The Minnesota Twins opened their 2010 home season this week in a brand new ballpark. Target Field replaced the Metrodome, which had been home to the Twins for 28 years. By beating the Red Sox 5-2 on Monday, and winning two of three in the series, the Twins opened their new home with a good start. Still, many are wondering whether Target Field can match the advantage that the Metrodome provided the Twins.
Given the notoriously poor visibility of the baseball against the white dome, the spongy turf and the intense noise level, the Metrodome presumably provided one of the best home-field advantages in baseball. The dome seemingly gave the Twins a huge boost as they won both the 1987 and 1991 World Series. In both Series the Twins lost all three road games but won all four at home. Rightly or wrongly, much of the credit was given to the Metrodome.
Over the course of its lifetime, however, how great of a home-field advantage did the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome actually provide? The average team plays about 80 points better at home than on the road. So a .500 team will usually play .460 baseball on the road and .540 ball at home. However, in the 28-year history of the Metrodome, the Twins played 100 points better at home than on the road. This advantage is one of the largest that any 20-plus-year-old park has offered. Given this fact, the evidence backs up the lore that the Metrodome gave its tenant a larger home-field advantage than most parks.
This was no fluke, either. Last year I did
The Metrodome's unusual features helped the Twins at home because Minnesota's players acclimated to the difficult roof conditions and bouncy turf. And while the Twins were helped at home, the park likely had no negative effect on the players' performance on the road. As a result, while an average team would likely finish .460 on the road and .540 at home, the average Twins team might be more likely to finish .460 on the road and .560 at home. This essentially turned the average Twins team from an 81-win club to an 82.6-win club. The boost of 1.6 wins isn't exactly huge, but it can surely make a difference. For example, were the Twins not playing in the Metrodome last season, they may well have missed the playoffs, losing out to the Tigers for the AL Central crown.
How will Target Field treat the Twins? While as a fan I always enjoy outdoor baseball, the evidence indicates that having a dome is an advantage, so that's one strike against Target Field, which is an open-air stadium. While Target Field attempts to replicate the Metrodome's right-field wall with a 23-foot fence like the old "baggy", it will be interesting to see whether it will play the same way. It also remains to be seen if Target Field will give up a lot of doubles like the Metrodome did. Additionally, while there was a lot of quirkiness to the Metrodome, Target Field doesn't seem to have nearly as many defining or unusual features. While it looks like a nice ballpark, it seems to follow the same formulaic pattern that many retro-modern stadiums sport. In short, the features which gave the Metrodome its competitive advantage have largely disappeared. All indications are that Target Field will play like an average ballpark, and will likewise provide an average 80-point home-field advantage for the home team, rather than the 100-point advantage that the Metrodome provided. Unfortunately for the Twins, that means that they'll lose the 1.6 wins that they likely picked up by playing in the Metrodome year after year.
Target Field looks like a gem of a park, and it's great for Minnesota fans to finally have outdoor baseball again. From an aesthetic standpoint, it should beat the Metrodome in almost every way. The sizeable attendance boost from replacing the Metrodome with a nice, brand new ballpark should more than compensate financially for the potential on-field loss of a win or two per season. The Twins probably could have built another odd park with bizarre features to give the home team a slight advantage, but such oddities would likely be hard to replicate, and it was a wise choice not to build another Metrodome-style monstrosity. (On the other hand, maybe the brutal sun that the players complained about on Opening Day could create a sort of home-field advantage.)
As for Target Field itself, it's difficult to say how the park will play. Dimensions are only one part of the equation. Atlanta's launching pad had pretty much the same dimensions as the rest of the cookie-cutter stadiums of the 1960s and 1970s, but managed to cultivate an awfully hitter-friendly reputation. Likewise, 2009's Yankee Stadium was supposed to have identical dimensions to the old Stadium, yet balls were launched out of the yard at an astounding rate during its first year of existence (however, part of this is suspected to be because the right-field fence is up to nine feet shorter than advertised). Factors such as wind currents and airflow are tough to predict and can have a strong effect as well. The San Francisco Giants famously built Candlestick Park in a famously windy spot of land, resulting in an awful experience for fans and players alike. The swirling gusts wreaked havoc with the balls and created bitter-cold nights for the fans. As it turns out, had the Giants built their stadium just a few hundred yards away, they could have avoided the wind troubles and played in a relatively normal environment.
That Candlestick-like cold is one thing that the Twins hope to avoid. They got off to a good start on Monday, opening to a beautiful, warm and sunny spring day; however, that may not be typical. With an average April 4 temperature of just 50 degrees, Minneapolis will be on average the coldest outdoor city in the majors. Still, Boston (52 degrees) and Chicago (53) aren't much better, and those two cities draw quite well.
Opening with a win on a beautiful day, the Twins' ownership couldn't be more pleased with their new ballpark, but it remains to be seen how the new Target Field will play and whether it will provide the Twins the same advantages that they received from the Metrodome. No matter what though, baseball is back in Minneapolis under the open skies, the way it was meant to be played, and that is a win for fans everywhere.