A couple of months ago, I examined flyball results by focusing on how long the ball was in the air. I looked mostly at macro trends across the game, or in the case of the Mets, a drastic personnel change. But how do the ballparks themselves influence events? After all, one of the best parts of baseball is that not all ballparks are the same. Some have unique features which may allow the home team to understand all its nuances. How long is the warning track? How will balls bounce off the wall? Is the foul area large enough to get to a fly ball? Using Inside Edge data, I dove into some of these individual ballpark features and looked to see if a home team advantage exists.
Initial Background and Clerical Work
The biggest challenge with the data was how to take into account the different defensive capabilities of the outfielders. Adam Dunn may know how to read a ball off a wall perfectly, but it is still Adam Dunn having to make the play. His knowledge will not be able compensate for his “old lady driving a scooter” speed.
After trying to adjust for each player’s defense, I just gave up. Instead, I am going to provide the home team’s two-year UZR value and the home team players who played the position the most over the time frame. People can have an idea of the home team’s defensive talent, but not get lost in too many numbers.
For all the analysis, I have used the past two years worth of data. I was limited to just two seasons because Inside Edge’s detailed fielding data go back only that far. I mainly looked at how often teams were able to get extra base hits (XBH) on balls into the concerned area. In some other cases, I looked at how often teams where able to generate outs (Out%).
Green Monster, Fenway Park
|Most Left Field Games Played, Fenway Park, 2012-13|
Let’s begin with the 37-foot tall, green left field wall at Fenway Park, aptly named the Green Monster. The Green Monster is probably the most recognizable in-play feature at any ballpark. The main reason for the wall’s uniqueness is that it is a factor in almost every game. How batted balls were played off it has determined many games over its 102-year history. Collectively, Red Sox left fielders in 2012-13, the five most-used of whom are listed above, tallied a -8 UZR.
Those were two balls with similar placement and both were fielded almost immediately by an outfielder. Ortiz is able to make it to second base while Longoria did not. Longoria is no Billy Hamilton, but he is faster than Ortiz and should have made it also.
Looking at the videos again, the key to Ortiz getting the extra base happened in the first 20 feet from home plate. Ortiz knows immediately his batted ball isn’t going to be a home run and takes off “sprinting” to first. Longoria, on the other hand, marvels at his work, hoping to see the ball clear the fearsome wall. His hit falls short. He loses a couple of precious seconds and ends up only at first base.
In the previous two videos, both defending teams got to the ball rather quickly and got it into the infield. Clean fielding is not always the case. Handling ricochets off the wall, especially for inexperienced players or those new to Fenway, can be tricky. Here is a video of the Diamondbacks’ A.J. Pollock completely misplaying a bounce.
Mr. Pollock is not familiar with the wall at all since he is on a National League team. He doesn’t even keep the ball contained and the right fielder ends up having to make the play.
Okay, time to see how teams did preventing extra base hits to deep left field. I grouped the teams into four groups based on how often the other teams visit Fenway. I wanted to see if teams who were more familiar with the park did better. The groups are (1) Red Sox, (2) other American League East teams, 3) American League Central and West teams and 4) National League teams. Here is how each group did preventing extra base hits:
|Extra Base Hit Prevention, Fenway Park, 2012-13|
|Other AL East||41%|
|AL Central & West||44%|
As can be seen, away teams take extra bases only 33 percent of the time while they allow extra bases at around a 40 percent clip. Over the time frame, Boston had a below-average left-field defense, so if the Red Sox defense improves, the difference could be even larger. Again, the cause for this discrepancy can be the away team gawking at just missed home runs (bringing Boston’s numbers down) or misplaying balls off the wall (increases their numbers).
One note on the Green Monster: Plays happen off of it almost every day. In every other case, the sample of data is just a fraction of the Green Monster’s.
Tal’s Hill, Minute Maid Park
|Most Center Field Games Played, Minute Maid Park, 2012-13|
I still don’t get who thought it was a good idea to build a hill in the middle of the field. Even worse, the Astros put a pole in the middle of it. Somehow I see the inspiration for this feature involving a couple 20-somethings taking a trip to Reynosa for some tequila and dried leaves filled with tetrahydrocannabinol. Then back in Houston, their bosses love it because at least every ball hit there means ESPN has a reason to put the Astros on TV. Now it is your turn to come up with something better.
