Home Run Stats

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Any sport played outdoors presents variables. Snow on a football field, strong wind on a golf course, late afternoon shadows creeping across a tennis court. Weather and varying conditions are usually equal for two opponents on any given day, but there are athletes whose entire careers can fall under the influence of home field conditions. You'll hear football players make the point that they played, for instance, their entire careers in Green Bay, or Buffalo, and thus their rushing average wouldn't be fair to compare to the stats of players who had long careers in warm-weather locations.

But at least a football field is always precisely 100 yards long. It strikes me as hugely ironic that the sport where stats rule, baseball, is the very sport where the variables are too numerous to render most stats meaningful. Especially when it comes to home runs.

The Yankees are having a whopper of a year. Their off-season buys, notably Mark Teixeira, are paying off handsomely. The veterans, notably Jeter, are gold. It's good to see the Pride of the Yankees resuscitated up in the Bronx. The Yankees are romping in just about every aspect of the game but their home run production has been absolutely stellar. And their new ball park has been under a microscope all season long. As of today, the regular season pace is on for 252 homers. Last year, in the old Yankee Stadium, a mere 160 homers were blasted out of the park. Surely the new line-up of predominantly lefty hitters hasn't coughed up nearly a hundred more homers from one season to the next.

Wind data experts have been studying the new Yankee Stadium and say the wind patterns there definitely boost hits, especially to right and right-center field, where a lefty's ball normally winds up. Engineers have said changing the slope of the roof would change the wind patterns and lessen the homer production. Yankees manager Joe Girardi quickly dismisses insinuations of cheap home runs but he does say that the park seemed to change around May 15. Before that, homers were clobbered at a rate that would have reached more than 300 by season's end. Well, the wind experts now tell us that the spring wind patterns are highly conducive to lefties hitting into right field. That slows somewhat over the summer but those spring winds will return in September and October and we should expect huge numbers of homers again in the fall.

Players at all positions are generally better at home but if you look at the Yankees home run stats for this year, almost all the significant hitters are much, much more successful at home than at away parks. Jeter has 12 at home, only 5 away. Johnny Damon 17 at home, 7 away. Alex Rodriguez 16 at home, 7 away. Mark Teixera 20 at home, 12 away.

My point isn't at all that this year's Yankees don't deserve to be where they are. So don't any of you rabid fans (Arlene) call me in an uproar. The point is that the 30 ball parks of the Major Leagues are each one vastly different. Distances to left, center and right fields are all different, the height of the various walls around the outfields are different. Most would say the clear winner for hitters of all 30 parks is U.S. Cellular Field. “The Cell” is heaven for a heavy hitter, whereas a hitter's idea of hell is San Francisco's AT&T Park.

For any given game, all is fair because both teams play the same wind, the same distances. But what I'm talking about is the amassing of a career's worth of stats. Hitters that toil for years in a non-hitter's park wind up with worse numbers. And of course pitchers in a non-hitter's park wind up with better numbers. All that's fine by me. The only question I pose is: Why the mountain of stats in baseball when some of the most crucial ones produce faulty conclusions?

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

Banner image: Yankee Stadium



Diana Nyad