Everything seems to be better at home. The word itself connotes feelings of comfort, relaxation and peace. In the sporting world, playing at home is advantageous due to fan support, a lack of stress from travel and the overall familiarity of the environment. The San Diego Padres had these obvious goals in mind during construction of Petco Park, their downtown stadium which opened in 2004. The ballpark was also intended to revitalize the city’s Gaslamp Quarter, increase local support for the team, and appease a franchise much in need of a remake. Now seven years later, the ballpark is one potion short of a curse. While the venue has been beneficial for scores of pitchers, it has been a nightmare for San Diego hitters. A brief statistical analysis reveals the team’s serious home offensive woes through 116 games this season (59 at home, 57 away):
Average runs/game at home: 2.9
Average runs/game on the road: 4.5
Average hits/game at home: 7
Average hits/game on the road: 9
Total home runs at home: 29
Total home runs away: 34
While the home run discrepancy is more subtle (but still noteworthy), the first two are eye-poppingly vast. Is there a solution to the problem, or are the Padres doomed to relying on pitching and defense to win at home? The more important question may be, has the problem festered into a psychological one, or is the ballpark constructed to the detriment of most Padres hitters? Visiting teams don’t transform into the Bronx Bombers at Petco, but they do adjust better than the hometown team; San Diego is 23-36 at home this year (and 28-29 on the road).
The problem isn’t just holistic though; amazingly, every single active position player on the team has a better batting average on the road than at home…except for surprise standout first baseman Jesus Guzman. The 27 year old had played in just twelve major league games prior to this season and had failed to record any runs, RBI or stolen bases. But since top prospect Anthony Rizzo and his .143 average were returned to the minors last month following the most disappointing Padres debut in recent memory, Guzman has provided a spark during the bleakest of times. Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Guzman’s surge are his home and road splits. Through August 8th, Guzman is hitting .452 at home, dwarfing his respectable .274 average on the road. 4 of his 5 home runs have been at Petco Park, along with 3 of his 4 stolen bases (Guzman has far less at-bats at home, further confirming the tilt). While Rizzo, who was acquired from the Red Sox via the Adrian Gonzalez trade, is thought of as San Diego’s long-term solution at first, any rational fan would welcome the thought of Guzman delaying his return to the big leagues (or sliding to another position).
Whether or not he can continue his hot debut remains to be seen, but if minor league play is any indication, Guzman’s prolific pace is not an aberration. Here are the Venezuelan’s statistics during his last three full minor league seasons:
2007: .301 avg, 25 HR, 112 RBI
2008: .349 avg, 17 HR, 88 RBI
2010: .321 avg, 18 HR, 72 RBI
And prior to his promotion this season, Guzman was dominating in Triple-A, batting .332 with 8 HR and 57 RBI through 63 games. Such a show of consistency, albeit at lower levels of play, decreases the likelihood of this being a fluke showing.
Midway through the 2011 season, Padres fans were all expecting a hot-hitting first baseman to arrive from Triple-A in grand fashion and energize the team’s struggling offense. But that first baseman was Anthony Rizzo, not Jesus Guzman. Jesus has ignored the Petco Park horror stories of fellow Padres hitters, anchoring the cleanup position and raking with full force. Here’s hoping that Petco is unable to tame another bat gone wild.