Baseball is a game of numbers. Statistics, both original and cutting-edge, fuel debates, write columns, and provide many with jobs analyzing the sport they love. Whether it be simple performance indicators such as at bat and hits, or sabermetric numbers such as WAR and range factor, the players are the only ones evaluated, and for good reason.
However, baseball allows fans to be more involved with the game than any other popular American sport. Fans in attendance are constantly in harms way of an errant bat, a sizzling foul ball, or, of course, a scorched home run.
Fans are quickly becoming a mainstay in baseball highlights, the great catches, comical bloopers, and the dedication to their teams. Internet developments such as Twitter and MLB.com’s Cut 4 has further placed fans within the action, encouraging “fandom” through in-the-stands articles and player interactions.
With fans edging ever closer to the game of baseball, and the hobby of “ball hawking” becoming widespread across the country, fan fielding statistics provide an interesting look at an otherwise un-examined aspect of the game.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Not only is Oriole Park at Camden Yards an architectural icon among MLB stadiums, providing beautiful sight-lines and revolutionary aspects that continue to inspire new stadiums even after twenty years, the home of the Baltimore Orioles is also considered to be the best stadium for catching baseballs, or “ball hawking,” thanks in large part to the open layout, — including a standing room only area in right field — fan-friendly rules and staff, and one of the lowest attendance numbers in the Majors.
The 2012 Baltimore Orioles
Turning the tides on more than a decade of losing, the Baltimore Orioles blasted their way into the playoffs, employing 214 home runs en route to 93 wins. The team saw sluggers such as Chris Davis (33), Adam Jones (32), and Matt Wieters (23) establish new career high in home runs.
At home, the Orioles and opponents combined for 225 home runs, establishing a 2.77 home run per game ratio, the second highest in the Majors in 2012 to only New Yankee Stadium.
The 225 Home Runs
Through watching the highlights of all of the 225 home runs hit at Camden Yards in 2012, I have deemed 189 of them as “catchable” (84%) meaning only 36 were “uncatchable,” (16%).
An uncatchable home run, just as it sounds, is a home run that, no matter attendance or fan fielding ability, would not have been caught. For Camden Yards, those home runs typically landed in straightaway center field in the bullpen and sod farm area, or in the gap separating the bleachers from the right-center field wall.
Out of the 189 catchable home runs hit, 27 were caught (14.29%). A “catch,” by definition for this statistical analysis follows the guidelines for an out in Major League Baseball. Therefore, a ball that is caught before touching the ground, a part of the wall, a seat, or a railing is deemed a catch. A ball that touches a fan before being caught is also a catch since, per the MLB rules, a fly ball that touches a teammate before being caught is considered an out.
For the sake of this analysis, I dissected Camden Yards into five distinctive areas.
“Left-center field” denotes sections 78-86. This area spans from the ending of the “left field” section until seating ends and the bullpens area begins.
“Center field” is an exclusively uncatchable area that encompasses the bullpens and the sod farm.
“Right-center field” is the remainder of the bleacher seating area, spanning from sections 92-98. The area begins when the sod farm ends and itself ends at the beginning of the Eutaw Street standing room only section.
“Right field” is solely the Eutaw Street flag court.
Left-center field saw the most home run opportunities in 2012 as 75 (33.33%) home runs landed in those sections. The Eutaw Street standing room area in right field saw 71 (31.56%) home runs, while right-center had 54 (24%), left field had 28 (12.44%), and center field had 27 (12%).
The left field sections saw the highest catch percentage on home runs, catching 5 of their 27 catchable balls for a percentage of 18.52%. Following was left-center, catching 11 of their 74 catchable balls (14.67%). Right-center field saw a 12.5% fielding percentage, catching 6 of their 50 catchable balls. Right field fans only caught 5 of the 68 catchable balls (7.35%).
Months and Attendance:
Watching the replays of each home run and, at times, their catches, it appeared that less were caught during games of high attendance. The Orioles’ season provided a great field for this small sample-sized experiment as the team’s rise to prominence became more imminent as the season progressed and thus fan attendance rose.
In April, the first month of the baseball season, the Orioles and their opponents combined for 24 home runs. Of those 24 home runs, 22 were catchable and only 3 were caught (13.64%). The per game attendance for the Orioles in April was 23,193, a number inflated by a sold-out Opening Day game.
May saw a whopping 50 home runs hit with 9 being deemed uncatchable. Of those 41 catchable home runs, 7 were caught (17.07%). The May attendance was an average of 23,646 per game, a slight increase from the previous month.
