Target Field has proven to be a pitchers' park, and the Twins are in no rush to change that.
The Twins haven't been afraid to tinker with Target Field during its infancy. After the inaugural 2010 season, the club removed the black spruce trees from behind the center-field fence and hung black mesh off the batter's eye behind the bullpens to improve the hitting background.
But as the club prepares for Year 3 at the stylish park, it has yet to address the one issue its hitters have grumbled about since moving from Metrodome: the dimensions.
Michael Cuddyer, who signed with the Rockies as a free agent last month, made a living at the Dome hitting doubles to center and right-center, watching his drives ruffle the baggie in right field. Target Field presented a different challenge, as a 23-foot wall lines the deep alley 200 feet from the right-field foul pole to the end of the batter's eye in center.
"There is no doubt that going into the 2011 season I geared my offseason hitting routine to being more pull-oriented," Cuddyer wrote in an e-mail. "When I was going good I would get many doubles and triples off of the baggie and at least a handful of homers to dead center and a little right of center."
In its first two years of existence, Target Field has been one of the more homer-unfriendly ballparks in the American League. According to ESPN Home Run Tracker (hittrackeronline.com), the park averaged 1.56 homers a game in 2011 and 1.43 in 2010 -- ranking 12th among the 14 AL teams each season.
In 2009 -- the Twins' final year in the Metrodome -- the team's home for 28 seasons gave up 2.30 home runs a game, seventh-most in baseball. Cuddyer's homers dropped from 32 homers in 2009 to 14 in 2010, Jason Kubel dropped from 28 to 21 and Joe Mauer dropped from a career-high 28 to nine.
It's also worth noting that the Twins had more homers on the road (57) than at home (46).
The Twins announced last month that no changes were planned for the playing field in 2012. They could decide to make adjustments after this season as club President Dave St. Peter promised to continue to monitor the situation.
"We're always going to take a look at that," he said. "Yes, we've had discussions. We looked at it analytically and you talk to the manager, your hitting coach and pitching coach. You also look at statistics and you look at how the ballpark played.
"What we did agree to do is to give this another year. And, understand, that even if it plays more toward a pitchers' park, we can use that to our advantage with a pitching staff that largely pitches to contact."
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Several other organizations have made adjustments to their ballpark dimensions. Two rows of seats in left field of Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park were removed before the 2006 season because of concerns the park was playing too small. The Chicago White Sox shortened the corners in left and right field at what's now known as U.S. Cellular Field by 17 feet for the 2001 season. The Kansas City Royals moved the fences in by 10 feet at Kauffman Stadium in 1995, but moved them back after 2004.
Detroit's Comerica Field, which opened in 2000, quickly became known as a pitchers' park because of its deep power alley in left field. Before the 2003 season, the Tigers moved the left-field alley in 25 feet, from 395 feet to 370. The Tigers had six more homers at home in 2003 than the previous year, but it barely mattered as the team lost 119 games. The ballpark has become more homer-friendly since.
The Twins can look to the New York Mets for the most recent precedent. The Mets moved into Citi Field in 2009, and it didn't take long before stars David Wright and Jason Bay began talking about the challenge of hitting in the new stadium.
The Mets are altering their dimensions for the 2012 season. An 8-foot wall will be built from foul pole to foul pole, which will take the 16-foot wall in left field -- nicknamed "The Great Wall of Flushing"-- out of play. The power alley in left will shrink from 371 feet to 358. According to studies done by the Mets, they would have hit 81 more home runs and given up 70 more homers over the past three seasons under the new dimensions.
"The ballpark was such a topic of conversation that it made sense to take a look at it," Mets GM Sandy Alderson said when the changes were announced in November. "You don't want the ballpark to be a distraction, and I really do believe a ballpark like ours has a more dramatic impact on the home team than the visitors. It can become a lot more chronic with a team that's playing 80 games there every year."
The Twins could end up doing the same thing in the future. As of now, however, they will try to take advantage of the spacious gaps and take a double off the right-center wall when it might have been a homer in many other parks.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire pointed out that his pitchers aren't complaining about the dimensions.
"Last year, it wasn't the field that cost us 99 losses," Gardenhire said. "I can guarantee you that."
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Some Twins officials believe Target Field is more middle-of-the-road than it gets credit for. But ESPN's Park Factors -- which measures offense at home vs. the road -- ranked Target Field 21st in the major leagues last season with a rating of .944. Anything over 1.000 favors the hitter, anything under favors the pitcher. In 2010, the Twins ranked 19th.
Twins hitters have made their opinions known.
Last season, Kubel admitted that he fell into bad habits at Target Field by trying to pull pitches into the overhang in right.
After being traded from the Twins to Detroit last August, Delmon Young said that Target Field caused him to change his hitting approach. Young had four homers in 84 games with the Twins before the trade, compared to eight homers with the Tigers in 40 games, with seven of those eight home runs coming at Comerica in only 23 games.
"At Target Field, when those balls turn into can-of-corn outs and I was fighting for playing time over there, I couldn't afford to have a fly out to deep right field," Young told the New York Times. "I had to try to pull the ball to get a base hit."
The 2011 season is a tough one to use in order to get a complete picture of how Target Field keeps fly balls in play. The club used the disabled list 27 times last season, including injuries to Kubel, Cuddyer, Mauer, Jim Thome and Justin Morneau. So they didn't have their most powerful players in the lineup.
But Cuddyer agreed that players fell into bad habits.
"Those came in 2010 when we didn't know what to expect going into the new stadium and then having to make the adjustments midseason," Cuddyer wrote.
It must be pointed out that muscles could be part of the problem, too. The Twins were outhomered 80-46 by opponents in Target Field last season and 64-52 in 2010.
"I'm going to say this with no humor involved, but some of the opposition came in here and pounded the fences pretty good," Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. "We need to get some of that out of our mentality and just go out and play the game, for me."