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Homer Hospitality

As the St. Louis Cardinals pummeled the Phillies by a 10-2 score on national TV Sunday night, ESPN announcer Jon Miller noted an interesting fact: while the Phillies are the NL's highest-scoring offense, and the team is justly known for its power up and down the lineup, the Phils actually have been out-homered at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park by a considerable margin this season. The trend was on display in the game itself, as the Cardinals bashed six home runs against a series of hapless Phillies pitchers while the home club managed just one, by unlikely slugger Michael Bourn. For the season, the Phils have hit 63 homers in 46 games before their fans; opponents have slugged 81.

While CBP is doubtless a great place to watch a game, I've come to the conclusion that its unique contours and wind patterns are as responsible as any other factor for the agonizing postseason near-misses of the last two seasons.

Barring some radical reversal, 2007 will mark the fourth time in CBP's four seasons of play that the home team has been out-homered. By contrast, the Phillies of 2001-2003, playing at the Vet, outslugged their opponents in each of those years. Perhaps not coincidentally, the team posted home winning percentages that ran well ahead of their overall mark during those years. In two of their first three seasons at CBP, by contrast, the Phils actually played worse at home than on the road.

A year-by-year look at the numbers shows both how the Phillies have been out-mashed at home, and how this fact might have gotten us to 10,000 losses--and more importantly, October vacations for the players--more quickly than might otherwise have been the case:

2007: Phillies at CBP: 64 HR. .282/.358/.476/.834
Opponents: 81 HR, .275/.345/.495/.840
Home Record: 24-22 (Overall: 46-45)

Phils: 112 HR, .274/.353/.462/.815
Opponents 2006: 121 HR, .275/.339/.471/.810
Record: 41-40 (85-77)

Phils 94 HR, .281/.361/.453/.814
Opponents: 107 HR, .265/.323/.450/.773
Record: 46-35 (88-74)

Phils 113 HR, .266/.348/.450/.798
Opponents: 115 HR, .260/.325/.444/.768
Record: 42-39 (86-76)
2003 (Veterans Stadium)
Phils: 83 HR, .264/.350/.430/.780
Opponents: 61 HR, .238/.315/.369/.684
Record: 49-32 (86-76)

Phils: 79 HR, .244/.329/.405/.734
Opponents: 74 HR, .230/.311/.369/.680
Record: 40-40 (80-81)

Phils: 83 HR, .257/.329/.419/.748
Opponents: 81 HR, .248/.318/.405/.724
Record: 47-34 (86-76)

As usual when trying to figure out how a team with such strengths can flounder so badly, the finger of blame points up at the executive suites. The original sin of CBP rests with the spectacularly incompetent and moronic Bill Giles, minority owner and former team president, who headed up the stadium effort. Giles, always more obsessed with "fun" and "family entertainment," claimed that wind tests and other experiments had proved that the ballpark would play neutral in terms of offense; as TGP commenter smitty has pointed out, the problem is that they conducted these tests while Veterans Stadium--a large-ish facility that presumably impacted the wind patterns--was still standing!

A secondary share of blame goes to former GM Ed Wade and, especially, current personnel honcho Pat Gillick.

In a park where the ball carries and the dimensions are conducive to power, you'd expect the focus to be on acquiring pitchers who keep the ball down. But with the exception of emergency closer Antonio Alfonseca (1.98 career groundball/flyball ratio) and emergency callup Kyle Kendrick (1.55 through six big-league starts)--whom he didn't draft anyway--Gillick has inexplicably favored flyball pitchers. Adam Eaton, who surrendered the first two Cardinals homers Sunday night en route to his sixth loss of 2007, has a career G/F ratio of 1.07; Eaton somehow managed to surrender 28 homers in 2004 while pitching half his games in San Diego's spacious Petco Park. Jamie Moyer, Gillick's most successful pitcher acquisition, is barely better at keeping the ball down with a G/F ratio of 1.11. Moyer too allowed an unfathomable number of home runs in a vast home park, surrendering 44 (!) with the Mariners in hyuuuge Safeco Field (just ask Chris Wheeler) in '04.

The move that Gillick has taken the most abuse for was the trade for Freddy Garcia. But had Garcia not fallen short on so many other criteria, it's likely that we'd be scratching our heads over his homer rate as well: Garcia allowed 12 in his 58 mostly craptacular innings for 2007, and has a career 1.24 G/F ratio.

Like the Colorado Rockies, doomed to contend with the thin air of their hometown, the Phillies must figure out how to win in their home park. One possible solution mentioned on the Mets broadcast during their recent visit might be to enclose the concourse, which is currently open; this would change the wind patterns and impede how well the ball carries. I'm not a structural engineer, nor am I a physicist--nor am I a highly paid baseball executive. But while this renovation might be helpful in the long run, it seems like a more sensible solution would be to hire more groundball pitchers.