Can Clayton Richard Survive in a Smaller Petco Park?

Hey there, how are you? It’s been a while.

The last time I blogged about the Padres, Alberto González started at first base. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts that Friday evening in September 2011. Ted Lilly and the Dodgers blanked the home team in front of 32,658 fans who would have been disappointed if not for the fact that most were rooting for the squad from Los Angeles.

Jason Bartlett batted second. Orlando Hudson batted fifth. Wade LeBlanc started and took the loss despite fanning a career-high 10. In the seventh inning, LeBlanc surrendered a monstrous 428-foot homer to Matt Kemp. The ball went to right-center, where it will be easier to hit home runs this year thanks to the fences being moved in 11 feet.

This change in dimensions may or may not improve the Padres’ record, but the theory is that it should make them less boring when they lose, thus drawing more folks out to watch Kemp et al. hit a yachtload of homers. Either way, it isn’t LeBlanc’s problem; he’s in Miami, which has other problems.

Instead, Clayton Richard gets to deal with the shorter distances. Richard led the NL in homers allowed last year despite pitching half his games at Petco Park. He became the first Padres hurler since the team moved downtown in 2004 to break the 30-homer barrier:

Player Year IP HR
Clayton Richard 2012 218.2 31
Chris Young 2006 179.1 28
Adam Eaton 2004 199.1 28
Josh Geer 2009 102.2 27
Brian Lawrence 2004 203.0 26

First off, take a moment to appreciate Geer’s achievement. Dude gave up home runs in all but two of his 19 appearances before being shipped back to Portland at the end of July. #boomstick

Returning to our hero, Richard’s total ties him with Brett Tomko (2002) for sixth most in Padres history. The last to break 30 homers before Richard? That would be Jake Peavy, with 33 in 2003.

Nearly 68 percent of the long balls Richard surrendered in 2012 came on the road, so maybe the new dimensions will help give him a more even distribution. The list of men who took Richard deep at Petco last year should inspire hitters of all types:

Player Date Type True Dist. Std Dist. # Parks SLG
Matt Kemp 4/8/12 JE 407 405 1 .538
Gregor Blanco 6/6/12 JE 385 383 30 .344
Franklin Gutiérrez 6/22/12 PL 392 385 24 .420
Miguel Olivo 6/22/12 PL 375 375 30 .381
Drew Stubbs 7/7/12 JE 397 396 29 .333
Chris Heisey 7/7/12 PL 417 416 20 .401
Matt Downs 7/18/12 PL 355 362 30 .371
Matt Downs 7/18/12 PL 397 394 29 .371
Matt Carpenter 9/12/12 ND 445 449 30 .463
Juan Rivera 9/26/12 PL 379 379 27 .375

JE = just enough (ball barely made it over fence); ND, no doubt (really deep blast); PL, plenty (everything else).

True Dist. = How far the ball traveled.

Std Dist. = How far the ball would have traveled with no wind, in 70 degree air, at sea level.

#Parks = Number of MLB ballparks, out of 30, where the ball would have been a home run.

See Home Run Tracker glossary for more detailed definitions.

Careful readers will note the lack of actual sluggers here. Nobody other than Kemp, who hit the first (and cheapest) bomb off Richard all season, had a SLG higher than .463. Six of the 10 homers hit were by guys with a sub-.400 SLG, and Heisey just missed.

Over on Twitter, Shamu35 reminds us that context is everything by asking what percentage of homers are normally produced by guys with a sub-.400 SLG. The answer in 2012 was 25 percent, and it’s about the same (25.6%) over the period 2010-2012. So yeah, Richard was slightly above that.

Meanwhile, Downs hit eight homers last year; three came against Richard. I’m pretty sure Downs signed with the Marlins just so he could stay in the NL and pay his friend another visit at Petco Park.

Returning to the big picture, there are at least two positives to take from all this. First, Josh Geer isn’t in the rotation. Second, people will pay money to see lots of points.

There, I feel better. How about you?

* * *

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  • No Josh Geer? I’m not ready to rule it out. #ohlendorf’d

    • There’s always Sean O’Sullivan.

      • Didi

        where’s Scott Elarton?
        welcome back, welcome back, welcome back, (duck) snorters!

  • Good stuff, Geoff. The home runs were sort of a mystery to me in 2012. Look at 2010 and he allowed about half (16) in just about as many innings. Was 2012 an outlier? Perhaps. I’m really, really curious to see what he does in 2013 and, generally, how the fence modifications play.

    Also, I’m sorry Alberto Gonzalez drove you away from blogging about the Padres. He should feel bad for that.

    • Geoff Young

      Thanks, Corey. These are good questions and ones that won’t be answered until probably after a few seasons with these specs. Like you, I’m fascinated to see what the effect is this year.
      As for Gonzalez, hey, he was bound to drive something eventually.

      • Zach

        It’s especially flukey when you consider he posted the highest GB% (53.8%) in 2012 of his career, while at the same time seeing the highest HR/FB% of his career (15%). If he keeps generating grounders on more than half the balls that get put in play against him, he should surrender fewer home runs next year regardless of the fences.

      • Zach, you raise an interesting point about the GB%. So something to watch this year is whether Richard can continue to generate grounders at such a high rate. Did he acquire a new skill, or was his 2012 performance an aberration?

