One of most cliché and oft-used fascinations with our national pastime regards just how mind-bogglingly unique it can be. No two ballgames are ever identical and every season, sometimes every day, there’s something new to witness. For my personal introduction to the sport, I can always dwell on what my dad, the Judge, and many sportswriters have remarked about one of the coolest aspects of baseball– the distinctive configuration of each baseball park in the Major League.
Seriously, how excellent is an infographic like this?? There’s the Green Monster, of course, at Fenway Park, the goofy hill in Houston, short porches and deep, cavernous power alleys and triples corners. Books and theses can be and have been penned about the American (and handful of Canadian) baseball fields and I’m obviously not here to do that. However, when doing some research for my debut piece (I know, what a shameless plug!) I began to consider looking deeper into how, or even if, home field advantages can affect hitters’ home run numbers. After all, chicks dig the long ball, and just like Ahnold in T2: Judgment Day, the homerun is back!
Let’s start with the wonderful ESPN Home Run Tracker. The website breaks down every home run into 4 categories- No Doubter’s, Plenty’s, Just Enough’s and Lucky – for each player as well as a calculation of the number of ballparks out of 30 that a batted ball would become a home run when normalized to calm conditions (70 degrees and no wind). ‘0’ means that the park the ball was hit in was the only one it would have made it out of, ’30’ means it would be a dinger anywhere. In 2011, the average jack cleared the walls in 23 of 30 stadiums.
After playing around with the site for a while, I decided to take a look at the impact that ball parks have on Just Enough or Lucky home runs. Is a player more likely to have a Just Enough homer when playing in certain parks? Would that homer be a no doubter elsewhere or just a fly out?
If a JE/L home run occurred in conjunction with an above average to high park number (23-30, meaning that the homer in question would be gone in 23-30 of the other MLB stadiums), I would deem the park in which it was hit to have a detrimental impact on the hit- the park configuration and the location of the hit ball in that particular setting effectively makes a ball that would normally be a home run anywhere else a very close call. The opposite holds true if JE/L homers have a below average to low park number (0-23). This means that the home-field advantage perhaps aided the batter, as it would otherwise not have the distance or height in other parks. And again the park number controls for weather effects too, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.
Mookie Betts (14 HR: 10 JE/L)
As any prideful (read: smug) Bostonian will gladly tell you, Fenway Park is a national treasure and has park dimensions and configurations that are oh-so-cute and quirky. The legendary venue has its venerated status for a reason and Mr. Betts (and Sox fans would probably agree this year) might want it to stick around for a while. Fantasy players and Red Sox supporters might take notice- he has been really fortunate as 10 of his 14 home runs are classified as either Lucky or Just Enough. Of those 10, six have been clubbed at home and with his tendency to pull his shots to left one would think that lofting the ball over the Green Monster would be an excellent advantage, so is it?
The answer is both yes and no. Completely breaking news: The 37-foot wall both giveth and taketh away! Of his six home-field JE/L home runs, three registered average or above average park numbers (30, 23 and 23 respectively). Very noticeably, these were drives over the Monster and if we look at the landing spots, launch angle and launch velocity we can see these homers were absolutely crushed and not in any way cheap shots .
On the flipside, the other three questionable dingers were much more a product of Fenway’s particular dimensions (0,0,1). They were also sent high and away to left field. Fenway Park is funky and sometimes balls that have no business leaving the yard, such as this fly with a standardized distance of 299(!) feet, do.
One final note about the four remaining JE/L homers hit on the road: Betts loves Camden Yards- hitting three to distinct locations there yet with very below average park number, 6, 8 and 1, which may be indicative that his power approach simply works better against the in-division Orioles and that the stadium’s contours allow him to have home runs that might otherwise not be.
Robinson Cano (16 HR: 8 JE/L)
Like Betts above, Cano also has a fairly high instance of luck with his home runs and also like Betts, his JE/L splits evenly 50/50 between home and road. What’s interesting here is that Safeco Field is regarded as very much a pitcher’s park yet his park numbers go pretty low (2,9,7,9), which suggests that Cano is being helped out by his home turf. Thus far this year, Safeco actually ranks 8th in HR Park Score up from 22nd last season, so it’s plausible that the ballpark that Cano has to play 82 games in is finally becoming a little more advantageous for him.
Then again, with virtually no weather effects and with the four home JE/L homers being placed evenly, with two sent to centerfield and two to right where Safeco ranks a middling 16th and 14th longest in distance respectively, this could just be pure luck or at the very least not related to park dimensions.
On the road, his four close calls have an average of 20.25 park number, so just below average from the 2011 numbers. Two occurred against the Rangers, where Globe Life Park ranks 4th this season in HR Park Score. This means that in Arlington the contours actually worked against Cano, as nicely displayed here on a homer that flew a monstrous standardized 426 feet and would’ve made it out in 26 other parks, yet just barely cleared the outfield wall.
The other pair happened at pitcher friendly PETCO Park (18th in HR Park Score) and whatever they’re calling that abomination in Oakland (30th, dead last).
What does all of this mean?
The cases of Betts and Cano really highlight how unique individual cases are when figuring out the impact of ballpark conditions on home runs. Though, admittedly, a two-player sample is pretty small.
However, given what we now know, we can try and predict that Betts may have more close calls turn into homers as he plays 12 more games against Baltimore and a whole bunch more at home in Boston. For Robbie Cano’s part, his hot start may not just be him overcoming his traditional home pitcher’s park, but actually getting a bit lucky in JE/L instances. We’ll have to stay tuned and see where Betts and Cano stand in a couple months, or if any other player curries the good favor of the baseball gods and leaps to the top of the Lucky homers list.
You can follow Jesse on Twitter @hartmonster3