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The Plague of Homers

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There have been 26 home runs in the new Yankee Stadium’s first six games, a record for a new stadium. Yankees G.M. Brian Cashman says he’s unconcerned, but fans are worrying: Teams with homer-friendly parks (like the Colorado Rockies’ thin-air Coors Field) have a tough time attracting top pitchers, who don’t like outside factors making their stats look bad. What’s going on? Here, five theories, from least to most probable.

Theory #1: Yankees pitchers are bad.
Supported by: Grumbling Yankees fans; Schadenfreude-ing Yankees haters.
Is it true? No. Chien-Ming Wang aside, the team’s staff hasn’t been appreciably worse than the league average in non–Stadium games—and Yankees hitters have hit more homers so far at home than their opponents.

Theory #2: It’s just a fluke.
Supported by: The Yankees themselves (Derek Jeter: “You can’t tell anything in six games. I never notice stuff like that anyway”).
Is it true? Surprisingly, probably not. The Yankees and their opponents have been hitting normal numbers of fly balls, according to stats on Hardballtimes.com. It’s just that more of them are landing in the seats.

Theory #3: Something’s up with the balls.
Supported by: Not just crazy conspiracists! Homer-physics analyst Greg Rybarczyk of HitTrackerOnline.com, a former naval officer who’s not prone to exaggeration, says that tighter-wound balls (which fly farther) could be responsible.
Is it true? It could be. Rybarczyk says that the tightest-wound balls acceptable under the manufacturer’s specs at the MLB ball factory in Costa Rica could go as much as 50 feet farther than looser but still acceptable balls. But no one has any idea why the balls would suddenly be clustering toward the tighter end of the scale—or has found anything besides circumstantial evidence that they are.

Theory #4: There’s a wind tunnel.
Supported by: Accuweather.com, which announced that “the angle of the seating tiers in the new stadium could have a different effect on wind motion across the field,” which is to say that windy days are windier at this place than at the old one.
Is it true? Maybe. Dennis Torok of Newmerical Technologies International—which conducts wind studies for new buildings—points out that the new upper decks are higher than the old, but the “hole” between grandstand and scoreboard is the same size, which means more wind going through the same-size release valve. The Yankees say their wind tests found nothing unusual, but Torok finds that questionable. “It’s pretty obvious” that there would be a difference, he says.


Theory #5: The fence is closer.
Supported by: Rybarczyk.
Is it true? Yes! While the Yankees claim the new field’s dimensions are the same as the old stadium’s, that’s only kind of true: The points marked by distance signs are the same, but the spaces between them aren’t—in particular, the right-field power alley is straight rather than doglegged outward, an “unmarked” difference of about five to nine feet. According to Rybarczyk’s charting, a whopping eight of the home runs hit in the Indians series would have landed inside the old park—many of them in the glove of a right-fielder.

In Summary: It’s technically possible that the balls are wound tighter and quite plausible that the wind is blowing harder, but there’s no hard information to prove either theory. The fences, however, are most certainly shorter.

Have good intel? Send tips to intel@nymag.com.


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