It took almost no time at all for Marlins Park to develop a pitcher-friendly reputation. Its debut saw a number of long fly balls drop dead in the outfield, and of course, plenty of people were watching. Among those watching were the players participating in the game, and here’s Lance Berkman:
“It’s the biggest ballpark in the game,” Berkman said. “It’s huge. If they don’t move the fences in after this year, I’d be surprised.”
To my knowledge, the Marlins haven’t yet touched the fences. But Berkman’s was a popular sentiment, and indeed, in Marlins games last season, there were 113 home dingers, and 157 away dingers. One can conclude only so much from a single season of play, but the early evidence is that Marlins Park takes long fly balls and spits on them. The way it played in that regard mirrors the way it looks like it should play. It’s meaningful when the numbers match the expectations.
So Marlins Park didn’t allow very many homers, relative to games on the road. Yet, interestingly, there were 668 runs scored in Marlins home games, and 665 runs scored in Marlins away games. Overall, in one season, Marlins Park reduced homers, but it didn’t reduce runs. Again, almost nothing can be concluded, here, aside from the facts as presented. But in talking about Marlins Park, it’s worth wondering why it might play more neutral than it seems like it should. You know, just in case that’s the truth.
The park boosted line drives, and it boosted singles. It’s hard to identify reasons, but there’s something else of interest, tucked into the same article linked above. Berkman again:
“There might be less foul territory here than any place else in baseball,” Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman said.
Berkman’s not the only person to have observed that Marlins Park has limited foul territory. This way, the fans can feel like they’re “right on top of the game,” as opposed to being pushed too far back. Here’s a picture of the stadium layout, as made available at Marlins.com:
Nowhere that I know of calculates foul territory area. Just looking at the park visually, though, we know it’s not anything like Oakland. It does seem like Marlins Park has very little foul territory, and in that case, it should provide a little boost to the hitters, because would-be outs drift into the seats and extend plate appearances.
How did the foul territory actually play in 2012? This is tricky, because foul-ball statistics are almost impossible to track down. I’m sure others could do better than I have, but I had to lean on a Baseball-Reference split. At Baseball-Reference, you can find the number of plate appearances that ended with a ball in foul territory. You can find this for both hitters and pitchers, but you can’t split it up home and away by any means that I’ve seen. So the numbers you find are overall, home and away included. Last year, the average team had 220 plate appearances end with a foul, hitters and pitchers combined. The A’s had 351. Their home ballpark is widely known for its vast, endless foul continents. Marlins hitters and pitchers, meanwhile, combined to record 115 foul outs. This was the lowest mark in baseball, by 37. No one else besides the Marlins and Cubs recorded fewer than 180.
The numbers are sloppy, because they’re based on just one season of data, and because they aren’t split home and away. I wish that I could know more. But the limited numbers do back up the idea that Marlins Park has limited foul territory, which Lance Berkman immediately identified. And the numbers aren’t actually that bad. Here’s a quick year-to-year correlation for team foul outs per plate appearance, looking at 2011-2012 and excluding the Marlins since their ballpark changed:
That’s a relationship, and that further supports the early data. In Miami, there should be fewer plate appearances ending with foul balls, extending the plate appearances and giving a slight edge to the hitters. It’s a very small park factor factor, but it still counts as one, because every little detail matters. Park factors aren’t just about park fences, after all.
Foul territory can matter, and while it matters most at the extremes, it’s always something to keep an eye on. People have long known that Oakland drives down offensive numbers for a variety of reasons, foul territory included. As far as the future is concerned in this area, here’s a thing for you to know:
Kasten: Dodger Stadium will have 6 feet more foul territory. Check your park factors!
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) January 8, 2013
That’ll make a difference, and while you might have ignored this tweet five weeks ago, now it’s relevant, and now you have a better idea what it could mean. With this little change, Dodger Stadium will become a little more pitcher-friendly. It’s not going to change everything, but it’s going to change a thing every so often.
If you want foul territory, go to Oakland. If you don’t want foul territory, go to Miami. If you want more foul territory than before, go to Los Angeles. On one hand, park factors can be incredibly simple. On the other, there are few things more complex. In some small way, everything changes the game.