Solo Homers Will Not Break Your Back
A good deal of words have been written decrying the increased home run numbers thanks to the unfortunate placement of outfield walls in the new Yankee Stadium. In their efforts to faithfully reproduce the exact dimensions from the old park across the street, the Yankees nailed the distance from home plate in almost all of the right places. Right field corner, left field corner, straight-away centerfield, and the halfway marks between. However, they failed to take into account a nifty new scoreboard that covers part of the wall in right field and, unfortunately, causes the wall to lose its gentle curve. In effect, a good deal of the right field wall is about nine feet too close to home plate. What you have, in effect, is a straight wall in right field that simply begs left-handed hitters like Johnny Damon to deposit an easy homer above its shallow border. But really, is this really part of some sort of dastardly plan by the Yankees to grab advantage over their foes? I think not.
To date, there have been a whopping 185 home runs hit at New Yankee Stadium, already 15% more tater tots than were hit at the old place last season. But while 50% of the homers last year were hit with no runners on base, that figure has risen to 65% in the new place. On average over the past few years in the MLB, about 58% of home runs are of the solo variety. Is there something about the new park that decreases scoring overall even as homers fly out at a record rate? To wit: New Yankee Stadium is only seventh in the league for scoring; last year, the old place was ninth. Scoring is up only 0.5 runs per game between the old park and the new park. If the Yankees and their opponents keep up their current pace of slamming homers, the new place will end up with 240 homers hit, a full 50% more than last year, or about one extra homer per game.
Those two increases don't seem to mesh well. If the Yanks and their opponents are hitting an extra home run per game but scoring is only up half a run per game, where is that extra run going? Obviously, the huge percentage of solo home runs is providing solace to opposing pitchers who have been victims of the short dimensions in right field. Take Indians starter Anthony Reyes. On April 17th, the Indians lost to the Yankees by one measly run, 6-5, despite Reyes and two relievers allowing five homers to the Yanks. But, all five homers were solo shots, which kept the Indians alive in the game (they only had one home run in the game, a solo shot).
So what explains the high percentage of solo home runs in the New Yankee Stadium? One explanation is almost so obvious that I missed it at first: when a guy who hits in front of you hits a home run, he is unclogging the bases of those pesky baserunners. That leaves you, the batter, with an empty canvas on which to paint your own home run. Sorry, but that will only be one RBI for you, sir. In fact, Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira have accomplished the back-to-back trick six times already this year, a franchise record. They've done it three times at home and the rest of the team has done it four more times, plus one occurrence of back-to-back-to-back home runs. That's nine home runs that must be solo shots because the gentleman ahead did the hitter a favor and cleared the bases.
Not that allowing all these solo home runs is going to get any pitcher off the hook, but if scoring is only up by half a run per game, then at least any wary pitcher nervous about giving up the farm when visiting Yankee Stadium can relax. You might give up a bunch of home runs, but if you're smart, you'll wait until the bases are empty.
Rob Iracane co-edits Walkoff Walk, a thoughtful blog dedicated to baseball and the human condition. He and Kris Liakos have been active for over 18 months and their biggest claim to fame is posting a video of a shrimp running on a treadmill backed by "Yakety Sax" whenever an MLB team wins on a Walkoff Walk.