NEW YORK, NY - FILE: The National Anthem is performed by Haley Swindal as the US Navy Super Hornet flyover takes place before the New York Yankees face the Detroit Tigers on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
There is already a lot of hand-wringing about the lack of home runs at Marlins Ballpark. But new ballparks don't always play the same in their first series as they do the rest of the season. Or later seasons.
One game. It's been one game of regular-season baseball at Marlins Ballpark and already there is fretting that the dimensions are too big. "Did you see those Giancarlo Stanton flyballs just die on the warning track?" "The Marlins are going to have to move the fences in." Our own Rob Neyer weighed in after Wednesday night's inaugural game between the Marlins and Cardinals, asking "Is the Marlins' Outfield Just Too Big?
The outfield may very well be too big. That is, if you're Giancarlo Stanton or Hanley Ramirez or Gaby Sanchez or Logan Morrison, trying to hit home runs. Before the season started, our own Marc Normandin did a nifty analysis and concluded that Marlins Ballpark would depress home runs, as compared to the old Sun Life Stadium, but likely would lead to an increase in doubles and triples from balls hit to the Bermuda Triangle area of the outfield.
But it's been one game. So I have to ask: Are we getting a little ahead of ourselves? Do ballparks always play in the first series the way they play over the course of a season? Or two seasons? Or more?
Always? Definitely not.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened twenty years ago, kicking off a frenzy of new ballpark construction. More than half of the 30 major-league teams play in ballparks built since 1992. I picked five of the new ballparks -- two in the American League and three in the National League -- and looked at the opening series played in each. Some of the ballparks displayed tendencies that remained consistent over several seasons. But others suppressed or boosted offense in the opening series in ways that changed significantly over time.
Let's take a look.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards
According to statcorner.com, Camden Yards has been a terrific home-run hitting ballpark since 2003 (the first year for which its data is available). Both right-handed and left-handed batters hit more home runs at Camden Yards than in the average ballpark, with right-handed batters having the greater advantage. Lefties hit doubles at a better-than-average rate; righties do the same with singles; and no one hits many triples at all. Since 2001, ESPN has been ranking ballparks on runs scored, compared to the average ballpark. In the ensuing eleven seasons, Camden Yards has "given up" fewer runs than average six times, and more runs than average five times.
So how did Camden Yards fare in its opening series?
The Orioles played their first game in the new ballpark on April 6, 1992. It was sunny and in the 60s with a moderate wind. The Orioles beat the Indians 2-0, scoring on a double to deep left-center field and groundout. The Indians hit three deep flyballs, one to left-center and two to right-center. No one hit a home run. In the second game, it was sunny and in the low 70s with a moderate wind. The Indians beat the Orioles 4-0 on the strength of two home runs, one by a left-handed batter and one by a right-handed batter. No doubles. No triples. In the final game of the opening series, the Orioles beat the Indians again, 2-0. Sunny, temperatures in the 60s with a light wind. One home run by a right-handed batter. Four deep fly balls.
Three home runs and eight total runs in three games. Even with good weather conditions, players hit fewer home runs at Camden Yards in opening series than you'd likely see in a three-games series this season.
Chase Field (Formerly Known as Bank One Ballpark)
The Diamondbacks' home ballpark opened on March 31, 1998. It's been an offensive juggernaut ever since, according to ESPN. Statcorner.com tells us that left-handed hitters love hitting home runs there, significantly more than right-handed batters. Righties have a slight advantage with doubles, although all players hit more two-baggers at Chase Field than in the average ballpark.
In the first series at Chase Field, the Diamondbacks faced off against the Rockies. The roof was open for the first and third games, played at night, but closed for the second game. The Rockies swept the series, scoring 21 runs in the three games, to only six for the Diamondbacks. Granted, the Rockies were a much better run-scoring team than the Diamondbacks in 1998. But it was the Rockies' right-handed batters who hit all six home runs for Colorado. There were none by lefties. And that was with Larry Walker and Todd Helton in the lineup, two great left-handed power hitters. Walker and Helton did hit two doubles each. The Diamondbacks hit two home runs in the series, both by left-handed batters.
