New Citi Field dimensions made Mets happier at home

A view of Citi Field during a game

A view of Citi Field during a game between the Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. (May 28, 2012) (Credit: AP)

In the psychological war waged against Citi Field and its tendency to deprive deserving hitters of home runs, the Mets scored a decisive victory.

They mostly got what they bargained for by moving in the fences and turning their ballpark into a kinder, cozier place for home run hitters. The 155 homers hit at Citi Field in 2012 was the most in its existence, a total enhanced by the 46 that wouldn't have cleared the fences in the old configuration.

"You're asking a hitter if they like a more hitter-friendly ballpark," said David Wright, who added four homers to his tally. "That's an easy answer."

Not as easy, however, is accounting for the other side effect the Mets uncovered for moving in the fences. While the ballpark encouraged more home runs, it also suppressed doubles and triples. When taken together, the new Citi Field remained the same pitcher-friendly venue that it has always been, even with the spike in home runs.

"It's a fair park now," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "It's still a pitcher's park for me, it's still a big park, there's a lot of room in that outfield. But I think the change in dimensions certainly lifted the confidence of a lot of the guys in our lineup."

Initially, the Mets appear content with the trade-off. It hardly seemed to matter that opponents benefited more from the new dimensions, hitting 25 "New Citi" homers compared to the Mets' 21. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said the team has no plans to adjust the dimensions for 2013.

"It was a positive," Alderson said of the changes.

The new Citi Field drew positive reviews from those it was designed to help, though it was hardly a hitters' haven.

"I think that it's made the park obviously a little more fair," said Wright, who hit 21 homers overall. "Hopefully we can continue to build on that. But the way that Ike [Davis] has finished up, other guys have shown flashes of what they're capable of doing, but overall I think obviously the ballpark is playing a little more fair."

That fairness was best reflected in "park factors," a statistic that compares the rate of offensive production at home versus on the road. A park factor of 1.000 represents a neutral ballpark, one that benefits neither hitters or pitchers. Anything above 1.000 indicates a park favoring hitters, anything below signals an advantage to pitchers.

When measuring home runs, Citi Field produced a park factor of 1.069, making it the 12th-most- homer-friendly stadium in baseball. That represented a significant jump from 2011, when it was the third-toughest park to hit a homer. But what the new Citi Field gave up in home runs, it took away in doubles and triples.

In 2012, park factors showed that the Mets' home field became baseball's second-stingiest doubles park. It also went from one of the most consistently triples-friendly venues in the majors to one of the unfriendliest.

As a result, Citi Field remained a loyal ally to pitchers. Its overall park factor of .874 -- well below the neutral figure of 1.000 -- ranked 23rd out of the 30 ballparks. It essentially stayed in line with its previous rankings of 24th, 25th and 22nd. The lack of doubles and triples dampened the run-scoring effect of the home run explosion.

Nevertheless, for slugging outfielder Scott Hairston, shortening the fences proved worthwhile simply because it eliminated the psychological toll of losing out on homers.

"Throughout the season, that can play with your emotions," said Hairston, who hit 20 homers, with three coming thanks to the shorter fences. "There's a lot of balls we hit last year that we really got into that was either caught or a double off the wall. This year, those balls that were caught on the warning track are now doubles, and some of them are home runs. So it makes a huge difference. We're a lot more confident at the plate when we're at home."

That confidence seemed to manifest itself in Davis, who became the first player to break the 30-homer barrier while calling Citi Field home. "Well, if they didn't move the fences in, I wouldn't have hit 30," said Davis, who finished the year with 32 homers, three of them as a result of the shorter fences. " . . . I didn't hit that many here this year. I hit more on the road."

Indeed, Davis hit only 11 of 32 homers at home. Nevertheless, he touched on a bigger point. Though it often takes more than one season to truly gauge how a ballpark will play over time, the Mets have enjoyed an immediate benefit of the changes. The new dimensions have made it easier for them to believe it was possible to hit more homers at their own home field.

Restoring that belief was the whole point of the change. "I think there will be more to come with some of the guys on this team," Davis said. "There's going to be more people to do it."

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