The Miami Marlins not only get a name change this season, but also a brand new stadium. After playing in a two-sport stadium that occasionally had more names than it did fans in the seats, the team finally has a baseball-only park with a retractable roof that can combat the region's rainier and hotter days.
The old park, Sun Life Stadium, was neutral. It cut into home run production from right-handed hitters, but it was well above-average for extra-base hits overall thanks to its doubles tendencies. It also increased strikeouts, and over the last three years did so by about 12 percent. Think of humid air as the opposite of Colorado's dry, cool air. Breaking balls don't have as much bite to them at altitude because the air is thinner, and there is less resistance. In southern Florida, though, the air is humid, and the frictional force created when a baseball moves through the air is stronger thanks to the higher air density. This causes batted balls to travel shorter distances, and gives pitchers more air resistance to work with in terms of the movement and bite on their pitches.
This back-and-forth between offensive gains and pitcher advantages resulted in a park right in the middle of the league in overall run scoring. The new stadium, Marlins Park, is going to be different enough to throw this balance off kilter.
The most obvious changes merit first mention. Home plate might be in Miami-Dade county, but the "Bermuda Triangle" in left center is so far out it's nearly in the actual Bermuda Triangle -- that geographically-themed region is 420 feet from home plate. That isn't the only area that's seen a boost in distance:
|Sun Life Stadium||Marlins Park|
|Left||330 ft.||340 ft.|
|Left-Center||361 ft.||384 ft.|
|Center||404 ft.||416 ft.|
|Right-Center||361 ft.||392 ft.|
|Right||345 ft.||335 ft.|
|Backstop||58 ft.||47 ft.|
All of the fair territory has seen its distance increased except for the right field line, with only that area and the foul ground behind the plate getting a reduction. These distances might not seem large in some cases, like in left, where just 10 feet were added, but consider this. Hit Tracker Online classifies a "just enough" home run as one that, "cleared the fence by less than 10 vertical feet, or that it landed less than one fence height past the fence. These are the ones that barely made it over the fence." In 2010, 1,561 home runs were classified as "just enough" -- that's 34 percent of all homers from that season. It's the same in 2011, with 1,521 homers -- 33 percent of all home runs -- getting the "just enough" classification.
Imagine eliminating one-third of all homers by pushing the fences 10 feet out. The Marlins have done much more than add 10 feet in left-center, right-center, center itself, and the "Bermuda Triangle" is even deeper than center field. The dimensions are actually larger than those of Petco Park in some areas, the majors' most extreme pitcher's park.
A ball hit to center field at Petco that dies in an outfielder's glove has been "Petco'd", and that's 20 feet shorter than center in Marlins Park. Never mind that the Bermuda Triangle shifts things even further out there, for a larger stretch of real estate.
When the roof is open, the same humidity that existed and benefited pitcher's strikeout rates will be there to help once more. That gives pitchers a ridiculous advantage over hitters by cutting into home run production as well as increasing their punch outs, with a far more extreme anti-homer environment existing than in Sun Life. Hitters like Giancarlo Stanton might not see a drop in homers -- Stanton averaged 417 feet on his homers last year, and all but a handful of the 21-year-old's 34 bombs would have been out in nearly every park. Eight of his homers were "just enough," but given the distances listed for them, they were all to the deepest parts of whatever park he hit them in.
The team isn't made up of Stantons, though, and not all of these hitters are going to crank out 420 feet-plus regularly. Gaby Sanchez averaged 390 feet on his 19 homers in 2011, and his came primarily in that left field power alley that now stretches from 384 feet at its shortest to 420 feet at its deepest. Hanley Ramirez averaged 400 feet on his homers the last two years, and generally hits them to the same areas as Sanchez. Logan Morrison might be the only other slugger on the squad who has the pop to avoid the pitfalls of Marlins Park.
These huge distances with an open roof don't automatically mean that the hitters are all going to turn into east coast Padres, though. All the extra outfield space needs to be traversed by the outfielders, who just might be chasing a few more doubles and triples around than they are used to in the humid air that San Diego doesn't feature. It helps the pitchers that homers won't clear the bases as often, and two-baggers don't count the same for run scoring as the long ball, but, like with the large distances in Colorado, the outfielders still need to get to the ball to make it an out.
When the roof is closed, that strikeout advantage might just disappear, as air conditioning is certainly not humidity. That's cooler and drier air, and it could take some of the bite off of pitchers' offerings. On the other hand, it will also cut a batted ball's flight shorter than the open-roof humid air would have. It might not break perfectly even, but the pitchers look to have an advantage over the hitters in this park regardless of whether the roof is open or not -- they just might accomplish the same goal differently depending on the day.