Any fan of a small market team will tell you the same thing: Big networks don’t cover them enough. So, when a major network finally talks about your small market team, it’s a good day.
Then, of course, there are the days where you can tell they don’t know what to say. They don’t know much about your team. They’re just saying clichés. It just feels like a kick in the pants.
That’s what brings me here. One cliché I’ve heard over and over throughout the years by analysts who don’t follow the Milwaukee Brewers the same way I do: Miller Park is a great park for lefties to hit in.
The Short Porch
Any time the Brewers sign a left handed hitter, I hear it. I hear about the short porch. But here is the thing, it’s almost perfectly symmetrical. Add that to the fact that it has a retractable roof that’s closed whenever it rains, snows, or is below 60 degrees, which is nearly every home game to begin the year. How on Earth can a symmetrical, domed ballpark favor left-handed hitters over right-handed hitters?
So here I am, to once and for all prove that it’s not a good park for lefties, but for all batters.
How It Compares to Other Parks
According to stathead.com, since the opening of Miller Park in 2001 through the 2020 season, Miller Park had the 6th highest OPS for left handed hitters. Well that’s fine. Like I said, it’s a good park for all batters.
Out of the 30 active Major League ballparks, Miller Park had the 15th highest OPS for right handed hitters. Right smack dab in the middle. Well, that hurt my narrative. How can this be? How can a perfectly symmetrical ballpark be better for lefties?
Your first thought has to be wind. Maybe the roof is open more often than not and it creates a strong current that blows out to right field. According to baseball-reference.com, in 2019, Miller Park had the roof open at first pitch for only 38 games. To top it off, the wind only blew out toward right field once.
Is It the Hitters?
My second thought was that left-handed hitters are just better overall, so I looked up those numbers from 2001-2020:
Lefties slashed .260/.334/.418
Righties slashed .258/.321/.413
All right, so lefties overall do post slightly better numbers. Is it enough to explain why Miller Park is middle of the road for righties but legitimately good for lefties? Well, we have to compare the average slash numbers to the ones posted strictly at Miller Park.
So across the league left-handed hitters posted an OPS 18 points higher than right-handed hitters (.752 to .734), but managed an extra 36 points at Miller Park (.769 to .733). How can this be?
Perhaps it is a short porch and the lefties have just been slowly running up the score for 20 years.
Well, actually, Miller Park has the third furthest right field wall in the league at 345 feet straight down the line. Only Wrigley Field (353) and Coors Field (350) are farther.
Is It the Height of the Walls?
Maybe it’s wall height. If you narrow it down to stadiums with a right field wall within 10 feet of Miller Park’s 345 and at least two feet taller than Miller Park’s eight foot wall, that leaves seven ball parks (LAA, PHI, MIA, WSH, PIT, MIN, TB). Of those ball parks, only Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia allows a better OPS to lefties than Miller Park. Now, while that seems like an Aha moment, you have to determine if that actually matters, or if it is just a coincidence.
The best way I can think of to determine whether or not the wall height determines whether or not Miller Park is preferable in terms of left handed hitting is to compare the on-base percentages, since wall height could boost a slugging percentage turning a double into a home run, but it could not change the on-base percentage where a double and a home run count the same. Once again, the only ballpark with a better OBP was in Philadelphia. Most ballparks rankings only moved a couple of spots from OPS to OBP, with the largest jump being only five spots coming from Angel Stadium (22nd to 27th).
Could It Be the Roof?
Maybe it has something to do with the roof. There are currently seven ballparks that have a retractable roof and one, Tropicana, that is a permanently closed dome. Maybe lefties just hit better when weather is somewhat taken out of the equation. So I ran those numbers:
So, with only the eight domed or partially domed stadiums, lefties had an OPS 16 points higher than righties, pretty similar to the stats for all 30 parks. Among the eight, Miller Park posted the second highest OPS for lefties and fourth highest for righties. That’s basically the same spots as all 30 parks, top for lefties and exact middle for righties.
The weird part about that, however, is that Miller Park’s right field fence isn’t just the farthest of domed parks, it’s ten feet farther than the second farthest. It’s a hearty 23 feet farther than the right field wall at Tropicana Field but still manages to produce a higher OPS by 41 points (.769 to .728).
Maybe It Was Dominant Lefties
My last idea was maybe the numbers are skewed by dominant left-handed hitters. In the Miller Park era, that would of course be Prince Fielder and Christian Yelich. I separated the Fielder/Yelich years from the years without them. It turns out Miller Park has had 10 years with and 10 years without, so the comparison is pretty easy.
In the ten years with Fielder and Yelich, the Brewers LHB at Miller Park had a .350 OBP and .455 SLG creating an OPS of .805, which would join Coors Field as the only stadium with an OPS over .800.
In the ten years that had neither Fielder nor Yelich, Brewers LHB at Miller Park had a .337 OBP and .424 SLG creating an OPS of .761, which would be 12th out of 30 ballparks in terms of OPS for lefties.
At this point, I think to myself, holy moly I figured it out. The numbers are just skewed by two legendary lefties whose numbers seem inflated by Miller Park because they both happened to play in more pitcher friendly ballparks either right before or right after their career in Milwaukee.
But That Wasn’t It
Just to be sure, I calculated the numbers for all lefties to hit in Miller Park and not just the Brewers, since the Brewers have better numbers there than away teams. I didn’t expect the numbers to change too much since the Brewers should account for half of all the numbers and a 44 point jump in an average OPS is pretty staggering.
In the 10 years with Fielder and Yelich, the average OPS for every left-handed hitter at Miller Park was actually 10 points lower than it was in the 10 years with them on the team.
The longer I thought about it, the more it made sense. Being in a small market you have to know exactly when your playoff window is and exactly how to play your hand in free agency. In the years with dominant hitters like Fielder and Yelich, you buy in. It makes sense they’d have competent, if not dominant pitchers. In the years without, you fill holes with cheap veterans and young talent still learning how to pitch to major leaguers.
In the end, despite having the third longest wall, no significant wind factor, no significant wall height discrepancy, and no skewed numbers from legendary hitters dragging the average up, a ballpark with symmetrical features actually is good for left handed hitters but not for right handed hitters. I don’t know. It’s a Miller Park mystery.
Anyway, don’t call American Family Field a good park for lefties.
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