Boston’s Most Wanted

Noted sabermetrician Tom Tango
href="http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/article/batted_balls_at_fenway_park/"
target="new">
remarked that a researcher could be content to spend half
his time analyzing Fenway Park.
For a guy like me, who spent a fair portion of his college years
sitting in the bleachers at Fenway, that’s especially true.

What I’d like to investigate here is how parks affect specific
batters. I should say “start to investigate,” because I’m only going
to look for hitters that might be expected to hit well in Fenway Park,
owing to the presence of the Green Monster. In a href="http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/making-the-most-of-fenway-park/"
>previous article, I used hit location
data from 2005 to examine which Red Sox hitters most benefited from
the Monster that year. This time, after adding batted-ball location
data from 2006, I want to look at players from other teams who might
get a large boost from the Monster.

J.D. versus Julio

So what I’m going to do is take each batter with a reasonable number
of plate appearances away from Fenway Park and look at his fly balls (and line drives) to
left field. For each ball, I’m going to determine if that ball, had
it been hit in Fenway, would likely have hit the wall or gone over
it. Such balls are usually doubles or home runs in Fenway,
but are often outs in other ballparks. (I exclude balls that go
way over the wall, balls that would have been homers in any park.)

As I mentioned in the previous article, the location data that I have
specifies the position where the ball was fielded, rather than where
it landed. So the recorded
location of a double in the left-center field gap will be not where the liner
struck the playing surface, but rather where it was picked up after
bounding out to the base of the outfield wall. Clearly, it’s not
possible to know if such a ball would have hit the Green Monster.
So, I confine myself to using home runs and fly ball outs, since
the location data for these batted balls correspond to where they
would have hit the ground, and hence allow me to estimate if they would
have hit the Monster.

As examples, let’s have a look at the hit charts for a couple of
players, J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo, whom the Red Sox
acquired this offseason.

These hit charts show the
location of the batted balls hit into the “Monster Zone”, i.e.,
balls that I judge would have hit the wall or cleared it. Any plate
appearances at Fenway Park have been removed.
The black outlines show a generic ballpark that is 325 feet down the
line and 405 feet to straightaway center. The green line shows
where the Green Monster would be.

You can see that Drew hit many more balls into the “Monster Zone” than
Lugo did, and he did it with fewer plate appearances since he was
injured for much of 2005. So, did the Red Sox take this into account
when pursuing Drew and Lugo? More on that in a minute.

Please Come to Boston

So, which players would be in the best position to take advantage of the
Green Monster, should they come to play full time in Boston? What
follows is a list of the 10 batters who hit the most balls into the
Monster Zone per plate appearance:

+--------------------+----+------+------+--------+------+---------+
| Name               | N  | outs | HR   | HR/out | pa   | N/600pa |
+--------------------+----+------+------+--------+------+---------+
| Jones, Chipper     | 20 |   14 |    6 |   0.43 |  595 |    20.2 |
| Edmonds, Jim       | 19 |   12 |    7 |   0.58 |  574 |    19.9 |
| Lane, Jason        | 19 |    6 |   13 |   2.17 |  612 |    18.6 |
| Soriano, Alfonso   | 29 |   27 |    2 |   0.07 |  934 |    18.6 |
| Berkman, Lance     | 24 |    5 |   19 |   3.80 |  793 |    18.2 |
| Biggio, Craig      | 26 |    6 |   20 |   3.33 |  934 |    16.7 |
| Helton, Todd       | 23 |   22 |    1 |   0.05 |  867 |    15.9 |
| Sheffield, Gary    | 14 |   13 |    1 |   0.08 |  585 |    14.4 |
| Ensberg, Morgan    | 16 |    2 |   14 |   7.00 |  682 |    14.1 |
| Pujols, Albert     | 22 |    5 |   17 |   3.40 |  970 |    13.6 |
+--------------------+----+------+------+--------+------+---------+
N = number of balls (home runs or outs) hit into the Monster Zone

Interestingly, there are four Houston Astros in the top 10. You
probably know that Minute Maid Park has a short porch in left field,
the famous Crawford Boxes. It looks like Biggio and friends have been
quite successful in lofting fly balls into the left field seats for
short home runs. The table shows that most of these hits by Lane,
Biggio, Berkman and Ensberg have gone for home runs. Contrast that
with what happened to the balls hit by Soriano, Sheffield and Helton:
62 of their 66 hits to the Monster Zone were caught for outs.