I did take a peak at the second series at Chase Field, only because the Diamondbacks played the Giants, and I wanted to see if Barry Bonds hit any home runs that series. No home runs for the great left-handed slugger. Two doubles in twelve at-bats.
Chase Field showed its offensive colors from the very beginning. But the substantial advantage left-handed batters have in hitting home runs there was not on display through the first six games.
AT&T Park (formerly known as PacBell Park)
The Giants opened their jewel-by-the-bay on April 11, 2000 with a three-game series against the rival Dodgers. ESPN tells us that from 2001-2011, AT&T Park gave up fewer runs than average in eight out of eleven seasons. (Interestingly enough, two of the seasons with above-average runs scored were 2008 and 2009, when Tim Lincecum won his two Cy Young awards.) And as much grief as sluggers give AT&T, right-handed batters hit home runs there at a rate just a tick below average. It's left-handed sluggers who really struggle there. Well, unless your name is Barry Bonds.
So how did AT&T play in the first series? Like a bandbox. Of course. Forty runs scored: 23 for the Dodgers and 17 for the Giants. Under partly-sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s, the Dodgers swept the series.
Dodgers shortstop Kevin Elster hit three home runs on Opening Day. This Kevin Elster. He of the 88 career home runs in 3,225 plate appearances. Sure, he's a right-handed batter, but he's Kevin Elster. Just as surprising were the two home runs in the series by the Giants' right-handed-hitting catcher, Doug Mirabelli. He hit six home runs all season, and two in the first three games at AT&T Park. Bonds hit two dingers in the three games, and lefties Shawn Green and Marvin Benard each hit one. All together, twelve home runs in the opening series. Oh, and one triple, by the catcher, Mirabelli.
New Yankee Stadium
The Yankees christened their new ballpark with a three-game series against the Indians, starting on April 16, 2009. It was cloudy and in the 60s the first game, but warmed up as the series progressed.
In the inaugural season, according to ESPN, the new Yankee Stadium played slightly below average in terms of scoring. In 2010 and '11, it played above average. In all three seasons, it's been a home-run hitter's heaven, particularly for left-handed sluggers, but right-handed home-run hitters do better there than in the average ballpark, as well. On the other hand, Yankee Stadium suppresses singles, doubles and especially triples for batters on both sides of the plate.
So in the one season when Yankee Stadium played slightly more like a pitcher's park, what happened in the opening series? Seventeen home runs. Fifteen doubles. Seventy-one total hits. And forty-nine runs scored. That's an offensive output even the slugging Yankees could not sustain. And they didn't.
The Mets brought in the fences at Citi Field before the start of this season, hoping to generate more home runs. Since it opened on April 13, 2009, Citi Field's been very tough on home-run hitters, with left-handed batters having it a bit tougher than right-handed hitters. Otherwise, Citi Field has played fairly neutral but the lack of home runs has kept run-scoring below average.
The Mets opened their new ballpark with a three-game series against the Padres. It was cloudy and cool, with temperatures in the 50s. You know, just the kind of weather than might suppress the offense even more.
So of course, the very first batter at Citi Field -- the left-handed hitting Jody Gerut -- smacked a home run to deep right-center field. Adrian Gonzalez, also a left-handed batter, hit a home run in that first game, and another in game two. Carlos Delgado, another left-handed slugger, also hit two home runs in the series. And David Wright -- the player most responsible for the Mets' decision to pull in the fences -- smacked one over the left-field fence.
In all, the Mets and Padres hit seven doubles, seven home runs, and scored 31 runs in the three-game series. That was a not a preview of things to come.
Deep breaths, Marlins fans. And Marlins hitters. And everyone who loves the home-run thing at Marlins Ballpark. It's been one game.