Marching On

Halfway through my mad, mad month here. Thus far the spring update coverage for Fantasy Baseball Index has gone well. Though I’m actually less of a fantasy junkie than my intended audience, it’s one of my favorite projects of the entire year. Not only do I immerse myself in the familiar tropes of spring — job battles, injury comebacks, hot shot rookies wowing the scouts (“Cueto is the ace of that staff. Right now…”) and humbled veterans appeasing the gods with their sacrifices in an effort to eke out one more season (Hideo Nomo and Orlando Hernandez both junking their distinctive deliveries) — but I come out of it with a great picture of the strengths, weaknesses and narratives of all 30 teams, ideal for the upcoming Hit Lists as well as all of the preseason chatter I get to do on my various radio gigs. It’s my own spring training, whipping me into shape.

The BP promo-rama has gone well thus far. Last Thursday we packed 40-something people into the 18th Street Barnes and Noble here in NYC as Steve Goldman, Joe Sheehan, Derek Jacques and I took questions for well over 90 minutes, somehow managing not to trip over each other’s sentences. Saturday’s Long Island event was a smaller crowd, but one full of familiar faces, area friends who couldn’t make our previous gig. Our sole misadventure involved getting from the train to the venue (memo to the surly, constantly muttering cabbie: Barnes and Noble and Borders aren’t interchangeable if your name is on the marquee). On the docket next is a three-day trip to DC and then Philadelphia for appearances on the 17th and 18th. We’ll have some media as well — an XM Radio hit and even a TV spot, details forthcoming. Here’s the plan:

• Monday, March 17th, 7:00 pm, Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008. With Clay Davenport and Steven Goldman

• Tuesday, March 18th, 7:00 pm, Barnes & Noble, Rittenhouse Square, 1805 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103. With Steven Goldman and Joe Sheehan

Meanwhile, here’s the transcript of last Friday’s BP chat. More recently, on Thursday I followed up the work I’ve been doing on the way ballparks have evolved over the past 20+ years. Last time around I showed that contrary to popular belief, fence distances have not actually decreased over that time, they’ve increased, particularly on the left side. Even if we exclude Coors Field, they’ve increased:

      2007  Coors  2007'  90-07  90-07'
LF 332.0 347 331.4 2.4 1.9
LCF 376.6 390 376.2 1.2 0.7
CF 404.9 415 404.9 -0.1 -0.4
RCF 377.6 375 377.7 1.6 1.7
RF 329.1 350 328.6 0.2 -0.5

2007′ is the average fence distance sans Coors, 90-07′ the change from 1990 to 2007 excluding Coors. Anyway, this increase to the left side appears to have an impact on the distribution of home runs. In 1990, according to data from the Play Index, 54.4 percent of homers were hit to left field and left-center field. Last year it was 50.8 percent. Sparing you my first-ever graph for a BP article, an ugly one that puts this graphic designer to shame:

Year  % LF+LCF
1990 56.6
1991 53.6
1992 54.7
1993 55.0
1994 53.2
1995 51.2
1996 50.7
1997 48.4
1998 50.0
1999 46.3
2000 50.8
2001 48.6
2002 48.6
2003 46.7
2004 47.0
2005 48.3
2006 50.1
2007 50.9

As noted in the article, there’s a bit of intermediate squirreliness with the data in a few years; not every year are the home run locations equally well-recorded, but the trend is apparent: fewer hoemrs are leaving the yard on the left side than before.

Beyond that, I took a look at the way the new ballparks may have had an impact on foul outs, and whether that impact results in more home runs. Short answer: foul territory is tough to get a handle on, and tremendously boring.

Foul territory area measurements aren’t recorded in any official manner (since publication of this article, one data source has come to light, but I’ll wait until my next installment to discuss that). Backstop distances don’t make a great proxy; while such distances appear to have decreased, there’s little correlation between them and foul out rates. Foul out rates actually appear to be a bit higher in the newer ballparks than the older ones — contrary to the views of my readers, whose lines of questioning sent me trudging methodically down this rather bleak path — but the problem with my finding is that the stadium changes I note are based on fence distances (which are well-documented) rather than foul territory adjustments (which aren’t).

It’s all just about as much fun as a field trip to the box factory, but I may have to take another swing at this if I get some better data. Still, if there’s one take-home from of my recent articles, it’s that it’s time to retire the notion that parks have gotten smaller over the past two decades, thus driving up home run rates. Except when it comes to meat in the seats, parks aren’t getting smaller.

You have my permission to swear at your TV the next time you’re told otherwise.

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