Outfield Park Factors part 2

Earlier in the week, I questioned the widely held belief of whether with an outfield like Comerica Park’s the Tigers should have 2 centerfielder-types to man the large left and center fields. Using park factors and looking at the rate at which balls in the air drop in for hits, we saw that fewer balls drop in in left and center at Comerica Park, while more tend to fall in right field. Now we’ll take a look at what happens when the balls do drop in.

Again I will turn to park factors. And again I will borrow from Dan Fox and use a metric that is total bases per baserunner. And like the previous analysis, I focused on balls in the air.

The tables below represent the park factors for each of the areas of the outfield, as well as an overall rate. (click the chart for a larger image)
Outfield Park Factors Extra Bases

Here’s where the Comerica Park we know and love comes out. There is more extra base goodness in Comerica Park’s center field than any other stadium, and not surprisingly it comes in the form of triples. Over the last 4 years 8.7% of all triples hit to center field in the Majors have come in Detroit. Here is the distribution of hit type on balls fielded by the center fielder:

	1B	2B	3B
MLB	68%	28%	5%
DET	63%	25%	13%

If the ball gets to the wall, only the slowest of the slow runners aren’t going to end up with a triple. While it’s not surprising to see doubles turned into triples, it is a little surprising to see so many singles turned into triples. It must be a function of the fact that centerfielders play relatively shallow cutting off many would be singles which does correspond with the earlier data where fewer balls drop into center field at Comerica.

But back to the original question about the difficulty of playing left field in Detroit, the data just doesn’t bare that out. Fewer balls drop for hits, and there are fewer bases per baserunner in left field. In right field we see a few more balls dropping for hits, but it is one of the toughest fields to get extra bases. Perhaps the right fielders are playing too deep?

While having multiple outfielders with above average speed and range is never a bad thing – especially in larger parks of which Comerica Park definitely ranks – there isn’t anything about Comerica’s left field that makes it any more necessary than in any other stadium. While the argument for “2 centerfielders” can certainly be made, it really only looks like it would help if they were both manning center at the same time.

The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at www.retrosheet.org

13 Comments

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  2. Ken in Cincinnati

    December 20, 2007 at 8:17 am

    I can’t quite remember: Did Granderson come close to breaking the all-time record for triples? I know he was chasing it down at one point.

  3. Ken in Cincinnati

    December 20, 2007 at 8:36 am

    Just answered my own question. He is 27th on the all time list with 23 hit last year. 13 away from Chief Wilson who hit 36 in 1912. One interesting note: there is not one player above him on the list that achieved their feet after 1930! 13 players ahead of Granderson achieved their feet in the 1800′s. If you look through the first 200 players, there are literally only a couple that play modern day baseball. Hence we can legitimately call Granderson the best triples hitter over the last 70 years. Does anybody have any theories as to why it was absurdly less difficult to hit for three bases back then. I’m guessing players weren’t any faster. In fact, they were probably slower. Were throwing arms that much worse? Were stadiums larger? I don’t think so…… I’m guessing defensive prowess has just improved by droves, while speed has improved only incrementally.

  4. Mark

    December 20, 2007 at 10:08 am

    My Grandfather was born in 1901. He passed away in 1978, but he worked with a couple of the Tiger players during the winters in the offseason. He continued a friendship with one of them into the early 60′s. The way he told it, the difference in conditions of the outfield playing surface between the pre-30′s and post 40′s was like night and day. He said the infields were very similar to those of today (60′s) but the outfields were equivalent to that of a school yard ballfield. Maybe official scorers were less likely to give errors due to the condition of the fields(?) and more singles, doubles turned into triples/inside the parkers.

  5. Chris in Nashville

    December 20, 2007 at 11:17 am

    Excellent point there Mark, I haven’t heard that before.

    This was a great post Bilfer, really enjoyed these. I know there is always talk about moving the fences in more, but I personally like having a ballpark that is different than any other ball park, especially in the dimensions. They needed to move in the LF for sure originally, and did that, I hope it stays the way it is. Watching a game in some of the newer stadiums, Philly, Houston and Cincy especially looks like they are playing on a softball field.

  6. Scott

    December 20, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    Breaking News – ESPN is reporting Tigers are going to sign Dontrelle Willis to a 3-year, $29 million extension.

  7. Lee Panas

    December 20, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    Granderson had arguably the second best triples season of all time in 2007. If you subtract the league average from each player’s triples, Grandy finishes second behind Chief Wilson.

  8. Lee Panas

    December 20, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Chris, I also like the dimensions the way they are. Watching outfielders chase fly balls, outfielders making throws and runners legging out doubles and triples is more exciting to me than watching cheap home runs.

  9. Rings

    December 20, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    Two other factors on the pre-30′s triples totals:

    * many parks were very irregular (Polo Grounds, etc.), leading to long distances to run or “funny” bounces off the fence
    * many parks/fields did not have fences up until the era from 1900 to the mid-20′s, often with spectators surrounding the field of play and in the outfield. In addition to the rough outfield conditions, many defensive outfielders would have to contend with spectator interference (particularly on the road).

  10. Lee Panas

    December 20, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    A couple more reasons:

    (1) Sometimes balls hit into fans standing in the outfield were ruled ground rule triples. The home team would make the ground rules before the game and the Tigers, in particular, took advantage of Cobb’s and Crawford’s ability to hit the ball into the crowd.

    (2) Balls were kept in play for over 100 pitches so they became soft. That combined with the deep fences made swinging for distance a poor option so there was a lot of small ball. Outfielders would play shallow and balls that were hit well would land over their heads for triples.

  11. David

    December 20, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    Nice points Lee

    To add on to that

    1) Since balls were kept in play they became soft and also they were filed/spit on thrown around the infield and scuffed up just to make the ball harder to see and have the pitch move erratically through the strike zone

    If they moved erratically through the strike zone and were brownish black my guess is they wouldn’t be easy to field either.

    Also the equipment they used at the time (their spikes and mitts) were of inferior quality – which also didn’t make it easier

    The parks – yes much larger with bigger gaps

    Some that come to mind are

    South End Grounds
    Old Fenway
    West Side Grounds
    Polo Grounds
    Hilltop Park
    Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds

    Also to add onto your other small ball point

    In “Ty Cobb” – by Al Stump he mentions numerous times that the game has changed

    In the early days the game was much different that it is today (today being 1940-1960)

    You could go on and on about it but position players were selected on defense/speed/contact/eye

    David Eckstein is a good example of what most ball clubs would have been looking for

    Players rarely ever swung and missed (compared to today) while using inferior and heavy bats

    They bunted and worked on speed rather than swinging for the fences – if the ball happened to get past the fielder then it was usually a triple

    Players had to be smart and had to steal and be fast – therefore it leads me to believe that most were fast enough to hit triples with regularity – there were no Sean Casey’s or David Ortiz’s

  12. Ken from Cincinnati

    December 20, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    Very nice explanations to my question, guys. That’s what is sweet about this blog. There are so many absurdly knowledgeable bloggers to answer my curiosities. You think you know a lot about baseball, and then you find out there are intricacies you had never thought of. Thanks.

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