This difference is a direct consequence of the large dimensions (in left field) of
RFK, Yankee Stadium and Coors Field. That’s plainly seen here in this
comparison of balls hit into the Monster Zone in Houston and
Washington. Remember the blue dots are home runs, while outs are shown
in black.

You can actually make out the shape of the href="http://www.hardballtimes.com/images/uploads/crawford_boxes.jpg" target="new">Crawford Boxes in
the Houston hit chart.

Caveat Emptor

Before you start sending telegrams to Theo Epstein, advising him to
revive the Helton talks or to inquire about getting Ensberg from the
Astros, let’s review the limitations of this study.

First of all, I’m only looking at balls hit near the Green Monster.
That is Fenway’s most distinctive feature; indeed, it’s probably the most
distinctive feature of any current major league ballpark, so it makes
sense to focus on it. However, Fenway also has a spacious right
field, which is known to suppress home runs for left-handed batters.

So,
while Edmonds would pick up a few homers (and doubles) on fly balls to
left field, he would almost certainly lose some on fly balls to right
field. This point is most important for left-handed batters,
since the right-field dimensions at Fenway have less impact on
right-handed swingers. Of course, this study could be extended to
include balls hit to any part of the ballpark.

As an aside, the Red Sox don’t seem to be worried about the effects of
Fenway on Drew’s hits to right field. The following excerpt is from a Boston Globe interview with Theo Epstein on Dec. 6, 2006:

“He really has a great swing for Fenway Park,” Epstein said. “When he
pulls the ball and elevates the ball, it will certainly reach the
bullpen. He’s got plus raw power. The big dimensions in right field
and even center field won’t be a problem for him. If you look at his
hit chart, those balls get out.”

Ok, let’s see that hit chart. I’ve traced out the full outfield
fence at Fenway (using images from Google Earth) and plotted Drew’s home runs from 2005-2006. Looks like only a couple would have
not gone out in Fenway, so Theo is right (not that I was doubting him).

Getting back to our caveats, the presence of Helton in the list above reminds
us that outfield dimensions are only one factor in determining if a given
batted ball flies a given distance. If you have ever visited Greg Rybarczyk’s
excellent Hit
Tracker
site, you know that altitude, wind speed and direction, and temperature all
have an important effect on how far a batted ball will go.

Greg has
used his Hit Tracker tool to “transplant” a player from one park to
another, most notably he estimated how Josh Beckett’s 2006 performance
might have looked had he remained a Marlin. (The interesting
results of that study appear in Greg’s article in
the Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2007, href="http://www.actasports.com/detail.html?id=077" target="new">check it out >.)

Hit Tracker, though, requires, in addition to the landing place of the
ball, the amount of time it was in the air. He obtains that data
by watching video of home runs, lots of video. I’m much lazier than
Greg, so I have to neglect the effects of weather and altitude.

Does Theo Know This Stuff?

About who would be adept at exploiting the Green Monster?
Undoubtedly. More from the Epstein interview cited above:

[Drew] also hits the ball in the air to the opposite field quite a bit and
certainly has the ability to reach the wall or go over the wall.

Let’s look at the numbers for Drew and some other players the Red Sox
have acquired the last couple of years. Did their ability to reach
the wall factor in the decision to go after them?

Before the 2005 season, the Red Sox acquired
Mark Loretta, Coco Crisp, Alex Gonzalez, Mike Lowell and
Willy Mo Pena. This year, as already noted, the Sox have signed Drew and Lugo.
Here is a table showing the wall-ball stats of these players in 2005-2006 (again, Fenway Park pa’s excluded):

+--------------------+----+------+------+--------+------+---------+
| Name               | N  | outs | HR   | HR/out | pa   | N/600pa |
+--------------------+----+------+------+--------+------+---------+
| Drew, J.D.         | 13 |   10 |    3 |   0.30 |  576 |    13.5 |
| Lowell, Mike       | 13 |    9 |    4 |   0.44 |  675 |    11.6 |
| Gonzalez, Alex     |  8 |    6 |    2 |   0.33 |  520 |     9.2 |
| Pena, Wily Mo      |  4 |    2 |    2 |   1.00 |  266 |     9.0 |
| Lugo, Julio        |  4 |    4 |    0 |   0.00 |  828 |     2.9 |
| Loretta, Mark      |  3 |    2 |    1 |   0.50 |  646 |     2.8 |
| Crisp, Coco        |  3 |    3 |    0 |   0.00 |  680 |     2.6 |
+--------------------+----+------+------+--------+------+---------+
MLB average of N/600pa: 5.5

