Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Flanagan Strikes Again

Ordinarily, I would post this under the Damn Fool of the Week, but frankly it's getting old to slap Jeffrey Flanagan with that title. Yeah, he deserves it, but I think the point has been made that he's an embarrassingly bad "journalist".

I do, however, want to address something he wrote today, in case anyone out there believed it. Flanagan decided to spend a few of his precious 500 or so daily words in speculation about the fences at Kauffman Stadium. He wonders whether or not the Royals' decision to move the fences back to their original depth two years ago may have something to do with their recent poor records, and goes so far as to call up the Royals to ask if their new renovation plans include moving the fences back in.

When I read this kind of thing, I always wonder what his contacts with the Royals think of him. They must just shake their heads and sigh at this point, chalking each new call up to Flanagan's burgeoning senility.

You see, there is no reason why this tidbit ever should have appeared in your daily newspaper. Sure, it's a decent thought to have at first, but most reporters, when such a theory strikes them, would do a little thing called "research". Flanagan's theory begs an obvious question - did the Royal's home record get worse after the fences were moved? And how does it compare to their road record? Pretty basic, right? I think so, but those questions obviously never occurred to Flanagan, or else he chose to ignore them because he needed to fill his word quota for the day. If he had investigated at all, he would have found that his speculation is utterly and completely groundless.

Looking at a 10-year window since the Royals originally moved the fences in after the 1995 season, the Royals' home record has been pretty stable. In the eight years before the fences were moved back out, 1996-2003, the Royals averaged 36 home wins. In the two years since the fences were moved they have averaged 34. I'm not a math major, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that those two extra losses weren't the root cause of the Royals' recent poor records. I'm thinking that the problem is on the road.

Sure enough, looking at the team's road records for these years, we find that they averaged 35 road wins from 1996 to 2003, but just 23 in the past two seasons. I think Flanagan would have a hard time blaming the Royal's road problems on the new fences in their home stadium.

In fact, if we look at some additional data, we find that they new fences have actually served their purpose. Remember, they were moved back before the 2004 season in order to help the young pitchers. Deeper fences meant fewer home runs and more flyballs caught for outs by theoretically fast outfielders like Carlos Beltran and David DeJesus. All of this would give the pitchers more confidence to throw strikes and let their defense get outs for them.

Well, that plan actually worked. Before moving the fences out, Kauffman Stadium played as an extreme hitters park, and the Royals posted a higher team ERA at home than on the road in six of those eight seasons. In both 2004 and 2005, the team had a better ERA at home than on the road, and by significant amounts of about a half a run per game. In fact, their home ERA of 5.33 in 2004, the year after the fences were moved back, was the best mark the team posted since 1996.

No, the problem isn't the fences. The problem is that these guys just aren't good pitchers. Even as their home performances have improved, they're still terrible. To give you a comparison, the Colorado Rockies, of Coors Field fame, had a home ERA of 5.18 last year, nowhere near the Royals mark of 5.58, and you can't tell me that Coors Field doesn't have as severe an impact on the pitchers who play there as Kauffman Stadium. The Royals' road ERAs of 5.84 and 5.99 the past two years bears this out. That's just bad pitching, fences be damned.

Wouldn't it have been nice if Jeffrey Flanagan had done this research before publishing this crap citywide in the local newspaper? Aren't journalists supposed to report the facts?

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