In an email exchange with Star Tribune reporters, Justin Morneau recently spoke out against the decision by the Twins organization not to move in the home run fences after the team's first season at Target Field.
Morneau complained that it is extremely difficult for both right-handed and left-handed hitters to homer to the opposite field and suggested that this fact can cause players to develop bad habits that manifest on the road.
Unfortunately, the facts don't seem to back up Morneau's complaints. Before a concussion knocked him out for the season in early July, the first baseman was slugging .618 and on pace for a career-high 35 home runs. Granted, only four of Morneau's 18 bombs at that point had come in Target Field, but the fact that he'd gone deep 14 times while amassing a ridiculous .757 slugging percentage in 38 road games hardly reinforces any notion that "bad habits" were inhibiting his offensive approach in opposing stadiums.
Morneau surely is frustrated after watching many of his (and his teammates') screaming line drives fall short of the wall in the power alleys this summer. Parker lays out the data on the TwinsCentric blog today, backing up Morneau's concerns over the difficulty of hitting the ball out of the park, especially to right-center.
But the key point that Morneau misses in his remarks is how much these deep fences have aided the Twins' pitching staff, which was elemental in the team's outstanding 53-28 home record this season.
A big reason the Twins performed so much better at home this season is because their pitching was markedly superior there than on the road. Twins hurlers posted a 3.53 ERA with 64 home runs allowed in 81 home games while registering a 4.39 ERA with 91 homers allowed in the same number of road contests.
Specific pitchers have benefited greatly from Target Field's expansive confines. Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey were both among the league's most fly ball heavy pitchers this year, so both rely on keeping those fly balls in the yard.
At home, Baker went 8-3 with a 3.86 ERA, thanks largely to his yielding only eight homers in 86 innings. On the road, he went 4-6 with a 5.14 ERA and allowed seven more home runs in two fewer innings.
You'll find similar splits for Kevin Slowey, whose ERA at home, where he allowed a .416 slugging percentage, was 3.63; on the road, where he allowed a .515 slugging percentage: 5.63.
Nick Blackburn doesn't let hitters put the ball in the air quite as much as Slowey or Baker, but he does allow an awful lot of contact and so he too sees major benefits from a pitcher-friendly home stadium. At Target Field, Blackburn's numbers were downright solid: 7-4 with a 3.71 ERA and 10 home runs allowed in 89 innings. On the road, his results were beyond dismal: 3-8 with a 7.57 ERA and 15 home runs allowed in 71 innings.
None of these three starters enjoyed particularly great seasons, but they all could have been disastrous if not for the luxury of pitching in a home park that severely limited the power output of opposing lineups. Baker, Slowey and Blackburn couldn't be blamed for grumbling upon hearing Morneau's comments.
Considering the Twins' outstanding home record, coupled with the fact that their lineup scored more runs at home than on the road in spite of the home run struggles, it's difficult to view the distant home run fences as playing to the Twins' disadvantage. Quite the contrary.
Morneau made clear that his comments were intended for the betterment of the team as a whole rather than his own personal statistics, but he's not seeing clearly on this one. The Twins are making the right choice.