How to Build a Lineup in a Pitcher’s Park

Baseball fields are the only playing surfaces in America that aren’t bound to specific dimensions. Football gridirons are 100 yards long, basketball courts are 94×50 feet, and so on. But no two baseball stadiums are the same.

Deep outfields generally make a ballpark pitcher-friendly, and short fences favor hitters. Today we’ll examine how one team is putting up offensive numbers despite playing in a park that makes it difficult to do so.

In 2014, AT&T Park was the most favorable major league stadium to pitchers. It was also the least friendly toward power hitters, sporting an 88 home run factor for righties and 84 for lefties.

The defending champion Giants have molded their lineup accordingly. As expected, they’re near the bottom of the NL in home runs, but are actually leading the league in batting average. How’s this possible for a team that plays in such a bad environment for hitters?

The types of batted balls the Giants are producing works in their favor. It’s not wise to stack a lineup with fly ball hitters if your park has poor power dimensions, something the Giants understand. They have the second-highest GB/FB ratio in the majors (1.68), which has contributed to their fourth-ranked .318 BABIP.

The Giants are also striking out at a lower pace than any other NL team, thanks in large part to making frequent contact. Four of their players rank in the top 17 in the MLB in contact percentage, and the team as a whole ranks third in the NL in that department.

Nori Aoki has quietly been one of the best additions to any team this season. His 91.8% contact percentage ranks third in the majors, and his .335 BABIP is the highest of his career. And Joe Panik, a call-up from last season, is 17th in contact% and has posted a .337 BABIP.

Even their guys who don’t make constant contact are producing. Brandon Crawford has the 13th-lowest contact% in the NL, but with 8 home runs, has already almost matched his output from last year (10). He also leads the team in runs and RBI.

Brandon Belt, who’s right next to Crawford near the bottom of the contact% leaderboard, is making up for it by absolutely crushing the ball. He’s second in the majors in making hard contact (46.2%), and is hitting line drives at a league-leading 33.6% rate. This has helped him post an absurd .402 BABIP that you’d expect at Coors Field, not AT&T Park.

As with all baseball statistics, the fortunes of Crawford and Belt will most likely regress toward the norm. But the Giants have a winning formula, with much of their lineup making contact on a regular basis, and more importantly, the right kind of contact. Brian Sabean deserves all the credit in the world, and has his team primed for another run.

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