Going, going ... caught! HRs die at WS park

Globe Life Field has seen some amazing grabs at the wall

October 22nd, 2020

We started the postseason wondering if the seemingly pitcher-friendly dimensions of the brand-new Globe Life Field would prevent crushed baseballs from leaving the park as often as we've become used to. The concern, as voiced by Texas slugger Joey Gallo as far back as May, was that the park would "play big," that the fences were far away, that the ball didn't carry well.

That's played out, to some extent, but we may be learning about an entirely new aspect of keeping balls in the yard at Globe Life. What if it's not just hard to hit home runs there? What if it's also super easy to rob home runs there?

"Easy," perhaps, is not the right word. None of the plays we're going to show you are easy in any way. Perhaps we should go with: This ballpark might be scientifically engineered to make cool defensive plays at or near the fence possible or even probable, in ways you can't replicate in front of the 37-foot tall Green Monster at Fenway or the 14-foot tall wall in right-center field at Detroit's cavernous Comerica Park.

Here's what we mean, and here's where we roll the videos. In just the second postseason game at Globe Life Field, Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Oct. 7, Cody Bellinger kicked off the defensive festivities by taking a probable home run away from Fernando Tatis Jr. (Looking just at the observed trajectory against fence distance and height of other stadiums, not adjusting for elevation or weather, this ball would have been a home run in 19 other parks.)

In Game 3 of the NL Championship Series on Oct. 14, Bellinger did it again, this time against Ozzie Albies.

In Game 5 on Friday, it was Atlanta rookie Cristian Pache's turn, taking a likely home run away from Max Muncy in a similar spot. (This one would have been out of 21 other parks.)

Then it was Mookie Betts' turn to steal the show. (Since we're just talking about ones near the wall here, we're not even thinking about his incredible shoetop double play from Game 5, great as it was.) In Game 6 on Saturday, he helped preserve a 3-0 lead by making a fantastic grab on this Marcell Ozuna ball at the wall.

In Game 7 on Sunday, Betts did it again to Freddie Freeman.

Bellinger came back with another one in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night, taking a possible home run away from Austin Meadows. "I can't believe how many robbed home runs we've seen in a short period of time," said FOX's John Smoltz on the broadcast. He's not wrong.

But wait! There's more. We had 30 regular-season games there this year, too, and this didn't just start in October. No homers were hit in a 1-0 Texas victory to open Globe Life in July, and the next day, Rangers leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo thought he'd hit the first dinger there in the first inning of the second game. Colorado outfielder Garrett Hampson had other thoughts. (This one was a homer in nine parks.)

On Aug. 28, Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner got a sneak preview of what Globe Life could do, courtesy of Rangers outfielder Leodys Taveras. (A homer in 12 parks.)

On Sept. 26, Nick Solak ended a game in the coolest way possible, taking an extra-base hit -- at least -- away from Houston's Dustin Garneau with two outs in the ninth inning.

You get the idea. Through Game 2 of the World Series, there have now been 42 games played between the regular season and postseason at Globe Life Field. We've had one of these amazing catches something like every fourth game. That is a lot.

Now, the big caveat here should be obvious: Betts is an all-world defensive outfielder. Bellinger won a Gold Glove Award last year. Pache, all through the Minors, was universally considered an elite defensive prospect. These aren't exactly lumbering veteran sluggers out there. Maybe there's a bit of chicken-or-the-egg here: Great fielders make great fielding plays.

But then there are Hampson and Solak, too. They may end up being capable outfielders, and each made stellar plays, but each came up as infielders. Neither is in the same class defensively as Betts, Bellinger or Pache. So is this just going to be baseball's foremost home run robbery park?

Perhaps so. The most important aspect of robbing a home run is simply having the opportunity to rob a homer, and in most parks, some or all of the outfield configuration makes that impossible. The Green Monster aside, think about left field in Minute Maid Park (21 feet high), or how Toronto's Rogers Centre has 10-foot walls all the way around, or how right field at Target Field is 21 feet high, or how Wrigley's ivy walls range from 11 to 16 feet tall. You might be able to take away extra-base hits there, but you simply can't take away home runs.

