Playing Baseball at the Sydney Cricket Ground

There’s a good chance you might’ve missed it, but over the weekend, baseball began, by which I mean the kind of baseball that counts in the standings. The Dodgers played two games against the Diamondbacks, and the Dodgers won two games against the Diamondbacks, incrementally improving the playoff odds of the former, and incrementally hurting the playoff odds of the latter. The most likely outcome over two games is a split. As much as it’s early — it’s not even April! — the games were significant. Oh, and another reason they were significant is that they were played in Australia.

Specifically, they were played in the Sydney Cricket Ground, which was turned into a regulation baseball field in a matter of weeks. Someone asked recently how FanGraphs would deal with the park factors of two games played at such an unfamiliar location. The correct answer is, “it doesn’t matter, who cares?” Another answer is, “good question, let’s investigate and speculate on the Sydney Cricket Ground!” What if — hypothetically — what if the Sydney Cricket Ground played as a team’s home for a full regular season? For several full regular seasons?

I’ll begin with the fact that I don’t arrive at a number, here. This is just an exploration. And above all else, there’s one thing that really stood out about the field of play. From Getty Images:

sydney_foul2

Good god damn, that’s a lot of foul territory. More foul territory is, of course, more pitcher-friendly, because it means more foul pops are turned into outs. I imagine, over a year, people would start to refer to the foul territory as the Outback. This is most comparable to the situation in Oakland, where the A’s also have a ton of extra space. Between 2002-2013, A’s pitchers allowed a BABIP 18 points lower at home than on the road. A’s hitters posted a BABIP five points lower at home than on the road. Sydney might have an even bigger effect. This would be a BABIP reduction, so this would be an offense reduction. The infield-fly park factor would be enormous.

The designers anticipated this. How do you balance such pitcher-favorable conditions? LA Times:

“It’s a lot of ground down the lines and back toward the dugouts,” Mattingly said. “You get some easy outs, some cheap outs.”

To counter that effect, Cook placed the foul poles 328 feet from home plate. In most parks, that distance is about 335 feet.

“The pitchers get something, the hitters get something,” Cook said. “Make it even.”

So to counter the vast foul territory, Sydney put the fences a little closer to the plate. Down each line, the fence was 328 feet away. To center, the fence was 400 feet away. Using the ESPN Home Run Tracker, I found what seems like a reasonable comp:

sydney_uscellular

That’s Chicago’s US Cellular Field, over the Sydney Cricket Ground. Beyond the dimensional similarities, the fences in Chicago are eight feet high, and the fences in Sydney were also eight feet high. We know that Chicago is a hitter-friendly ballpark. It plays as something of a bandbox, yielding one of baseball’s highest home-run factors. Based on the dimensions outside of the foul territory, Sydney was skewed in the hitters’ favor.

What else can we talk about? Unlike most domestic ballparks, Sydney didn’t and doesn’t have a third deck. So batted balls would be more vulnerable to influence from the wind, because there isn’t a third deck to block it from blowing in. The Daily Telegraph:

He will be asked for advice on wind conditions, too, with Diamondbacks and Dodgers hitters already keen to know if they’ll have wind at their backs when trying to land home runs in the Trumper and Brewongle stands.

“There could be a nice tailwind from the northern end, and they’re hitting that way to the south. So yep, that’d good for them,” Parker says.

Mark Trumbo homered over the weekend. According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, it gained 19 feet of distance from the wind, and had a standard distance of 326 feet. At that standard distance, the home run would have left zero major-league ballparks. On the season’s opening weekend, Trumbo hit what will stand as one of the weaker dingers of the whole year.

As the Dodgers and Diamondbacks worked out in the ballpark, they felt like the wind was going to blow favorably. Sometimes, it did. But other times, the wind worked against the hitters. Scott Van Slyke hit the other homer, and it lost six feet of distance from the wind. From Ken Gurnick:

During the Dodgers’ first workout in Australia on Tuesday, baseballs hit into the jet stream blowing out to center field left players convinced that Sydney Cricket Ground would be a hitter’s haven.

On Wednesday, the winds blew in and batting-practice drives fell harmlessly in front of the warning track, and the place suddenly was pitcher friendly.

Winds were calm Thursday night, when the Dodgers came from behind for a 4-2 win over Team Australia.

Adrian Gonzalez remarked that, with changing winds, Sydney was “a completely different ballpark.” It’s clear that, in Sydney, wind would be a regular factor, but it isn’t clear that it would be a consistent factor. There’s some evidence that it would be more consistently friendly to hitters than friendly to pitchers, but I can’t say anything there for sure. Wrigley Field, after all, changes by the day.

Moving on, there’s certainly no altitude effect. Sydney Cricket Ground stands about 136 feet above sea level, so that’s a non-factor. There’s something to be said about the playing surface:

The centre square, which only a few months ago played host to Australia’s Ashes series whitewash against the old enemy England, raised a few alarm bells.

“It’s a little hard there,” Diamondbacks outfield coach Dave McKay said.

“But we can’t do anything about it. We have to work around it. The ball will get to you harder, it will bounce a little bit. It will make it feel like an in-fielder. You don’t go through that ball if you don’t have to. We did some work on it and we’ll do some more. We showed the guys how it bounces higher off that area there.

