The same day that I presented the TwinsCentric piece on Jason Kubel’s numbers decline and noted that a big factor was the influence of Target Field, Pat Borzi, writer for the New York Times and MinnPost.com, submitted a very interesting article regarding the overall power outage of the new ballpark.
“The Twins hoped the ball would carry better in the warmer months. But according to Paul Huttner, the chief meteorologist for Minnesota Public Radio, who writes the Updraft weather blog, the prevailing wind in June, July and August in
blows into the ballpark from right field toward third base. When the wind does blow out, Huttner said, it is a colder, heavier wind, and the sun-shading canopy atop the ballpark interferes with it. Minnesota
Huttner said the Twins’ grounds crew also described to him an unusual wind pattern. The effect, he said, knocks down balls hit to center even if the wind appears to be blowing out.”
This explains why there is a large absence of home run balls from center to left-center field – wind patterns. The effect and dead zone, if you will, has even caused some players to modify their approach. Kubel was once such player:
“Some Twins hitters acknowledged adjusting their approach to the ballpark… Right fielder Jason Kubel, primarily an alley-to-alley hitter, said he crept a few inches closer to the plate during one homestand to pull the ball more.
‘I hit three homers, but I didn’t get any other hits,” he said. “So I went back to normal.’”
Judging from the home run distribution, Kubel’s attempts at pulling the ball more would certainly result in a higher likelihood of hitting a home run but would have also, as a gap-to-gap type hitter, greatly diminish the size of his field in which to hit safely and probably have an adverse effect on his batting average. While remaining in his comfort zone may result in a reduction of home runs, Kubel’s other numbers (batting average, on-base percentage, etc) might improve.
Derek Jeter is armed with a keen eye at the plate and a unique ability to adjust quickly. For the past two years, Jeter has taken numerous pitches the other way to right-field, hitting 22% of his batted balls that direction. Anything middle-up in the zone presents Jeter a very good opportunity of going the other way, including inside-outing numerous pitches in on his hands. The key to retiring the Yankees shortstop is to keep the ball down in the zone - particularly down-and-away (.242 since 2009) or down-and-in (.222). Those areas get him to beat the ball into the ground, which he has done so a career-high 65.7% of the time this year. If he does pull the ball, it will be on the ground (88% grounders to left). If you get up on him by two-strikes, Jeter has the tendency to chase after pitches above the strike zone (43% chase rate up in zone). He has hit nearly .400 (.395) since '09 on left-handed fastballs so a mix of sliders and changeups will be necessary.
Nick Swisher, the Yankees' number two hitter, will be facing the lefty Francisco Liriano from the right side of the plate tonight. While he brings more discipline to the plate from the right, Swisher's power is clearly fallible from this batter's box. While able to use the entire field from the left-side, he's almost a dead-pull when hitting right-handed so Delmon Young, Danny Valenica and J.J. Hardy will be busy tonight. For his part, Liriano needs to keep the ball down and away (.210 BA the past two years with a 22% chase tendency) while feeding him a steady diet of non-fastballs (sub-.200 hitter on curves, sliders and changeups).
Pitching to Alex Rodriguez is not a fun job -- probably feels like working the ball-pickup at the driving range because no matter what you do, the ball is coming back at you hard. His batting average was down this year, mostly due to a large drop in his line drive rate (from 20% to 13% in '10), and his on-base percentage suffered as his patience wilted (15% BB% to 9% BB%). Nevertheless, A-Rod still can put a charge into the ball. Without much of a weakness, keeping pitches middle-in on his hands keeps the large third baseman from extending his arms (where he's hitting just .268) and then go over the strike zone where he has a 40% chase rate.
Robinson Cano, whose made a strong case for AL MVP, hitting the piss out of the balls (.389 wOBA, 29 HR) from the left-side of the plate, actually handling his left-handed adversaries quiet will (.368 wOBA, 14 HR). The key to retiring Cano is realizing that he is a chase hound who loves to swing. Stay out of the zone. He has offered at 52% of all pitches (45% league average) while chasing after another 36.5% of out of zone pitches. Specifically, Cano will expand the zone on the inner half of the plate, chasing after 46% of pitches that are middle-in and 46% of pitches up-and-in out of the zone. He's a tough strikeout (struck out in just 30% of all plate appearances that reach 2-strikes) so getting him to hit pitches off the plate is the next best course of action.
Nick Nelson has a pretty comprehensive preview of Game One at the TwinsCentric blog. Likewise, I helped Yankees blog, Bronx Baseball Daily, answer some questions regarding the 2010 Minnesota Twins.
ESPN1500’s Darren Wolfson tweeted that he believes Danny Valencia will play a significant role in the first two games of this playoffs. Without question, since the Yankees are trotting out lefties CC Sabathia and Andy Pettite, the offense will require the assistance of Valencia, whose .374 average (5th) and .441 on-base percentage (12th) are among the game's best in those splits.
Time magazine’s Sean Gregory provides an excellent article detailing how the late-90s Twins, the doormats of the AL Central, became the dynasty they are today.
Not surprising, BallparkDigest.com named Target Field their Ballpark of the Year.