Foul Ball Territory: Increasingly Intimate Ballparks Good and Bad for Fans

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A recent discussion about foul ball injuries got me to thinking about and searching for the size of foul ball territories in each MLB park. The preliminary research does indicate that, sorry guys, size matters.

Alas, I couldn’t find a list. What I found was the next best thing. Eno Sarris, in Foul Ground Home Field Advantage, published a wonderful list of percentages of fouls that are outs in each stadium. This information turned out to be quite helpful in stabling the amount of foul territory in each MLB park.

From this, I extrapolated a list of which parks have the most and least foul territory. Thanks to Sarris’ work, we can see that the number of foul ball outs in each stadium does indicate the size of the territory. How? The larger the territory the more outs will be recorded because players have more room to reach a foul ball. Simple enough, right?

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Based on Sarris’ data, here’s the list that gives you a rough understanding of the breadth of foul territory in each park. I’ve listed them from most to least foul territory space based on Sarris’ data.

First, here is the data published in Eno Sarris’ story:

Home Team TFO RTFO HTFO HFA
Phillies 204 119 85 34
Mets 215 123 92 31
Twins 191 110 81 29
Padres 158 92 66 26
Dbacks 207 112 95 17
Rangers 188 99 89 10
Giants 218 112 106 6
Angels 188 96 92 4
Brewers 210 107 103 4
Athletics 398 200 198 2
Cubs 149 75 74 1
Indians 173 87 86 1
Red Sox 165 83 82 1
Yankees 209 105 104 1
Royals 238 119 119
Astros 194 96 98 -2
Reds 182 90 92 -2
White Sox 222 109 113 -4
Rockies 139 67 72 -5
Braves 214 104 110 -6
Tigers 228 110 118 -8
Dodgers 165 78 87 -9
Pirates 157 70 87 -17
Mariners 270 126 144 -18
Nationals 223 102 121 -19
Rays 242 111 131 -20
Orioles 218 98 120 -22
Cardinals 204 89 115 -26
Marlins 198 86 112 -26
Blue Jays 254 103 151 -48
TFO = total foul outs in the stadium
RTFO = foul outs that occurred while the road team is batting
HTFO = foul outs that occurred while the home team was batting
HFA = RTFO – HTFO

The following is our list, ranking each ballpark by total number of foul outs which indicates a larger foul territory (more room to catch foul balls) or smaller area (less room to catch fouls):

 

Home Team TFO  Stadium Age/League
1)     Athletics 398 1966/AL
2)     Mariners 270 1999/AL
3)     Blue Jays 254 1989/AL
4)     Rays 242 1990/AL
5)     Royals 238 1973/AL
6)     Tigers 228 2000/AL
7)     Nationals 223 2008/NL
8)     White Sox 222 1991/AL
9)     GiantsOrioles 218 2000/NL1992/AL
11)Mets 215 2009/NL
12)Braves 214 1996/NL
13)Brewers 210 2001/NL
14)Yankees 209 2009/AL
15)Diamondbacks 207 1998/NL
16)CardinalsPhillies 204 2006/NL2004/NL
18)Marlins 198 2012/NL
19)Astros 194 2000/AL
20)Twins 191 2010/AL
21)AngelsRangers 188 1966/AL1994/AL
23)Reds 182 2003/NL
24)Indians 173 1994/AL
25)Red SoxDodgers 165 1912/AL1962/NL
27)Padres 158 2004/NL
28)Pirates 157 2001/NL
29)Cubs 149 1914/NL
30)Rockies 139 1995/NL

To determine whether newer stadiums have less foul territory than older parks, I averaged two stadium age groups (1900s and 2000s) to see if there’s an indication of significant changes. There was.

  1.  1900s Parks: The total number of foul outs for the 16 parks built prior to 2000 is 3430. This number divided by the total parks (16) equals an average of 214.38 foul outs per park.
  2. Y2K Parks: In parks built in 2000 and later, the numbers are very telling. The total outs during the time Sarris’ research looked at is 2793 foul outs. When calculated per park, the average comes to be 199.5 outs per park.

To put this into perspective and interpret what we have here is important. Sarris researched the number of outs by foul ball. This means that all the outs recorded in foul territory had to be flies or line drives (basically, they HAD to be in the air to be catchable). In order to catch the ball, the player has to have ample room to move. As stated in Sarris’ piece and here, the higher the total of foul outs, the larger foul territory is on that diamond.

That reminder stated, the ballpark data by century (20th vs. 21st—though 2000 is technically the 20th century still) is surprising. It indicates that in pre-Y2K parks there is, on average, more foul territory than in parks built during and after Y2K. In fact, the data bears out a surprising 7% difference in space. I’d walked into this assuming the opposite—that new parks had more space to move. Clearly, that assumption was wrong.

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This means that on average, fans in newer stadiums are significantly closer to the action than those sitting in stands in parks built in the 1900s. If this data holds reasonably steady from season to season, then what we are seeing is a likelihood that there will be an increase of foul balls going into the seats, and the number of fans injured in some way by foul balls may increase (again, it’s the responsibility of the fan to pay attention to the game). This is a mixed bag for fans. It is both good and bad.

There are obvious exceptions to this. The two oldest parks—Wrigley and Fenway—have very low foul out rates indicating a very small foul territory. But these don’t skew the results in the way one might think. Taking those two out actually increases the per game average to 222.57, meaning even more fouls were caught in the ballparks built 50 years later. This number represents an 11% difference in foul ground size between the mid- to late-1990s parks and those in the Y2K era.

What’s this have to do with foul balls for fans? A while ago, FoulBallz.com posted the attendance data and, for those of you who follow on Twitter or Facebook, publishes a daily list of odds for catching a foul that assumes all seats have equal chances of getting foul hit near them. This, then, has everything to do with fans catching balls. Put simply, even the more specific odds for each stadium could be significantly off depending on the stadium in which you’re seated. Our current averages calculate odds based on the AVERAGE balls hit per game throughout MLB (roughly 30); we have not yet gotten to park specific numbers. However, as a result of the amount of foul ball territory before a ball reaches the stands, odds will increase or decrease proportionally. Regardless of the odds and territory size, fans in certain sections sometimes have less than a second to respond, so pay attention.

Consider this one more step in the right direction; knowing this information will help fans get a much better understanding of how common, uncommon, easy or difficult it really is to get some balls during a game.