How will J.D. Drew perform in Fenway (that is, if he ever actually
becomes a member of the Red Sox)? That is the question some Red Sox
fans attempted to answer recently over at the
Sons of Sam Horn Red Sox forum. It’s not an easy question to
answer, of course, but given the wealth of available information on
batted ball locations, we can at least start looking at these things.
First of all, let’s temper our expectations right from the start. Trying
to project a player’s performance into a different setting is
exceedingly complicated, and some might consider it a fool’s errand.
The depth and height of the outfield
fences is just one way a park might affect a particular hitter.
There are many other ballpark characteristics that can affect
different players in different ways: the hitting background, the
amount of foul territory and the length of the infield grass, to name
just three. And this doesn’t even address effects not associated with
the park itself: the aggressiveness of the fan base and press corps, for
example, or the quality of a city’s nightspots. I have often wondered
if Mickey Mantle might have been even greater than he was had
he played in some peaceful Midwestern town instead of under the
bright lights of the City that Never Sleeps.
Staying Within Our Game
So, let’s just take a baby step: Let’s try to figure out how Fenway
Park’s most characteristic feature, the short, high, fence in left
field, known to everybody as the Green Monster, affects different
players. Here’s a picture of the Monster, taken during the 1999 All-Star game:
note that there were no Green Monster seats back then, so you can clearly
see the screen that used to keep home run balls from crashing down
onto Landsdowne Street, just behind the wall. Many a famous home run
ball has come to rest in the screen — from Pudge’s immortal Game
6 shot-heard-round-New England to F’in Bucky’s devastating three-run
chip shot in October 1978.
As everybody knows, the distance down the left field line in Fenway is
short: 310 feet, to be precise. Not only that, but the wall cuts
straight across left field (the wall is parallel to the right field
foul line) without angling back as most outfield
fences do. That means that a fair amount of territory that is within
the field of play in most left fields is beyond the wall in Fenway.
Of course, the wall is much higher than most outfield fences, which
makes it harder to hit the ball over it.
The best way to get a handle on how the Wall influences play is to
look at hit charts of balls hit in the Wall’s vicinity.
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