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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Park Dimensions    

Debates have been raging over at USS Mariner regarding Safeco Field's devastating impact on right-handed power. First, there was this post about how difficult it is to construct a roster that can succeed in Safeco (though it's a heck of a lot easier to get good performances out of marginal lefty starters like Jarrod Washburn and Jamie Moyer). Then, debate erupted again Sunday in reference to Adrian Beltre in particular, who that very day hit a double and an in-the-park home run off the wall in left-center. Both would have cleared the fence in most every other park in baseball.

Some interesting things have come out of that debate, though it's been unnecessarily heated and haughty at points (that's the internet for you, I guess). It's clear that from a roster construction standpoint, having a field that is favorable to some kinds of hitters and very disfavorable to others is tricky. It's also clear, at least to me, that if one were to be successful in creating a roster that is a good fit for a strange park, the team could have a significant advantage (unless that construction were to cause them problems in other stadiums). For the Mariners, clearly, Safeco is not a good fit right now (except in that it allows them to keep trotting Moyer out there to the delight of bored, aging housewives across the Pacific Northwest). So, I think some adjustment is probably necessary. But how much? How to go about it?

And more importantly, what do we like out of a ballpark, from a park effect standpoint? (I'm not interested in talking about aesthetics or here). I think it's pretty clear we all like a little distinctiveness, otherwise if would be boring. I know I prefer pitchers' parks. I know I like doubles, triples, and defense; so a spacious outfield is good for any number of reasons. I know I'm scared about moving the RF fence back at all in Safeco because I know the M's will never, ever get rid of Raul IbaƱez, and I have no idea if he would be as productive without the porch. So I guess I'm in favor of small adjustments inward in left and left-center, and no more than the slightest of adjustments out in right.

But I like the idea of being able to construct a roster that will give you an advantage at home. Unfortunately, it seems to me like it doesn't turn out that well. I think it's interesting that Safeco clearly parrots Yankee stadium, strongly favoring LH power hitters and LH starters who can negate LH power. Safeco doesn't have quite the RF porch that Yankee stadium does, and Yankee stadium isn't as tough on RH power as Safeco is, but both clearly have the same basic intent. And I don't know if it was a meaningful part of the Yankees late-nineties success, but it seems to me that since then it's been trouble for both teams. All the scouring the Yankees do for lefty starters seems to be more of a pain than anything else, at least to me, and Safeco has clearly made it harder for Seattle to find quality, RH power.

So, basically, I want to hear what you all think. What kinds of park effects do you find the most interesting? Do you like the idea of parks favoring certain kinds of hitters or pitchers? From a pure park-effect standpoint, what are your favorite ballparks? Let's hear it.

19 Comments:

  • Scattered thoughts:

    * I don't think you build a team *specifically* for your stadium. To a certain degree. For example, there's no sense in the Sox building a small-ball lineup; gotta have a traditional power-laden setup in some way. But it's not like they have to sign nine righty pull hitters, or nine lefties who spray the ball to the opposite field.

    * Building a team for a park only helps you in the regular season (if at all). Gets you a bump in the standings in the long run, but doesn't ensure much in a single-game scenario. Just ask Bucky Dent.

    * I prefer wacky angles to wacky dimensions. Mostly I'm against any field rules that specifically negate home runs that would otherwise be gone... opens up too much stuff to unfairness.

    For example, nobody can justify the stupidity that went into Houston's stadium. It's not just that left field is such a joke... but what's the use of having a 435' center field (with an uphill flagpole) that takes away so many legitimate home runs? I mean, if you WANT to have a team that tries to pull everything, be my guest. It's too much.

    But the flagpole idea is great! What would be cooler than thwacking a game-winning HR off a damn flagpole in center field? It's just 30' too far out there. Why would anyone even consider hitting a baseball to centerfield in Houston?

    * Fenway's angularity is not something to aspire to. People have this impression that the Green Monster is some kind of offensive boon to power hitters, but I don't think that's true. I think the height of the wall takes away a great many legit HRs as it adds its famously phony ones. If I had a nickel for every Mo Vaughn double (or single) that would have been a HR in any other park, I'd have enough to buy a lap dance at the Foxy Lady.

    The point is that if your wacky obstacle is the defining characteristic of your park, it's probably not a good thing. What's the iconic characteristic of Camden Yards? The warehouse. San Francisco? The water. Houston? The retarded left-field wall, and the retractable roof. BAAAAAD!

    * If it affects free agency, it's probably a bad design decision.