A huge jump in average attendance occurred in June as schools shut down for the summer and the Orioles’ Hall of Fame statue days were in full swing. On average, 33,655 fans went through the turnstiles of Camden Yards in June. During that time, 40 home runs were hit and 7 were deemed uncatchable. Only 6 of those 33 catchable home runs were actually caught (18.18%).
As the sweltering heat of Baltimore rolled in, July forced a drop in attendance to 26,424 per game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Despite the heat, though, only 24 home runs were hit at Camden Yards in July, 21 of which were catchable. Of those 21, just 2 were caught (9.52%).
August experienced the lowest average attendance at Camden Yards of all months, a mere 20,350 per game. In August, 39 home runs were hit, 35 of which were catchable. At the highest rate of any of the months, fans caught 7 of those 35, a 20% catch percentage.
The final month of the season, September, was also the most attended month. As the Orioles finalized their first playoff season since 1997, an average of 35,187 fans came to games. A long side the highest attendance, the lowest catch percentage was recorded as only 2 of the 37 catchable home runs (48 total home runs) were actually caught (5.41%).
Even though there is no direct correlation in these numbers (as is common with small sample sizes), there are points of interests, notably the fact that the highest and lowest attended months posses the worst and best catch percentages respectively.
Even though Josh Hamilton displayed unprecedented power in a few games at Camden Yards, as expected, only Orioles players finished in the top five of home runs hit at their home yard.
The overwhelming leader was DH/RF Chris Davis who knocked 22 of his 33 home runs at the hitter-friendly Yards. Of his 22 home runs only 2 were uncatchable, while only 1 was actually caught (4.76%). The low catch percentage on Davis’ home runs is not only a testament to the sheer power with which he hits his blasts, but also the field that he hits them towards. The lone catch of a Davis home run was recorded in right-center, with most of the others falling untouched on Eutaw Street in straightaway right field.
Tied for second are center fielder Adam Jones and shortstop J.J. Hardy with 15 home runs a piece. For Jones, hitting a majority of his home runs to left-center, 3 of his 11 catchable home runs were actually nabbed (27.27%). Hardy, hitting his home runs in about the same area as Jones, but more towards left, saw 3 of his 15 catchable home runs reeled in (20%).
Next was Mark Reynolds who hit 11 home runs. With only 1 of them being uncatchable, 2 of Reynolds’ 10 catchable home runs were caught (20%).
Matt Wieters, a switch-hitting catcher hitting home runs to both fields, knocked out 10. Of those 10, 8 were catchable and only 1 caught (12.5%).
Other players that had home runs caught at Camden Yards:
- Brandon Snyder
- Elliott Johnson
- Mark Teixeira
- Nick Johnson
- Shane Victorino
- Steve Tolleson
- Casey McGehee
- Rod Barajas
- Peter Bourjos
- Austin Jackson
- Nick Markakis (2)
- Alex Gordon
- Salvador Perez
- Edwin Encarnacion
- J.P. Arencibia
Highlights and Lowlights:
(click picture to watch video)
Forgotten in the Josh Hamilton 4-home run hoopla was this catch made on a Nick Markakis home run in right field, a ball hit with a speed off the bat of 104.4 miles per hour according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker. The ball was smoothly fielding in right by a bare-handed fan leaning over the railing on the Eutaw Street flag court.
This one is far from a highlight as the ball was not caught. What is embarrassing here is how two women were completely unaware of the fact a home run ball was hit directly towards them. If the ball was hit a little higher, or if the fencing in right was a little lower, the woman with her back towards the field would certainly have been hit.
It is debatable whether this home run catch should be deemed a highlight or a lowlight. This first of two home runs hit by Nick Johnson on May 23rd landed directly in the lap of an unsuspecting young lady who did not think to stand or move out of the way. She leaves with a Nick Johnson home run — one of 27 catches at Camden Yards in 2012 — and certainly a nasty bruise.
Sometimes watching home run replays provides a little comedy. Thus was the case as Shin-Soo Choo struck an opposite field home run on June 28th. One fan, displaying admirable effort, jumped and outstretched for the ball hit over his head, causing him to flip over the back of his seat. Further insult to injury, a young teen, sitting a row behind, walked over and picked the ball up off the ground.
It was tough to tell whether this Adam Jones go-ahead home run was a clean catch. Ultimately, it was deemed that it was not. However, it was not hard to see the full-moon celebration of the guy who ended-up with the souvenir.
With the fan fielding analysis of Oriole Park at Camden Yards providing only a small sample size, an expansion of this study would be ideal. A comparison between stadiums and fans across the league would be interesting to analyze, as well as to find the overall percentage of home runs that were caught by fans in 2012. Further, it could be worthwhile to look at the top 10 home run hitters in the season and see how many of their home runs were caught compared to the league average and others.