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Miami Marlins Season Preview: Marlins Park and Its Effects

Mar 10, 2012; Jupiter, FL. USA; Miami Marlins center fielder Aaron Rowand (33) makes a catch against the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. The Marlins defeated the Cardinals 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE
Mar 10, 2012; Jupiter, FL. USA; Miami Marlins center fielder Aaron Rowand (33) makes a catch against the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. The Marlins defeated the Cardinals 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE

We have seen a few articles on the effects of the new Miami Marlins stadium on the team's offensive and pitching contributions. Will the roof bring anything new to the picture (aside from a decrease in rainouts and rain delays)? Will the new dimensions change the stadium that much? How much of the old stadium and its somewhat pitcher-friendly ways will stick around?

Well, the team has played two games at the new stadium now, and they apparently do have some things to say about the matter. While none of these guys are engineers or physicists, I would at least listen to their opinions on the matter of how baseballs fly, if only to compare to what other people say.

With the roof open and the left-field panels closed during batting practice Tuesday, the Marlins took advantage of a "jet stream" in the stadium, repeatedly blasting the left-center field sculpture with well-carrying home run balls. When the roof was closed because of oncoming storms, the balls lost some of their zip.

This is an interesting observation by the players. In years past, Sun Life Stadium has been a pitcher's park despite having the stadium opened up. But this account from the players says that the stadium is actually a decent hitter's park with the roof open. Indeed, it was quite the opposite in that they are saying that the closed roof makes for an environment more conducive to pitchers.

Here's Gaby Sanchez on that phenomenon:

"When the roof is going to be open and the fence thing that they have back there is open, it’s going to definitely be blowing in," Gaby Sanchez said. "It’s definitely going to be a pitcher’s park, I feel like. When everything is closed up, it’s going to be a fair park."

Read more here:

Here Gaby says something different that adds another dimension to the roof / no roof dichotomy. To this he adds that the large left field window panels that do provide a beautiful view of the city also could play a role in limiting fly balls in that area. With the panels open, there is a good possibility for allowing drafts into the stadium that will blow back fly balls in the area. The wind will most assuredly keep more balls in play, but how often will those panels be open? The article mentions earlier that there is the possibility for the team to leave the window panels closed with the roof open, so the panels will not be dependent on the roof's status. If that is the case, we could see situations in which the roof is open but the panels are closed, providing what Sanchez describes to be a more fair situation.

Of course, the wind factor is only a small factor in determining how the park will play. Marc Normandin of Baseball Nation examined how the new fences may change the stadium's play.

The most obvious changes merit first mention. Home plate might be in Miami-Dade county, but the "Bermuda Triangle" in left center is so far out it's nearly in the actual Bermuda Triangle -- that geographically-themed region is 420 feet from home plate. That isn't the only area that's seen a boost in distance:

Sun Life Stadium Marlins Park
Left 330 ft. 340 ft.
Left-Center 361 ft. 384 ft.
Center 404 ft. 416 ft.
Right-Center 361 ft. 392 ft.
Right 345 ft. 335 ft.
Backstop 58 ft. 47 ft.

All of the fair territory has seen its distance increased except for the right field line, with only that area and the foul ground behind the plate getting a reduction. These distances might not seem large in some cases, like in left, where just 10 feet were added, but consider this. Hit Tracker Online classifies a "just enough" home run as one that, "cleared the fence by less than 10 vertical feet, or that it landed less than one fence height past the fence. These are the ones that barely made it over the fence." In 2010, 1,561 home runs were classified as "just enough" -- that's 34 percent of all homers from that season. It's the same in 2011, with 1,521 homers -- 33 percent of all home runs -- getting the "just enough" classification.

That is an excellent point regarding the fences. We knew that the power alleys were drastically increased in size, and that is no more apparent than over in the right field alley, as that area was previously difficult to reach for left handers in the old stadium. This is compensated by the shorter right field line, so it should not hurt their home run chances overall. Center field also appears to be mostly unreachable, as the Bermuda Triangle and dead center field are both significantly longer. As Normandin states, these increases may be enough to cut homers by more than one-third if you base it on Hit Tracker Online's qualifications for "Just Enough" homers.

One more important thing to note about the walls of the new stadium is that the new park's walls are significantly lower on the left field side than they were in the old park. In Sun Life Stadium, the Marlins had the "Teal Monster" with its incredibly high fence height. Despite the fact that it was not terribly difficult to hit homers on the left field side, a reduction in the fence height in left field should increase home runs for right-handed hitters despite the slight depth increase down the left field line. Overall, homers and offense should increase for right-handers.

As you might recall, former Fish Stripes author Chris Towers overlaid the new stadium's dimensions on that of Petco Park's, and the image looked quite impressive. Of course, the Marlins' environmental situation is not the same as San Diego's, but both places do have the heavy air / humidity factor affecting the ball. And as commenter J0ser mentioned over at Normandin's article,

The balls don’t get the same impulse off the bat in a humid park, because the humidity in the air matters less in what it does to air the ball flies through than what it does to the ball itself: it makes the leather outer surface of the ball softer. (The skin of the ball was once the skin of an animal, and just like ads for skin moisturizer tell you about human skin, moister = softer). A softer cover on the ball helps pitchers get a better grip to apply spin when throwing it, and it makes the collision with the bat less elastic when the hitter hits it. So a ball might fly farther in damper air, but a damp ball will pop less off the bat.

The point here is important. The humidity of the park is what will help keep balls in the park, along with the already difficult fence situation. This runs similarly to how the dry air in Colorado allows balls to travel further in Coors Field. The humid conditions should dampen the fly balls and hold back balls in play. However, the interesting thing is whether this will be affected by the fact that the Marlins plan on keeping the roof closed for much of the summer. With a closed roof, the temperature will certainly fall to a more comfortable 75 degrees, and that will be worse for offense. But will the humidity change with the roof's closing? It sounds like Brett Hayes does not think so:

"Humidity is humidity," Hayes said. "There might be AC, but it’s still humid. At the same time, it’s better than 100 degrees."

Read more here:

If the humidity remains, we should still have that shutting down offense off the bat, and that will be further assisted by the colder conditions with the AC in the dome. Combine that with the longer fences and the possibility of the domed stadium shutting down offense for other reasons, and you may expect to see a drastic decrease in offense in the 2012 season, both for Marlins and opposing players.