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  • Don't Even Attempt To Beat The System

    Since the first season at Target Field in 2010, thereís been a common complaint among hitters: the fences are too far away. Weíve seen and heard of players attempting to pull the ball down the lines because thatís the best way to get the ball out of the park. These pictures of home runs at Target Field confirms this belief (from Hit Tracker Online).

    Target Field Home Runs 2011

    Target Field Home Runs 2010

    You may have some questions about these pictures. Why is there a percentage in the upper right corner of each picture? Why are those lines there? Why are the areas not even?

    Look at the TF 2011 picture. Youíll notice that most home runs are contained within the right and left field portions of the field. I will admit that these lines are completely drawn arbitrarily, and it certainly is odd that I made one side bigger than the other. For that, Iíll point towards the fences at Target Field. You know that the right field fence is taller than the left field fence, and that (along with wind currents, or Baseball Gods, or something) have managed to cause fewer balls to go out in the RF alley compared to the LF alley. Anyway, despite the unevenness, a nice coincidence is that this area sums to an angle of 45%, or half of a baseball field.

    Now, another complaint you may have is that obviously it will be easier to hit the ball out down the lines than to straightaway center field. This is why Iíve included the percentages in the upper right. These represent the percentage of home runs that were hit into the outer two areas last season. As you can see, both are 77% (2011 should actually be 78%, and 2010′s rounded up to 77%, so it was not actually equal each season). For comparison, Iíve included a more homer-friendly park in Chicagoís U.S. Cellular Field, and also the Metrodome in 2009.

    U.S. Cellular Field 2011

    Metrodome 2009

    Iíll admit that 73% doesnít seem all that different from 77%, but maybe the players are able to take more notice than we can. However, thereís no denying the difference between the Dome and Target Field. Not only were there more homers hit in 2009, but they were also sent out more frequently to center field and the alleys, as only 66% of all home runs were hit into the left field and right field areas.

    Players started getting it into their minds that they had to pull the ball to get it out of the park (except Jim Thome), and it started affecting their hitting. With this in the back of my head, Iím wondering if the Twins havenít adopted a new philosophy when it comes to hitting.

    You may be familiar with ďWhitey-ball,Ē dubbed for Whitey Herzog, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1980s. His team relied on speed, defense, and hitting line drives to take advantage of the AstroTurf in Busch Memorial Stadium, and Whitey-ball was credited with helping the team win the 1982 World Series. Starting with last season, it appears as though the Twins have adopted a similar mindset. This started with the trade of J.J. Hardy prior to last season, where the Twins cited a need to add speed to the lineup. From last season and this offseason, they lost Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, and Jim Thome, three big home run hitters, and really only have Josh Willingham has a viable power replacement.

    Itís Whitey-ball, or perhaps more appropriately the return of Gardy-ball. Back in the Dome days, Gardy-ball was essentially the mirror image of Whitey-ball. But now, itís being done for a whole different reason. Over the past two seasons, hitters have been altering their swings to hit the ball out. With this current lineup, itís as if the Twins have assembled a group of slap hitters and are going to tell them, ďDonít even attempt to beat the system.Ē

    The Twins are likely going to be having these guys hitting in order next season: Alexi Casilla (8th), Ben Revere (9th), Denard Span (1st), Jamey Carroll (2nd). Those guys certainly are not going to get many people excited, as evidenced by Patrick Reusse and my response to him over a week ago.

    It is indeed like a relay team of leadoff hitters, none of which are going to challenge 10 homers this season, so maybe itís not necessarily ďDonít even attempt to beat the system,Ē but rather ďDonít even attempt to beat the system (itís not like you have a chance in the first place).Ē In fact, thatís almost exactly what Twins hitting coach Joe Vavra said in an interview with the Pioneer Press:

    ďWe have to stop thinking we can beat that ballpark.Ē
    It sounds like Vavra wants to get the hitters back into spraying the ball around the field instead of trying to yank everything over the pull-side fence. If the hitters listen, this could be a chance to get the Twins to return to the middle of the pack when it comes to scoring runs, instead of being stuck at the bottom like they were last year.

    However, I must agree with Parker Hageman here in that the Twins shouldnít mess with Josh Willingham. Parker has shown us that Willingham is already a pull hitter that appears to have a good chance of succeeding in Target Field, and if the Twins try to get him to chance his approach, we could have a repeat of David Ortiz on our hands.

    Basically, what Iím trying to say is that it looks like the Twins are going to try to pound it into the hittersí heads that they shouldnít treat home runs as their only positive result. If the pitch is inside, then feel free to yank it down the line. But if itís on the outside, remember that hitting it up the middle or to the opposite field is going to be more likely to yield a better result than trying to yank that pitch as well. You know how Joe Mauer grounds out to second base so often? It can usually be attributed to him attempting to pull a pitch that was on the outer half of the plate.

    The Twins donít project to compete for a playoff spot this season, but working on improving the offense simply by attacking the ballpark in a different way should help the team score more runs this season.
    This article was originally published in blog: Don't Even Attempt To Beat The System started by Andrew Bryz-Gornia
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Great stuff Andrew.
    1. John Bonnes's Avatar
      John Bonnes -
      I like the research and graphics, but I'm not sure what it all means. What it says to me is that the ball doesn't fly in Target Field the way it did in the dome, so the virtually identical dimensions aren'ts so identical. Just look at the spread of HRs to LF in the dome and in Target Field. What few home runs are going out are just barely going out. It might be that moving the fences in 20 feet could really make a difference. I'm just not sure how feasible that is from a spectator and cost standpoint. Given how hesitant the Twins seem to be to doing so, my guess is it causes some real problems in terms of cost or sight lines.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      What it says to me is that the ball doesn't fly in Target Field the way it did in the dome, so the virtually identical dimensions aren'ts so identical.
      Are you just picking up on this fact?!

      I'm just not sure how feasible that is from a spectator and cost standpoint. Given how hesitant the Twins seem to be to doing so, my guess is it causes some real problems in terms of cost or sight lines.
      I've maintained the stance that they should keep the field as is, simply gear the personnel to the field - if that is more speed/line drive hitters, power hitters who pull or guys who hit line drives to center instead of fly balls (like Cuddyer did).
    1. Andrew Bryz-Gornia's Avatar
      Andrew Bryz-Gornia -
      @ John:

      With the ballpark graphics and home run plots, I was only attempting to visually show that it's harder to hit the ball out to center field and the power alleys in Target Field. Sure, we know this just from watching games in person and on TV, but I guess I just wanted to give a little more evidence. I wasn't trying to do anything deeper than that.
    1. John Bonnes's Avatar
      John Bonnes -
      The odd part about the ball just no flying the same way is that after it was built the Metrodome was modified to make the ball travel less far than it did. That's one of the reasons the air-conditioning was added (and why the "Homerdome" tag became a misnomer.) The concern with Target Field is that is would be too homer-happy without that pumped in atmosphere. That couldn't have been more wrong.

      I'll throw this out there....Colorado adjusted their extreme park by putting the baseballs in a humidor to make them less likely to fly out of the park. Conceivably the Twins could do the reverse, I suppose - put the game balls in a humidor that dries them up a bit? That seems a little silly, but the HR numbers don't lie.
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