The newly built Yankee Stadium earned a quick reputation as a bandbox last year. In the pre-opening exhibition series against the Cubs 8 HRs were hit in just 2 games. During the first two series facing the Indians and Oakland, a grand total of 25 HRs were hit in the first 6 games played at the facility. Panic ensued amongst fans and Yankee execs. Sportswriters were referring to the facility as “Coors Field East”. The Babe must be mad that his house was torn down for the ‘House that George Built’. The curse has been reversed. Newly signed pitchers AJ Burnett and CC Sabathia must have been wondering what they got themselves into, and surely the Yanks would never be able to attract a big free agent pitcher again.
From the Yankee front office perspective, they were befuddled as to why this was happening. They took great care in constructing the new building to make sure the new facility was perfectly aligned with the old one, located just one block north. Theories abounded, but none seemed to take root. But as 2009 progressed, things seemed to normalize. The team still set a record for team HRs last year with 244 (previous record was 242 in 2004) but fell far short of the all-time ballpark number of 303 hit in 1999 at Coors field. Just 13 HRs have been hit over the first 6 games played at YS3 this year, almost half the pace from last year. Manager Joe Girardi has noticed the change:
“I know the first six games it didn’t carry like it did last year,” Girardi said. “That’s the only difference I felt. It seemed last year, it turned around, around May 15th. It played like the old Yankee Stadium.”
There have been a number of theories put forth as to what happened back in April of 2009, and Yankee beat reporter Andrew Marchand of ESPN.com examines them in his latest piece. They are as follows:
• There have been only two “Just Enough” home runs, compared to eight last year. A “Just Enough” homer, according to HitTracker, is a homer that clears the fence by 10 feet or less. There is often variance in this statistic from year to year, so this isn’t that unusual.
• However, the average temperature has been seven degrees cooler (63 to 56) on average for Yankees home games this year. Lower temperatures usually mean less homers.
• The average wind speed is four mph faster this year (7.8 to 3.8). However — and here is the big one — the wind direction, according to ESPN Stats & Information, has changed slightly from a left-to-right field stream to a trajectory blowing in from left field.
• On April 17 and 18, 2009, the pitchers were Joba Chamberlain, Anthony Reyes, Zack Johnson, Jensen Lewis, Fausto Carmona, Chien-Ming Wang, Anthony Claggett, Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras. There are not many groundball pitchers in that group, and some, if not most, are not very good. Over those two days, 14 of the last year’s 25 homers were hit.
For me, when dealing in a small sampling of games I find the last explanation most persuasive. The HR situation normalized as the Yanks sorted out their early season bullpen issues, and I’m sure many of the teams they played did the same. There were still were some real cheap ones hit in May (Swisher’s end-of-the-bat dunk off Guthrie stands out) but if people weren’t so hyper-sensitive about the new ballpark they would have simply chalked it up to a high pop fly on a windy night. Now that we’ve disposed of this one, the bridge-jumpers will just have to find something else to panic about.
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