Ballpark Dimensions and the Balanced Baseball Lineup

by Deb Seymour

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of baseball discussions mentioning “a balanced lineup.” So I did a Twitter search for the expression “balanced lineup.” Here’s what I found: 106 tweets with the words “balanced lineup” from the past week alone. About 10 percent of these were not about baseball. That still leaves us with almost 100 tweets using the expression “balanced lineup” or “balance in the lineup” from the week of August 4-11, 2021.

It’s unsurprising, though, due to at least a decade-long emphasis at all professional levels on power pitching and hitting. You’d expect some kind of ripple effect from all those 100 mph fastballs and escalating launch angles. But, when you start to think about it, a balanced baseball lineup isn’t just about having both power hitters and hitters who can shorten up on their swing for a well-placed single. It’s also about the ability to face both right- and left-handed pitchers. And, actually, it’s even about the individual capabilities of those sitting on the bench on any given day, giving the manager the option of sending up a specific pinch hitter — or sending in a particular pinch runner — at the most felicitous moment in the game..

But (and here’s where I’m really going with all this), as the Yankees are beginning to re-discover, a balanced lineup is also about tailoring the batters — and the order in which they hit — to the dimensions of the main stadium in which they’re playing. You could take this argument a step further, and say that the lineup needs to be tailored to the dimensions of as many as possible of the stadiums in which a team will be hitting most often. For each of the AL and the NL, that’s primarily 15 stadiums, with a ranking of most games and hit opportunities taking place at home, and then within the division, and only then throughout the rest of the league — including interleague games.

Hence, if a stadium plays deep, you would want hitters with decent BABIP percentages in your lineup; as fewer balls are likely to leave the stadium. Several stadiums have brought in the fences to cater to the era of the power hitter and the analytics-based baseball of the past couple of decades (examples include Citifield, LoanDepot Park, and Comerica Park). But dimensionally, LoanDepot Park, for example, still plays pretty deep and you might still want some hitters who bat for average in the Marlins’ lineup. And if a stadium plays small, you might want to more heavily weight your lineup toward power hitters. Oriole Park at Camden Yards was known to be a hitter’s dream when it first opened; the balls flew out at a tremendous rate. But urban legend has it that the Hilton Hotel built in its windpath cut down on the ballpark’s home runs…and the Orioles, as well as the AL East, have had to respond accordingly.   

Granted, MLB general managers’ responsibilities go way beyond ensuring that in each season, the organization’s major league team has the most balanced lineup of the league’s 30 teams. But if a home stadium is built to have a particular type of hitter frequent the lineup, that’s got to be one of the primary lineup responsibilities on an ongoing basis. And at Yankee Stadium, that means you need lefty hitters in your lineup.

Below, courtesy of @Tangotiger on Twitter, you can see a diagram of the dimensions of the notorious Yankee Stadium short porch. The dimensions painted on a stadium’s walls are not always exact — in fact, some of the numbers on various newer stadium walls were designed as a throwback to the stadium in which the team played historically. Nevertheless, both observationally and statistically, right field at Yankee Stadium plays shorter than does right field at the majority of MLB ballparks. Recent stats (provided by Statcast (Park Factors)) even provide the specifics of just how many ballparks a given home run might have left; and at Yankee Stadium many of the “just cleared the fence” right field home runs would not be home runs in a number of the league’s other ballparks. Thus, given hitters’ tendency to pull the ball more than ever in the era of analytics and the shift, if you’re building a true “Bronx Bomber” team, this means you need lefty power/pull hitters in your lineup.      

Image
 https://twitter.com/tangotiger/status/1423466476154068998?s=20
 Image taken from Twitter. Source: @tangotiger 

Now here’s an image of Fenway Park for your consideration:

Image taken from Twitter. Source: @tangotiger 

What you can’t see well is the famed Green Monster. But what you can see is that the distance to left field is actually shorter than the distance to the right field short porch at Yankee Stadium. How do the Red Sox capitalize on this? Well, without getting too in the weeds, the Red Sox need to consider two aspects of having the Green Monster in play: building a lineup that can use the Green Monster to its advantage on the offensive side of the game, and making sure that Red Sox outfielders are adept at playing the ball off the Monster. 

Hypothetically, we could journey through this kind of thought process for every ballpark in the game. Moreover, we could analyze whether each major league team’s minor league ballparks are dimensionally similar to the major league park, allowing for more specific development of the team’s projected major leaguers. It would be an interesting exercise — my bet, though, is that MLB teams are smart enough to have devised the analytics and the strategy for all of this already. But the next time someone tries to argue that the Yankees are fine with all right-handed hitters, you can tell them not only history and tradition say the opposite — the walls of Yankee Stadium do, too.              

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