Throughout the early part of 2009, the main story surrounding the new Yankee Stadium focused on the home runs. While we anticipated a home run-happy stadium, no one expected the ball to sail out of the park as much as it did. Earlier in the year, fans and analysts were quick to blame wind currents, and as Yankee officials defending their new home, Peter Gammons called it “one of the biggest jokes in baseball.”
Guess what? Joke’s on him. ESPN has released its park factors for the 2009 season, and Yankee Stadium was not a hitter’s park. While the stadium certainly inflated home run totals, it cut down on hits, doubles, triples and runs. Overall, the Stadium ranked 20th for runs with a park factor of 0.965.
Drilling down on these numbers, we see a marked decline in the propensity of the stadium to surrender extra-base hits. Its home run factor — 1.261 — lead the Majors, but it was tough to knock out non-home run hits. Its 0.810 doubles factor was 29th, and its 0.500 triples factor was the lowest mark in the big leagues. Perhaps that’s because the Yankees were not a particularly speedy team, but more likely than not, the outfield’s shorter fences turned would-be triples into either doubles or outs.
Despite these findings, the myth persisted throughout the season that Yankee Stadium was some hitter’s paradise. In large part, the Yanks’ gaudy offense drove this tale. After all, the team hit a ridiculous .284/.368/.490 at home with 136 home runs. But their opponents hit just .249/.325/.404, and while those hitters belted 101 home runs, the visiting teams’ offense tailed off by the end of the year.
Greg Rybarczyk from Hit Tracker and The Hardball Times explained why in the comments to this BTTF post. After running the numbers, he found that Yankee pitchers drastically cut down the number of home runs allowed and that, after June 1, Yankee batters accounted over 70 percent of the home runs at Yankee Stadium.
“The Yankees figured out how to clamp down on their opponents’ deep fly balls to right field, while maintaining their own ability to exploit the short porch. This was most likely a combination of more innings being thrown by better and/or healthier pitchers, and conscious effort to steer fly balls towards the deeper left field,” he wrote. “The Yankees learned how to leverage the idiosynchrasies of their park, while (unsurprisingly) their visitors did not (or could not).”
Right now, we have to wary about drawing too many conclusions from this data. It is, after all, just one year’s worth of data, and the Yankees featured a left-handed power-hitting lineup in 2009. Based on the available data, the team will again field a power-hitting lefty-heavy lineup this year, and as the year progresses, we’ll have to see how these trends stack up with more data behind them. Yankee Stadium wasn’t, as the critics said early on, a joke for hitters. It is a home run-friendly park that limits the damage done by balls that don’t clear the fence, and as the Yanks build a roster to suit their park, you can get that the team is well aware of these park factors.