Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Woody's Wonderwall
2005-05-01 10:18
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Now make no mistake, I love Woody Paige. The man brightens my day nearly six times a week, between his columns and his blood feud with Jay Mariotti. In today's column, however, I believe the Woodman to be off the mark when he writes:

Coors Field has the largest acreage of outfield in the majors. Home runs are not the trouble. Bloop singles, doubles in the gap and rattling triples are. So you reduce the dimensions (from left to right field) of 347, 390, 415, 375 and 350 feet by a lot and raise the outfield walls by a lot.... The Rockies' management should commission the construction of a series of interlocking, Plexiglas 20- to 30-foot-high outfield wall panels....

Several different wall distances and angles would be tried. (I favor keeping the distances down the lines the same and reducing the distances in the gaps and, most certainly, in center.) The Rockies would position outfielders in various locations (bunching them, bringing them in, playing them near the walls) and have club employees sit in various seats behind the outfield walls to check out the sightlines (and find out if some sections might have to be closed).

My initial response to this would be my usual boilerplate Coors Field speech, which is to say that nothing needs to be changed and the thin air effect is just so much local flavor, like Houston's fly ball-gobbling Crawford Boxes or San Francisco's right-centerfield Death Valley. Not everyone agrees with this standpoint, however. So let's examine Woody's idea on merit. Would short, high walls really make games in Denver more closely resemble major league baseball at sea level, cosmetically and statistically?

I think for certain that the answer to both is no. Unless a rule change was made to make catches made on the carom outs, the number of hits would probably increase rather than decrease. Boston, whose ballpark has a giant wall of note, had 23% more doubles than league average from '02-'04 -- more than Colorado at 17%. The result of a pull-in, push-up on the walls would likely be a huge spike in doubles at the expense of triples (69% more than league average at Coors). Don't many people call the triple the most exciting play in baseball?

Woody also writes about experimenting to find the best configuration of outfielders to handle the new dimensions. This is where I really think he's lopping off a nose to spite a face. Isn't the whole argument against Coors Field that the games it hosts aren't "real baseball?" 17-14 scores are meant for football games, they say. Wouldn't reorganizing the outfield so it looks more like a cricket pitch than a baseball field be the opposite effect from what we want? If Matt Holliday starts playing silly mid-off instead of left field, I'm calling it quits with this team.

If high-scoring games are anathema to baseball, there shouldn't be a team in Denver. If folks however believe that cracking the altitude nut is somehow the key to solving the Rockies' winning woes, I remind them (again) that the team has played .551 ball at home the last five years, and .457 ball overall. Good teams win on the road, and no Great Wall of Woody is going to help the Rockies do that.

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