In an article first reported by Nick Piecoro, the Diamondbacks beat writer for the Arizona Republic, team officials admitted they are considering changes to Chase Field that would change the way the stadium plays.
It is no secret that Chase Field has long been a hitter’s paradise. The ball seems to fly out of Chase Field faster than a four-dollar beer on a 110-degree afternoon game. And if the roof happens to be open the ball flies even further averaging roughly 10 more feet of flight.
This is not a new phenomenon; hitters have always had an advantage at Chase Field. The reasons have been attributed to the high elevation, thin warm air, and low humidity typical of a summer day in Arizona.
Few people realize that Chase Field is actually the second highest elevation ballpark in Major League Baseball behind only Coors Field in Denver, Colorado. The air pressure is less dense as altitude increases giving the ball less wind resistance than a ball hit at sea level.
Temperature also plays a factor in the way the ball carries. A typical summer day in Arizona will see temperatures well over 100 degrees. Even with the roof closed and air conditioning the temperatures are in the high 80’s in the air above the playing surface.
While no one is attributing the air conditioning to how the ball flies, you have to wonder what effect it has. The majority of the air conditioning vents are at the back of the seating areas. With most of the seating areas behind the plate and down the lines this means the air conditioning is blowing out to the outfield.
Common sense would suggest this would be similar to the wind blowing out at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Perhaps not as brisk as wind blowing towards Lake Michigan but it should still be a factor adding a few feet to the travel of the ball.
So if the field has been hitter friendly for the past 13 years, why consider changes now? Diamondbacks CEO/President Derrick Hall suggested the team is being built on young pitching and defense. If that is the case, why wouldn’t they want to make changes to the ballpark to protect the team’s strengths?
The suggested changes are interesting. One suggestion, which at first seems rather drastic, is modifying the playing field dimensions. The team is considering moving the left and right field fences back approximately 10 feet.
The right field fence would be rather easy to adjust to an extent. There is approximately 10 feet beyond the current outfield fence that is used for handicapped seating and as a walkway for those in the swimming pool area.
That space could be eliminated with the outfield fence now being the much taller bleacher fence. The swimming pool in right-center would be a problem. Plans would be to leave the pool area undisturbed making the field even more asymmetrical with a ten foot jut out now being in play.
Adjusting the left field fence would be more problematic. The team would have to remove five or six rows of seats in the left-field bleachers to move the wall back. By removing the seats it would reduce seating capacity and would also increase the height of the wall since the remaining seats would start higher than the current front row of the bleacher.
The natural question to be asked is how many home runs are barely clearing the left and right field walls? A trip over to the great reference site Hit Tracker allows us to look at spray charts of where home runs have landed at Chase Field.
Looking at the graph for Chase Field for 2010 we can see changes to the left field bleachers could have a substantial effect on the number of home runs. Several this season have landed in the first few rows that with the fences extended would may have been long outs.
The 2010 graph is consistent with other seasons of data gathered by Hit Tracker leading credence to Hall’s suggestion that home run totals could be significantly reduced with a minor change to the outfield walls.
The other suggested change was the installation of a humidor at Chase Field to store baseballs in a climate-controlled area until used in the game. The humidor would eliminate the effects of dry warm air on the baseball.
The use of a humidor is not new. The Colorado Rockies have been using such a device since 2002. The MLB Commissioner’s Office has studied the effects and were at one time considering instituting the use of a humidor at all stadiums.
In the past I’ve suggested using a humidor at Chase Field to level the playing field for pitchers as well as hitters. Some have claimed using a humidor to adjust characteristics of the ball is cheating.
I question that thinking. The temperature and humidity levels introduced with a humidor bring the ball into compliance with the conditions in place when the baseballs are manufactured. It could be argued not using a humidor is cheating since teams are adapting the baseball to local conditions rather than what the ball was designed and developed to operate.
All of these measures are designed to eliminate the advantages of the hitter at Chase Field. While I applaud the team’s thinking I wonder whether these changes would have a positive effect for the team.
Neutralizing the field would mean less home runs and fewer runs generated by both the opposing team and the home team. When a team is winning, that may not be a bad thing since the stands tend to be fuller when the team is having a winning season.
But what about years such as this season and last when the team is playing sub-par baseball? What then? Would fans be winning to sit through a losing season when the home team is unable to score and there are fewer home runs?
If 1998 taught us anything it is that the casual baseball fan loves to see home runs. Even in cases where a team is losing game after game, if they can see someone hit a bomb that flies 480 feet to regions of the stadium thought untouchable it breeds excitement.
Perhaps the Diamondbacks should consider incremental changes when adjusting the playability of Chase Field. Add the humidor and have instructional league games played at Chase Field with balls stored in the humidor and those not and gauge what effect it has on playability.
This may not be so drastic a change and yet still bring Chase Field into a more neutral range. At the same time the minor league pitching staff needs to work with the Diamondbacks young pitchers to teach them how to keep the ball down in the strike zone which would be a far cry from what we have seen this season.