Today's NY Times has a great piece on the outfield dimensions of Citi Field
The good news is Citi Field is not some band box stadium. The Wilpons may worship Jackie Robinson but remember Fred was a pitcher in his day. He's still making his hitters earn it.
Here be the article:To avoid being struck, the cranes and construction trucks had been pushed to deep center field. Concrete slabs ringed the outfield, and dirt and gravel filled the infield. This is what David Wright saw as he stood beside home plate -- rather, where it will be -- and cocked his bat, ready to face the first unofficial pitch in Citi Field history.
The purpose of this exclusive batting practice session, held on a crisp afternoon early last September, was to give team officials insight into whether the Mets' new ballpark would play fairly. Although he ripped a few balls over the wall, down the left-field line, and although the rookie Nick Evans clobbered one into the second deck in left -- no small feat -- Wright came away no more convinced than anyone else. Really, no one knows for sure how Citi Field will play, no matter the distances that will soon be noted on those fences.
"I know the gaps look big, and you've really got to step into one to get it to center field," Wright said last week in a telephone interview. "But it was a chilly, windy day, right around 2 o'clock, and who knows what way the wind was blowing? The bottom line is it's impossible to know."
For the most part, the wind has been blowing right in the Mets' faces these days, with all the agitation the team is encountering from its naming rights deal with Citigroup and the Bernard Madoff investment scandal. By contrast, a discussion of Citi Field's dimensions -- too large? just right? -- is a welcome distraction.
Judging strictly by its dimensions, Citi Field should play just as it looks, which is big. The Mets set out to build a challenging, but fair, replacement for Shea Stadium, a noted pitcher-friendly park, and Citi Field's spacious, asymmetrical dimensions and noticeably high outfield walls seem to support their goal. The left-field foul pole stands a relatively enticing 335 feet from home plate, but the distance to left-center jumps to 379 with a 15-foot wall. A 16-foot wall guards a sliver of straightaway center, which is 408 feet away, and right-center field measures 383 feet before angling in to 330 down the right-field line. The deepest part of the park, a nook in right-center, is 414 feet from home.
"We've had clients say that they want a hitters' ballpark with a lot of home runs, if you will," said Mike Sabatini, a senior designer for the stadium's architect, HOK Sport. "And we've had a lot of ballparks go the other way, where they don't want that to happen. They want it to be more playable. In working with the Mets, I know they've thought about this a lot, and they want it to be as neutral as possible."
Striking a balance between a hitters' haven and a pitchers' delight is a difficult task, one made more challenging by wind patterns. Other teams, including Philadelphia and Cincinnati, commissioned wind studies before completing the outfield dimensions of their stadiums.
Jeff Wilpon, the Mets' chief operating officer, said the team elected not to because they felt that there were too many variables -- the three-tiered stands in left field, the administration building beyond the concourse in right-center and the right-field overhang, for starters -- that could diminish the value of the findings.
Such uncertainty made it unrealistic for General Manager Omar Minaya to try to tailor his team to the ballpark, as reflected by his pursuit this winter of two polar-opposite starting pitchers: Derek Lowe, who had the second-highest ground-ball percentage last season, and the newly re-signed Oliver Pérez, who had the lowest, according to Stats LLC.
Players who have visited Citi Field have already begun conjuring formulas for success. When Carlos Delgado toured the park, he mentioned to Wilpon that he should start hooking the ball down the line. When Francisco Rodríguez and J. J. Putz, the Mets' new closer and setup man, visited in December, they promised to keep the ball up the middle.
"All the pitchers want it to be big, and all the hitters want it to be small -- that's just how it is," Wilpon said in an interview last month. "We decided to just build it big, thinking we can always change it later."
Shea Stadium was regarded as one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the National League, if not all of baseball, and Citi Field technically has shorter dimensions down the lines and in center. But what could make Citi Field even more of a challenge to hitters is the height of its outfield fences. Many of the newer ballparks have at least one high outfield wall -- think left field in Houston and right field in San Francisco -- but at Citi Field, aside from a stretch between the right-field foul pole and the right-center field gap, every wall will stand at least 11 feet.
"That tells me I better start going down the lines a little more, that's for sure," Wright said.
Shea had a symmetrical outfield, where center field was 410 feet from home plate, the gaps were 378 feet and the left- and right-field lines measured 338. Those generous dimensions, combined with winds that often blew in through an open center field, led ownership after the 2002 season to briefly consider moving in the fences.
Hitters consistently grumbled that the ball did not carry at Shea, and statistics supported their assessments. In every season since 2000, the Mets' pitching staff has posted a lower earned run average and has allowed fewer homers and a lower batting average at Shea than it has on the road.
Meanwhile, Mets hitters have, on average, fared worse at home. Only twice since 2000 did they hit more homers or score more runs at Shea than they did on the road. The "Bill James Handbook," a noted statistical reference, takes it a step further. Using a metric called a park index, which measures how much a stadium affects a particular statistic, it determined that Shea over the last three seasons was one of only two National League parks not to favor hitters in six primary categories: batting average, runs, hits, doubles, triples and homers. (Petco Park in San Diego was the other.)
Still, Wilpon did not want to simply go in the other direction, and turn Citi Field into a New York version of Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park, which has become a home run haven. In fact, aware of how reachable the left-center field stands in Citizens Bank are, Wilpon made sure the same area was no pushover at Citi Field, pushing back the fences and making them higher. In the interview last month, he said the Mets did not acquire Putz and Rodríguez so that a "couple of bloops and a bomb" could cost the team a game.
The dimensions of Citi Field were not locked in from the first day. Data collected by the Mets' statistics department revealed that a disproportionate number of fly balls at Shea from 2003 to 2005 would have been home runs at Citi Field, motivating Wilpon to alter the initial designs. At different stages, he used overlays of other HOK-designed parks to see how they compared with Citi Field.
On a recent afternoon, Wilpon showed those overlays to a visitor and pointed out that, with the exception of the cavernous Coors Field in Denver, none of the newer stadiums are, in total, as big as Citi Field. It is also slightly bigger than the average major league ballpark.
"I want balls that are hit well to go out," Wilpon said. "I didn't want this to be a bandbox. As long as it doesn't play like a bandbox Day 1, we've got plenty of tweaks we can make to make it play fairer."
Regardless of how the ball carries in 2009, the Mets would wait at least one more season before mulling those tweaks. Putting a home run line on the fences (and taking out padding high on the fence so a home run would ricochet differently from a ball in play) would be the first option. Moving the fences closer would be a last resort, one which Wright jokingly said he would have pushed for a bit earlier than scheduled had he not launched a couple over the wall that afternoon in September.
"Now we'll have to see if I can do it when it counts," he said.