Should other teams be concerned about Pence's Home/Road Splits?


No.  That's my answer.  So, I can quit writing this article, right?

Well, that's not how this article stuff works.  I'll generate a few more words, and hopefully they will explain my thinking.

NBC Sports' Craig Calcaterra brought the issue up in an article about Hunter Pence's trade possibilities:

 It’s also possible that people looked at his splits and realized that Minute Maid Park has been very very good to him.  If so, the haul the Astros might have expected may not be all that realistic.

I like Calcaterra's blog, so I'm taking this question seriously.  And an initial look at Pence's splits indicates that he has a good sized home/road split.  Pence's career slash lines: .298, .348, .501, .851 at home; and .281,  .327, .458, .779 on the road.  In 2011, Pence's home/road split is somewhat larger in a smaller sample size, with a .330 BA and .882 OPS at home, compared to .283 BA and .762 OPS on the road.

This, alone, doesn't mean much, since it is typical for players to have better offensive stats at home vs. the road.  The current home/road split for MLB players overall indicates a 7 point higher BA at home and a 30 point higher OPS at home.  On a career basis, Pence has higher than normal splits, with a 17 point batting average differential and a 72 point OPS differential.  Pence's 2011 splits are larger still, but I'm not putting as much stock in a smallish sample size for the split that encompasses a partial season.

So, yes, Pence has a bigger differential than most hitters when he hits at home.  Whether an acquiring team should be worried depends on the cause for the differential.  We know that home field advantage is normal, though we don't know all of the reasons why.  Perhaps it's as simple as the fact that players are more comfortable and rested when they sleep in their own home and play where they live.  Maybe opposing teams are more familiar with their own ballpark and let fewer batted balls fall in safely.  Some evidence supports the notion that a home field advantage affects umpires' ball/strike calls, but there is debate as to whether this is a substantial factor.  But none of these causes for Pence's H/R splits would bother me as an acquiring team. All of these factors should be transferrable to a new city and a new team.  So what if Pence likes the comfort and rest of hitting at home or before a home crowd more than the usual player? Home game performance counts just the same as road game performance.  If Pence innately hits better at home, none of these reasons should lead you think that he will suddenly hit poorly at home when he is traded.

That leaves one potential cause for a H/R differential which should be of interest to acquiring teams: is Minute Maid Park, itself, causing the large H/R split for Pence?  Is Pence's hitting a product of the dimensions of MMP?  By and large, I don't think that is the case.  We can use ballpark factors for MMP to help us answer the question; but, given the sample size issue, we have to use multi-year ballpark factors. (1.0 is average, and ballparks above or below that factor are, respectively, above or below average.) First, MMP is not a high run scoring environment.  Using a weighted ballpark factor for 2009 - 2011, the run scoring factor at MMP is .93, based upon ESPN's index.  This is consistent with Baseball-Reference.com's ballpark factor for MMP.

We can also look in more detail at the impact on Pence's power.  MMP park has an above average HR park factor. The weighted HR park factor at MMP for 2009-2011 is 1.11.  However, Pence's career HR totals are not skewed significantly toward the home park.  And Pence has hit more HRs on the road (and in fewer games) than at home this year.  Pence's distribution of HRs doesn't support the idea that MMP is artifically elevating his HR totals.  My impression is that Pence hasn't required the assistance of the short porch in LF when he hits HRs.   And Hit Tracker comfirms that impression.  All but one of Pence's HRs is in the 392 - 400+ foot distance.  In fact, 5 of Pence's 11 HRs are classified as no doubters.  Only 1 of Pence's HRs appears to have been "just enough" at MMP. 

It's possible that Pence's ability to hit triples has been aided by MMP.  The vast majority of Pence's triples over his career have been hit at MMP.  MMP's triples factor varies quite a bit from year to year, but my conclusion is that MMP is somewhat above average in allowing triples.  Even if MMP gives a boost for triples, I doubt that this significantly affects Pence's value in other ballparks.  Some of the triples could turn into doubles at other ballparks.  Perhaps some of the triples would be HRs at other ballparks, which would offset that impact.  Given the relatively small of number of triples each year, this is unlikely to be a difference maker for the acquiring team.

My conclusion: I don't think the dimensions of MMP have made Pence the offensive player that he is.  And that would be the only reason for an acquiring team to be concerned about his Home/Road splits, in my opinion.  It's possible that Pence would improve his offensive totals if he played in some of the contenders' ballparks, like Great America Ballpark, Citizens Bank Ballpark, or Yankee Stadium.

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