Going to an MLB ballpark is, or at least should be, a unique and awe-inspiring experience. Baseball stadiums at their best are architectural art built expertly into the fabric of the city they represent. They have their own feel, their o...
Going to an MLB ballpark is, or at least should be, a unique and awe-inspiring experience. Baseball stadiums at their best are architectural art built expertly into the fabric of the city they represent. They have their own feel, their own sounds, their own smells, and they have their own dimensions. But have we mixed up the things about ballparks that should be unique with the things that should be universal? Time, once again, to take off that thinking cap and jump rant-first into this week's ball-park oriented edition of Purple Hazed Ideas.
Idea # 1: Universal Field Dimensions
Let me begin by saying that I have always loved this unique aspect of baseball; that the playing field is a part of the game and actually changes based on where you play. This goes back to the days where most of us started our love for this game in little leagues that could often have wildly different characteristics. I played on a field that was broken down and often times had no outfield fence in center. It was common to come up from slides into second base with gravel in your knee. When we would travel to the nicer fields in town they would have working scoreboards, clearly painted white chalk baselines and, what do you call it? Grass. They had grass.
Obviously the conditions of the field at the major league level are not a concern, but does it really make sense for the best players in the world to be playing such a statistically-driven game in such drastically different environments? Now, sabermetrics have come up with a number of ways to adjust stats to each park, but there are still flaws in these measurements as they are based on averages and not simple reality. They don't factor in how tepid the outfielder was running backwards in Wrigley because he might hit a brick wall covered by nothing but vines. These stats don't help determine how much of a hill either the ball or player had to climb before the play was made in Houston.
Park-adjusted stats can help us understand the difference between hitting a home run into right-center at AT&T Park in San Francisco versus hitting one to that same spot in Boston at the famed Fenway park. But each one still goes down as a home run (or not), still counts against the ERA of the pitcher (or not) and still affects the actual outcome of this game being played right now, as opposed to some average that should even out over the course of the season. Showing the number of home runs at the end of a season that a player should have hit doesn't put any of those runs back on the board in any of those games.
We all know that there is a huge difference between the new Yankee Stadium and the old Petco Park. They even had to bring in the walls this year at Petco and now almost every time a home run is hit there, whoever is commenting asks the question, "would that have been over the fence last year?" The difference between one home run, or that same fly ball being an out, can be the difference in the game. Shouldn't we just decide how long you should have to hit the ball to have earned the home run and put all the fences in the appropriate place? Sometimes I still love the strangeness and uniqueness of each park, but sometimes I feel stuck with that feeling that all these different park dimensions are doing is lying to us.
The Coors Field "effect" has even been used as a primary argument for keeping both Todd Helton and Larry Walker out of the Hall of Fame, though interestingly I've never heard of a Boston player being scrutinized for being allowed to play pepper with a left field wall that is approximately 92 feet away. Are San Diego and Oakland pitchers regularly overrated by the rest of the league because of the park they pitch in? My eye test says yes. But one thing universal field dimensions would accomplish is putting an end to all of the doubt in our minds about how much the park actually affects the numbers of any given player. In a sport where numbers are king, it would be nice if the numbers weren't so o