If you looked at the 24-19 Jackson Generals, your eyes would probably widen slightly in peeking at two stats in particular: comebacks, and home/road splits. The Generals, despite scoring the most runs of any team in the league (220), have not yet proven to be a team that rallies well.
(Hang on, we’re getting there.)
The Generals have scored first in 17 of their wins this year, and their bullpen has picked up 16 holds, averaging one hold in each win by a Generals starting pitcher. This isn’t rocket science: when you get a lead, you’re better able to line up your corps of relievers arms at your own pace, inserting them to hold the lead in moments that are most advantageous to you. But having a lead feels largely the same on the road as it does at home, which begs this question: how has Jackson carved out 14 wins in their first 19 road games?
The answer is more complicated than any printout can diagram, but I’ll posit a guess with a couple important factors in mind.
Start with the idea that the Generals have beaten up on South Division host teams that haven’t done well early in the year. Ten games at Mobile (19-25) saw the Generals win eight of them. J.R. House’s squad took four of five from Biloxi, another South Division opponent, in part because the Shuckers (now 25-19) were struggling offensively to begin the year.
This weekend, the Generals played their first road series with a North Division opponent, the Montgomery Biscuits (24-19). Montgomery took three games out of four when these two sides played in Jackson in April.
Fast forward to now: In their first two games at Montgomery’s Riverwalk Stadium in 2017, the Generals outscored the Biscuits 28-11. Friday’s 17-5 outpouring featured grand slams from both Kelly Dugan and Rudy Flores, marking the first time a Southern League team slammed twice in the same game since 2013.
(Trivia tidbit for you: it was Jake Marisnick, now playing the outfield for the MLB-leading Houston Astros, who hit both slams for the Jacksonville Suns in their May 30, 2013 win over Pensacola.) The same Generals offense that could only muster 25 runs during their 10-game home-stand in the preceding week opened the throttle very effectively in their first two games at Montgomery. The familiarity of having seen the Biscuits’ pitching staff previously certainly didn’t hurt, but there’s another potential factor.
Travel Day Shenanigans
The first game of the series at Montgomery, an 11-6 Generals win, came after a drought of 11 days (May 7-17) when the Generals could not score more than four runs in any contest. Generals radio broadcaster Brandon Liebhaber has made the point on multiple occasions that travel-day games can bring about strange happenings. The warped rhythm of the day, with an early-morning wake-up and a long bus ride, is a significant change from the recovery period (and setting) afforded to Generals’ players and coaches at home. Altering someone’s routine can throw him or her off, or make that person tired, but sometimes it’s just the opposite, with the change of pace giving them some pep. Look at these travel-day results for the Generals:
4/12 10-5 win over Mobile;
Offense: 17 hits (1 HR), 4 BB, 4 K, 2 SB; 1 error by Mobile
Defense: 6 hits allowed, 3 BB allowed, 10 K, 1 HBP; 3 Jackson errors
4/22 8-2 win over Biloxi;
Offense: 13 hits (2 HR), 5 BB, 14 K; 3 errors by Biloxi
Defense: 6 hits allowed (1 HR), 3 BB allowed, 9 K
5/18 11-6 win over Montgomery;
Offense: 14 hits (3 HR), 4 BB, 8 K
Defense: 9 hits allowed (2 HR), 6 BB allowed, 9 K; 2 Jackson errors
The 11-6 result over Montgomery was a minor surprise, as the two teams combined to average only 10 runs per game in their mid-April series. None of the first four games topped 15 runs combined, but the travel-day trends help make 11-6 seem like less of an outlier.
Not All Stadiums Are The Same
According to Baseball America’s analysis of last year’s data, The Ballpark at Jackson is not ready-made for offensive fireworks. Park Factor, which measures how offense-friendly a ballpark is in relation to other parks in its league, ranks the Generals’ home field eighth among ten Southern League stadiums in home run rate. Each of the three ballparks that the Generals have visited so far–MGM Park in Biloxi, Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile, and Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery–were pegged ahead of The Ballpark at Jackson in that category.
Park Factor Data (from Baseball America)
On a scale where 100 is average
Team HR R BABIP
Chattanooga 137 119 104
Tennessee 123 97 96
Jacksonville 120 99 97
Biloxi 119 96 96
Montgomery 100 108 103
Mobile 90 106 111
Birmingham 88 94 96
Jackson 83 98 99
Pensacola 82 94 97
Mississippi 67 90 104
The power-minded Generals have taken advantage: they’ve hit 29 jacks in 19 road games this year (1.52 HR/G) while blasting 28 cannonballs at home in 24 games (1.16 HR/G).
Home runs aren’t everything, but when you’ve 38% of your scoring can be attributed to the long-ball, the chances are good that you’ve performed better in places that are power-friendly. That’s been true so far for the Generals’ lineup, but that doesn’t make it a fixed number going forward. Just as important, winning isn’t entirely the result of a good offense, as has been previously noted on this blog.
The Generals next series at Jacksonville (18-26) features another stadium that’s even more power-friendly than the three road parks the team has played in so far. Those contests, as well as the upcoming home series with Mississippi on May 30 and Tennessee on June 9, could go a long way toward deciding the results of the First Half.