Baseball is great, I think we can all agree. There is no chance you would read these words if you didn’t already feel that way. Non-baseball lovers do not read mid-March link dumps on baseball blogs, especially link dumps with endless introductions like this one.
One thing I love about baseball is the non-uniform playing fields. Sure, the key dimensions of the ballparks are identical as per the rule book, but the characteristics of each park are unique, making for a wonderful variety in playing conditions. Altitude or lack thereof, weather or lack thereof, cherished relics from bygone eras and multi-use facilities all make for different experiences, in terms of both game play and viewing experience.
Yesterday’s URL Weaver linked to a Fangraphs post by Dave Cameron about infield fly balls and their status as near automatic outs. One of those things you don’t really think and then, after you read an article like that, you wonder how you didn’t consider that point all along.
Like most things, not all infield fly balls are created equal. Like so many things in baseball, they aren’t shared equally from place to place.
Infield flies are basically free outs, as we know. Turns out facing the opposing pitcher is basically a free out as well. Jeff Sullivan shows how Gio Gonzalez destroyed his opposing numbers in 2012, putting up standard Gio numbers against non-pitchers while striking out more futile hitters than anybody in nearly 40 years.
Is it fair to penalize Gio Gonzalez because he gets to lump up a group of non-hitters compared to Jeremy Hellickson, who must navigate the American League East, where DHs like David Ortiz, Edwin Encarnacion reside? Not really. Just like it isn’t fair to penalize those who perform in pitchers parks for getting extra pop outs due to the size of his ballpark.
A month ago, the same Jeff Sullivan looked at a potential park factor for Marlins Park – a complete lack of foul ground. Despite being one of the biggest parks in the league, a place near impossible to hit home runs in, Lance Berkman is quoted as saying “it’s the biggest park in the game.” Before a game this year, Ryan Roberts told me the identical thing, nearly word for word.
In the same breath, Berkman is quoted as noticing the lack of foul territory in the new Miami ballpark, wondering if there isn’t less foul ground in Loria’s Arthouse than anywhere else in baseball.
A lack of foul territory goes some of the way explaining why Marlins Park plays mostly neutral in terms of overall offense. The lack of free outs available due to the close proximity of the seats keeps at bats alive and removes those precious pop outs.
The value of free outs cannot be overstated. Acta Sports tracks the best and worst parks for foul outs, finding several parks that fit the Marlins park mould: large amounts of field places foul territory at a premium. Safeco Field plays (or played, prior to the ongoing renovations) as the most offense-supressing yard in the game. As one might expect, it is also a great place for pitchers to pick up foul outs, posting a 120 Foul Out Index (with 100 being average, there are 20% more foul outs in Seattle compared to league average.)
Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay and O.co Colisuem in Oakland are other ballparks which rank in the bottom five in terms of runs and top five in terms of foul outs. Conversely, the above-pictured Angels Stadium and AT&T Park in San Francisco are pitchers’ parks mostly because of how well they keep fair balls in play. Rangers Ballpark at Arlington and Coors Field are two parks with little in the way of foul territory that also punish pitchers with their homer-friendly ways.
These types of intricacies and differences are endlessly fascinating to me and certainly shape the way the game is played. All the free outs from facing opposing pitchers in expansive ballparks with ample foul territory add up. You think the Padres don’t spend on starting pitching just because they’re cheap?
And the rest
What is the value of analytics to the average fan? [Beyond the Boxscore]
Top Braves prospect Julio Tehran works on his sinker, like all good children should. [DOBONER]
Some super science on six factors which influence elbow injuries in adult pitchers. [American Journal of Sports Medicine]