On the Effect of the Marlins’ Home Run Sculpture

When plans were revealed for Marlins Park’s left-center home run sculpture, people freaked out. When the sculpture was actually constructed and emplaced, people freaked out all over again, having been given a better sense of scale. The thing drew criticism from all corners, and while I’m sure some of that was just piling on, and while I’m sure some more of that was just standard Internet overreaction, people had a lot to say about the aesthetics of the monstrosity. People were not prepared to see in real life what they would…see in real life…in left-center field, and for a while it seemed the Marlins’ sculpture was more frequently discussed than the actual Marlins.

But it wasn’t only the beauty of the thing, or the lack thereof, that made for a topic of discussion. There were also some on-field concerns, some actual baseball concerns, that I believe were first voiced by Greg Dobbs. Quote:

“If it is an issue, it can no longer be there,” Marlins utility player Greg Dobbs told the Miami Herald during spring training. “I won’t be the only left-handed hitter saying something. If other teams have a problem with it, they’re definitely going to voice their concern to the league.”

Added John Buck:

“It’s kind of my job to scope those things out,” said catcher John Buck. “It might be close. It might be all right. I don’t know. We’ll see. I think for left-handed batters it might be trouble.”

The sculpture has a lot going on. If you think about your typical center-field backdrop, you’ll have a surface that’s dark and monochromatic. This, obviously, allows the batters to see the baseball out of the pitchers’ hands. The Marlins’ sculpture wasn’t placed in dead-center field, so it wasn’t exactly in the batter’s eye, but there was concern that it might have been in the batter’s eye for left-handed hitters against right-handed pitchers. Take a look at the sculpture and it isn’t hard to figure how it might be distracting. Even in its inactive state, the sculpture is not unlike a gaudy psychotic hallucination. The sculpture could conceivably make it more difficult to pick up the baseball.

For their part, Marlins executives were unconcerned, although I think we’ve probably all learned a few lessons about the Marlins’ executives and trust. They did, presumably, plan carefully for where the sculpture would be located, as I can’t imagine they’d be that careless. Still, from April:

One of the many unique features of the ballpark is a large sculpture in left-center that features leaping marlins when the home team hits a homer. A couple of the D-backs left-handed hitters said the sculpture was distracting when they were in the batter’s box.

The neat thing is now we can put this to the test. We have just a season of data, which isn’t a lot, but it’s better than nothing. We can try to examine how well the results match up with the opinion. As an alternate example, Marlins Park developed an early reputation of being extremely pitcher-friendly. Sure enough, it significantly reduced home runs, but it still played neutral overall, because homers aren’t the only way to score runs. Now howzabout the effect of the sculpture?

I looked at numbers for left-handed batters against right-handed pitchers, because these would seem to be the matchups most potentially affected. I looked at these showdowns in Marlins games at home, and then in Marlins games on the road. First, we’ll examine strikeouts:

Location PA K K%
Miami 2084 334 16%
Not Miami 2139 357 17%

We don’t see anything particularly alarming in there. If the sculpture was distracting, it wasn’t causing strikeouts to skyrocket. Strikeouts were actually a little less frequent in Marlins Park than elsewhere, for this matchup. The strikeout factor for right-handed batters, incidentally, was neutral. But, okay, maybe batters were just being more aggressive and trying to put the ball in play earlier in the count. Let’s check out the walks:

Location PA BB BB%
Miami 2084 176 8.4%
Not Miami 2139 151 7.1%

More walks. Fewer strikeouts, and more walks. Our samples are obviously limited, but the results aren’t eye-opening in any way. If the sculpture was interfering with how well the batters could pick up the baseball, we aren’t seeing that in the standard plate-discipline stats. The right-handed walk factor was neutral. Let’s conclude with overall production:

Location PA wOBA
Miami 2084 0.321
Not Miami 2139 0.318

No significant difference in wOBA. Once again, the right-handed factor was neutral. We’re not seeing any evidence in here of a negative effect on the hitters’ visibility or success.

Now, a few things. For one, we have to once more acknowledge the limited sample sizes. We’ll have a better idea of things a few years down the road, when the sample is much larger. One season is an insufficient sample, and this isn’t even one full season since we limited our scope to lefties against righties, home and away. For two, we don’t have a control; we don’t have numbers for what would have happened without the sculpture being where it is. It’s possible lefties would’ve posted an even higher wOBA, an even higher walk rate, an even lower strikeout rate. It’s unlikely but it is a consideration. We can’t compare this data against that to which we’d like to compare it.

And there could be a real, meaningful effect on lefties facing righties with low arm angles, or more extreme release points. Release points that might come in front of the sculpture’s facade. These matchups, however, would be infrequent, as those right-handed pitchers tend to have dramatic platoon splits, and so their exposure to left-handed hitters is limited. This is something that one could investigate more deeply, if one were to so choose.

