Last week, I broke down the home run projections for each of the Braves' regular position players and key bench guys. Based only on reasonable expectations for the players, I concluded that the Braves are likely to experience a moderate decline of around 10% in their home run total in 2012. The specific estimate was a decline of 16 homers, from 173 in '11 to 157 this year.
Obviously, there are many factors that could affect the total other than the players themselves. In this post, I'll look at two of these often-overlooked factors: quality of competition and park effects. In other words, I'll be examining the potential effects of who the Braves play and where they play.
Quality of Competition
There are a couple factors to this: changes in the schedule and offseason improvements/declines in other teams. First off, let's look at the teams the Braves will see more of in 2012. I've also included each team's 2011 MLB ranks in HR allowed and ERA+.
- Yankees, 6 additional games (T-16th fewest HR allowed, 2nd best ERA+)
- Rays, 3 additional games (HRs: T-20th, ERA+: T-11th)
- Red Sox, 3 additional games (HRs: 18th, ERA+: T-15th)
- Diamondbacks, 2 additional games (HRs: 19th, ERA+: T-11th)
- Pirates, 1 additional game (HRs: T-16th, ERA+: 22nd)
So all of the new opponents were middle-of-the-pack or a bit below in HR allowed, which could bode well for the Braves' homer-hitting prospects. However, with the exception of the 1 extra Pirates game, they all pitched pretty well overall in 2011 (and should in 2012 as well). These ERA+/HR differences are at least partly due to park effects, which I'll discuss later on in the post.
What about the opponents that the Braves will see less of in 2012? Here's the list:
- Angels, 3 fewer games (9th fewest HR allowed, 9th best ERA+)
- Rangers, 3 fewer games (HRs: 25th, ERA+: 3rd) -- this series was in Atlanta
- Mariners, 3 fewer games (HRs: 10th, ERA+: T-18th)
- Padres, 2 fewer games (HRs: T-3rd, ERA+: T-11th)
- Brewers, 2 fewer games (HRs: T-11th, ERA+: T-7th)
- Rockies, 1 fewer game (HRs: 26th, ERA+: 15th) -- a Coors game
- Dodgers, 1 fewer game (HRs: 6th, ERA+: 10th)
So the Braves lose 4 games against homer-prone teams (the Rockies and Rangers) and 11 games against HR-stingy teams. Again, this would seem to indicate that the Braves' 2012 schedule is a bit more homer-friendly.
As you can see from their solid ERA+ figures, both the Rockies and Rangers really only ranked poorly in HRs because of their home ballparks, which are two of the best for hitting homers. This is important because the Braves played the Rangers in Atlanta last year, though the Rockies game they are losing was in Coors.
In their interleague series versus the AL West teams last season, the Braves hit 7 homers in 9 games. For comparison, the team averaged about 10 homers per 9 games the rest of the season. They also hit 7 homers in 6 games against the Orioles and Blue Jays--both of which the team also plays in 2012.
The Braves' 2012 interleague schedule is undeniably tough, with 12 games against the 3 best AL east teams, 9 of those on the road. While this is likely bad news for the Braves' chances of winning those games, I don't see any reason to think that it will adversely affect their homer-hitting capability. If anything, I'd guess that the Braves will average more homers per game in interleague.
If we look at the portion of the Braves' schedule that remains unchanged, we see that a couple of the teams the Braves play most--the Marlins and Nationals--have added talent this winter. Most relevant to our purposes, the Nationals traded for Gio Gonzalez (and get a full year of Stephen Strasburg), while the Marlins signed Mark Buehrle.
The Braves hit 18 homers in 18 games vs. Florida last year and 21 homers in 18 games vs. Washington. Both of those totals are likely to dip slightly in 2012. That's just 36 games out of the whole schedule, however, and it's reasonable to assume that other opponents will have pitching declines that could compensate for the Nats' and Marlins' improvements.
I wouldn't expect these changes in quality of opponents to result in a dramatic home-run swing for the 2012 Braves. They'll probably hit more against their new opponents and fewer against their returning opponents, but those are really just guesses.
For this section, I looked at the home run park factors at StatCorner. These are given for both left-handed and right-handed batters. A score of 100 is average, with higher indicating that the park aided homers and lower indicating that the park suppressed them.
