December 6, 2019

MACK PARK: Friend or Foe?

November 11, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Ballparks are not uniform in baseball. Each one has unique dimensions and can be either a friend of Pitcher and foe of the batter, or vice versa. And beyond that, they can be friendly to RH batters, or LH batters, or both, or neither.

Over the last decade, we’ve been continually building a “Negro Leagues Database” of statistics at seamheads.com. As researchers, at first, we were glad just to have ANY statistics on the Negro Leagues. But now that we have a significant set of them, we can take the next step and try to put them in context – the context being the level of competition, the offensive environment, and the ballpark effects that the events were achieved against and within. We do this routinely with Organized Baseball statistics, understanding that hitting 40 Home Runs in the 1990’s playing ½ of your games in Coors Field is different from hitting 40 Home Runs playing ½ of your games in the Astrodome in the 1960’s. We are now to the point where we can do similar types of analysis for the Negro Leagues.

The Park

Why look at Mack Park? First, because it’s a significant park in the Negro Leagues. It ranks 4th in the number of major Negro League games hosted in the seamheads.com database. In terms of number of games, the MLB equivalent would be Tiger Stadium.

Mack Park was built around 1911 or 1912 and was used thru the 1929 season. The park was damaged by fire on July 7, 1929, but the team was able to make the park useable enough to finish out the season there.

Second, because it had an unusual shape, with a short distance to RF:

Estimated Dimensions:
Left Field: 358
Straightaway Left Field: 365
Left Center: 390
Center Field Corner: 444 (at 42 degrees and left of dead CF
Center Field: 405
Right Center: 318
Straightaway Right Field: 278
Right Field: 265
Backstop: 37
Fence Height: 12 Feet

Our assumption going in is that the park favored hitters over pitchers, and in particular favored LH hitters. But by how much exactly? What types of offense? What players specifically may have benefited or been hurt by the park?

The Data

We examined all Detroit Stars games where we have box scores from 1919 thru 1928, except for 1926 and 1927, which have not yet been ‘processed’ into a useable electronic form.
For approximately 11% of the Plate Appearances, we do not know the handedness of the batter.
For switch-hitters, we assumed they batted LH if the starting pitcher was RH, and RH if the starting pitcher was LH.

The Baseline

The average OPS for Detroit Stars games in Mack Park was .752. LH batters performed quite a bit better than RH batters:

LH batters hit HR’s at a rate of 92% higher than RH batters.

Detroit Stars Mack Park games vs. Other Parks Games:

On a rate basis, batters in Mack Park hit 128% more Home Runs than at other parks. However, OPS was only 6% higher.

Left-handed batters hit 187% more home runs at Mack Park, on a rate basis. Right-handed batters hit 68% more.

Individual Players:

Now let’s look at how some prominent individual Detroit Stars players did at Mack Park vs. at other parks:

Bill Riggins was a switch-hitting shortstop. His overall production was about equal between Mack Park and other games, but he hit HR’s at a rate of 55% higher in Mack Park.

Edgar Wesley was a LH hitting 1st baseman. I would say he probably took more advantage of the short Mack Park right field than anyone.

Clarence Smith, a right-handed hitting right fielder, also was able to take advantage of Mack Park.

Frank Warfield was a slick fielding right-handed hitting second baseman.

Bruce Petway is regarded as the best fielding catcher in Negro League history. As you can see, he certainly was not much of a hitter, especially away from Mack Park.

Turkey Stearnes was the best player ever to play for the Detroit Stars. As a left-handed hitting center fielder, he hit 194% more home runs at Mack Park than at other parks. However, note he did have a .360 batting average away from Mack Park, so he was an excellent hitter in any park.

And now for a few pitchers:

Bill Gatewood was a long-time Negro League RH pitcher. As a pitcher who didn’t give up many home runs, he actually had better statistics pitching at home in Mack Park than he did pitching in other parks.

Right-handed pitcher Bill Force was able to mitigate home runs allowed at Mack Park, so he too actually had better results there than he did elsewhere

Bill Holland’s results may be the weirdest of all. He gave up a much higher rate of home runs at Mack Park, and yet he too still was able to pitch better overall at his home park.

Andy Cooper in a left-handed pitcher, who was clearly the best Detroit Stars pitcher, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. His results are more in line with the averages we saw in our beginning baseline – he was able to have better results AWAY from Mack Park, particularly in giving up home runs.

What Do You Think?

Not unexpectedly, it seems clear that Mack Park favored hitters over pitchers, and particularly was friendly to left-handed hitters. However, some of the longer-term Detroit Star pitchers were apparently able to figure out how to be quite successful in their difficult for pitchers home environment.

(NOTE: This article is based on an oral presentation given at the 2019 Detroit Stars Centennial Conference in Detroit, Michigan)

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