Where are the foul ball hot zones in each National League Central ballpark?
Many believe snagging a foul ball is pure luck. This is true only to a point. There is a science to it as well. Foul ball snagging, in fact, is closer to science than pure luck.
In The Baseball, Zack Hample briefly discusses the locations which review the most fouls: The areas closest to home plate on either of side of the protective netting and extending down both baselines to about the end of each dugout tend to have the most foul balls hit into them. In “Don’t Sit There…or There…or There,” Gil Fried and his team looked at foul ball injury risks. The authors confirmed these same locations are the most dangerous. If you’re a baseball fan you already knew these areas are the “hot zones” in each park.
While luck does play into it, there are ways to maximize the potential of snagging one of these precious jewels from the field. First, needing to know the odds based on attendance; this can be done using the odds calculators. A smaller attendance will increase one’s chances.
Another need is to know the starting pitchers as well as the lineups. The pitcher/batter match-ups matter a great deal when determining where to sit in order to increase the chances of snagging a foul ball. While it’s difficult to know this weeks ahead of the game, if fans understand the basic physics of foul balls, they will still be able to maximize their odds.
Frequency of Foul Balls
Of the historical average of 47.7 foul balls hit per MLB game, roughly 29 balls are slapped into the seats. This calculation is based on Fried’s report that roughly 40% of all foul balls are out of play for fans. Therefore, 60% finding their way into the seats. Of these, about 60% (about 17 balls) end up in these “hot zone” areas. This means fans have a great deal of competition for a ball if they are at a game with high attendance. Fried also found
Although Fried discovered 38% of the foul balls studied traveled down the third base side and 32% went to the first base side, a relatively even spread, for the purposes here we will assume a completely even spread of foul balls into the sections on both the first base and third base lines, the guide below will help fans further capitalize on their chances.
To maximize the potential of a snag, we look at attendance, pitcher and batter match-ups, and where the “hot zones” are in each park.
Chicago Cubs Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field and the Cubs saw a 3799 fans/game boost in the 2015 season which lifted their overall average attendance to 36541. This jump pushes Wrigley Field to the second worst field for snagging a foul ball in the NL Central. The best sections in Wrigley are around 10-14, and 111-114 (Sections 15-16 and 115-117 will see fewer though due to ball trajectories if extended netting is installed). Across the diamond fans have the best chances in sections 27-32 (24-26 and 125-126 might be an option as well, but the angle of the ball may push it into any extended netting).
Cincinnati Reds Great American Ballpark
Great American Ballpark is the best park for foul ball opportunities in the NL Central, but this doesn’t mean it’s easy. The Reds have the lowest attendance in the NL Central with 29870 fans at each game; however, this still makes the team 18th in the overall MLB attendance standings, with 1000 fans separating 18th from 13th place. It won’t be easy to grab a ball. The best sections will be 127-131 on the 1B side and 116-119 on the 3B line. I’ve been in 115 and 114. Be ready to look 1-2 sections to your right if you sit in either of these; fouls rarely get to either section. Extended netting may make 127 a dead zone.
Milwaukee Brewers Miller Park
Miller Park had an average attendance of 31390 during the 2015 season. This park offers the third best (or third worst) odds in the NL Central for snagging a foul ball . The best sections will be sections 121-123, because more fouls travel down the 3B side than the 1B line. If on the first base side, sections 112-114 will be the best options.
Pittsburgh Pirates PNC Park
The Pirates had an average attendance of 30847 during the 2015 season. While the team saw about 700 more fans per game in 2015, it wasn’t enough to boost them beyond being the park with the second bast chances for snagging a foul ball, right above the Reds. The best sections will be sections 120-124 followed by 109-113. The netting can’t be extended much more in this park without going to the far ends of the dugouts. If that does happen, look at not snagging any fouls in any of these sections.
St. Louis Cardinals Busch Stadium
The Cardinals have not only the highest attendance in the NL Central at 43468 per game, but the second highest average attendance in all of MLB. But, if you really want the best chance to catch a foul ball at this park, then sit in 153-156. For a nearly exact same chance, move across the field and sit in 141-146. Sections 6-8 and 1-2 are good as well, if you can get seats there.
Seating charts adapted from seatingcharts.com.