Globe Life Field, meanwhile, never tops eight feet at any point. (It's a consistent eight feet all the way around, save for where it dips down to six feet for the bullpens in left-center and right-center.) When you look at the photo below, remember that Betts is listed at only 5-foot-9, yet he's still able to get that glove well above the yellow line.

If we go check out this handy fence height database, we'll see that not having any fences above eight feet tall puts Globe Life in the minority, but it doesn't make it an oddity.

Eight other ballparks (the homes of the Angels, Cardinals, Dodgers, White Sox, Royals, Brewers, Yankees and Mariners) can also say the same. That said, Globe Life's 410-foot center field is the deepest of this group, so a ball that was well out in, say, Dodger Stadium, may be a wall-scraper in Texas. Milwaukee's Miller Park has the third-deepest right-field line (345 feet) of any park, while Yankee Stadium has the shortest (314 feet). There are a lot of differing sizes and dimensions here, even among the "short fence" group, and that's without even getting into environmental factors.

So let's go a little deeper. We dug into the Statcast data in an attempt to find a set of wall balls, which we're calling balls that had a projected distance within 10 feet of either side of the fence. For example, when Betts robbed Freeman in NLCS Game 7, the ball had a projected distance of 360 feet if it hadn't been obstructed by players or fences, and at the moment Betts caught it, he was 352 feet away from home -- it would have traveled an estimated additional eight feet if he'd let it go and it didn't hit the wall.

Looking at it that way, we find something interesting: Only one park this year saw more balls at or around the fences within our ten-foot-on-either-side gap.

2020 batted balls within +/- 10 feet of wall
83 -- Petco Park (San Diego)
74 -- Globe Life Field (Texas)
70 -- Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles)

Let's take out the homers and try to limit it only to balls within 10 feet of the short side of the fence, or ones robbed by a fielder, in order to try to get to catchable baseballs -- then the ballparks remain similar.

2020 non-homer batted balls within 10 feet of wall
50 -- Petco Park (San Diego)
48 -- Globe Life Field (Texas)
46 -- Angel Stadium (Los Angeles)

Now, obviously there have been more games in San Diego and Texas than in places that did not host postseason games, so that affects the raw count total. But on a rate basis, if we just look at all batted balls that went at least 300 feet and see how often those kinds of balls end up within plus/minus 10 feet of the wall, Texas is still second, behind only San Diego.

Why is this? Well again, we've only seen 42 games in this park, so "small sample random variance" is always in play, but we did see another one on Wednesday night, when Brandon Lowe's second homer of the night hit the top of the left-field fence. This might get into some environmental questions that are deeper than we're able to get into here, though it's interesting to see how few balls come near the fence in Comerica, which is massive to center (hard to reach?) and hitter-friendly down the lines (easy to clear?).

Either way, if it seems like there are a lot of home run robberies at Globe Life Field, that does appear to be because there really are more opportunities, and because the walls make it possible nearly the entire way around. That's all just so important: the balls hit by Tatis Jr., Muncy and Albies would all have been gone in Dodger Stadium, for example.

Yet while Texas may be the focal point right now, because of how much of the postseason has been located in Globe Life Field, this isn't necessarily limited to just there. In May 2019, Ben Lindbergh at The Ringer attempted to quantify what seemed like an increase in home run robberies, noting both that fence distances and heights had become shorter over the years, as well as pointing out that "in the decade from 2005-14, home run robberies occurred about once every 60 games." Through that point in 2019, though, "the heists have happened once every 29 games, more than twice as often." (We're reminded of the week in 2018 where Adam Engel robbed three homers in six days.)

Home runs, as always, are up. Fly balls are up. Fence heights are down. Nowhere is that more true than at Globe Life Field, where in just its first few months of existence, we've seen more great action at the walls than we've seen in many other places in years.