Is Minute Maid Park now “neutral” for hitters?
That may strike many of you as an odd question. From different ends of the spectrum!
For years, announcers and fans have called Minute Maid a “bandbox” that was a dream park for hitters because of its short outfield dimensions. This despite the overwhelming statistical evidence (and relative lack of high scoring shootouts featuring dingers) suggesting that it was in fact, a great pitcher’s park. (Best stadium for hurlers in both 2016 and 2017 of all 30 major league parks).
But franchise management has been making changes to the hitting backdrop that may have evened things out. Prior to the 2017 season, a large “batter’s eye” made of astro turf was erected in dead center field. That by itself didn’t have much of an effect. But, in August of 2017, additional tweaks to eliminate distracting lighting from outfield restaurants and advertising material finally made hitters happy.
Though one season doesn’t provide enough of a sample size to draw final conclusions, these numbers speak for themselves.
Minute Maid “Park Factor” Rankings
2016: #30 in MLB, offense down 19.2%
2017: #30 in MLB, offense down 17.4%
2018: #17 in MLB, offense down 1.3%
Note that park factors compare home games to road games in each season. That chart isn’t saying that Houston’s offensive firepower changed in 2018. What had been a huge scoring difference between road games and home games disappeared this past season.
So, if you were thinking Minute Maid was a bandbox that increased scoring because home runs were so easy…bring those expectations down. If you were thinking this was a pitcher’s paradise because poor visibility impaired hitters, consider bringing those expectations up.
At least three more 2018 playoff showdowns will be contested at the site. Game three of the ALCS is late Tuesday afternoon (TBS, 5:10 p.m.). Games four and five will be Wednesday and Thursday nights. If Houston advances to the World Series, it would host games 1-2-6-7 vs. the NL representative.
Through two meetings, both offenses have shown timely efficiency.
*Houston won the series opener 7-2, despite only winning “total bases plus walks” by a 16-7 count. Normally that would be about a 4-2 win. Having three hitters hit by Boston pitches helped get some extra runners on base.
*Boston won game two 7-5, despite LOSING “total bases plus walks 18-17. Late-game wildness from Houston pitchers contributed.
Houston is still the series favorite after earning a road split. But, as we discussed yesterday in the Brewers/Dodgers series, the laws of probability show that it’s hard to sweep three straight home games vs. a quality opponent even if you’re favored in all of them.