When you discuss ballparks with casual fans of baseball, the discussion is usually centered on the aesthetics of the park or some new crazy food the ballpark has adopted, like a burger with pizzas for the buns (no, this is a real thing). One thing many fans do not realize is that the ballpark a team plays in has an impact on their performance. Many people may not understand this because every ballpark seems to be the same thing : 4 bases, a pitcher’s mound and an outfield fence. How is it that a ballpark could change anything that is happening between the players in a game?
Ballparks affect the game in a multitude of ways. The easiest effect for fans to see is the distance of the outfield fences. Every park has differing distances from home plate to the right field, center field and, left field fence. This has an obvious impact on performance as the closer a fence is the easier it is to hit the ball over this fence. One of the biggest examples of this is at Yankees Stadium in New York. The right field fence is only 314 feet out, making it the shortest porch in baseball. This allows for left handed power hitters to thrive in Yankees Stadium because players tend to pull the ball (lefties hit it to right field and righties hit it to left field).
Another slight ballpark factor in performance is the dimensions of the outfield. Bigger outfield dimensions means more distance for outfielders to cover and gives more space for hitters to hit the ball. Coors Field has the most outfield acreage which makes it one of the most hitter friendly parks in baseball. This however is not the only factor that makes Coors Field one of the most hitter friendly parks in baseball. The last ballpark factor is the one most fans do not know about but also a very crucial one. Altitude. The altitude of a stadium may not seem very important to most baseball fans and it would be hard to see how altitude could effect performance. Altitude effects multiple parts of the game. It first effects the pitch that is being thrown. Pitch speed will slightly increase due to the lowered air pressure but the bigger impact is seen on breaking pitches. One of the forces acting on a pitch is frictional force. Due to the lower air pressure there are less air molecules present. This means a baseball has less air molecules to rub against and less friction acting on it. The basis of a breaking pitch is to have friction act on the ball in a way that makes it fall or curve in a direction. The highest stadium altitude is seen in Colorado at Coors Field. According to Alan Nathan of Illinois University, a breaking pitch at Coors Field will only break 85% as much as a breaking pitch at a regular ballpark. This is one reason Coors Field is widely considered the best hitters park in baseball. The other reason is the effect altitude has on batted balls. Friction on a baseball also acts to slow the baseball down. This lack of friction at Coors Field means batted balls simply cut through the air and are met with little resistance. This makes it incredibly easy for batters to hit home runs in this park. Alan Nathan also states that a fly ball travels 5% further in Coors Field than a regular park. Coors Field is the most extreme example of this as it is in the “mile-high” city but even the slighter changes in altitude shows the same correlation.