July 26, 2021

First Year at the New Ballpark

October 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

In 2010, the Minnesota Twins were the only team in the Major Leagues to play in a new stadium. In front of 3.2 million fans at Target Field, the Twins went 53-28, the third-best home record in the major leagues and a 4.5-game improvement over 2009, the last season at the Metrodome.

This raises the question: do teams perform better, in the short or long term, when they move into new stadiums?

There are several reasons why they might. Crowds are bigger and louder, making the players more excited and presumably heightening the already pronounced home-field advantage (the home team won 56 percent of the time across the league in 2010). The projected spike in revenue loosens owners’ pursestrings, potentially allowing them to spend on higher-priced free agents. Any deficiences in the old stadium—cramped locker rooms or a bumpy field—are addressed, and the new stadium’s hitter/pitcher tendency will presumably favor the home team (for instance, a power-hitting team would not build a Petco Park). Visiting teams will be unfamiliar with the stadium, at least on the first visit.

But is it true? To test the hypothesis, I put together a simple database including every stadium opened since 1912, when Fenway Park was built. I gathered the following data:

-       home record, last season at old park

-       home record, first season at new park

-       overall record, last month at old park (September/October)

-       overall record, first month at new park (March/April)

-       win/loss in last game at old park

-       win/loss in first game at new park

From 1912, when Fenway Park and Crosley Field opened, until 2010, the inaugural season at Target Field, there were 61 new parks in the Major Leagues. The average marks for the first seasons at those stadiums are as follows:

Last Season (old) First Season (new) Percent Change
Home Record .521 .513 -1.67
Last/First Month .464 .507 9.36
Last/First Game .490 .475 -3.02

Those numbers show very little effect besides possibly the last and first month. There are several problems with this analysis, though. For one, it includes nine expansion teams with no previous season to compare against. Seven teams moved into a new stadium from another city, obscuring the effect of the stadium itself. And six teams, most recently the 1999 Mariners, christened their new ballpark in the middle of the season, thwarting the kinds of simple tallies I’m making here.

Also, Coors Field was inaugurated on the edge of a strike season in 1995, and the Indians opened Cleveland Stadium in 1946 but continued to play games at League Park II.

When these discordant data bits are removed, only 35 stadiums remain. Those numbers are given below:

Last Season (old) First Season (new) Percent Change
Home Record .544 .552 1.35
Last/First Month .488 .534 9.51
Last/First Game .514 .457 -11.11

Here, the data becomes muddled in a small sample size. There’s no remedy for it; only so many stadiums have opened in the history of major league baseball. A survey including minor league teams might be more viable statistically, though more difficult to perform.

For what it’s worth, though, one finding remains constant: teams do significantly better in their first month in a new stadium than in their last month in an old stadium (with both home and away games included). This could be attributable to higher interest, and possibly better weather, while the locker rooms still have that new-stadium smell.

The team that improved its performance the most is the first one on the list, the 1912 Red Sox. After winning just 51 percent of their home games in 1911 at Huntington Avenue Grounds, the Red Sox won 74 percent in 1912, their first year at Fenway Park.

The change may be partly attributable to a better hitters’ environment. Huntington Avenue Grounds was a modest pitcher’s park, and the Red Sox were sixth in the American League in scoring in 1911. In the more hitter-friendly Fenway Park, they led the league in scoring with 799 runs, paced by Tris Speaker with 136.

The team least happy with its new environs was the 2000 Houston Astros, whose winning percentage fell from .610 to .481 in their first year outdoors at Enron Field. In this case, the change was to smaller field, and the Houston pitchers suffered. After allowing the second-fewest runs in the National League at the Astrodome in 1999, the Astros gave up the most in the league in 2000, and allowed 106 more home runs.

The information presented in this article was harvested from www.baseball-reference.com. For the Excel spreadsheet with all the data, e-mail me: jdmurphy315@yahoo.com.

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