Monday night, Jesus Montero went where no man has gone before — at least in 2013 — with this mammoth home run to center field at Minute Maid Park. With the blast, Montero became the first player to homer to dead-center field at Minute Maid this season. Observe, all home runs at Minute Maid Park, with 2013 home runs in blue (Montero’s marked by a “+”):
Graphic made with Tableau
Montero’s home run was just left-of-center enough to avoid Tal’s Hill and the infamous in-play flagpole in center field (responsible for a 500-foot triple off the bat of Richie Sexson back in 2003). Houston is known as a home-run-hitter’s haven: It’s ranked at or near 10th in home run park factor the past few years.
This is all despite the Herculean nature of hitting a home run out of Houston’s center field. As you can see in the graphic, there is a dearth of home runs to dead-center field. There have been just 38 home runs hit with a horizontal angle within five degrees of center field since 2006 — and just two within one degree of center, according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker. For reference, the league has already hit 18 home runs within one degree of center field in more than 10% of the 2013 season (entering play Tuesday).
The home run to center field is always more difficult, but Minute Maid Park plays to extremes. Observe, the average home run distance by horizontal angle off the bat for the league, compared to Minute Maid Park:
As the graphic shows, Minute Maid Park more than makes up for its impossible center field with favorable power alleys, specifically to left field — hello, Crawford Boxes. It just out significantly to center field, but since we see more 380-foot hits pulled to the power alleys than we do 410-foot hits to center field, Minute Maid Park still ends up as a favorable home run park overall.
This shows an important principle of what makes a hitters’ park — or at least a home run park. It’s intuitive — after all, they’re called power alleys for a reason — but the dimensions near the line seem to matter far more than the dead center dimensions. PETCO Park shows this best — even its original dimensions had a somewhat tame dead-center at 404 feet. However, the way the field opens up so sharply from the foul poles leads to deep power alleys and thus significantly fewer home runs than the average park.
The comparison between Minute Maid Park and (at least the old) PETCO Park is striking:
PETCO has allowed slightly shorter home runs down the right field line and significantly shorter home runs to dead-center, but the ease with which hitters can deposit balls in Houston’s power alleys far outweighs both of PETCO’s advantages.
The muscle Montero displayed Monday night was impressive — his 441 foot homer was the longest of the day’s action — and it was typical of what it takes to hit one out at center field. But most hitters will be just fine hitting what will seem like bloops in comparison into Houston’s forgiving power alleys — the part of the yard that truly defines its nature.
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