While Tal’s Hill is not a dominating feature, it does cause some fielding issues for center fielders at Minute Maid Park. Here is the hill turning a routine fly ball for Brandon Barnes into a circus catch and, thankfully, not a turned ankle.
The problem with Tal’s Hill from a data accumulation standpoint is that it is rarely in play. To look at how teams fielded fly balls hit there, I used the data when the Astros were fielding and then everyone else.
Here is how the Astros and the rest of the league handled balls hit to Tal’s Hill and the area around it.
|Out% for fielders and XBH% Allowed, Astros vs. Away Team|
The most obvious conclusion is that if a ball falls near Tal’s Hill, every runner over the past couple of seasons has gotten extra bases. This is not really a surprise since Tal’s Hill is more than 400 feet from home plate. The interesting bit of information is that away teams are almost twice as likely to catch a fly ball in deep center field.
Looking at the numbers a little deeper, the Astros seem willing to give up the deep ball and instead go for shallower outs. Here is the Out% and XBH% for all hits to center field.
|XBH% Allowed, Tal’s Hill vs. Road|
|Field Depth||Astros||Away Team||Astros||Away Team||% Of Balls Hit|
The Astros have put a higher priority on getting to the shallow and routine fly ball, while the away team is looking to cover deep balls near Tal’s Hill.
Center Field Wall, Chase Field
|Most Center Field Games Played, Chase Field, 2012-13|
The balconies and wall are not the most imposing features, but do add a little difficulty in fielding. Here we see Junior Lake catching a break as the ball ricochets off the center field wall straight to Alfonso Soriano.
As with Tal’s Hill, not many balls will reach the wall at more than 400 feet from home plate.
The Diamondbacks do a good job of fielding the area; they have reached 71 percent of the batted balls for outs, while the away teams get to only 66 percent of the fly balls in that part of the park. This difference can be explained by the above-average center fielders the D-backs have employed, and that doesn’t figure to change this season.
Every ball that landed in this area or went off the wall became an extra-base hit. The main problem is the balconies are just too small for a hitter to know he will hit one (and take said extra base). Since so few balls hit them, players can’t get regular reads.
Entire Oakland Coliseum Outfield
I could have picked any large park to examine (Seattle, Colorado, Kansas City, San Diego). The key with any of these parks is that the outfielders have to try to pick their battles and know they will lose a few. There is just too much ground to cover and the defense can’t cover deep and shallow, the gaps and the line. Still, the A’s won more than their fair share, as their outfield UZR over this two-year period was +27.
Here is a case where the Indians were playing in on Sam Fuld, who hit a rope to center field for a triple. Fuld and his sub .100 ISO and six career home runs would not cause the outfield defense to play back. The outfielders are playing in and Fuld is able to take advantage of the positioning.
Or a player can be playing back and make almost the same play seem routine, as Chris Young does here:
Sometimes, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Here, Coco Crisp is playing back in anticipation of Matt Adams giving the ball a ride. Instead, Adams hits a flyball single — it was in the air for more than 4.5 seconds — that drops just in front of a diving Crisp:
Again, a team just needs to pick its poison, play the odds and stick with a plan.
So let’s look at how Oakland handles fly balls to different parts of the park. Here are Oakland, the away teams and the difference in Out% and XBH%.
|Out%, Oakland Coliseum, 2012-13|
|Team||Field Depth||LF Line||LF||Left Center||CF||Right Center||RF||RF Line|
|XBH%, Oakland Coliseum, 2012-13|
|Team||Field Depth||LF Line||LF||Left Center||CF||Right Center||RF||RF Line|
Oakland’s focus is on getting shallow outs and playing the lines. With this focus, the A’s allow more hits deep and in the center field gaps. They prevent a large number of extra-base hits right down the line compared to the away team.
Certain in-play stadium features may seem like an advantage for the home team. Home teams that understand these features best can gain an advantage when the ball is in play. Most of these features, however, other than the Green Monster at Fenway Park, are not really large enough to matter every game. As in the case with Tal’s Hill at Minute Maid Park, the feature almost acts as a distraction for the away team. The other team positions its players to make plays with it instead of covering balls hit a shorter distance. Some parks have some unique features in play, but rarely do they affect game play.