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It’s amazing how limited the press can make their own vision to generate a point of larger noise. The new Yankee stadium has been home to a solid amount of home runs for April and immediately the press is jumping to conclusions that it’s now this massive hitter’s park that will make Coors Field look like a pitcher’s park. Or something like that.
I can’t keep up with all of the absurdity because it’s starting to make me feel like I’m getting dumber from reading it. But, at the end of the day, I think when we observe a lot more baseball, we’ll see that the Yankees probably have some tinkering to do to the new Stadium, but less than people are shouting for.
The first bit of phenomena is that home runs are up this year and flying further, while we’re at it. Thanks to the baseball-reference.com Player Index team batting search, I discovered that last April home runs were hit in 2.30% of plate appearances while thus far in April they have been hit in 2.78% of plate appearances. Or putting it this way, last April there were 718 home runs hit. If this April there were as many plate appearances as last April, using this April’s home run rate (and making the assumption that the home run rate would stay the same, and yes this isn’t the best way to do it, instead there should be a probabilistic model), there’d be 870 home runs in major league baseball. So balls are flying out of all ballparks, not just Yankee Stadium. We saw that on Saturday in the 16-11 slugfest at Fenway.
Another valuable tool for my analysis is a wonderful site called Hit Tracker Online. Run by Greg Rybarczyk, he takes video of every home run and runs it through a computer model that takes in the ball’s trajectory, how long the ball was in the air, the point it landed at (uses the park’s dimensions to figure this out a bit), the wind, the altitude of the park, the temperature, and a few other factors to figure out the path the ball took. He can then use this to normalize all HRs and tell how far they’d go if they came back down to the ground in a neutral environment. But, using the standardized distance of the 200 longest home runs, Greg found out that, at least through April 14th, home runs were flying six feet further on average than in April 2008. Brian Cashman is aware of this site as he mentioned to the press that home runs were flying eight feet further (which they did in the first two weeks, using all home runs, not just the top 200). So balls flying further means that we would expect more home runs in every park.
Furthermore, there’s an interesting issue with the new Yankee Stadium. While down the lines it is the same distance wise as the old stadium, the shape of the fence is different, as noted by Rybarczyk in an interview with the blog “Was Watching.” In right field, it is more straight, thanks to the scoreboard in the wall, causing it to be shorter going out to right center, deeper in center, and essentially the same in left field. Also, the fence in some portions is shorter than the old stadium. The old stadium had portions of the fence being 10 feet, some 7 feet, but no real uniformity. The new stadium has the fence as 8 feet all around. Greg Rybarczyk noted that shortening the fence by 1 foot is almost exactly the equivalent of moving it in by 1 foot. So, the stadium is a bit easier to homer at in right field. Also, Cashman noted that the old stadium not being deconstructed yet may be blocking wind coming in to the stadium from the right field area and keeping that wind from pushing balls away from the stands.
So, what we have is that overall in MLB, home runs are flying farther and more of them are occurring, while the New Yankee Stadium has a slightly easier porch in right field. The Yankees can counter any worries about the wind by putting up barriers to prevent wind from traveling through the open concourses and pushing balls towards the OF walls. But, the new stadium is not a complete launching pad.