I follow Mike Curto on Twitter because he's the announcer for the Tacoma Rainiers, and a neat guy. I do not follow every neat guy on Twitter, unless I'm at the center of some unbelievable coincidence. But I do follow every neat guy who is also an announcer for the Tacoma Rainiers.
Curto has a blog, and earlier today he shared a link to his newest entry. In this entry, he crunches some numbers to try and figure out the impact of the Cheney Stadium renovation last winter. The Cheney Stadium renovation won Ballpark Digest's 2011 Renovation of the Year (real award!) in large part for its improvements to the fan experience, but the actual field changed, too, as the outfield fences everywhere but straightaway center were dropped by eight feet.
What do you expect to see when you lower the outfield fences? More home runs. What did Mike Curto see after the Rainiers lowered the outfield fences? More home runs. A total of 47 more home runs, to be exact, that wouldn't have cleared the fences as they used to be before.
This, of course, is an estimation. There are error bars around that number. Curto had to make his judgments from the broadcast booth, which sits a long way away from the wall. But he's pretty confident in his final figure, so I'm pretty confident in his final figure. Curto knew what he was doing, and as he writes, he actually erred towards being conservative.
That is a significant boost to home runs. Interestingly, run-scoring didn't show corresponding inflation, as Cheney remained a relatively pitcher-friendly park. It's at this point that you remember that lowered fences didn't turn outs into home runs - they turned singles, doubles and triples into home runs. So it was a matter of 1-3 extra bases gained, rather than four extra bases and an out.
How much can we take away from one single season of data? Not that much, but you knew that. It'll be a few years before we can get a really good idea of how the new park factors compare to the old park factors. But while one season of data isn't enough, it also isn't worthless, as we've been given a glimpse into how Cheney will play in the future.
Ultimately, what we're talking about here is a somewhat minor change in the park factor of the Mariners' triple-A affiliate. It is but a small consideration when you're looking at the numbers posted by a high-level prospect or non-prospect. But I don't find this interesting because of its massive significance - I find this interesting because it's interesting. Cheney Stadium lowered its fences a little bit. Look how the baseball changed! That's awesome, and a handy reminder that one should always, always take a player's environment into account.
Park factors are so cool.