“No one really thought about that, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Some more:

Situated in the middle of the ground, the pitch is a strip of hard clay with short grass that measures 90 feet by 90 feet[…]

Compared with the other parts of the ground, the pitch is harder and slightly elevated[…]

The ground there remains rock-hard, which could present challenges to the center fielders on both teams.

“It’s probably the quickest field I’ve ever seen,” Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock said. “You go out there and throw a baseball, it just scoots off it.”

Situated between second base and the center fielder, there was a large block of a firm surface. Perhaps it would play not unlike cheap Astroturf. It’s hard to speak to the effects, although it stands to reason grounders would get to the outfield quicker. Outfielders might be a little less willing to lay out. Perhaps over time, the home team would grow accustomed to the field, while visitors would still make the occasional mistake. This could allow for a very slight boost to the home-field advantage.

At last, there’s one remaining major factor. In US ballparks, temperatures heat up into the middle of the summer before cooling off toward the end of September. Sydney, of course, is in Australia, and Australia, of course, is the opposite of here. During baseball season, highs drop into the low 60s, while lows can dip into the 40s. Conditions in Sydney, on average, would be considerably cooler than conditions in the States, and all else being equal, ten degrees equals about 2.5 feet of batted ball distance. That over-simplifies things, but the general message is that the cooler it is, the less distance the ball goes. So while the Sydney Cricket Ground isn’t right on the water, it is in the southern hemisphere, and the relatively low temperatures would also help the pitchers fight against the hitter-friendly outfield dimensions. Conditions would be warmest in April and September. If the ballpark were to host playoff games, temperatures would be warmer still.

The hypothetical question: what if the Sydney Cricket Ground were to host regular-season major-league baseball? How would it play, as an environment?

My guess, based on the above: it might be about neutral, but it would arrive there in an interesting way. The foul territory would reduce BABIP, and general offense. In that sense it would be like Oakland, but with more hitter-friendly fences. Yet the temperatures would also be lower, on average, supplementing the foul-territory influence. The big wild card is the wind: it’s obvious that winds would swirl within the ballpark, but it isn’t obvious how, and how consistently, and where. So it could be that the environment would change by the day, if not by the hour, which would make it interesting. Probably not interesting enough to justify making teams constantly fly to and from Australia. Also, what city would want to lose that many games to Australia? Oh well!



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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.


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DNA+
Guest
DNA+
2 years 3 months ago

Wow, that is some crazy foul ground! How would that effect the value of third base, first base and catcher defense, since now a larger part of their game will be patrolling that foul ground like a center fielder?

MikeS
Guest
MikeS
2 years 3 months ago

US Cellular doesn’t even have a second deck in the outfield to keep the wind from blowing in. I believe I read somewhere that the design and the prevailing weather patterns have somehow conspired to create more of an effect when the wind is blowing out, which it does more often than not, and that is what makes it such a homer friendly park. This was somewhat of a surprise since the park faces northeast and most Chicagoans believe the wind comes in off the lake more often than from the southwest but in the summer, warm air does indeed usually come from somewhere behind home plate.

Nathaniel Dawson
Guest
Nathaniel Dawson
2 years 3 months ago

With that amount of foul ground, you’d likely see a reduction in strikeouts and walks as well. Fewer strikeouts aren’t usually a good thing for pitchers, but since they’re essentially trading some strikeouts for foul pops, it works in their favor.

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
2 years 3 months ago

This article makes me wish that a team played there…if for no other reason than the ability to call foul ground “The Outback”.

Dan
Guest
Dan
2 years 3 months ago

Also worth a mention is the Van Slyke home run that wasn’t on opening day/night.

Off the bat everyone thought it was gone including Trumbo (see gif), Van Slyke (high fived the first base coach) and commentators. Wind was blowing in significantly at the time.

Steve Holt!!
Guest
2 years 3 months ago

I was there for both of the games, and can say:
(i) van Slyke’s first hit was markedly affected by the wind, and badly misplayed by Trumbo, who thought it was gone
(ii) his home run had a mammoth amount of wind-assisted slice, but was a true line shot and only just got out.
(iii) in the second game, the wind was blowing in from behind the Member’s Stand, which is the lowest (and oldest) of all the stands, and therefore the least likely to be blocked by the wind. Trumbo’s home run was one of the few balls hit high into left field that game, and only just got out
(iv) despite the massive amount of foul territory, I cannot remember a single out that would not have been made at a normal ML park. The foul ground essentially translated into nothing.
(v) the cricket pitch block in CF meant that the ball bounced fast and low off it. However, the CF’s played those balls really well.
(vi) how they dodged the thunderstorms on the opening night, I will never know.
(vi) Puig’s baserunning is terrible.

Photo, members stand on the right:

Does that help?

Dan
Guest
Dan
2 years 3 months ago

I cannot recall a play in foul ground either, although a couple of close non-outs.

Photo from Sundays game(early in the game) from the left field foul pole.

You can see the flags on the members showing it blowing basically from 1b to the pole (just about perfect to assist trumbos shot).

