Fenway Park has the Green Monster, Coors Field has the humidor, and Minute Maid Park has the Crawford Boxes. Lots of stadiums have quirks or tendencies that favor certain kinds of players and big league executives are well aware of it. MLB GMs say they prefer to have players whose skill sets match their parks, but that's just one consideration when constructing a roster.
The Tigers, for example, play 81 games per season in spacious Comerica Park, so GM Dave Dombrowski says he looks for outfielders who can cover lots of ground whenever possible.
"Fortunately we have an outstanding defensive center fielder now in Austin Jackson," Dombrowski told MLBTR last week in Orlando. "But you know you have to have an outstanding center fielder in Comerica Park who can really go get the ball or it’ll hurt you a great deal."
Jackson, Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn will be in the Tigers organization in 2011, but longtime right fielder Magglio Ordonez is a free agent, so the Tigers may look to acquire a corner outfielder via trade or free agency. If they do, Comerica Park will be a factor.
"Even your corner outfielders, it’s hard to get just a guy who is a stationary type guy because our outfield’s big, so we take it into consideration quite a bit,” Dombrowski said.
Like Comerica Park, San Diego's Petco Park has a larger than average outfield. And Padres GM Jed Hoyer acquired former Tigers prospect Cameron Maybin partly because his athleticism should make the club better defensively.
"Having a big station to station team that plays poor defense doesn’t seem like a recipe for success given the ballparks we play in,” Hoyer said.
No team adds or subtracts players purely because of their ballpark and the Padres are no exception. But because of the unbalanced schedule, Hoyer is intent on fielding a team that can cover lots of ground at Petco.
"We play 81 games there, we play nine in AT&T Park, we play nine in Dodger Stadium, the outfield in Coors Field is huge so you start adding it up and the number of games we play in big fields is a lot and we need to be fast," Hoyer said.
Similarly, some teams in homer-friendly ballparks are inclined to acquire pitchers who keep the ball on the ground. Camden Yards has been one of baseball's five friendliest home run environments for four years running, according to ESPN's park factors, and the Orioles front office knows how their home stadium plays. As president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail points out, you can't hit a ground ball out of the park.
"We do pay attention to [ground ball rate], we definitely factor it in," MacPhail said. "All things being equal it’s a positive, but it’s not a sole driver in terms of what we do."
If the O's really did make decisions completely based on ground ball rate, they would not have signed Koji Uehara, who was effective in 2010 despite allowing 2.5 times as many fly balls as ground balls. Instead, park factors are one element of the team's decision-making process.
"If we think we can find the right guy even if he doesn’t have that [ground ball] number that would be ideal, we’ll [consider him],” MacPhail said.