Twins President Dave St. Peter has an admission. Home runs were hit so infrequently at Target Field its first two years of operation that team executives developed a plan to move the fences in.
“Terry Ryan to his credit said it was way too early to consider anything of that thought,” St. Peter said of the former Twins general manager.
Good thing they took his advice. Target Field suddenly has become a launching pad without any adjustments.
Target Field had produced 127 home runs this season a rate of 3.02 per game, third-highest in Major League Baseball, according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker website.
That’s 11 more home runs in 42 games than what the stadium had in its inaugural season: 116. Nearly twice as many homers are being hit now as in 2010, when Target Field ranked 27th in home runs.
In fact, the stadium is on pace for more home runs this season than the first two seasons combined. The Twins and Angels combined for four more Monday in a 9-5 Twins victory.
“I know they didn’t move the fences in,” Brian Dozier joked.
“The weather [during a June homestand], it’s been flying out more than I’ve ever seen it,” Joe Mauer said.
“I’m a firm believer in it — and I don’t know if there is science behind it or not — but the concrete drying,” Jack Morris said.
“Al Gore is smiling somewhere,” Paul Molitor said, laughing.
So add global warming to the list, along with curing concrete, shifting wind patterns, abysmal pitching, more power hitters and a leaguewide love affair with home runs.
Let’s start with the fact that home runs have increased dramatically. MLB teams combined to hit 5,610 home runs last season, second-highest total in history behind 5,693 in 2000. The league is on pace to obliterate that record this season.
The reward of a home run has lessened negative perceptions of strikeouts.
“Guys are swinging out of their shoes,” said Morris, former World Series pitching hero. “Strikeout is not a big deal, but a home run is kind of cool.”
But why has Target Field in particular experienced such a significant uptick?
Poor pitching seems the most logical explanation and prevailing factor. The Twins had a staff ERA of 3.95 in 2010, giving up 64 home runs at home. Their ERA plummeted to 5.08 last season (29th in the league), when they surrendered 114 home runs at Target Field.
Their staff already has given up 74 homers at Target Field this year, second-highest total at home in baseball.
However, Twins hitters also are launching more homers at home. They hit 52 in 2010 compared to 98 last season and 53 this season.
Dozier credits a lineup more equipped to smash.
“I feel like we’ve got a lot of power on the team this year,” he said.
Mauer’s theory on weather has merit. The ball travels better in day games and in warmer weather. According to Mark Seeley, professor and extension climatologist at the University of Minnesota, 21 of the first 30 home games had warmer-than-normal temperatures.
“Less dense air, longer fly balls,” Seeley said in an e-mail.
Now about that concrete settling …
That theory has evolved into a punchline over the years. Just wait until the concrete settles … The origin apparently stems from a comment made by former AL MVP Jason Giambi, who suggested that balls might travel further once concrete in the new stadium cured.
That theory has been passed along enough over the years that multiple people interviewed offered that explanation. St. Peter was not one of them.
“I’m not a physicist or an engineer,” he joked.
Whatever the case, Target Field is shedding its reputation as a pitcher’s park. Not to everyone though.
“Honestly, I would rank Target Field as one of the worst to hit one out [of],” Dozier said. “Down the lines it plays pretty true. What we talk about it being a graveyard is right-center to left-center, night games, gobbles up home runs. You can ask anybody around the league on that.”
Anthony Swarzak has pitched at Target Field for the Twins and as an opponent. Now with the White Sox, he agrees with Dozier.
“In my mind I think this is a pitcher’s park,” he said. “If you can keep them hitting the ball to center field — other than [Miguel] Sano — you’re going to be all right.”
St. Peter calls Target Field “pretty fair” and says it “probably plays somewhere in the middle. I’m not sure it’s fair to label it as a pitcher’s park or hitter’s park.”
That was their original goal in creating the stadium’s dimensions. In a span of eight seasons, the ballpark has a chance to finish in the top five and bottom five in the majors in home runs.
“At this point, I can assure you there are no plans to move the fences in or out,” St. Peter said.