And yes, Puigs baserunning is ridiculously bad.

roger
Guest
roger
2 years 3 months ago

Safer for the fans, in less line drive foul balls and broken bats going into the stands from catcher to coaching box… but harder to see.

JS7
Guest
JS7
2 years 3 months ago

I was at both games!

Radivel
Guest
Radivel
2 years 3 months ago

I wonder if they considered drawing a line on the ground to represent the “foul ground” area and if you caught the ball outside it, it just didn’t count.. or something like that? Hm. Purists would hate the idea, but given the circumstances, I wouldn’t have minded.

ATrain
Member
ATrain
2 years 3 months ago

Fun and really thought out article. Thanks Jeff!

Dave
Guest
Dave
2 years 3 months ago

“Someone asked recently how FanGraphs would deal with the park factors of two games played at such an unfamiliar location. The correct answer is, “it doesn’t matter, who cares?” Another answer is, “good question, let’s investigate and speculate on the Sydney Cricket Ground!” What if — hypothetically — what if the Sydney Cricket Ground played as a team’s home for a full regular season? For several full regular seasons?”

This is why I love this site. Thanks for this, Jeff.

Mike
Guest
Mike
2 years 3 months ago

I’m a Canadian who lives/works in Melbourne and was at the game – I don’t see it becoming a regular thing. I went the first night and it wasn’t sold out, tickets were crazy expensive ($379 for second deck behind home plate) and after speaking with a groundskeeper at the SCG it cost $2 mil to fit it out for baseball.

Re: the park, I thought it played pretty neutral.

Oh, and Brian Wilson’s slider…good gravy

schillings_bloody_sock
Member
schillings_bloody_sock
2 years 3 months ago

How dare you compare the SCG centre wicket area to “cheap astro-turf”. The legendary Bulli Soil has been there before you great-great Grand father ever drew breath.

Shame on you ……. :-) Dave from Sydney.

American Stephen Crane
Guest
2 years 3 months ago

Tradition,
thou art milk for suckling babes
No meat for men is in thee.

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
2 years 3 months ago

This series seemed to lack publicity, I wasn’t even aware when the first game started and missed it. Seems in the past these series have had a huge amount of press.

Mr Punch
Guest
Mr Punch
2 years 3 months ago

Oakland used to have even more foul ground around the plate, I believe. I recall Carlton Fisk saying that catching there was eerie because he couldn’t hear the crowd. What struck me about the Sydney venue was that it looks like a larger version of a 19th-century ballpark – say, Boston’s South End grounds.

Sam
Guest
2 years 3 months ago

Good article. Interesting to hear how they mitigated the pro-pitcher factor of the foul territory by shortening the fences…makes sense, and looks like they got it closer to neutral than they even had to. I don’t know if we’ll see another game in Australia soon, but I think it’s cool to move games solely b/c it’s interesting to see how they alter/adapt an abnormal/non-baseball stadium to fit their needs.

Yehoshua Friedman
Guest
Yehoshua Friedman
2 years 3 months ago

I would be interested to hear more about how the Australian public is relating to the influx of baseball there and what the sociology of international baseball is like in different countries compared to the “baseline” US. I have seen something about Japanese baseball in the past. I believe the climate of baseball there has changed with less running of pitchers’ arms into the ground, among other factors. How is it different to play and to watch baseball in different countries. Commissioner Selig envisions a future of international baseball with a real “World Series”. How about some speculation about how that would work out?

joser
Guest
joser
2 years 3 months ago

See this recent article in The Hardball Times.

Shrewd Cat
Guest
Shrewd Cat
2 years 3 months ago

As a huge MLB fan in Sydney I loved it (saw the second game- Trumbo HR almost in front of me). But I can’t see the game growing much here- there’s a hardcore group of baseball nuts but they’re few in number. Game is played a bit here but too much other sports (esp. cricket) to gain much of a foothold.

Surprised they don’t try putting a game in China. All sports are desperate to crack that huge market. Plus baseball already has a north Asian footprint- Japan, Korea, etc.

joser
Guest
joser
2 years 2 months ago

Already happened back in 2008. But the field (also used later that year for the Olympics) was temporary and is gone now. Of course — as we learned from this very post — MLB can be quite creative in shoe-horning a temporary baseball field into facilities meant for other sports. But I would think a return of big-league exhibition or regular season games to China awaits more development of an indigenous league at least to the level Australia has with the ABL.

Robert Ryan
Guest
Robert Ryan
2 years 2 months ago

The SCG,the “Old Dame” is also used for Rugby League and Australian Rules. Configuring it to a Baseball Stadium cost $2Million.
What was not shown or mentioned on the MLB broadcast was the Baseball/Softball Olympic Venue at Blacktown(Suburb of Sydney) had $750,000 taken from it
http://www.stmarysstar.com.au/story/2170894/funding-foul-hurts-blacktown-council/?cs=12. Same people who configured the SCG took the funding away from Blacktown.

Long term future for Baseball? You have to wonder why a MLB talent Scout and Minor League Baseball Coach, has become a full time Cricket coach?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Young_%28coach%29

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