Earlier today, Ryan Garko sent an A.J. Burnett fastball in the direction of Bear Mountain, the 19th homer in four games at the giant ATM known as Yankee Stadium. Is this "Coors Field East"?
Now, if Buster Olney is fretting about this — he's calling it "a whopper of a problem" — you can be sure the Yankees are, too. (Reading Olney on the Yankees is not unlike reading Pravda on the Bolsheviks.) When the new stadium opened, there was a lot of cheery talk that it would play just like its predecessor, that in fact the dimensions were the same as the old ballpark's. But as Hit Tracker's Greg Rybarczyk notes, that's not entirely true.
In certain spots the distances are the same or similar, but there are significant differences in the fence line. As you can see in the diagram, most of right field is shorter in the new park, by as much as 9 feet, but more typically by 4-5 feet (the blue dotted lines in the corners are scale markings that are 4 feet apart.) In center field, the new park is actually a bit deeper, and in left field, the parks are very similar. From some analysis I've done on home runs, these differences would tend to increase home runs overall, and particularly in middle-to-lower power hitters.
If I read my Hit Tracker correctly, 12 of the 17 Yankee Stadium home runs (going into today's game) had been hit over the shorter fences in right and right-center.
But Rybarczyk has another, more intriguing theory: The ball is juiced.
So, very early this season (actually on the second full day of games), I had already noticed that balls were seemingly flying farther than they usually do, so I checked my numbers, and noticed that the standard distances of all the home runs around MLB were a lot longer than those hit in 2008. Since then, I've continues tracking this, and what was little more than a feeling and some numbers off a very small sample size have become a lot more compelling: the first 350 home runs this year are flying, on average, about 6 feet farther than last year.
I've long subscribed to the notion that what is commonly identified as a pharmaceutically induced power spike in the mid-1990s was actually the product of a juiced ball. (Think I'm crazy? Read Eric Walker's indispensable web site.) Is it outside the realm of possibility that, in the midst of an economic doldrums and at the tag end of a steroid hysteria, baseball would decide to start fiddling with its balls again?