  • SDPads1

    As I scrolled down that list of misfits who hit homers off him at Petco, I fully expected to see Joe Randa on there despite knowing he’s been retired for some time now.

  • Tom Waits

    Return of the duck! And with a Chin reference! Gimme some sugar, baby!

    The HR could be mostly a result of better scouting reports. There’s nothing nasty about Richard’s stuff and last year his FB got slower while his offspeed pitchers got faster. That lack of spread can only make it easier for hitters.

    He works quick and can give you innings. Not good ones, but there’s a little value in bulk. Too bad he’s probably our opening day starter and not our #5.

    • Hey Tom, great to see you here! Long live The Chin! (I need to rewatch “Jack of All Trades” one of these days.)
      Interesting point about Richard’s decreasing velocity spread. That might be worth further investigation at some point.
      As you say, at least he is durable. And yeah, it’d better to have him toward the back of the rotation, but there you go.

    • Pat


    • Didi

      hi TW.
      let’s hope he won’t be our opening day starter. that goes to Volquez, no?
      yeah, Richard at #5 is great at other spot, well, he could be useful at times.

    • Jefe

      Hello there TW.

  • On the plus side the smaller field should help the next time Richard air-mails a throw to first into RF.

  • Neal White

    If he cannot survive in a neutral ball park, that raises questions as to his usefulness in a championship run.

    • Gloccamorra

      Aww, Neal, he gave up 4 homers in Arizona in 3 games, 4 in 2 games in Colorado, 2 in Philly in one game, and 3 in Milwaukee in his last start of the season. None of those places are neutral and all had sluggers playing at home in those 7 games. What Clayton needs is one more pitch. I recommend an Ed Whitson-style palm ball.

  • GoldenBoy

    Also worth noting, Clayton rolled his eyes dramatically and made a funny, angry face the second all 31 of those bombs were hit. Cue Bud Black’s standard “he had nice stuff, but he let a few balls get up in the zone” press talk.

  • Pat

    Welcome back GY!

  • Brian

    glad to have you back…love your writing style and ‘tell it like it is’ mentality while still an obvious fan.

    • Thanks, Brian, for the kind words. It is good to be here.

  • 29 of those home runs against Clayton Richard were via RHB and only one was to right or right center so there should be little if any increase in home runs due to the fences being moved in for Clayton Richard.

    • Thanks for the additional context, web. That’s interesting about the high FB getting down too much sometimes. Seems like a correctable problem, assuming it’s mechanical, but that’s easy for me to say.

  • Welcome Back! I have missed your posts.

  • Interesting that only 2 of the homers given up at Petco would’ve traveled farther under ‘standard’ conditions–and those two were in July and September, when the marine layer might not be as big of an influence. Oh well, SSS.

    Glad you’re back blogging about the Padres (in addition to your BP stuff). Going to change TV providers this year so you can catch some more games?

  • Stoked to have you back talking Padres. One thing I think may be nice about the new dimensions is that the Padres won’t necessarily be able to continue to hide their refusal to spend on quality major league pitching behind the mirage of Petco Park.

  • Nice article, good to have you back Geoff. I’ve missed Ducksnorts.

    • Thanks, Ardeth; glad you enjoyed. It is good to be back.

  • LanceRichardson

    Nice to see Tom Waits and Didi, old friends from Geoff’s seminal Ducksnorts blog, commenting here. I am still reeling from the fact that Wade LeBlanc had ten strikeouts in a major league game. Although I’m pretty sure Geoff just made that up,,,

    • “We told the Dodgers that tonight, instead of baseball, they’ll be playing pin the tail on the donkey. Let’s see what happens.”
      Good to see you and the others (don’t forget Pat!) here, Lance.

      • Pat

        Cheers, GY!

  • Jefe

    Richard isn’t the only fly-ball pitcher we have on staff (or will likely have on staff this year). We were out-homered at home last year 62-47 (or something like that). Doubt that changing the dimensions in right and center affects that ratio very much given the lack of changes to the roster this offseason.

    Sure, this could help Alonso turn more of those doubles into HR’s, and it could help Headley as well…to GY’s point, it will likely mean more scoring on both sides, which is what the people pay to see I suppose. I like to pay to see a winning team though.

    • Jefe

      And GY it is *great* to have you back

  • LynchMob

    Quack! When do Pitcher’s and Catcher’s report?

  • Tom Waits

    Hello to all my fellow former Ducksnorters.

    It’s not hard to imagine Black giving the opening day nod to Richard. Not as good as Volquez, but a longer tenure with the team, less likely to let nerves get the best of him, and with his strikeout rate continuing to fall, now an official Crafty Lefty.

    No matter who gets the job, we’re fronting the rotation with two guys who should be a #4 and a Skip Him Whenever Possible.

    • Pat

      Yes, this is the reason 2013 will be another year of futility for the Home Team. We have no front of the rotation starters. Oh there’s potential in the pipeline, but it’s still a ways off due to youth and injuries. Any team’s fans discussing whether Richard or Volquez will be their Opening Day starter, is a team’s fans who are not discussing their playoff chances. Too early to start with the negatives? Sorry, All! 😉

  • A Shamu35 ref in your “first” blog entry? Knock me over with a feather. Looking forward to the new blog and Padres 2013 with cautious optimism.

  • Wiggy

    Great to have you back blogging. I also miss Ducksnorts. From having you and Paul DeP blogging to not definitely lost a big niche.