Since the first season at Target Field in 2010, there’s been a common complaint among hitters: the fences are too far away. We’ve seen and heard of players attempting to pull the ball down the lines because that’s 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).
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. You’ll 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, I’ll 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 I’ve 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, I’ve included a more homer-friendly park in Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field, and also the Metrodome in 2009.
I’ll admit that 73% doesn’t seem all that different from 77%, but maybe the players are able to take more notice than we can. However, there’s 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, I’m wondering if the Twins haven’t adopted a new philosophy when it comes to hitting.
You may be familiar with “Whitey-ball,” 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.
It’s 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, it’s 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, it’s as if the Twins have assembled a group of slap hitters and are going to tell them, “Don’t even attempt to beat the system.”
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.
@1500ESPN_Reusse All that scrappiness, heart, and determination doesn't get your blood flowing?—
Andrew Bryz-Gornia (@Bryz_OffTheMark) February 07, 2012
It is indeed like a relay team of leadoff hitters, none of which are going to challenge 10 homers this season, so maybe it’s not necessarily “Don’t even attempt to beat the system,” but rather “Don’t even attempt to beat the system (it’s not like you have a chance in the first place).” In fact, that’s almost exactly what Twins hitting coach Joe Vavra said in an interview with the Pioneer Press:
“We have to stop thinking we can beat that ballpark.”
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 shouldn’t 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 I’m trying to say is that it looks like the Twins are going to try to pound it into the hitters’ heads that they shouldn’t treat home runs as their only positive result. If the pitch is inside, then feel free to yank it down the line. But if it’s 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 don’t 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.