    * If I were building a stadium, I'd probably build Fenway, but without the Monster. Barring that, I'd want it to be offense-friendly, but not in such a way as to slant that offense towards a particular kind of hitter. I'd want to give lefties and righties something different to shoot for. Maybe a short porch in left, but a short power alley in right. Standard-ish center field, maybe with a higher fence. (If you're gonna take a guy's HR away, at least let him reach base. Don't let the fielder catch the goddamn thing.)

    But I'd be much more concerned with skylines, mountain views and waterways in the area than about the park dimensions. I'd want center field to open up to a giant... something. Doesn't matter what.

    Although, in lieu of mountains or an ocean, I'd consider this: the biggest Burger King statue on the planet! Whenever a HR touches the Burger King you get free fries. You'd see everyone in the center-field SRO area letting the ball roll as far as it can, on the off-chance that it hits the Burger King. If you pick up the ball early, you get booed, and potentially assaulted. See? Teamwork! Maybe you even put the statue down a slope of some kind. (I would advocate this for the new Yankee Stadium, because I hate them.) Or hell, speaking of the Bronx, make it into a Monument Park thing, except closer to the fence... if a HR hits Carlton Fisk in the nuts, free beer!!! Or give each statue a glove, and if the ball goes into the statue, the fans can run on the field after the game. Et cetera.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 5:39 PM  

  • Good thoughts. I agree that a really distant CF with a short porch on either side is ridiculous. A serious shot to dead center is so much more legitimate and exciting than something barely clearing the fence in a corner. Why reward the latter more?

    I like your higher walls idea, but...

    1) After all the Griffey-Cameron-Ichiro-defense we've had, I couldn't live with a stadium that made it impossible to steal a homerun in either center or right. LF, sure, since defensive wizards don't usually find themselves out there anyway.

    2) Toronto's CF walls look ridiculous. I don't know if that's because of the height, but I don't think it's unrelated. This would have to be carefully managed, though I imagine the age of the Skydome is the real problem.

    It is a pretty big shame that they didn't manage to get a good view of Mt. Rainier or the water from Safeco. I like the view of downtown skyscrapers from the first base line, and given the actual location I think the water wouldn't have worked very well. But Rainier should be visible. Actually I don't know if I've ever sat on the LF side, maybe it is visible from there. But I don't think so.

    So how do you have creative angles that allow for spacious outfields and the possibility for more doubles, triples, and exciting defense without unfairly penalizing homers hit to center?

    By Blogger Jesse, at 6:59 PM  

  • nice topic. i don't have much to add yet, except this:
    keep the foul territory small.
    Oakland is a goddamned travesty.
    What's less exciting than a foul pop-up?

    By Blogger Alex, at 9:13 AM  

  • Agreed about the foul territory too.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 11:12 AM  

  • I think we can also agree that rafters suck. Even though I enjoyed the David Ortiz face a couple months ago immensely, it fails the test of basic logic. In Tampa there's like 187 different ground rules about what rafters = home run, and which = in play. Stupid.

    Also, I disagree that ANYTHING large in the outfield view is good. Citizens Bank ballpark in Philly provides a wonderful outfield vista of a giant grey concrete monstrosity by the name of Holiday Inn. It's godawful. Especially considering that the other finalist site for the park was Mantua, which would have provided an outfield view of boathouse row and the art museum. Of course, the park would have been smack in the middle of a complete Ghetto, the kind of place where the street thugs collect the ears of their victims (Hello, Anacostia!)

    By Blogger Alex, at 11:32 AM  

  • to clarify, i only meant that not all large outfield vistas are good. Having a big item in the view (a bay, an old building, etc) is only good if it's something someone might enjoy looking at.

    By Blogger Alex, at 11:38 AM  

  • Thirded. Man Law!

    And thank you Lehr for bringing catwalks into the conversation. I tried to work it in myself, but I thought I was too long-winded already. Whoever designed Tropicana Field should be shot in the penis with a harpoon. I'm rooting for the Devil Rays to become relevant, if only because success would build momentum for a REAL stadium.

    Anyway, I wonder what it'd be like to build a park with no foul territory other than behind the plate. You put a small box together for the catcher, batter and ump, but put everything else (including the on-deck guy) either inside or off the field. The wall rubs up against the field, and is fair.

    I see a few problems with this...

    1) Average ERA shoots up into the 6-7 range
    2) Fan interference becomes a capital offense
    3) Cristian Guzman would have a career again

    Still, an interesting gimmick to consider.

    But seriously, who cares about doubles, triples and defense? I don't prefer them to HRs. This whole discussion has made me appreciate the Fenway style of baseball more and more. A spacious park like Coors Field, or apparently Safeco, will allow doubles and such because there's nowhere else to put your outfielders... too much space to cover, hence wide-open gaps. Whereas at Fenway you do kinda have to hit the ball over someone's head, or hit it so hard into the gap that the OFs can't cut off the roll.

