What, then, to make of the Washington Nationals' temporary home, RFK Stadium, the UFO-like edifice on the outskirts of Capitol Hill that went 33 seasons without housing a baseball team? Will it be a pitcher's park? A hitter's park?Reporter Barry Svrluga's analysis is not exactly in-depth; he bases his case that it will be neutral on the fact that it's symmetrical and from comments by some old Senators.
"It's neither (a hitter's or pitcher's park)," said former Washington Senators pitcher Jim Hannan. "It's fair."And from the hitter's perspective:
"If you look at your multi-purpose stadiums, they're all kind of nondescript," said Frank Howard, the Senators' power-hitting outfielder from 1965 to 1971. "It's not like Fenway Park, with the left field wall. It's not like the Polo Grounds, with that deep center field. It's not like Yankee Stadium, with the graveyard out there. It was a dual-purpose stadium, and it was fair. I thought the ball didn't carry very well at night -- it was a better park to hit in during the day -- but that's about it."OK, so about 70 of the Nats' 82 home games will be played at night, when the ball doesn't carry very well in the humid air that hangs in Washington on summer evenings. The air alone would seem to favor the pitching.
Then there are the stadium dimensions which, as mentioned, are symmetrical --336' down the lines, 369' to the power alleys and 410' to center. To Svrluga and Hannah this apparently guarantees pitcher-hitter neutrality:
Those dimensions don't particularly favor offense or defense. In the 10 seasons the Senators played at the stadium, they averaged almost an identical number of runs at home as on the road -- 3.61 to 3.63, respectively.
"It was fair to both pitchers and hitters," Hannan said. "It didn't favor right-handed hitters or left-handed hitters. You didn't have a short porch for one side."
I wouldn't put too much value in the home-road numbers the Senators II put up. The game has changed dramatically since then with more emphasis on the long ball. It remains to be seen how many long balls at RFK will become long outs. The distance of those symmetrical fences would seem to indicate that, compared to other NL ballparks, the fences at RFK are quite distant.
I got the dimensions of the 15 other NL ballaparks and, realizing that fence distance is but one factor in the hitter-or-pitcher park equation, compared the dimensions at RFK to those in the rest of the league. I'm not going to post all of the numbers here since most of the sites that this blog is syndicated to don't handle tables, but here are some comparisons:
Left Field--RFK, 336 Longest--Wrigley 355 Shortest--Minute Maid 315 Average--335
Left Power Alley--RFK, 380 Longest--Coors 390 Shortest Minute Maid 362 Average--376
Center*--RFK 410 Longest--Minute Maid 435 Shortest--Wrigley, Miller 400 Average--409
Right Power Alley--RFK 380 Longest--SBC 420 Shortest--Wrigley 368 Average--380
Right Field--RFK 336 Longest--Miller 355 Shortest--SBC 307 Average--333
*Center field distances may be slightly to left- or right-center in some ballparks; deepest distance was used for this purpose.
So, in terms of dimensions, RFK is a bit longer than the average NL park all the way around.
A very rough, crude overall measure of ballpark distance is to simply add up the five major measurements and compare that to the totals from the other parks. RFK's total distance is 1,842 (336+380+410+380+336). That's the fifth-longest in the NL. The longest is Coors Field at 1,877, certainly a warning that distance isn't everything. The shortest park by this measure is Citizens Bank in Philly at 1,798. The league average is 1,831.The longish dimensions and the heavy air will favor the pitchers.
On the other hand, foul territory will be on the small side--they're adding a couple of rows to seats reducing the distance from home plate to the backstop from about 60 feet to 53--and the 8' fence all the way around the outfield is not at all imposing.
On balance, it looks like it will favor the pitchers slightly but certainly. Not a bad idea when you look at the Nats' rotation.