Y’know when you were a kid and you found that perfect spot in a quarry or around a bend in a creek, and it was your spot? And you didn’t tell anyone in fear that they would take it over, even though it’s just a quarry and untold hundreds of people know about it and go there, just not when you’re there?
That’s how I feel about this piece of community research. Andrew Fox is now the AD of research and development for the Brewers, and he does not know that I exist, but has influenced the way that I think about player acquisition as much as Statcast has. I’ve shared it with my closest friends in the baseball world, but that whippersnapper Esteban finally got me to come public with some analysis of the analysis, since he got just a little too close to scooping me on my quarry.
In short, Yankee Stadium is really small. We have this common perception that Left-Handed Hitter + Yankee Stadium = Good, and that’s sometimes true, but all hitters run into a little math problem — there just isn’t that much room out there for balls to land. MLB.com’s Mike Petriello made a similar statement the other night, noting that YSIII gives up a lot of home runs — plenty that wouldn’t be dingers in other parks — but doubles and triples simply don’t happen that much.
The reason why, I believe, lies in Fox’s research above. The Yankees boast the fifth-smallest outfield in all of baseball, at 87,600 square feet. Correspondingly, Yankee Stadium has the sixth-lowest BABIP in the game, and perhaps unsurprisingly, outfield square footage and BABIP returns a correlation coefficient of 0.38. Outfield size doesn’t entirely determine how likely a ball is to drop in, but it helps a lot:
So this is all 30 ballparks and the relationship between outfield size and BABIP. I’ve called out four parks here — Fenway, Coors, Kauffman, and YSIII. Those first two are massive outliers. Fenway has the smallest outfield in the game, but the Green Monster keeps BABIP high by just keeping so many more balls to left field in the park. BABIP doesn’t count home runs, but any ball off the Monster is an automatic hit, so you’re always going to see a higher BABIP than normal. Coors Field, quite frankly, is on Mars.
So let’s drop those outliers:
It’s evident that by taking out those two skews that the relationship is even more pronounced. Balls that stay in the infield almost always turn into outs. Balls that reach the outfield become hits, but the bigger that outfield is, the more likely they are to drop in.
So why did I highlight Yankee Stadium and Kauffman Stadium?
What does Andrew Benintendi do well? He doesn’t chase, whiff, or strike out — well in the top quartile in baseball in all three categories. He’s spoken publicly about becoming a more contact-focused hitter since leaving Boston, and that’s led to him posting the lowest strikeout rate of his career this season. He also has, or has had, a knack for his balls in play landing for hits, with a career-high BABIP and at the time of his trade to New York, the seventh-highest in baseball: a sparkling .366.
But our understanding of BABIP has changed so much in the last 10 years or so. We know that there are players who can sustain relatively high BABIPs year over year — you can put literally every single ball in play and gave blazing speed, like Ichiro, or you can control your strikeouts and have strong barrel and hard-hit rates, like Freddie Freeman or DJ LeMahieu. Neither of these things really apply to Benny. He’s not slow, but he’s merely a few points faster than average. As for his barrel or hard-hit rates, the type of contact most conducive to getting hits ... eesh:
I want to compare apples to apples here. It’s not really fair to hold Benintendi up against, say, Giancarlo Stanton. They’re two players with two wildly different approaches at the plate. But if we comp Benintendi to another guy who makes a concerted effort to make a lot of contact, reduce his strikeouts, and put balls in play, LeMahieu hits the ball harder, does so twice as often, barrels it twice as often, and actually strikes out less.
Here’s where those plots of the stadiums matter. Benintendi went from the second-best stadium for BABIP to one of the worst — he was able to put a lot of balls in play at Kauffman that will be run down at YSIII, because fielders just have so much less ground to cover. If you’re not going to put it over the fence in the Bronx, then you don’t have a lot of options with where to go with the ball. That counts double for Benintendi, who has given up on driving the ball with authority.
The adjustment, as I see it, is to take a page from a guy who came from the best BABIP park in baseball to YSIII, and has been a significantly better hitter since doing so: be a power hitter. Yes, LeMahieu is a power hitter, even if he’s not the type we think of — the Aaron Judge/Giancarlo Stanton 50-home run type. LeMahieu is a slightly different kind of power hitter, but his ISO as a Yankee, .152, matches the best mark he put up in any season in Colorado, largely because unlike Benintendi, his hitting profile plays up in Yankee Stadium.
Coors Field has the second-largest outfield in baseball, behind, you guessed it, Kauffman Stadium. DJ always had strong hard-hit rates, and in bigger outfields, with fielders having more ground to cover — some 10,000 square feet more than Yankee Stadium — those balls fall in for singles and doubles. A line drive hit at 98 mph and 320 feet to right field at Coors is either an out or a single, but at the Stadium, its a double off the wall or a home run.
That’s the adjustment I think Benintendi needs. He doesn’t drive the ball hard enough to leave the park — if he had played for the Yankees all year, he’d have six home runs — and the lofty fly balls that found holes in the spacious outfields in Kansas City, Detroit, and Minnesota will be run down in the much smaller space that Yankee Stadium affords. AB’s problem is mathematical: by reducing the available space for a ball to land by 10,000 odd square feet, he now faces a much larger percentage of grass that fielders can cover.
I don’t know how many square feet an average MLB defender can cover on a single play, but the fewer square feet involved, the higher proportion of an outfield can be adequately defended. Without an improvement in his batted-ball rate, and yes, a focus on reaching the fence or clearing it, I’m awfully nervous about his skill set in the Bronx.
As a side note, I think this may have been part of Joey Gallo’s problems in New York as well. I can’t find updated data on the new Globe Life Field’s dimensions, not to the detail that Andrew Fox provided, but just eyeballing it, it is still a larger field of play than YSIII. Does that extra real estate give Gallo the five-to-six extra hits he might have needed to keep his confidence and approach up? Has all the less available space in the outfield contributed to Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s horrible power output this year, with an ISO almost half of his next-worst MLB season? I think both are possible.
Joey Gallo is a Dodger and IKF isn’t a crucial part of the Yankees’ offense. Andrew Benintendi was brought here to stabilize production in left field, but seeing how he had success at a ballpark that’s the near diametric opposite of his new home, I’m going to remain skeptical until he proves me wrong.