This past Thursday I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a baseball game at Target Field as the guest of Fox Sports North. In addition to myself, Twins bloggers Aaron Gleeman, John Bonnes, Nick Nelson, and Bill Parker were all in attendance to take in a day game against the Orioles and help Fox Sports promote their recently upgraded GameConnect service.* A great big thank you to Becky Ross and Laura Beshire from Fox Sports for hosting us, and Robby Incmikoski for stopping by the suite to talk to us and share some of his humorous baseball stories from the recent past.
I brought my father along with me last Tuesday. It was nice to bring him along as my guest, an opportunity for me to repay him for bringing me to so many Twins games in the Metrodome in the early/mid 90s when I was a young boy. We arrived on the suite level (just above the Legends Club) about 40 minutes before the first pitch so we took some time to wander around and check out a part of Target Field where we had never been before. The suites are arranged around the infield lines from first base, back to home plate and then over to third. In addition to being numbered, the suites are named after Minnesota lakes. My father and enjoyed looking at the images of the lakes and reminiscing about fishing trips at Pelican Lake or a vacation up north at Kabetogama Lake, as we walked through the halls. On the wall opposite the suites were pictures, poster sized baseball cards, and paintings of great Twins players and management dating all the way back to the origins of the Minnesota Twins franchise as the Washington Senators. I knew the names of a lot of those Twins greats (Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Bob Allison) but my father could remember watching these guys at Met Stadium.
Eventually we made our way into the suite, introduced ourselves to the rest of the bloggers and their guests and settled in with a couple of beers and brats to take in a game of baseball. In the past when I have attended games I am usually locked into the on field action. I know who is on deck, who is warming up in the bullpen. I like to watch the ways that players communicate with each other between plays and I am always trying to decipher the signs coming in from the dugout or third base coaches. Up in the suite, hanging out with the bloggers I found myself spending time socializing and talking about baseball things not necessarily happening on the field below. Numerous times I found myself searching the scoreboard to find out not just what the score was, but what inning it was and who was ahead.
After the game was over (the Twins bullpen ultimately coughed up the lead in the 8th) we joined the Twins Geek, Aaron Gleeman and Nick Nelson at the Fulton Tap Room for a beer (compliments of Mr. Gleeman) before heading back to the car and returning to Wisconsin. All in all it was a really fun day and I cannot thank FSN enough for giving me a chance to spend a day doing the things I love: tweeting, watching baseball, and spending time with my father.
*The GameConnect webpage designed to be a tag-along feature to enhance your game watching experience. It is updated live and provides a plethora of stats and has an integrated twitter feature to connect you to social media. While you are not going to grab a bunch of advanced stats GameConnect gives you enough information to heighten your awareness of what is going on in the game. The Twitter feed is a little clunky, but it searches Twitter and pulls in tons of tweets referencing the current game. It is a great place to find new twitter followers and gives other Twins tweeters a chance to find you.
I’m sure almost everyone is familiar with the parable about the semi-truck that got stuck going under a low bridge. The driver and several emergency personnel stood around trying to figure out some way to get the truck unstuck. Meanwhile a little girl who came across the scene simply asked, “Why don’t you let the air out of the tires?” Problem solved.
Which brings us to today’s idea that, like every other idea anyone from outside the Twins front office might have, is all but certain to be ignored by the organization.
I’m growing a bit tired of all the discussion about how difficult it is to hit in Target Field. The power alleys kill long balls. The out-of-town scoreboard in RCF is too tall. The only way to hit home runs is to adjust your swing and become a dead-pull hitter. Therefore, the Twins need to totally re-tool their roster and adjust their amateur draft philosophy to prioritize speed in order to take advantage of the way Target Field plays.
Let me ask this question…
IF you decided this approach was appropriate… that you should build a team to fit your pitcher-friendly ballpark, just how long do you think it would take to do so?
If you have an unlimited payroll, the answer might be, “not too long.” MAYBE.
But the Twins don’t have an unlimited payroll, so they’ve apparently decided to go about the process gradually. Last year, they traded JJ Hardy away for a couple of magic beans and let Orlando Hudson walk away so that they could be replaced with middle infielders whose games were more suited to the way Target Field plays.
How well did that work out for us? If this off-season brings Phase 2 of their “remaking the roster to fit the ballpark” project and it’s anywhere near as “successful” as Phase 1 was, 2012 is going to be a very long season.
