SunTrust Park is playing smaller this year. According to ESPN's MLB Park Factors table, it's seventh in home runs generated — one spot behind Cincinnati's Great American Bandbox, one ahead of altitude-affected Coors Field. A year ago, STP was only 27th; in 2017, the stadium's inaugural season, it was 19th.
The Braves have done a fine job in accumulating young pitchers, but they haven’t exactly tailored their staff to these environs. (Hey, Rome wasn’t built in three years.) Mike Soroka throws a heavy sinker — a “bowling ball,” to quote Chipper Jones. So does reliever Luke Jackson. Max Fried gets groundballs off breaking pitches. And that’s about it.
The league average on groundballs to flyballs is 0.80. Jackson, Soroka and Fried are way better than that. Gausman, Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz — 60 percent of the rotation, as constituted – are worse. Teheran has started eight road games to four at STP, yet he has yielded the same number of homers (four) home and away. Foltynewicz has faced nearly twice as many batters at home as on the road, having been touched for four times as many homers (eight against two) here.
The more flyballs you induce, the greater the chance they’ll go over the fence. Ask a bunch of flyball pitchers to work half their games in a stadium that plays small, and the risk increases. The Braves hit more homers at home than they do on the road, but their opponents hit more at STP than when they’re facing the Braves in their respective domiciles. A small-playing park lifts all boats, or something like that.
Oh, and it doesn’t help when your bullpen is terrible. But you knew that already.
There’s also this: The Braves are 7-8 against the NL East, 2-7 against division brethren other than Miami. Last year they were 49-27 versus the East, which was the reason they won the thing. This year’s schedule was weirdly front-loaded with non-division games, but that will eventually change. The Braves haven’t gone to Nationals Park or Citi Field; the Phillies haven’t yet graced STP.
Philadelphia is set to arrive at the end of next week. It has padded its lead to 3-1/2 games while the Braves were losing the past two nights. Braves fans seem to like SunTrust Park; imagine how much more they’d enjoy it if the home team rendered it a fortress.