One year in, though, our conclusion has to be that there’s no evidence of a real effect. It’s not a firm conclusion, it’s not a conclusion that couldn’t be changed with more data later on, but for now it seems like the sculpture wasn’t nearly as distracting as people were afraid it might be. Left-handed hitters can see it back there, behind the fence, but it doesn’t seem to have changed the way they hit. There’s evidence of other backdrops having an effect. The rockpile in Anaheim, for example, seems to help Jered Weaver in day games, when the sun is reflecting off of the surface. That evidence is compelling. For now, there’s nothing here. A lot of things about the Marlins wound up being disastrous, but the location of the sculpture doesn’t appear to be one of them.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

27 Responses to “On the Effect of the Marlins’ Home Run Sculpture”

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  1. matt says:

    no gif of the home run sculpture? what is this world coming to?

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  2. Dan Rozenson says:

    A good first look at the issue.

    Seriously, though, what IS that thing. When I first saw the video simulation, I thought it was just a joke!

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  3. DetroitMichael says:

    Hi Jeff. :-)

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  4. mikethegrate says:

    Do you have a link to the analysis on the rockpile in Anaheim? I’ve never heard of it improving performance before, but would love to read about it.

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  5. Synovia says:

    I’m a bit unsure of what your charts are.

    Is Miami/Not Miami basically the marlins playing home/away, or is it games in Miami, and the stats for Miami (the team), and everyone else?

    If its home/away, comparing them straight up seems a bit silly, as teams almost always hit better at home.

    If its miami/everyone else, it also seems a bit silly to compare straight up, for the same reason.

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    • Marlins games at Marlins Park — that is, the Marlins and their opponents — and Marlins games not at Marlins park.

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    • brendan says:

      “If its home/away, comparing them straight up seems a bit silly, as teams almost always hit better at home.”

      This. Didn’t dave just do a post about the danger of home/away splits as a proxy for park effects?

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  6. tz says:

    Has anyone ever studied whether having a runner on 2nd base hurta a batter’s stats, all else being equal?

    You could compare batting with runners on 1st and 2nd vs 1st only, loaded vs 1st and 3rd only, etc. to see if the baserunner is any distraction. I think it might be for righties batting against an RHP.

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    • David G says:

      As if a batter would be better off if the runner were picked off?

      I think the runner being on 2nd base, and nearly any base hit away from scoring, trumps any possible distraction for the batter.

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  7. shibboleth says:

    The best descriptor I have come across is by way of Razzball:

    Unicorn vomit.

    Seriously, though, thank you for this analysis. Let’s see how the recently revamped (heh) Marlins lineup performs this year.

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  8. andys says:

    “A lot of things about the Marlins wound up being disastrous, but the location of the sculpture doesn’t appear to be one of them.”

    Well this is just plain false. The location of this sculpture, that is, anywhere within the contiguous 48 states, is axiomatically disastrous.

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  9. Brett W says:

    They took out the pine trees at Target for similar reasons. If pitchers bitched as much as hitters, the conversation might be different – and every team would have a post-taste sculpture in the outfield.

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  10. Chike says:

    This is a very creative post. Good job there.

    I’m curious to see how BABIP and GB/FB/LD percentages faired in the study. I haven’t played much baseball, but I would think an obscure object like that statue could affect peripheral vision mid-swing.

    I bet lefties vs right handers at Marlins park would have an abnormally higher IFFB% than the control group (LHB vs RHP at other 29 parks). I think the BABIP would be much lower for the lefties and the LD% would be too. If lefties are hitting the same number of line drives at Marlins Park as they are in other parks, I’ll concede there’s no park factor.

    If they aren’t, there may be something there.

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    • Chike says:

      Also, I think it would be biased to include the Marlins’ lefties in the study. Since they’re routinely exposed to the statue, don’t you think they’d be accustomed to dealing with it?

      Consider trying it again, this time, with non-Marlin, non-division LHB vs. RHP.

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  11. Tim says:

    Being distracting doesn’t necessarily mean being in the batter’s eye. I predict a future in which MLB parks have unique features right at the edge of batters’ peripheral vision. The home team will get used to it, and have a significant advantage.

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  12. siggian says:

    I guess we need to find a lefty sidearmer who pitches from the extreme 1B side of the rubber to see if the monstrosity has an effect.

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  13. KCDaveInLA says:

    I didn’t know that Zombie Liberace was a Marlins fan…or for that matter, anyone else in the world, including Miami natives.

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  14. Seth9 says:

    If the Astros are allowed to have a hill in the outfield, I don’t see why the Marlins shouldn’t be allowed a statue. That said, both are ridiculously stupid and obnoxious.

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  15. Ryan says:

    As a biased Marlins fan, I think it’s awesome.

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