Monday, August 3, 2009

So What the heck is going on in Minnesota/Arizona/Philly/Miami?

Watching the White Sox playing in Minnesota last week and listening to Hawk/Ken/TCB Twitter feedback I decided that I needed to get to the bottom of this whole TerrorDome thing. Of course I can't just look at one team playing in once place. Every team seems to have their house of horrors, for the Cubs its the airplane hangar known as Chase Field. Citizens Bank Park doesn't treat them well either, add in Miami to complete the hell hole trio.
For the purposes of showing recent history, and getting a gauge of good and bad teams from both sides of town, we will start from 2005 and go forward.

Sox record in Minnesota by year since 2005.

2005 9 games 6-3

2006 10 games 5-5

2007 9 games 4-5

2008 8 games 1-7

2009 (so far) 6 games 1-5

So best I can tell what has happened here is a two year struggle has gotten into the heads of fans. broadcasters, and players. If you told me I had to pick a start date to the struggle it would be the second series of 2007. A three game sweep at the end of May. Before that the Sox were 13-9 in the Dome, and after they have gone 4-13. Statistically this is probably just a little quirk, but I'm willing to look beyond stats.

After winning the World Series in 2005 the Sox changed their team around a bit. Sure they still won with the home run ball in 2005, but the swap of Aaron Rowand for Jim Thome turned the Sox into a home run or nothing type of team. Playing 81 games a season at US Cellular Field makes that a perfectly fine way to build a club, but it is probably the main reason why the Sox have issues in Minnesota.

Just like the Sox are built to hit homers in US Cellular, the Twins have built a team that is designed to scrap their way around the turf in the Dome. Get a group of speedy guys who can hit the ball on the fast turf and run it out. They also all play good defense which means they get to a lot of balls that perhaps the other team can't.

So basically the Dome plays to a team that can get on base with speedy guys who keep the ball on the ground, and a team that plays good defense. The Sox are neither a team that hits the ball on the ground nor a team that plays good defense. So the logical reason for their struggles in Minnesota boils down to this. Those balls that "sneak through the hole" for Minnesota but get caught when the Sox hit them isn't bad luck or a curse, it happens because the Sox infield defense isn't as good as the Twins.

Notice how the Twins also struggle when the come to US Cellular, because those groundballs are slowed down by grass and they aren't a team built to out slug their opponent. When Target Field opens up next season the Twins will probably lose a bit of their home field advantage for a year or two while they reconfigure their team to play in a more conventional park, which is why almost every person that watches baseball thinks moving out of the dome is a dumb thing to do.

Now lets look at the Cubs problems in Arizona, Philly, and Miami. Again since 2005 that way we get a mix of all kinds of different teams.

2005 Arizona 1-2; Philly 1-2; Florida 3-0

2006 Arizona 0-2; Philly 1-2; Florida 0-3

2007 Arizona 1-2 (0-2 in playoffs); Philly 1-2; Florida 0-3

2008 Arizona 1-2; Philly 1-2; Florida 2-1

2009 Arizona 1-2; Philly 1-2; Florida 1-2

They you have it one winning series in five seasons between all three parks combined. Luckily the Cubs only have to visit each park once a year and none of the teams are in the Central. Still there has to be a reason for the poor play in each of the parks.

Arizona has had great pitchers most of those seasons, Brandon Webb is an extreme sinker pitcher- the kind that gives the Cubs fits, Randy Johnson for a few years- he's never lost to the Cubs, and a ballpark that swallows up many deep flyballs. The Cubs have always enjoyed Wrigley Field helping flyballs become homers. That same flyball thing happens in Florida. Spacious outfields also work against a team that doesn't exactly toss out outfielders with much range. Matt Murton, Soriano, Juan Pierre, Fukudome, Milton, etc don't cover much ground in the outfield which means some balls fall in that wouldn't for a team that plans for a spacious outfield.

The problem in Philly is that usually the Phillies are the better team. I've been thinking for hours (seriously hours) what the problem is in Philly and them just being better is the only thing I have.

Bottom line is this- the Sox struggle in Minnesota because they don't have a team capable of playing good baseball in that stadium. Combine that with nearly everybody in the organization feeding the idea that winning in that building is near impossible and success only gets harder.

The Cubs bottom line is similar, minus the organizational whining, Arizona and Florida have ballparks that play against the Cubs strengths. Philly just has better teams year to year.

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