    I'd even argue that a smaller outfield provides as much opportunity for defensive wizardry, because there's less space to cover.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 11:38 AM  

  • For the record, I'm not actually sure that Safeco does permit more than average doubles or triples. I have a vague perception that it does, and I know that left-center is huge. One thing I don't like about Safeco's dimensions is that left field is actually more important than right field as a defensive position, but I only hate that because we have Ichiro.

    Refined list of good characteristics, as far as I'm concerned: pitchers' park, no one spot that is ridiculously more difficult to hit a home run out of than other spots, small-ish foul territory, no rafters, maybe some odd angles--certainly it would need something distinctive aside from aesthetics, I think.

    For example, I do kind of like that the way the air circulates in Safeco hurts righty pull-hitters. Seems to me that if you can teach your righties to hit more the other way, hit more to center, etc., it's nice that the effort could be rewarded. I like the idea of opposing righties trying to pull everything and not being able to get them over the wall.

    But the way it is now, it's hurting our own hitters too much. With Jones and Lopez becoming a big part of the club's future, probably, that's only going to continue. It's not just Adrian Beltre's problem.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 11:50 AM  

  • Fenway is located in Kenmore Square, in the heart of Boston. Do you know what the most recognizable part of the Boston skyline is, when viewed from Fenway? A big, flashing neon Citgo sign. A monstrosity. And guess what. Everyone loves it. Seeing the Pru or the Hancock Tower hanging above right field is okay, but the Citgo Sign is what people remember about the Boston cityscape after going to Fenway, particularly at night. (It's not neon anymore, apparently, and it might not be visible anymore above The Monstah Seats, but still.) How many walkoff HRs have been punctuated by the sight of that Citgo sign? It definitely provides as much color as Camden's warehouse.

    Point being, it really depends on the uniqueness. Holiday Inns are not unique, I grant you that, but if there's a touch of panache or style, ugliness can still work.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 11:52 AM  

  • "if there's a touch of panache or style, ugliness can still work."

    Did your mom tell you that?

    By Blogger Alex, at 1:12 PM  

  • No, but your girlfriend did.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 2:40 PM  

  • I think the bigger point is, with enough time and memories any view or whatever is going to become endearing. If the Phillies get good eventually and rattle off a WS appearance or two, people will definitely remember fondly how much they hated seeing that Holiday Inn for all those years when they sucked. Eventually it will become interesting and distinctively Philly because no other team in baseball was stupid enough to let that a Holiday Inn be the big view from the stadium. How Philly.

    But I bet that they'd rather end up remembering a nice view of the museum and everything, if they had the opportunity. And I bet the same goes for Boston with a nice view of the harbor or something. I don't pretend to know what would be nice to look at in Boston, but there it is.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 2:50 PM  

  • If a HR landed in Boston Harbor, it would probably melt.

    Let's also not forget that Wrigley Field is the prettiest park in baseball, and it's basically just in a plain-old row-house neighborhood.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 2:55 PM  

  • I think we're all basically on the same page here. And I love old row-house neighborhoods.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 3:40 PM  

  • How about this... Yankee Stadium is one of the shittiest shitholes in the league. No endearing qualities whatsoever when you look at it purely as a baseball stadium. The only reason to go there is because so much historic shit has gone down, which makes it baseball's version of Ground Zero.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 3:49 PM  

  • I like the idea of having a cheap general-admission lawn area in center field where the rabble can mill about.

    I agree with Lehr's comment about foul territory. Bring the fans closer and you can charge more for seats. Plus, an experienced hitter can foul off countless pitches, wearing down the pitcher and resulting in more eventual offense.

    I'm thinking 95% of park-construction plans have to do with how to attract fans, not baseball strategy.

    Maybe Seattle should pick up more lefties with power... hey they just got Ben Broussard.

    By Blogger rusch, at 6:42 PM  

  • yankee stadium is a shithole.

    By Blogger Alex, at 10:08 AM  

  • I think Tampa should open up the catwalks for admission. (Not that they're short on ticket availability at the moment, but still.) Here's the catch... it's a $20 ticket, but you get roped onto a bungee harness for the length game, and in-between innings you can base jump. In a world of innovative promotions, tell me Base Jumping Night wouldn't be a big, um, hit.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 6:18 PM  

  • Jeff- GREAT idea. during the 7th inning stretch they could bring out three of those tennis ball cannons from Assault on American Gladiators, and let three lucky fans have the triggers. If they manage to hit more than 3 basejumpers, everyone gets a free hot dog.

    By Blogger Alex, at 8:57 AM  

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