From this table, it looks like we agree with Theo: Drew certainly has
the ability to reach the wall. It’s interesting to see Alex Gonzalez near the top of this list. It
makes you wonder if the Sox brass figured Sea Bass’s wall-balls would make up
somewhat for his overall lack of hitting ability. If they did, it’s not
clear it paid off, since Gonzalez only knocked 24 doubles and nine home
runs last year. His slugging percentage of .397 was not any better
than it had been in previous years.

Mike Lowell, on the other hand, had a bit of a comeback year
in 2006, although that might say more about the depths of 2005 than
the heights of 2006. Still, Lowell smacked 47 doubles in 2006, a
career high, and his .284/.339/.475 line was respectable and almost
surely helped out by the Monster.

You can see that Lugo, Loretta and Crisp don’t gain anything
from the Green Monster. As for Wily Mo, if you have seen him hit, it’s
clear that he has the potential to tattoo the Monster regularly,
although the numbers above constitute too small a sample to confirm that.

“I do not like clam chowder!”

Just for fun, here are the players who would be ill-advised to make New England their home base. These guys would very
rarely bang one off the wall.

+--------------------+----+------+------+--------+------+---------+
| Name               | N  | outs | HR   | HR/out | pa   | N/600pa |
+--------------------+----+------+------+--------+------+---------+
| Pierre, Juan       |  1 |    1 |    0 |   0.00 | 1224 |     0.5 |
| Figgins, Chone     |  1 |    1 |    0 |   0.00 |  986 |     0.6 |
| Vizquel, Omar      |  1 |    1 |    0 |   0.00 | 1037 |     0.6 |
| Castillo, Luis     |  1 |    1 |    0 |   0.00 |  905 |     0.7 |
| Punto, Nick        |  1 |    1 |    0 |   0.00 |  685 |     0.9 |
| Erstad, Darin      |  1 |    1 |    0 |   0.00 |  533 |     1.1 |
| Kendall, Jason     |  2 |    2 |    0 |   0.00 |  970 |     1.2 |
| Walker, Todd       |  2 |    2 |    0 |   0.00 |  739 |     1.6 |
| Lofton, Kenny      |  2 |    2 |    0 |   0.00 |  718 |     1.7 |
| Catalanotto, Frank |  2 |    2 |    0 |   0.00 |  696 |     1.7 |
+--------------------+----+------+------+--------+------+---------+

See the Resources
section below for a link to these wall-ball stats for all players with 500 plate appearances.

Final Thoughts

To be honest, I view all this as more of a bit of fun than some kind of
serious analysis. The fact is, it’s just very difficult to know how a
player will fare in a different ballpark. There are many more factors
involved than just the outfield dimensions. In their excellent book,
href="http://www.amazon.com/Paths-Glory-Great-Baseball-Teams/dp/1574888056/ref=e
d_oe_p/002-1661142-5635254" target="new">
Paths to Glory, Mark Armour and Daniel Levitt address this
issue:

… Determining how another park might affect a player is highly
uncertain. Is the player a pull hitter who can take advantage of the
new setting or a spray hitter who may not gain a similar benefit?
Maybe most important, however, and almost impossible to model, is the
fact that players are intelligent and can adapt to their
surroundings. For example, Hall of Famer Mel Ott hit an incredible
323 of this career 511 home runs in his home park, the Polo Grounds in
New York. As baseball historian Stew Thornley has pointed out, he
learned to take advantage of his environment. In his first four years
in New York, Ott hit 30 home runs at home and 31 on the road. It makes
sense for ball clubs to try and determine which type of player or
playing style best fits their home parks, but this is often
surprisingly complicated.

Epstein made a similar point about players adapting to their
environments when discussing Drew’s ability to reach
the wall: “…and that’s before he makes any adjustments in his
approach. He certainly has great hands and an adjustable swing and
some of our scouts feel he’ll take great advantage of Fenway Park.”

Hey, that’s what I was going to say.

References & Resources
If your curious about a particular player, the complete list (at least 500 pa’s) is available here.

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