Homers still play with new Coors Field fences

MLB.com study doesn't find significant difference in numbers with new dimensions in 2016

Homers still play with new Coors Field fences

DENVER -- Even though Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado tied for the National League lead in home runs with 41 in 2016, Coors Field actually lowered his totals. Higher fencing in right-center field blocked three fly balls that would have been homers previously -- a development Arenado greeted with a smile and a shrug.

"I didn't know how many home runs I lost, but at the same time, you can get some home runs if you hit the ball in the air to left field that you don't normally get," Arenado said. "But, hey, I tied for the home-run lead. I would have had it if those balls had gone. But we need pitchers to have some success, and it's OK to help them out."

The increased height -- from 8 feet, 9 inches to 16 feet, 6 inches in front of bullpens that ran from right-center to close to center, and from 8 feet to 13 in the left-field corner -- was source of much curiosity when announced before the 2016 season, and drew some gasps when it had an effect on some balls early in the year. But over the course of 81 home games, how much did it matter?

Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said this week the club is focused on other projects, the full study is not complete and added, "I'd have to make a decision how public we want to make that stuff."

Bridich, Weiss on new dimensions

But he said, instructively, "I'd be shocked if there's some sort of landmark discovery or something completely earth-shattering."

An MLB.com study of publicly available charts and video supports Bridich's supposition. The fencing didn't reduce the total number of homers at Coors Field, but otherwise it did what was intended -- create opportunities for pitchers to reduce runs.

The study looked at balls hit to right field at a projected 370 feet, determined to be the distance necessary to hit a home run. The distance also allowed for determining if a ball would have bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double in the past. As for left field, where the increased fence height covered only a corner tunnel where vehicles can enter the field, no effect was found.

Here are other specifics findings:

• MLB.com determined that the fencing came into play 20 times. On the 18th, the hit would have either been a clear home run in the past or was borderline, with the home run getting the benefit of a doubt. The other two would have been ground-rule doubles but became triples when the fence kept the ball in the park.

Rockies set team triples record

• The random aspect -- the Rockies can't control where a ball is hit, or raise or lower the wall depending on which team was batting -- worked against the Rockies, who had 13 of the 18 total blocked balls that would have been homers in 2015.

• Seven times, the batter who lost a home run did not score in that inning, thus satisfying another rationale of adding the fencing -- giving pitchers a chance to prevent a run. This helped the Rockies' pitchers four times, the opponents' three.

• Combined home runs of the Rockies actually rose, from 202 in 2015 to 215 in '16. Without the heightened barriers, there would have been 234 homers. The rise was mostly provided by the Rockies, who went from 102 homers at Coors in 2015 to 116.

The Rockies' increase was mainly due to Charlie Blackmon going from seven homers to 12 at Coors Field, and the introduction of rookie shortstop Trevor Story, whose 16 jacks in 45 home games before a left thumb injury ended his season were six more than the combined total for Troy Tulowitzki (seven), Jose Reyes (two) and Daniel Descalso (one) while playing short in 81 games in 2015. Blackmon did not lose a homer, but Story lost three (more on that later).

The most telling influence came in two categories.

• Home runs to the deepest area of new fencing, in front of the visiting bullpen closest to center field topping out at 424 feet, were eradicated -- from seven in 2015 to zero.

• The new fence had most of its effect on right-handed hitters, who were driving the ball to the opposite gap. Gerardo Parra's double on Aug. 16 against the Nationals marked the only lost homer from a lefty hitter.

The two triples that would have been ground-rule doubles in the past were by lefty batters, Blackmon and the D-backs' Chris Hermann, who reacted with disappointment when he made contact but still made it to third.

The effect on righties is why Arenado ended in a tie for the NL homers title with the Brewers' Chris Carter -- who caught Arenado by out-homering him, 2-1, in the season-ending three-game series. It also meant DJ LeMahieu's career-best home run total was 11 instead of possibly 14 (one of his potential homers was borderline, but hitters got the benefit in this study).

LeMahieu's RBI double

Story became the emblem of wall misery when he lost three homers during an April that saw him hit 10, which tied him for the April record for rookies with White Sox slugger Jose Abreu in 2014. That wasn't the only record the wall blocked.

Story's NL rookie shortstop record total of 27 homers would have been 30 -- which would have tied him for Nomar Garciaparra's Major League rookie mark, for the Red Sox in 1997.

Puig cuts down Story

And on April 22, Story was on the wrong end when Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig fielded a homer off the higher wall and threw out Story trying to stretch a triple.

No wonder Story good-naturedly christened the wall, "The Bridich Barrier."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page.

Daniel Kramer and Mike Petriello contributed to this story.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.