Meanwhile, [url=http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/sports/baseball/12164760.htm]this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer[/url] says that too many homers have been hit at Citizens Bank Park, which is also a disadvantage to the home team.
The Phils' park is taking hits for its dimensions. But is there a solution?
By Todd Zolecki
Inquirer Staff Writer
John Smoltz is no fan of Citizens Bank Park.
The Atlanta Braves pitcher criticized the Phillies' home field in an interview with ESPN during his team's 4-3 win there July 3. And at the All-Star Game in Detroit last week, Smoltz said that building a home-run-friendly ballpark in Philadelphia was "the worst decision ever made."
The Phillies are especially sensitive to comments like that. And they are concerned enough that they talked to ballpark designers after last season and said recently that they are open to looking into possible solutions. One of those solutions could be moving the fences back. The team doesn't want its $458 million ballpark, which opened last year, to become a punch line, as Smoltz suggests.
"They'll prove me wrong if they win a championship," said Smoltz, who someday is headed for the Hall of Fame. "I've played a long time, and some of the balls that are leaving there - it's not right. It's a joke."
It seems every other homestand there is an opponent who takes a shot at the park. In between, the Phillies' pitchers do.
"The park is not playing out as we expected, because we felt we designed a neutral facility," Phillies president David Montgomery said. "And right now, it's certainly gearing toward a hitters' ballpark. But do you think we tried to design a ballpark that wouldn't be fair? Is the fact that [the 369-foot sign in the power alleys] is further to the right here than [the 371-foot sign] at the Vet an issue? Yes. Was it something we discussed and did intentionally? Absolutely not."
But how exactly did the Phillies and the ballpark's designers - Ewing Cole in Philadelphia and HOK Sport + Venue + Event in Kansas City, Mo. - come up with bandbox dimensions if they wanted the park to be fair? And what could the Phillies do to resolve the complaints about cheap home runs?
Ewing Cole, the lead firm on the Citizens Bank Park project, would not comment for this story. It referred all questions about the ballpark's dimensions to the Phillies, but said it would answer other questions about the ballpark - from architecture to design to construction. (It later declined to comment on a question about the ballpark's architecture.)
But HOK senior principal Joe Spear - HOK served as a design consultant to Ewing Cole - said everybody wanted a fair ballpark.
"Probably the hardest thing to do is to create a balance," Spear said. "It's easier to go toward one extreme or the other. If you want a hitters' park, you know what that is. If you want a pitchers' park, you know what that is. It's not an exact science."
But the problem with the Phillies' park, players and coaches contend, is that its dimensions in the power alleys are extreme. Power alleys generally are considered to be the area between outfielders.
"It plays like the Little League World Series," Boston Red Sox pitcher David Wells said.
Not every pitcher, however, finds taking the mound at Citizens Bank Park a cause for worry.
"With our offense, I love pitching in this ballpark," Phillies starter Cory Lidle said. "As a pitcher, how can you look at it any other way?"
And, as Lidle said, the Phillies get to hit there, too. Outfielders Pat Burrell (20) and Bobby Abreu (18) have combined for 38 home runs this season.
A team source said a Phillies player met an architect involved in the design of the project at a charity event and asked the architect how the ballpark's dimensions were conceived. The architect reportedly told him that the Phillies had been cautioned about the dimensions, but that the team was OK with them.
Montgomery denied he had been cautioned by an architect about the dimensions.
"That's absolutely not true," he said. "That couldn't be more incorrect. We set dimensions. We told everybody. We set them similar to Veterans Stadium. We went out and paid people to tell us what the wind would do. We tried very hard. Could it be true that in one spot we said, 'Leave it there. Leave [the wall] at eight feet'? Of course. The absolute truth is that we thought we were copying Veterans Stadium dimensions."
But the outfield fences at Citizens Bank Park aren't concave like the Vet's. The fences move from the left-field foul pole to center and from the right-field foul pole to center at 90-degree angles. That means the D in the Bud Light sign in left field is just 345 feet from home plate. The Majestic sign in right field is just 349 feet from home plate.
Players, pitchers and coaches contend that the Bud Light and Majestic signs are the park's power alleys - or at least close to them. The Phillies contend that the power alley in left is the 369-foot sign.
Even if the power alley in left is where the Phillies originally placed the 369-foot sign - it was actually 3581/2 feet from home plate - it would be the shortest power alley in the National League.
"All I can tell you is that we asked our architects, who had years of design expertise, to design a neutral/fair ballpark that favored neither hitters or pitchers," Montgomery said. "I will tell you that the fact that it's playing differently to me is the difference in the wind's effect in this facility, as opposed to the Vet."
