So Chase Field is "the launching pad of baseball," as Arizona Diamondback team president and CEO Derrick Hall says. That would be a bit of an exaggeration, but it is widely accepted that Chase Field is a hitter-friendly park.
Statistics support that theory. Currently, according to Park Factor ratings, which measure the ratio of runs scored by a team and its opponents at home and on the road, Chase Field has the fourth-highest rating in favoring hitters in the National League and 10th overall. Coors Field in Colorado has consistently been the top of the list.
Because of this, the Diamondbacks are looking at ways to make their stadium more pitcher-friendly. The Colorado Rockies began storing their baseballs in a Humidor, basically a climate and humidity control room to combat the effects of the dryer Colorado air. The Humidor is kept at 70 degrees and 50 percent, conditions that are similar to those area near sea level, where most major league teams play.
The Diamondbacks are looking to use what the Rockies do, and it is "no-brainer," according to Hall. There is also discussion of raising the height of the outfield walls and moving them back.
The question is, will it make a difference?
Colorado's Coors Field switched to the Humidor in 2002. The stadium was famed for its long, back and forth slug fests. It was a hitters dream. From 1999-2001, there were 272 home runs hit in Coors Field on average. In the same time frame, the Rockies and their opponents averaged a combined 14.2 runs a game.
After the installation of the Humidor, from 2002-2008, the average home runs per year dropped to just over 197 and the average of combined runs per game fell to around 11.
This sounds drastic, and it is. But the Humidor alone didn't do it. Between 2002 and 2004, the average of home runs hit was still 228 and combined runs 12 a game. In fact, from 1999-2005, the Rockies placed last or second to last in their division every single year. They were terrible and had terrible pitching.
The first year that there were less than 200 homers in Coors was 2005. It was been that way ever since, averaging 174 per year since then. Not coincidentally, 2005 was the first year that there were penalties for PED use. Also, since that time, the Rockies have started to develop some quality pitchers (Aaron Cook, Jason Jennings, Ubaldo Jimenez, to name a few).
Now studies show that the Humidor does in fact have a significant effect on the amount of home runs hit, but that even with that significance Coors Field is still favorable to the hitter.
Anecdotally, players notice a difference in the grip of the baseball. Arizona's interim general manager Jerry Dipoto, a former pitcher of the Rockies, said that before "the ball felt hard like a cue ball." Now, it feels more like baseballs do at other parks, which allows pitchers to get the movement on their pitches that they are accustomed to getting.
As for the Diamondbacks using a Humidor, it actually shouldn't be a surprise. Back in 2007, Major League Baseball was already looking towards more standardization in the way that balls are used and stored. Universal use of a Humidor was a possibility.
Now, is it needed here in the Arizona desert air? That is debatable. Yes it is true that there were 15 percent more runs scored at Chase Field than during Arizona's away games from 2007-2009. Yes, it is also true that it is statistically and anecdotally a park that favors hitters. Yes, this year continues that trend. But during that same time period, the Diamondbacks have been a team made up mostly by young hitters, and young hitters almost always hit much better at home than on the road. Additionally, since 1999, an average of only 181 home runs was hit at Chase, with only one year ever going above 200.
The team hasn't been any good the past three seasons, either. When you pitch Billy Buckner, Doug Davis, and Yusmeiro Petit, you are going to give up the gopher ball, no matter where you play the game. Then throw in the bullpen's penchant for getting lit up (Juan Gutierrez, Chad Qualls, Bobby Howry) and you can see how those batting numbers could get skewed a bit. Plus, this year's team has a lineup full of guys who hit a lot of home runs.
Obviously it is considered gospel that pitching and defense leads to success. San Diego and San Francisco are showing that this season, as they have built a team of good pitching in their stadiums that are very friendly to pitchers. Knowing this, there shouldn't be much resistance.
The Humidor didn't bring the dead ball era back from the dead to Colorado, as it is still the friendliest park for hitters. But before looking at how the team stores its baseballs, it might be a good idea to look at the pitching personnel. I don't think that it would have made much of a difference this year or last. They have just been bad teams.
As for that one year in Arizona where over 200 home runs were hit at Chase Field, you may be asking yourself what year that was. It wasn't 2008, 2009, or even the disaster of 2004. It was a pretty good year. It was 2001. Yeah, that year. It worked out all right for the team.