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A Pitcher's Park No More

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When Target Field first opened in 2010, something unexpected quickly became evident. Although the park's dimensions were somewhat modeled after the Metrodome, and the intent of Target Field was to be a ballpark that evenly favored both hitter and pitcher, everyone noticed that Target Field had seemingly become Petco Park Midwest. You didn't need ESPN's Park Factors to know that it was extremely difficult to hit the ball over the fence at 1 Twins Way, though Park Factors did confirm what we could see on FSN. Target Field's HR park factor was 0.682, which demonstrated that Minneapolis was the hardest city to homer in all of MLB. To give you an idea of how this park factor is calculated, it's:

((Home HRS + Home HRA) / Home G) / ((Away HRS + Away HRA) / Away G)

Home HRS = HR hit at home
Home HRA = HR allowed at home
Away HRS = HR hit away
Away HRA = HR allowed away
Home G = Home games
Away G = Away games

Thus, a HR park factor of 1.000 meant that in a team's season (say, the Twins), they would have hit and allowed an equal number of home runs both at home and on the road. Being less than 1.000, Target Field allowed significantly fewer home runs than all other ballparks combined that the Twins played in during the 2010 season, and thus had the appearance that it was a pitcher's park.

While the home runs hit (or failed to be hit) at Target Field got all the press, many people conveniently ignored many other offensive stats at Target Field. Despite the dearth of big flies, Target Field allowed just slightly fewer runs than those other ballparks the Twins occupied in 2010 (0.962), it was virtually even in hits allowed (0.996), and was actually above average in doubles and triples (1.097 and 1.171, respectively). Although many of us argued that those home runs in the Metrodome were turning into outs at Target Field, in actuality they were turning into outs and doubles and triples.

In 2011, it was a different story, though it still painted Target Field in a negative light, at least from a hitter's point of view. The ballpark was starting to trend more into the even field that was intended, but it still wasn't entirely there. Target Field was still under 1.000 for runs (0.944), home runs (0.913), and now doubles and triples (0.930 and 0.943, respectively), while the hits were again virtually even (1.010). Thus, Target Field was still a pitcher's park, but now only slightly.

This brings us to this season, and with the exception of the home runs, Target Field has actually started leaning towards being a hitter's ballpark. That's right. Take a look as Target Field has evolved since 2010 (MLB ranks are in parentheses).

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Back in 2010, we were discussing how hitters would want to avoid Target Field because of the lack of home runs, while pitchers would be enticed to come here. This year, we can easily argue the opposite, that hitters would actually want to come to Minnesota to take advantage of the slightly superior hitting environment.

As for why this has changed, there could be several hypotheses. We all learned that to hit a home run in Target Field, you had to pull the ball down the lines, and the Twins found a hitter that could do just that in Josh Willingham, along with adding other hitters that had hitting profiles that would fit Target Field (Ryan Doumit). Maybe the hitters themselves learned to adjust and finally figured out how to hit in Target Field. Then there's always Jason Giambi's dry concrete theory from 2010, where once the concrete in a ballpark is completely dry, the ball will have an easier time flying out of the seats (unbelievably, I cannot find a link for this quote online). However, that theory sure didn't apply to New Yankee Stadium in 2009 when it led the major leagues in the home run park factor category in just its first season in existence.

So, the next time one of your buddies tries to comment on how Target Field is a terrible place for hitters, throw this post in his/her face. The home runs may still not be coming, but when it comes to virtually every other aspect of offense, this ballpark has become a small haven for hitters.
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  1. gil4's Avatar
    If I didn't know how the numbers worked, I'd say something like "with the Twins' pitching this year, of course the numbers are up."

    Don't they normally try to get a 3-year average to normalize the numbers because the park factors tend to fluctuate? (Variations in pitchers faced and interleague play opponents, plus a sample size that's not quite large enough can skew the results over one season.
  2. Higuys's Avatar
    I've heard several times that for HR's, Target Field isn't bad for Righties but it's hard for Lefties to hit it out.
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