When the Colorado Rockies began play in 1993, trips to Mile High Stadium and later to Coors Field were met with equal parts dread and fear by opposing pitching staffs. Baseballs seemed to leap off the bats of hitters flying further than any other stadium in Major League Baseball.
The barrage of long fly balls and home runs were blamed on the thin air at altitude. Pitching statistics became skewed as the ballparks in Denver played completely different than anywhere else in baseball.
In recent times baseball in conjunction with Major League Baseball have looked for ways to neutralize the effects of altitude. The solution they came up with was to maintain the game balls at a constant humidity.
The high altitude air of the Rocky Mountains tended to make the balls harder and lighter allowing the balls to travel farther and faster than at Sea Level. To maintain this humidity consistency, the team installed a humidor at Coors Field.
New baseballs are immediately placed in the humidor where they are maintained until game time when the umpires take possession of the balls. The results have been nothing short of amazing. Runs per game and overall home run totals dropped significantly and allowed Coors Field to play much more neutral than it did prior.
Many baseball fans are surprised to learn that Chase Field in Phoenix Arizona is the second highest stadium in Major League Baseball from an elevation perspective at just over 1100 feet above sea level. While 1100 feet is substantially lower than 5280 feet for Coors Field, the elevation has seemed to have an impact on the game.
Chase Field since its opening has been a hitter’s paradise. From the large batter’s eye in center field to the higher elevation, the ball seems to leap off the bat. For Diamondbacks hitters this has been advantageous as shown by the 57 home runs by Luis Gonzalez in 2001 to the 44 home runs by Mark Reynolds last season.
The pitchers have been slightly less enthusiastic about pitching in a hitter’s park. With the exception of a few pitchers notably Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Brandon Webb; most of the pitchers have struggled with Chase Field.
The 2010 Diamondbacks seem to be especially troubled. Going into this last home stand the Diamondbacks pitching staff led the league in home runs given up. While not all of the home runs given up have been at Chase Field, playing 81 games there is not going to help matters at all.
This pitching staff is made up of several fly ball pitchers making them all the more susceptible to the home run. With both Coors Field and Chase Field located in the National League Western Division means they have more opportunities to give up home runs than if they were in another division.
Would the Arizona Diamondbacks benefit from the installation of a humidor at Chase Field? From a pitching perspective it would level the playing field so to speak. Eliminating elevation and dry air from the equation should mitigate the hitter’s advantage.
While this would benefit the beleaguered pitching staff, it would come at a cost. Like the early Colorado Rockies, this Diamondbacks team is made up primarily of long-ball hitters who rely on the home run for their production. Introducing a humidor would mitigate the Diamondbacks offensive strengths.
For this reason Major League Baseball would probably not consider introducing a humidor during the season. It may warrant consideration during the off-season to determine whether baseball should standardize the humidity of baseballs throughout the league.