Are Modern Ballparks Really Smaller Than Their Predecessors?

 
on April 13 2013 11:02 PM

 

As he is wont to do from time to time, Pete Rose found his way back into the news last week in a wide-ranging interview with the good people at Grantland.  While Rose touched on a number of topics, the one comment in particular that got me thinking was his assertion that one of the main reasons baseball has seen a proliferation of home runs is because we have made the ballparks smaller than they were doing his playing days.

Rose is hardly the first old-timer to make this assertion, as it is a particularly common sentiment among baseball players of his generation.  However, I have to wonder if it is one of those things that is accepted as truth only because it gets repeated over and over again, as I have yet to see a definitive study that demonstrates that this is the case.

So to examine this idea, I ran a comparison of the dimensions of all 30 of today’s ballparks against the 24 that existed in 1973.  I chose 1973 for three primary reasons.

1.       It was the first year of the DH era

2.       It was the height of the cookie-cutter stadium era, as multi-purpose parks had recently opened in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and a few other cities.

3.       Since Pete Rose is the inspiration for this topic, it’s only fitting to use the exact midpoint of his career – his MVP season, no less – as a basis for comparison.

So how do the two eras compare?

 

1973

NL                       Left        LC           Center  RC           Right

Atlanta                 330         375         402         385         330

Chicago Cubs       355         368         400         368         353

Cincinnati            330         375         404         375         330

Houston               340         375         406         375         340

LA Dodgers          330         375         400         375         330

Montreal              325         375         404         375         325

NY Mets               341         371         410         371         341

Philadelphia         330         371         408         371         330

Pittsburgh            335         375         400         375         335

San Diego             330         375         410         375         330

San Francisco       335         365         410         365         335

St. Louis               330         386         414         386         330

total                   4011       4486       4868       4496       4009

average              334.25   373.83   405.67   374.67   334.08

                                                                               

AL                         Left        LC           Center  RC           Right

Baltimore              309         446         445         446         309

Boston                  310         379         389         380         302

California             330         387         400         370         330

White Sox             363         382         420         382         363

Cleveland             322         385         400         385         322

Detroit                  340         365         440         370         325

Kansas City          330         387         410         387         330

Milwaukee           315         382         402         382         315

Minnesota           343         365         402         370         330

NY Yankees         301         457         461         407         296

Oakland               330         367         400         367         330

Texas                   330         380         400         380         330

total                   3923       4682       4969       4626       3882

average             326.91     390.1     414.08     385.5      323.5

 

2013

NL                       Left        LC           Center  RC           Right

Arizona                 330         374         407         374         334

Atlanta                 335         380         401         390         330

Chicago Cubs       355         368         400         368         353

Cincinnati            328         379         404         370         325

Colorado              347         390         415         375         350

LA Dodgers          330         375         400         375         330

Miami                  344         386         418         392         335

Milwaukee           344         371         400         374         345

NY Mets               335         358         408         375         330

Philadelphia         329         374         401         369         330

Pittsburgh            325         383         399         375         320

San Diego            334         400         396         401         322

San Francisco      339         404         399         421         309

St. Louis              336         375         400         375         335

Washington        337         377         402         370         335

Total                  5048       5694       6050       5704       4983

Average             336.53   379.6     403.33    380.27      332.2

                                                                               

AL                         Left        LC           Center  RC           Right

Baltimore              333         364         400         373         318

Boston                  310         379         389         380         302

White Sox             330         375         400         375         335

Cleveland             325         370         405         375         325

Detroit                 345         370         420         365         330

Houston              315         362         436         373         326

Kansas City          330         387         410         387         330

LA Angels            330         387         400         370         330

Minnesota           339         377         407         365         328

NY Yankees         318         399         408         385         314

Oakland               330         367         400         367         330

Seattle                 331         388         405         385         326

Tampa Bay          315         370         404         370         322

Texas                  332         390         400         377         325

Toronto              328         375         400         375         328

Total                  4911       5660       6084       5622       4869

Average              327.4     377.33   405.6       374.8     324.6

 

MLB Averages

1973                       Left        LC           Center  RC           Right

NL                           334.25   373.83   405.67   374.67   334.08

AL                           326.91   390.1     414.08   385.5     323.5

Average                   330.58   381.97   409.88   380.85   328.79

                                                                               

2013                       Left        LC           Center  RC           Right                                                    

NL                           336.53   379.6     403.33   380.27   332.2

AL                           327.4     377.33   405.6     374.8     324.6

Average                  331.97   378.47   404.47   377.53   328.4

 

Analysis

The first thing that jumps out is that, for all of the talk of how ballparks are so much smaller modern ballparks have become, the differences in these numbers are actually quite small.  They are nearly identical down the lines – modern ballparks are actually slightly deeper in left – but none of the MLB averages are separated by farther than five feet.

That said, it does appear on the surface that Rose’s assertion that ballparks are smaller nowadays is correct, though perhaps not with the dramatic effect that he asserts.

But it is important to remember that modern ballparks are meant to mimic the feel of the old-style jewelbox parks, complete with all of the quirks those parks had to offer.  While most cookie-cutter ballparks were close to symmetrical in design, many modern parks feature uneven outfields in which centerfield is not necessarily the deepest part of the park.  This is the case for at least nine current ballparks, eight of which have been constructed since the opening of Camden Yards in 1992. 

The only exception is Fenway Park, which was also the only park in which center was not the deepest part back in 1973.  Replacing the 389 in center with the 420 in the deepest part ups the AL average in centerfield to 416.67 feet.

So what happens when the numbers for centerfield are substituted for the numbers for the deepest part of the park for the modern era? 

 

NL                    center

Arizona                 413

Atlanta                 401

Chicago Cubs       400

Cincinnati            404

Colorado              415

LA Dodgers          400

Miami                  420

Milwaukee           400

NY Mets              408

Philadelphia        409

Pittsburgh           410

San Diego           396

San Francisco     399

St. Louis             400

Washington        402

Total                  6077

Average             405.13

               

AL                      center

Baltimore            410

Boston                420

White Sox           400

Cleveland           410

Detroit               420

Houston             436

Kansas City        410

LA Angels           400

Minnesota          411

NY Yankees       408

Oakland             400

Seattle                405

Tampa Bay         404

Texas                  407

Toronto              400

Total                  6141

Average             409.4

 

AL Average         405.13

NL Average         409.4

MLB Average     407.25

Suddenly, the difference in ballpark size between 1973 and 2013 doesn’t seem so large.  And remember, this is just factoring the deepest part of the parks. 

It is important to remember that, while there have been a fair number of hitter’s parks built in recent years, there have also been quite a few parks that favor pitchers.  For every Coors Field, Citizens Bank Park, and Great American Ballpark – all great hitters parks built within the past two decades – there has been a Petco Park, Safeco Field, and AT&T Park, all of which favor the pitchers and were built during the same time. 

Perhaps this is a real-life example of the infamous East Coast Bias, as most of the top pitchers parks in baseball are located in MLB’s western divisions and may not get the same level of attention as the hitter-friendly parks out east.  Or perhaps it is because big hitting numbers in general tend to draw more attention than those racked up by pitchers. 

It is also important to remember that outfield dimensions are hardly the only factor in determining whether or not a park favors hitters or pitchers.  Most modern parks are designed to minimize foul territory, for example, and this naturally leads to fewer outs in which a pitcher has the ability to record outs in which there are no negative consequences for an error. 

Then again, this has nothing to do with how difficult it is to hit one out of the park in fair territory, which has changed slightly but not significantly over the past 40 years.  Clearly, there are much bigger factors in the increase in home runs since Pete Rose’s heyday. 

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