If you’ve never been inside Fenway Park it’s an experience I’d recommend. The first time I walked into Fenway I thought; damn, the Green Monster is a lot bigger and closer than I thought — TV doesn’t do it justice.
Having a wall that’s 37 feet high and 310-315 feet from home plate changes the game.
With the Monster looming so close, a base runner might try to steal third with two outs because he might not be able to score from second on a single. Pop flies can bang off the wall and become doubles. Laser beams that would have found a home in the general-admission seats can become singles.
And left-handed hitters who are smart enough to go the other way can become batting champions.
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Fair warning: these are small sample sizes and I’m cherry-picking, so feel free to disagree — but when Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon hit opposite-field home runs in the first inning of Friday night’s 6-3 win over the Red Sox, I decided to write this bit.
Lefties should use the opposite field in Boston
Opposite-field hitting is generally good hitting because it requires the batter to wait longer, keep his front shoulder closed and his head on the ball. That’s why going to the opposite field cures a lot of hitting problems.
So why doesn’t everybody do it?
Most guys have to pull the ball to hit for power and power is seductive … at least that’s what I hear. Power has never tried to seduce me; she’s always been more interested in my friends. (OK, I think I’ve milked that metaphor for all it’s worth.)
Anyway … right-handed hitters see the Green Monster and want to pull the ball; left-handed hitters see the Green Monster and want to go to the opposite field.
Hosmer, Gordon, Moustakas and the Fenway effect
I picked these three guys because they’re the Royals most prominent left-handed hitters, plus they make the point I want to make.
According to Baseball Reference, over his career Eric Hosmer has hit .280 and slugged .429 in Kauffman Stadium. Put him in Fenway and those numbers become .385 and .519.
Alex Gordon: .270 and .445 in Kauffman, .369 and .619 in Fenway.
Mike Moustakas: .252 and .411 at the K, .185 and .389 in Fenway.
Now if you’re thinking that last set of numbers disproves my point; congratulations, you’re still paying attention. But dig a little deeper and here’s what you find: Moose was a dead pull hitter for the first four years of his career, but learned to hit the ball to the opposite field in 2015.
In 2015 Moose hit .417 and slugged 1.083 in Fenway Park.
And just for comparison’s sake, let’s throw in right-handed hitting Lorenzo Cain. In Kauffman, Lorenzo is a .300 hitter; in Fenway he sees the Green Monster beckoning and that number goes down to .216. Lorenzo’s slugging percentage remains high in Boston, probably because when he does successfully pull the ball, the Monster rewards him.
Why these numbers can be tricky
I picked those three left-handed hitters because:
1. I’m lazy and didn’t want to do a whole lot more research
2. I’ve watched them play just about every game they ever played in Fenway Park
You can tell what a hitter is trying to do by watching his head. If it pulls off and the hitter finishes his swing looking down the pull-side foul line, he was looking in and trying to pull the ball.
If the hitter’s head finishes down and looking in the general vicinity of contact, he was staying on the ball and trying to go up the middle or to the opposite field.
So I can’t tell you much about every other left-handed hitter who’s played in Fenway, but I can tell you quite a bit about those three guys because I’ve watched them play there.
And just because a hitter is looking opposite field it doesn’t mean he won’t pull the ball. Here’s the hitting mantra: look away, adjust in. So even when one of those guys pulls the ball, it doesn’t mean he wasn’t looking to go oppo and bang a double off the Monster.
And looking to go oppo can make you a better hitter, no matter where you end up hitting the ball.
Should they pahk the cah in the yahd?
So put Hosmer, Gordon or Moustakas in Fenway Park for 81 games and they’d be MVP candidates, right?
But we just looked at one factor; the ballpark they played in. We didn’t talk about what pitchers they faced, or how good the defenses were or who was hitting in front of them or behind them. All that stuff matters and would change the numbers they put up.
But when you watch this series in Boston, pay attention to what the hitters are doing. It should make the games a little more interesting. Are the right-handed hitters trying to pull the ball? Are the left-handed hitters trying to go the other way?
And if that gets boring, pop open a cold one — it’s the weekend.