Baseball by the Numbers: Let’s do the splits

Willson Contreras liked hitting at Wrigley Field, but the ballpark is no longer the extreme hitters’ park it was in the 1960s and ’70s.

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During his time with the Cubs, Willson Contreras had an .842 OPS at home and a .775 OPS on the road.

During his time with the Cubs, Willson Contreras had an .842 OPS at home and a .775 OPS on the road.

Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Of all the mainstays on the Cubs’ recent contending teams, Willson Contreras had the largest gap in his home/road splits.

But Cubs splits of that era were more of a mixed bag than in earlier times, signaling Wrigley Field’s transition from an extreme hitters’ haven to something closer to a neutral park.

Contreras, who is back at Wrigley this week with the Cardinals, has his own transition going after a move from catcher to designated hitter and outfielder.

In his Cubs years (2016-22), Contreras hit .267/.355/.487 for an .842 OPS at home but .246/.343/.432 for a .775 OPS on the road.

Anthony Rizzo’s home/road OPS splits with the Cubs were .908/.816 in 2012-21, and Kris Bryant put up .896/.823 in 2015-21. Javy Baez and Jason Heyward had reverse splits, with Baez at .776/.778 in 2014-21 and Heyward at .680/.700 in 2016-22.

Even the largest of those splits would have seemed normal in earlier times. ‘‘Mr. Cub’’ Ernie Banks had OPSes of .886 at home and .773 on the road in 1953-71, with Billy Williams at .917/.817 in 1959-76 and Ron Santo at .914/.760 in 1960-73.

Splits were more extreme then because Wrigley was more hitter-friendly compared to the parks of the time. Franchise shuffling and new stadium construction swapped old hitters’ parks for new pitchers’ utopias, including Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and the Astrodome in Houston.

That left Wrigley isolated as favorable to hitters. Later construction, notably Coors Field in Denver, swung back around to being helpful to offenses. Outfield signage, especially the electronic scoreboard added in 2015, might have cut wind effects. Regardless, Wrigley became more middle-of-the-road by comparison to other parks.

In 2015-20, when the Cubs were above .500 every season and won three National League Central titles, they and their opponents scored 3,840 runs at Wrigley and 3,802 elsewhere — 99.01% as many away as at home.

The last time the Cubs had six consecutive seasons above .500 was 1967-72. They and their foes totaled 4,318 runs at Wrigley and 3,554 elsewhere — only 82.31% as many away as at home.

With such extreme splits, some numbers shouldn’t be taken at face value. It takes fewer runs to win on the road, so a lower away OPS can be as valuable as flashier numbers at home. The 1960s and ’70s Cubs had many flaws, but the big hitters had value away from Wrigley.

From 1963 (the Cubs’ first season above .500 since 1946) through 1970 (Banks’ last season with more than 200 plate appearances), Santo (454) and Williams (428) led the majors in home RBI, with Banks seventh (383). Numbers were lower on the road, but Santo was third (387), Williams seventh (369) and Banks tied for 20th (285).

As for Contreras, his splits have remained high in a small sample. Through Sunday, he was hitting .313/.378/.522 for a .901 OPS in St. Louis and .200/.293/.220 for a .513 OPS on the road. A course correction is due with a larger sample, regardless of what position he plays.

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