Friday, November 12, 2010

Move the fences in or let hitters adapt?

The Twins recently announced several adjustments to Target Field for 2011 but apparently they missed an opportunity to appease one of their biggest sluggers. According to Joe Christensen and LaVelle E Neal, Justin Morneau told them that he had lobbied to team officials to move the fences in from right-center to left-center field.
"Right-center to left-center is ridiculous. [It's] almost impossible for a righthanded hitter to [homer to the] opposite field and very difficult for lefties. It affects the hitters a lot, and you start to develop bad habits as a hitter when you feel like you can only pull the ball to hit it over the fence. You take those habits on the road."
Of course, I’m certain if you asked the pitching staff, they would have the exact opposite opinion.
This request echoes that of then-Detroit Tiger Juan Gonzalez’s demand to have the newly opened Comerica Park’s fences brought in. At the time, the Tigers’ home field had a power alley in left field 398 feet from home plate with a distance of 365 down the line. Gonzalez had one of the worst seasons of his career and left for Cleveland the following year as a free agent. The Tigers have since moved in the configurations, shorting the distance in the power alley to 370 and moving the left field corner in to 345.
The Mets, who play at the power-detracting Citi Field, have also toyed with the idea of moving their fences in (by moving home plate closer). Also noted, plenty of other teams over baseball’s history have made alterations to their home fields, including the launching pad of USCellular Park in Chicago, who moved their fences up in 2001.
Morneau wasn’t the only left-handed hitter to notice the need to adjust to hit a home run in Minneapolis. Jason Kubel had moved up on the plate during a home series against Milwaukee in hopes of achieving more power. After hitting three home runs and not much else, Kubel went back to his old style. Right-handed hitting Delmon Young admitted he stopped trying to hit the ball to the opposite field at home. After their series in May, the Yankees Nick Swisher told Pat Borzi this:
“You’ve got to be a grown man to hit it out of there. I’ve got to go down the lines, you know?”
To be sure, Morneau’s assessment has been correct. That is one cavernous area of land out there which is further amplified by the wind effect that has been pushing balls back towards the playing surface. Using spray charts supplied at, we can see that just five of the 116 home runs hit at Target Field escaped the clutches of the field in that direction all season:  

There is an element of hitters learning to adapt to the playing surface that you call home. In a recent article in Baseball America by columnist Tracy Ringolsby, Atlanta’s Chipper Jones had made comments regarding the advantage Rockies players have at Coors Field. This incited Ringolsby to rehash a 1984 story of George Brett. Brett’s Royals had been playing the Detroit Tigers in the Championship Series and Brett was asked if he liked Tiger Field’s layout with the short right field porch.
Brett replied:
“I’d probably have had a Darrell Evans type of career, hitting 40, 45 home runs a year with a .260 average. The reason I became the type of hitter I am is because of Royals Stadium. As a hitter, you adjust to your home park to take advantage of what it has to offer. Remember, you play 81 games a year, half your schedule in that park.”
Morneau went on to note that the team had been built for power and offense, which the home park stymied in someways. Of course, gap hitters like Denard Span flourished in the spacious field. After witnessing the park’s home run-thwarting abilities, rather than change the physical surroundings, the team may consider swapping some of the personnel. This fact may validate the need to find speed over power as Bill Smith alluded to earlier in the off-season.
In the end, Morneau’s comments are warranted. Of course, it doesn’t mean his (and other teammates’) demands should or will be met. Nor does it appear that the Twins sound willing to accommodate in the near future.
If that isn’t good enough for the Canadian slugger, I guess there is always the new clock in right field to count the minutes remaining on his current contract.