By: Chance Harper | www.sbrforum.com
How does a baseball travel from a pitcher’s hand towards the plate where it comes in contact with a bat being swung and then flies over the outfield fence for a home run? A little Math, physics and meteorology.
Calculating the energy required to hit a home run within a given ballpark is only part of the process in determining which stadiums are better for pitchers and hitters. The only constant in the equation is gravity, that one force best explained by the old cliché, “What goes up, must come down.”
The ever-changing pieces to the puzzle are velocity, spin, wind, air drag/air density and Magnus force. Even within those components are subcomponents, especially velocity where you have the initial speed or energy applied to the pitched ball, the transferred and resulting energy when ball meets bat plus both vertical and horizontal flight.
A study done a couple of years ago and published at BaseballThinkFactory.org went through the processes to determine where it was easier or harder to hit a home run. The study concluded that the smallest amount of energy required to poke one out in major league stadiums was the famous Pesky Pole in the right-field corner of Fenway Park. The toughest place to send one over the fence was center field at Minute Maid Park.
Neither of those places made my top 5 list of the best parks for pitchers or the following list for hitters. The ease or difficulty that home runs are hit within a given park is not the most critical factor. Understanding that is especially crucial to MLB odds players who need to make certain they aren’t consumed by the home run and instead consider all offensive ingredients when betting game totals.
Here’s one man’s list of the top 5 MLB parks for hitters; numbers below are through Monday, June 28.
1) Coors Field, Denver
2011 Runs Per Game: 10.44
MLB Totals: 23-14-1 O/U/P
Layout: Home to Center, South to North; 5,183′ above sea level
Until baseball builds another stadium at an elevation of 4,500′ or higher, Coors Field will be the top hitters park in the game. The park opened in 1995 and was at that time roughly 4,000′ higher than the next closest MLB stadium (Atlanta’s former Fulton County Stadium). Chase Field has since opened and is the second-highest park in the majors.
Elevation is only one part of the equation, albeit a key factor since the higher you go, the less drag on a thrown or batted ball is the result. The air density at Coors Field is 0.79 atmospheres compared to 1.00 at sea level in Seattle and Miami to name a couple of MLB locales.
To counter the expected increase in home runs, architects moved the fences back in Denver around six percent. If we think of an average distance down the foul lines to be 330′, Coors Field is 347′ to the LF pole and 350′ to the RF corner.
It just so happened that Coors Field opened about the time the Steroids Era was blossoming into full strength, and the Rockies sure had their share of sluggers at the time regardless of any PED usage. The 1999 season saw a record 303 home runs hit at the stadium.
That figure has been declining over the years, thanks in part to the introduction of the infamous humidor during the 2002 season. The 2010 season saw just 187 balls exit the field as home runs.
In a touch of irony, what helps keep this park among the most hitter-friendly is that decision to move the fences back. Outfielders play deeper as a result, leading to more pops falling in front of them, and there is increased ground to cover in the two outfield alleys. The old baseball adage, “A bloop and a blast,” is more relevant at Coors Field than any other stadium.
2) Rangers Ballpark, Arlington, TX
2011 Runs Per Game: 10.67
MLB Totals: 24-14-1 O/U/P
Layout: Home to Center, Northwest to Southeast; 616′ above sea level
A notorious long ball haven, Texas opened the park in 1994 and statistics immediately bore out its place on any list of hitter-friendly stadiums. The 2003 season, just at the end of the Steroids Era, was the ultimate campaign to illustrate this as the Rangers and their opposition combined to score 985 runs at the diamond while slapping a park-record 245 homers for a second consecutive season.
Just as Oakland Coliseum benefits pitchers with the largest foul territory in play for fielders, Rangers Ballpark has some of the smallest foul area in the majors to aid the batters. The stadium maintains fairly traditional dimensions down the lines and to center, but the tallest wall is in left at 14′ with 8′ heights in center and right.
The Dallas-Ft. Worth area is also prone to more wind than many people may think. The stadium’s construction blocks a lot of the wind, but what happens is wind comes over the top of the park and gets inside to create a swirling or streaming effect to augment home run flight.
3) Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati
2011 Runs Per Game: 9.75
MLB Totals: 23-16-2 O/U/P
Layout: Home to Center, Northwest to Southeast, 683′ above sea level
All of the classic elements come together to make the Reds’ home a favorable hitters arena. Great American sits on a little higher ground than Rangers Ballpark, has shorter distances to outfield walls than Texas’ stadium, a shorter fence in left and smaller-than-average foul territory.
No stadium in the majors has seen as many home runs the past seven seasons with 1,523 round trippers from 2004-2010. If the Reds were playing with the American League DH rule, Great American Ball Park would at least challenge the 303-HR record set at Coors in ’99.
4) US Cellular Field, Chicago
2011 Runs Per Game: 7.92
MLB Totals: 16-21-2 O/U/P
Layout: Home to Center, South to North; 596′ above sea level
Only three major league parks saw more home runs hit in 2010 than Chicago’s Cell where 192 went into the record books. Those three stadiums were Rogers Centre in Toronto (227), Yankee Stadium (223) and Chase Field (201). The reputation of being hitter-friendly hasn’t always been the case.
US Cellular was originally constructed with deeper dimensions but moved the fences in before the 2001 season. Left field crept in 17 feet from the original 347′ distance, right field came in 12′ and there is a consistent 8′ wall across the outfield. Foul territory is average by MLB standards.
Scoring is down on Chicago’s South Side this season, mostly due to underperformance by the White Sox lineup. It bears watching the next few seasons to see if the park could eventually move down the list of those favoring hitters.
5) Chase Field, Phoenix
2011 Runs Per Game: 9.63
MLB Totals: 18-21-1 O/U/P
Layout: Home to Center, South to North; 1,082′ above sea level
Some may rank Wrigley or the new Yankee Stadium in their top-5 list, but I’m going with the Snake Pit in Phoenix instead. There’s a tendency to think the wind always blows out at Wrigley Field, when it doesn’t, and with only two full seasons of data for the Yanks’ new grounds, I’m reserving judgment for the time being.
A quick check of the numbers since it opened in ’98 reveals Chase Field has been very consistent when it comes to ranking among the top parks in overall scoring. Home runs aren’t the big feature, the park factor in that category ranking about normal with other MLB stadiums.
What helps hitters (and MLB handicappers) out are the two alleys, with both right-center and left-center deeper than true center. A gap-hitter should thrive at Chase Field, and the stats bear this out with the Arizona arena consistently ranking up there with Coors Field in the number of triples each season.
Honorable mention to Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards, Fenway Park and Rogers Centre.