a number of reasons for doubles such as the wide left-center and right-centerfield gaps, none is more important (and more unique) than the Green Monster. At 310 feet its close enough that fly balls hit to left in Fenway, which are often caught at other ballparks, hit off the wall and go for doubles. In the same respect, hard rising line drives that go for homers to left in other parks, clang off the Monster for a double.
And, who can so frequently take advantage of that ballpark characteristic? Left-handed batters like Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, and J.D. Drew who go to the opposite field. But thats a visit to NATION STATION for another day.
Until that time, I leave you with the words of the late great commissioner Bart Giamatti, "As I grew up, I knew that as a building (Fenway Park) was on the level of Mount Olympus, the Pyramid at Giza, the nation's capitol, the czar's Winter Palace, and the Louvre except, of course, that it is better than all those inconsequential places."
Theres no place like Fenway.
Delicious stat of the day (so yummy I gain weight thinking about it):
I put away my Stat Hat when it comes to Dustin Pedroia because baseball doesnt track how often a players jersey gets dirty and Bill James hasnt developed a tool as of yet that can measure heart, but Pedey willed this team to their series victory. However, take a look at Pedroias career home and away numbers:
ISplitGGSPAABRH2B3BHRRBISBCSBBSOBAOBPSLGOPSTBGDPHBPSHSFIBBROEBAbiptOPSHome2852751250111120536511122814830610894.329.390.508.8985642412613518.336115Away280274125811141773166132711026610996.284.352.417.76846429131210211.28985Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Pedroia has started the same number of games home and away and has virtually the same number of at bats, triples, homers, steals, caught stealing, walks, and whiffs. However, he has hit 40 points better at Fenway, with 50 more doubles, and has hit 46 points higher when putting balls in play. Yum!
From the Chuck Files
There is a lot to be concerned about with the pitching of John Lackey even after picking up an ugly win on Friday. This season he now has a 15.58 ERA, a WHIP of 2.42, batters are hitting .395 against him, and so far batters have swung and missed at only 6.2 of his pitches, by far the worst of his career . . . Going back to last season, Clay Buchholtz is 2-4 in his last eight starts and the Sox are 2-6 in those games . . . Josh Beckett is now 27-14 pitching for the Sox at home. J.D. Drew is hitting .304 but only has two RBI and one double is his only extra-base hit. Hes hitting .111 with runners in scoring position.
Nation Station, Bill Chuck's statistically-based look at the Red Sox appears on CSNNE.com each Monday and Thursday.