At Petco Park, the Padres need more pulled fly balls

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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Credit: USA Today Sports

The San Diego Padres offense has gotten off to a solid start in the 2024 season. Through 35 games, the Friars rank inside the top 12 in baseball in wRC+, wOBA, Slug% Contact%, and OBP

As some have noticed, even with the previous five-game losing streak,  the team has made notable strides in areas of concern from last season. 

In 2023, with runners in scoring positions and in high-leverage situations, San Diego was 20th in MLB in wRC+ with RISP and 29th in wRC+ in high-leverage at-bats. 

This season, they rank 10th and 5th in those same categories.   

Even still, San Diego’s offense is not one without flaws. While improvements are noticeable, there are still aspects of the Padres offense that the Friars could look to improve. One major area being, increasing their fly ball rate. More specifically raising their fly ball rate to the pull side in Petco Park. 


Pulled Fly Balls & Lack Thereof 

As of today, San Diego ranks 26th  in baseball with a 39.1% FB%. Only teams such as the  Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, and Washington Nationals are putting the ball in the air at a lower rate than San Diego. 

However, even with how infrequently  San Diego has elevated the baseball in 2024, they have found quality offensive results and numbers when they have. 

Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

On fly balls in play this season, the Padres have posted a .341 wOBA, 126 wRC+, 35% HH%, and a .408 ISO(Isolated Power). All of which rank inside the top 12 across Major League Baseball. Even more notable, the Friars rank 9th in HR/FB percentage at 11.2 percent.  

As strong as these numbers are, they can increase even further if San Diego opts to sell out just a bit more for pull-side fly balls. Specifically inside the friendly confines of Petco Park. 

As of May 4, the Padres have the second-highest fly ball rate to center field in baseball. On the one hand, that’s a solid indication of how good of a job San Diego is doing to stay on the ball and keep up the middle of the diamond with their approach. 

On the other hand, it costs them a bevy of home runs and extra-base hits. In Petco, with dead center at 396, left center at 390, and right center at 391; the middle of the field is the most difficult area of the field for fly balls to have success in Petco. 

And these fly balls to center are affecting San Diego Hitters across the board.  

To exemplify or show the harm of hitting fly balls to center, even ones that hit hard, let’s first look at Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. ‘s numbers. 

First, we’ll begin with Padres 3B Manny Machado and his numbers of Fly balls to center and to the Pull Side. 

Machado Pulled Fly Balls in Petco       Machado Fly Balls to Center in Petco
wRC+: 179 wRC+: 3
Slug%: .800 Slug%: .250
ISO: .600 ISO: .125
HH%: 20%  HH%: 62.5%


In spite of a substantially lower hard-hit rate to the pull side, Machado is clearly finding more impactful offensive success when going to the left side of the diamond.  

It’s not necessarily shocking to find a hitter has better power numbers to the pull side, as, for most hitters, their best power results come via balls to the pull side. But still, it’s a rather jarring difference in statistical success. 

Now, to explore the idea a bit further, we’ll take a look at Fernando Tatis Jr., a player who has a history of generating constant power to CF. He owns a career 201 wRC+ on balls hit to center. 

Tatis Jr. Pulled Fly Balls in Petco Tatis Jr. Fly Balls to Center in Petco
wRC+: 888 wRC+: –26
Slug%: 3.143 Slug%: .182
ISO: 2.286 ISO: .091
HH%: 87.5 HH%: 54.5% 


What we find is a similar result. Tatis, when pulling fly balls, is clearly finding more impactful results than when going to the middle of the field, in spite of still registering a HH% north of 50%. 

Now, maybe you’ll contend that Tatis and Machado have struggled out of the gate, and picking them skews the rest of the team’s overall data. While I’d argue that’s incorrect, in the case of Tatis, for the sake of argument we’ll open it up to the entire roster. 

In Petco Park this season, San Diego, as a team, has hit just 29.0% of their fly balls to the pull side. While 38.2% have gone to center. Here is how those results have differed.

    Padres Pulled Fly Balls in Petco    Padres Fly Balls to Center In Petco 
PAs: 38 PAs: 50
wRC+:  505 wRC+: 8
Slug%: 1.730 Slug%: .260 
ISO: 1.270  ISO: .140
HH%: 52.6 HH%: 36.0%
HRs: 11 HRs: 1

What we find again is a staggering difference in results. 

While San Diego has failed to use pulled-fly balls to their advantage in Petco, the same cannot be said for their opponents. 

Take, for example, their recent series vs. the Phillies. In that three-game set, Philly put 36 fly balls in play, good for a 42.9% FB%. Of those 36 fly balls, 10 would be hit the pull side. 

Of those ten pulled fly balls that Philly hit, Philadelphia posted a 1030 wRC+, 3.200 Slug%, 1.687 wOBA, and 8 HRs.   

In that same three-game set, San Diego has just a 35.7% FB%. Of those 25 total fly balls, 48% of them would be hit to center, 32% would be hit the opposite way, and just 20% would be hit to the pull side. 


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Petco Park, HR Friendly? 

Now, at this point, I’m sure some readers might be saying to themselves that Fly Balls don’t work at Petco Park. And historically, that is true. 

Yet, in 2024, it’s incorrect. 

Per Statcast Park Factor, which shows the observed effect of each displayed stat based on the events in the selected park, Petco Park in 2024 has a park factor of 143 for home runs. That is the second-best Park Factor in baseball this season. That should only incentivize San Diego, at the very least, to pull a few more fly balls.  

And it’s not just limited to homers either, as Petco Park has an overall Park Factor of 105, sixth-best among MLB parks, and head of known hitters yards such as Great American Ball Park, Chase Field, American Family Loan Park, and Rodgers Centre. 

Simply put, Petco Park is currently more conducive or responsive to fly balls right now than it ever has been in Statcast History. Of course, that could change throughout the course of the season, but through one calendar month, it has been more hitter-friendly than ever. 


Takeaways & What To Do

As stated at the top, San Diego has been a very proficient offense group to this point in the season. So, you really don’t want to change too much. 

At their core, the Padres have been a very line-drive-heavy team. The Padres have the 2nd highest LD% at 22.7%. The line drive percentage and approach is inherently a good thing. This season, San Diego has a 372 wRC+ on liners and a .894 slug% while generating medium to hard contact 88.5% of the time. 

San Diego’s line-drive approach should continue to be the bedrock or cornerstone of its offensive mindset and approach. 

But when this team does choose to launch moving forward, it would be in their best interest as an offense to sell out a bit more to the pull side. It’s easier said than done, of course, but it’s an adjustment that could push San Diego into the ranks of a top-five to ten offense in baseball.

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