Cody Ross and the Effects of Fenway Park

Jim Rogash - Getty Images

Cody Ross has been one of the silver linings for the Red Sox 2012 season, thanks to an approach that is well-suited to his environment. For this reason, he could be more valuable to the Red Sox than other potential suitors.

Cody Ross was something of a surprise addition during the 2011 off-season. The versatile right-handed hitting outfielder signed a one year, $3M contract in the wake of the salary dump that sent Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies for Clayton Mortensen. Many of us expected the Red Sox to use the money freed up by the Scutaro trade to sign a pitcher (specifically Roy Oswalt) and so when it become clear that Ross was to be the only player acquired with that newly found money, there was a sense of disappointment. This was not a knock on the Ross signing as much as it was an extension of the dissatisfaction with the team’s inability to land a top tier pitcher. Even so, if you had tried to hock t-shirts reading "I traded Scutaro to the Rockies and all I got was this lousy T-shirt (and Cody Ross)" you would have made a few bucks.

In hindsight, the Scutaro trade/ Ross signing was possibly Ben Cherington’s biggest win in the 2011 off-season. Scutaro has been passable at shortstop this year, but with a weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) of just 93 and deteriorating defensive ability, moving him was definitely the right call. The player they received in return, Clayton Mortensen has emerged as a strong late inning reliever this year and has a nice low price tag as well. The big revelation, however, has been Cody Ross. Ross is having the best season of his career at the plate, with a wRC+ of 121 and he has been solid defensively while seeing time at all three outfield positions. Red Sox fans, like Giants fans before them, have taken to the personable and hard-nosed purveyor of bat flips and many people would love to see him back at Fenway next year.

Ross has said winning is priority one for him with his next contract and while that hopefully will not exclude the Red Sox from the bidding, it isn’t exactly a point in their favor. There is no doubt that the Red Sox will want to bring Ross back, at least in principle. The question will be his cost. Ross has been just a hair above average for most of his career on both sides of the ball (108 wRC+, 0.2 career UZR/150 overall) and he is 32 years old. He is also coming off of a career year and will be among the better outfielders in a weak free agent class. His price may easily rise beyond the point where the Red Sox are comfortable resigning him. However, the effects of FenwayPark will be an important consideration for anyone evaluating Ross as a potential everyday player. For this reason Ross may well be distinctly more valuable to the Red Sox than he is to other teams.

The effects of FenwayPark are unique and they influence play far more than another environment in baseball and perhaps in all sports. The presence of the large green wall for which our site is named needs to be considered whenever the team is evaluating a player. This has never been more true than in the case of Cody Ross. As a right-handed pull hitter, playing in Fenway pays huge dividends for him. wRC+ is a park adjusted metric, so this effect is taken into account to some degree. The basic adjustments used by Fangraphs in calculating it show a 2% increase in hits for righties, a 12% increase in doubles and a 2% decrease in home runs (because the wall turns a good number of home runs into mere doubles or even singles). That adjustment is a great starting point, but it generic. A hitter like Ross can benefit even more because of his approach and he can even adjust that approach to gain an added advantage. I believe that is exactly what he has done.

In the table below I have taken Ross’ career numbers and adjusted them to the same sample size as his current 2012 plate appearance total (497).*

Split


Career PA


2012 PA


Career H


2012 H


Career 2B


2012 2B


Career HR


2012 HR


Career AVG


2012 AVG


Pull

157

161

61

70

16

21

15

16

0.388

0.438

Center

114

110

38

33

8

7

3

4

0.329

0.306

Opposite

74

60

21

18

5

6

1

1

0.281

0.31

*Data care of Fangraphs

As you can see, Ross is pulling the ball more than previously in his career and it has worked extremely well. His batting average on pulled balls is .050 points higher than his career norm. His doubles rate is significantly higher on these batted balls and even with the negative effect Fenway can have on home runs, his rate there is higher than normal by a hair. The effect is not incredibly dramatic, but considering that pitchers have pitched him away more than ever, I feel it goes beyond coincidence. Given that this is just one season and breaking things down this way inevitably creates some small samples sizes, it would careless to say that this is entirely repeatable, but it does have the appearance of being skill-driven. As he has aged, Ross has become more selective overall, upping his walk rate in the process. Now, Ross appears to looking for specifically for pitches he can pull and these numbers here support that observation. These are also his full season numbers and not just what he has done in Fenway, where that approach might be even greater. The environment suits Ross extremely well and there is nothing shocking about the fact that he is having his best season playing half his games in front of the Monster. If he expands this approach in the future, he can build on that success even as he declines.

Previous to signing with the Red Sox, Ross played in two environments (Sun Life Stadium and AT&TPark) that are relatively neutral for right handed hitters, but overall more favorable to pitchers. According to Nick Cafardo, the three teams with the greatest interest in Ross are the Yankees, the Phillies and the Red Sox, all of whom play in hitter-friendly environments. Playing in the launching pad of the New Yankee Stadium would certainly be enticing for Ross and the Phillies are possibly the most desperate for his help given their lack of young talent, but neither environment will be as favorable to his game overall as Fenway park and its Green Monster. Apart from home runs (where the New Yankee Stadium is just absurd), both Philly and New York can be tough on righties, suppressing both hits and doubles to small degrees.

For this reason, Boston should be the front runner for his services. It is a perfect match of player, batting approach, and environment and I am sure that Ross’ agent and Ben Cherinton are both aware of that. It remains to be seen just how much he will command on the open market, but Boston has every reason to be the top bidder, at least as long as his price remains realistic.

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