Blowin' in the wind
The Phillies said prevailing southwest winds have had more of an effect on the way the ball carries than anticipated. Montgomery pointed out that more home runs have been hit in June than in any other month since the park opened, the month he said those winds are strongest.
In June 2004, the Bank allowed 3.27 homers per game. In June this season, it allowed 3.75. The next-highest month was April 2005, when the park allowed 2.88 homers per game.
"The Vet was sort of impenetrable," Spear said. "They wanted the building to be transparent from the street - and we were right there with them. That's essentially what we did. I think maybe what is happening is, particularly when it's windy, the ball carries."
Players don't buy it.
"Then ask them why does it carry to right and left, but it doesn't carry to center?" catcher Mike Lieberthal said. "How does a southwest wind work that way? I don't see too many balls going out to center, and it's not like it's 450 [feet] out there."
"I'll have to check on which way I'm going to pitch a guy the next time I have the wind out there, because that's a crock," closer Billy Wagner said. "When has the wind had any effect in our ballpark?
"If I'm throwing 100 m.p.h., and a guy just gets wood on it and hits it to right or left, it's gone. It doesn't matter what gale-force winds are blowing in. To say it's the wind, they haven't pitched. They can believe what they want."
Citizens Bank Park ranks third in baseball this season with 2.82 home runs per game, behind Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati (3.04) and Ameriquest Field in Texas (2.96). It ranked third last season at 2.81 behind U.S. Cellular (3.36), home of the White Sox, and Wrigley Field (2.82), home of the Cubs.
According to Baseball Info Solutions, Citizens Bank Park and U.S. Cellular Field have been the two easiest stadiums in which to hit home runs this season. Baseball Info Solutions is a Bethlehem, Pa.-based company that produces the Bill James Handbook, which is considered a must read for hard-core fans. Baseball Info Solutions also found that teams that play in homer-friendly parks are not necessarily always winning teams.
Remove both Junes from the equation and the Phillies' park has averaged 2.67 homers per game since its inception. That still would rank it fourth this season behind Great American, Ameriquest and Yankee Stadium (2.79).
According to the ballpark index rankings in the 2005 Bill James Handbook, it was 23 percent easier last season to hit a homer in Philadelphia than at other National League ballparks. Only Coors Field was higher, at 35 percent. And it was 9 percent easier to score runs; Citizens Bank Park ranked third last season behind Coors Field (35 percent) and Bank One Ballpark in Arizona (14 percent).
What are the options?
Spear said the Phillies were concerned enough about the home-run numbers last season that they talked with Ewing Cole and HOK about them.
"Maybe you ought to play it again next year and then, you know, if it happens to play the same, then maybe that's the time to think about what the options are," Spear told the Phillies.
Options seem limited, other than to move the fences back. After a reporter asked to speak to a Ewing Cole architect about the ballpark's architecture - specifically, what it might take to move the fences back - the company called the next afternoon and said it could not answer questions about that because it's a hypothetical situation.
"We're certainly open to looking at it," Montgomery said.
"It's something that could be done," Spear said.
Nobody would estimate how much it might take to move the fences back, but it is believed it could cost $10 million or less.
But then there is all that lost revenue.
If the Phillies removed just five rows in left field - some think 10 would be best - they would lose about 476 seats, which sell for $22 apiece. Over the course of an 81-game home schedule, the Phillies could lose $848,232 in ticket sales, and that doesn't include revenues from parking and concessions.
"They want to see it a balanced park, but they don't want to react too quickly," Spear said. "I think David and the Phillies really want to do the right thing. They're convinced that they know what the right thing is. I can't tell you, frankly, where we'll end up on this, because I don't think that we're convinced - nor they, nor Ewing Cole - about what the appropriate change might be.
"They believe they have a beautiful ballpark, and they don't want to make a snap decision and make the wrong choice. They're being very cautious and very careful about it, which they should be."
What the numbers say
Last season, the Phillies hit .266 with 133 home runs and 424 runs at home and .268 with 102 homers and 416 runs on the road. Phillies pitchers had a 4.31 ERA at home, 4.61 on the road.
This season, the Phillies (48-45) have hit .289 with 62 homers and 273 runs in 49 games at home, and .249 with 33 homers and 175 runs in 44 games on the road. They have a 5.16 ERA at home and allowed 76 homers. They have a 3.82 ERA on the road and allowed 42 homers.
"It's tough for me to say which trend is correct," Montgomery said. "The full season from a year ago, or half a season now."
"Yeah, the number of home runs is a bit of a surprise," Spear said. "So we're trying to ... make certain that we understand what the issue is before we go in with jackhammers and tear something out."