Some ballparks in baseball are considered “hitter’s parks” and some are considered “pitcher’s parks” based on a number of factors. The most obvious is the dimensions of the field. A fly ball that would reach the warning track in the average park might be a home run in a hitter-friendly park, and a routine out at a pitcher-friendly park. But there are many other things, such as weather factors, to look at as well.
A simplistic approach to ranking how hitter-friendly ballparks are would be to simply go by how many runs are scored in each park. But while there will likely be some correlation between runs scored and whether a ballpark is a hitters’ or pitchers’ park, you don’t want to put too much weight on just this one statistic, especially if you’re looking only at one season or a small number of seasons. Not only is there some luck involved in run scoring, but personnel is obviously a huge factor.
Think of it in terms of the NFL, for instance, where field dimensions are identical in all stadiums. Dome NFL stadiums, where there’s seemingly no physical difference whatsoever that would lead to more scoring or less scoring, routinely differ considerably in points scored. Why? Well, one team that plays in a dome might have top offensive talent and be weak on defense, and another that plays in a dome might be weak on offense and highly talented on defense.
Similarly, if a baseball team is loaded on offense but has weak pitching, you might see a lot of runs scored at their ballpark even if it’s not a particularly hitter-friendly park.
If you still wanted to do a purely statistical measure, you’d be better off incorporating home and road differentials. That is, you’d want to see how well a team does on offense and defense away from home as well, as that might tell you that the reason so few runs are scored in its stadium isn’t so much attributable to the stadium as to the fact that this team doesn’t score many runs anywhere.
It is unlikely, though, that there is any purely statistical analysis that will eliminate the need for judgment calls. Any list of the best hitters’ parks (or pitchers’ parks) hence will have a certain amount of subjectivity and not be verifiable or falsifiable in any absolute way. But that’s fine, because it just provides an opportunity for spirited discussion and difference of opinion.
To get such a discussion going, here are five of the current Major League Baseball ballparks that can most plausibly be considered hitters’ parks:
* Camden Yards (Baltimore Orioles)
Opened in 1992, Camden Yards was the first of the “retro” ballparks. Built to be cozy and friendly for fans, it’s proven to be such for hitters as well. With the distance to left-center being the sixth shortest in MLB and the distance down the right field line being the fourth shortest, both right and left-handed hitters have good home run opportunities.
* Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks)
When the Diamondbacks had Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling pitching well, Chase Field didn’t seem so hitter-friendly. But in reality, runs are easier to come by here than at most MLB parks.
Why? A number of reasons. Mostly small, though they add up.
Chase Field is the second highest elevation in MLB at about 1,100 feet above sea level, and batted balls travel farther in the thin air. Phoenix is obviously very hot, and batted balls also travel slightly farther through hot air. Chase Field has a fast infield, so ground balls are more likely to make it through as hits. And for those rare occasions when precipitation could make the field wet and slow that down, Chase Field has a retractable roof to prevent that.
One important factor that people might not think of is that Chase Field has a big green space in center field right behind where the batter would be watching a pitched ball coming toward him. It provides the ideal solid background for a batter to be able to pick out the white ball.
* Coors Field (Colorado Rockies)
Even casual baseball fans know Coors Field’s reputation as the ultimate hitters’ park.
It’s really no mystery why hitters love Coors Field. It’s not the dimensions-this ballpark actually has one of the biggest fields in MLB-but the elevation. Coors Field is by far the highest elevation ballpark in the majors, and balls travel much farther in the thin air.
Why not then, one might think, just build the stadium in proportion? If balls travel 5% farther, build it 5% bigger; if they travel 10% farther, build it 10% bigger, etc.?
It’s not that simple. Yes, if you made Coors Field even bigger than it already is, you could reach a point where balls only make it out of the park for home runs at the same rate as at the average MLB ballpark, but that would hardly be an unmixed blessing for pitchers. The bigger the field, the more ground there is for the fielders to cover. Build a giant stadium to limit home runs, and what you end up with is a park with more singles and doubles than most because there are bigger open spaces to hit to.
So with Denver’s elevation, it’s pretty much an unavoidable “pick your poison” situation that prevents designing a park that’s pitcher-friendly.
* Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)
Well it’s sort of a hitters’ park, but not for home runs. In right field, the distance down the line is the shortest in MLB, but then the wall immediately angles out dramatically to where the distance to right-center is one of the longest, so that’s no picnic for hitters.
In left field is the famous “Green Wall,” 37 feet tall, yet only 310 feet from home. What this means is that both plenty of balls that would be home runs and plenty of balls that would be fly outs bounce off the wall and become singles and doubles instead.
* Rangers Ballpark (Texas Rangers)
High temperatures, low humidity, and short fences in center and right field make it no surprise that Rangers Ballpark is the only MLB stadium other than Coors Field to have been in the top seven each of the last five seasons in runs, hits, and home runs.