In 2011, Turner Field had a park factor of 95 for lefties and 92 for righties, meaning that it made things moderately tougher for all hitters. There's no reason to expect that to change in 2012.
Below, I've listed the teams that the Braves play more road games against in 2012, compared to 2011. I've also listed the HR park factors for each park. For reference, the Braves got about 53% of their plate appearances and 54% of their homers from left-handed batters in 2011. So you might want to value the LHB park factors slightly more.
- Fenway Park, Boston: 3 additional games (LHBs: 79, RHBs: 94)
- Yankees Stadium, New York: 3 additional games (LHBs: 143, RHBs: 115)
- Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay: 3 additional games (LHBs: 89, RHBs: 92)
- Chase Field, Arizona: 2 additional games (LHBs: 114, RHBs: 102)
- Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati: 1 additional game (LHBs: 120, RHBs: 133)
- PNC Park, Pittsburgh: 1 additional game (LHBs: 99, RHBs: 73)
- AT&T Park, San Francisco: 1 additional game (LHBs: 82, RHBs: 74)
By taking a weighted average of all these games together, we get park factors of 104 for lefties and 99 for righties. So the new parks are a bit more HR-friendly than average for lefties and neutral for righties. Since the Braves are a bit lefty-heavy, this could be good news for their HR numbers.
Now, here is the same info for the parks the Braves will be seeing less of in 2012:
- Safeco Field, Seattle: 3 fewer games (LHBs: 95, RHBs: 82)
- Petco Park, San Diego: 3 fewer games (LHBs: 59, RHBs: 95)
- Angel Stadium, Anaheim: 3 fewer games (LHBs: 90, RHBs: 93)
- Miller Park, Milwaukee: 1 fewer game (LHBs: 118, RHBs: 103)
- Minute Maid Park, Houston: 1 fewer game (LHBs: 107, RHBs: 117)
- Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles: 1 fewer game (LHBs: 116, RHBs: 92)
- Coors Field, Colorado: 1 fewer game (LHBs: 113, RHBs: 117)
- Wrigley Field, Chicago: 1 fewer game (LHBs: 119, RHBs: 102)
There are a lot of good HR-hitting parks on that list, but the Braves are losing just 1 game at each park. The 3 parks where they are losing a whole series were all fairly extreme HR-inhibiting parks. The weighted averages for the list results in park factors of 93 for lefties and 96 for righties.
Those park factors imply that, for the 14 games in different places, the Braves' lefties will hit around 12% more homers and the Braves' righties will hit about 3% more. That may sound like a lot, but in just 14 games, we're only talking about 2 or 3 extra homers. (And of course, this is all just guesswork anyway.)
That's not all, however. The Braves may play the same number of games in Florida / Miami, but the Marlins have a brand new ballpark. Their old park, Sun Life Stadium, had HR park factors of 99 for lefties and 95 for righties in 2011. The Braves hit just 7 homers in 9 games there, which is 2-3 below what you'd expect from the team's season averages.
Unfortunately, there's just no way to predict how the new stadium will play. If it is average, the Braves probably won't hit many more homers there. Of course, there's a chance that it is one of those parks where homers fly out easily, in which case we could see a fairly big boost. But really, there's no way to say, so I'll just assume that the new park will have no effect relative to last season.
Additionally, the Mets have moved their outfield fences in quite a bit in some places. That seems likely to result in a more homer-friendly Citi Field. Last year, Citi had a 90 HR park factor for LHBs and a 94 for RHBs, though the Braves managed 10 homers in 9 games there. The only question is how many more homers will be hit at Citi after the changes, and there's no good way to answer it. It should be more, but I have no idea how many.
Putting all of this information together with the conclusions from Part 1 and a dash of gut instinct, my final projection is that the Braves will hit 162 homers in 2012. That's down 11 from 2011, but should still put them in the upper echelon of the NL.
Let's put a projected range on that figure (something I wish more projections would do). Again, this is just my educated guess, but I'd say that the Braves have a 50% chance of hitting between 145 and 175 homers in 2012. Which in turn would mean there's a less than 25% chance that they top their 2011 HR total of 173.
But hey, I'm just one guy with a bunch of hazy suppositions. What do you think?