Parker Hageman, of the TwinsCentric crew, points out quite convincingly that it is possible to generate offense in Target Field. Of course, he’s right. Anything is possible. And Parker offers a recipe for doing so. He recommends acquiring hitters who have tendencies to hit high percentages of line drives from gap to gap and hit with power down the line. He even mentions a couple of pending free agents that might fit that bill.
But let me offer another suggestion.
Instead of totally remaking your roster… instead of trying to find free agents who can not only hit line drives to the gap, but also home runs down the lines… instead of having your existing hitters try to adjust their approach at the plate to fit their new home ballpark… instead of filling your amateur draft board with future Ben Reveres… how about we change the ballpark, instead?
Have you looked at the MLB “Park Factors” (the ranking of which ballparks are “hitters parks” and which are “pitchers parks”)? No? Go take a look… and while you’re there, take a good look at what kind of ballparks the Division Champions play in.
Too lazy to go look for yourself? OK… I’ll tell you what you’d see. There are 30 MLB ballparks. The grand total of 2011 Division Champions who play in “pitchers parks” is zero. None of them. In fact, none of the Division Champions play in the lower 60% of the rankings. (In fairness, the two Wild Card teams, the Rays and Cardinals do play in “pitchers parks” that are even more difficult to score in than Target Field, but if the Cards and Rays had not pulled off their miracle finishes, none of the 2011 playoff teams would play their home games in a true “pitchers park”.)
For years, organizations like the Padres, Mariners and Mets have tried to construct teams to take advantage of their “pitcher-friendly” ballparks. But I ask you, are those the organizations you want to model the Twins of the future after?
I’ve read, however, that it would be too difficult to reconfigure the outfield by bringing in the fences. It would destroy the aesthetics of the overhang in RF, the scoreboard in RCF, the bullpen in LCF and the bleachers in LF all being right up against the outfield grass. I’ve also read that, with the Twins pitching issues, it might not be a good idea to give opposing hitters even more of an advantage than most of them already have just considering their comparative talent levels. Some even take that argument further by pointing out that top level free agent pitchers are more likely to want to sign with the Twins because of Target Field’s “pitcher friendliness”.
The last one actually makes me laugh. Seriously. Who was the last top of the line pitcher to sign with the Twins as a free agent? How soon do think the Twins are going to start opening up the checkbook to pay $20 million a year for one of those arms? OK… then enough about how Target Field could help sign those guys.
Do you know who DOES make a point to sign contracts with teams that play in “pitchers parks”? Mediocre (or worse) pitchers, that’s who. Pitchers who know they need the extra distance or wind shears to knock down long fly balls in order to prolong their careers. I think we have enough of that particular variety already, don’t we?
The other two issues… the reconfiguration challenges and the concern over taking away whatever small advantage the current talent-deficient pitching staff might have… can be dealt with as easily as letting the air out of a truck’s tires.
You don’t change the fences. You change the field.
You simply move home plate a few feet further out toward center field. For the sake of argument, let’s say eight feet. What would this accomplish? Here are just a few things:
- More home runs. Using just a little bit of my 10th grade level geometry, the new outfield dimensions would be approximately 333’ down the LF line, 370’ to the bullpen in LCF, 396’ to straightaway CF, 360’ to the tall scoreboard in RCF and 322’ down the line to RF. That’s 6 ft closer down the lines, 7 ft in the gaps, and 8 ft closer to dead center. Someone with access to the season’s scatter-chart, go check to see how many more HRs that would have produced this season, will ya?
- More foul territory. Target Field already has to have just about the least foul ground among MLB stadiums, resulting in very few foul pop-outs. More foul territory means more foul balls become outs, partially negating the negative effect closer fences might have on a pitcher’s stats. With all the foul balls hit off of Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey alone, this could be significant!
- Improved sight lines for fans. Admit it, from about half of the seats in Target Field, it’s impossible to see all the fair territory down the lines in both outfield corners. In my view, this is a major design flaw of Target Field. Those lines would both move inward about six feet, giving a lot more people a chance at seeing the action in the corners.
I think those are compelling reasons to make what would be a relatively easy and cheap adjustment to the playing surface. Cut out a bit of sod here, lay down a little bit of sod there. Done.
But even if the change ended up having no effect on offensive productivity at all, it should still result in the one thing that would, in my opinion, make it well worthwhile.
There would be less whining.
Honestly, whether your name is Span, Mauer, Morneau or Valencia, if you can’t hit a baseball out of a ballpark with dimensions no deeper than most legitimate high school fields, at least have the decency to admit you have no power and shut the hell up about the field.