Mets GM Sandy Alderson made some waves Tuesday night by suggesting any changes made to Citi Field walls would be “big.”
I’ve always had a love\hate relationship with the outfield walls at Citi Field. I remember watching that first exhibition game the weekend before Opening Day 2009. I practically dove into my laptop, logged onto Facebook, and posted the status, “I hate the outfield walls in Citi Field.” My quibble had nothing to do with their depth, but with their design. Citi Field’s walls were (and are) gimmicky. I had never seen a wall that slopes diagonally from the line to straight-away LF. I had never seen a center field wall that looked like a Tetris piece (a mistake that was corrected prior to the 2010 season), and the Mo’s Zone reminded me of the outcropping of seats in Petco Park in RF, but in reverse. I always thought that outcropping was an ugly gimmick that took away from the otherwise beautiful field in San Diego, and I reviled the Mo’s Zone for the same reasons.
During that first exhibition game, something else about the walls caught my attention. Mets utility man Fernando Tatis drilled a fly ball to left-center, and posed. The ball hit high off the LF wall (since nicknamed “The Great Wall of Flushing” by Howie Rose) Tatis pulled into second base with a look of shock. I assumed the ball didn’t carry because of the cold, gloomy weather that enveloped the Tri-State area that weekend.
But as the games went on, Mets players had trouble clearing the outfield walls of Citi Field. David Wright hit only 10 HRs in a full season in 2009 (although he hit the same amount of homers on the road - 5 – as he did at home). In 2010, Wright’s season HR total returned to normal, but he started swinging with a pronounced uppercut, and struck out more. Early in 2010, Jason Bay and Jeff Francouer both slammed drives off the 415 sign in right-centerfield. Wright had trouble getting it past the Great Wall of Flushing, and couldn’t figure out how to get the ball over the right-centerfield wall, which was his trademark at Shea Stadium.
Now, Shea was no bandbox. It consistently ranked among the best pitchers’ ballparks in the game. But the outfield wall at Shea was as gimmick-free as you can get. It was a simple arc that ran from foul line to foul line. 410 to center, 338 down the lines. 371 to LF and RF, and 396 to the gaps. It was uniform, it was boring, but the hitters knew what to expect. As a side note, the lines used to be 341, with orange lines defining the tops of high, brick walls. When Joe Torre became manager in 1977, he had the walls changed to avoid confusion on borderline home runs, hence the 338 walls in front of the brick walls. But no one could dispute the fairness of its dimensions.
Since Citi Field opened, the Mets have had trouble scoring and hitting home runs, often ranking near the bottom in both categories. This year, the Mets have hit 45 HRs at home, good for 13th in the National League, but they’ve allowed 54, the fifth fewest total in the NL. At home, they’ve allowed the sixth most runs in the league, and scored the ninth most. On the road, it’s a different story. They’ve scored 377 runs and allowed 363. This suggests that a ballpark with “average” dimensions would help the offense, but hurt the pitching staff.
For that reason, I have been against making Citi Field more homer-friendly, because it can only hurt a Mets pitching staff that already has been flat-out bad this year. But the more I see the frustration of players like Wright and Bay, and see the sarcastic smiles on the bench whenever someone barely clears the Great Wall, or has one die in the Mo’s Zone, the more I realize this isn’t about stats. It’s about psychology. Mets players have allowed Citi Field’s dimensions to get in their heads. Apart from hiring a new team psychologist, the only solution is to “normalize” the Walls of Citi. That’s right, I just did a 180. As far as the pitching is concerned, the solution is as simple as this: The Mets need better pitchers. Easier said than done, of course, but if they want to win, they will need to improve their pitching staff anyway.
But a note of caution to Sandy Alderson: Do not turn this into a bandbox. Do not turn this into Citizen’s Bank Park, where any line drive that doesn’t drop in front of an outfielder is a home run. Do not turn this in to New Yankee Stadium, where any pop-up hit beyond the infield is a home run. And whatever you do, make it look natural and classy, not like the current Rorsach test that Jeff Wilpon came up with.