by Ryan Dodson
on March 27, 2008 @ 04:20:36
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium was a place where long fly balls went to die. Aside from former Washington Nationals outfielder Alfonso Soriano's anomaly of 46 homers in 2006, no Nationals player has hit even 25 home runs in a single season. While this may have something to do with the lack of talent on the team, a lot of this has to do with the cavernous dimensions that characterized the team's home ballpark for the last three years.
In 2008, the team will unveil its new stomping grounds, Nationals Park. The stadium's outfield walls will likely make this stadium a bit more hitter-friendly than RFK. While RFK's power alleys were labeled at 380 feet, a measurement was taken in 2006, and it was revealed that it was actually 395 feet. Below are the official dimensions of both ballparks.
Table: Ballpark Comparison
RFK Stadium featured a bowl design, which prevented wind from being a large factor. Nationals Park is more open, so the wind could play a much larger factor in the flight of the ball. Some days the wind may benefit pitchers, and some days it could benefit hitters. The height of the outfield wall differs, unlike it did at RFK. In Nationals Park, the wall is 9 feet, 9 inches in center field and 14 feet in right-center. This may be cumbersome for left-handed hitters.
The Nationals pitchers will clearly be tested with the new park. Let's face it, the Nationals are considerably pitching-starved when their opening day starter is Odalis Perez. They struggled to a 4.58 ERA as a team last season despite the benefits of RFK Stadium, which was 10th in the National League. Nationals starter Shawn Hill, one of the team's only fantasy-relevant pitchers last season, actually pitched better on the road than at home last year. He went 3-1 with a 3.31 ERA on the road as opposed to 1-4 with a 3.55 ERA at home.
Starter Jason Bergmann loved the spacious park last year to a tune of 4-2 with a 3.54 ERA at home while going 2-4 with a 5.31 ERA on the road. Bergmann has begun using his sinker ball again in an attempt to offset the loss of the pitching advantage. The team's top seven relievers last year combined for a 3.02 ERA at RFK Stadium with only 14 homers allowed while allowing 27 homers with a 4.88 ERA in other parks.
Their hitting woes could change a bit this year, though. Only the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals hit fewer homers than the Nationals did last year. Promising third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has hit 20 and 24 homers in his first two seasons, respectively. Is this the year he hits 30? Not so fast.
Hitters adapt to their surroundings. First baseman Dmitri Young said he gave up hitting the long ball to slap line drives to all fields. That's a perfect explanation for his career-high .320 average (.366 at home) last season after being out of baseball for much of 2006. As for Zimmerman, he has hit .309 with 21 homers and 117 RBIs in his career at RFK. On the road, he has hit just .252 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs.
Some believe that outfielder Austin Kearns will benefit the most from the new ballpark. Kearns' fly ball-style hitting has really suffered at RFK. He has hit just .242 with 12 homers and 63 RBIs in 413 at-bats at RFK. On the road last season, he hit .301 while hitting just .228 at home. He could be a nice sleeper this season.
In the end, time will tell how this ballpark stacks up against hitters and pitchers. One thing that is almost assured is it will be a much more neutral park than RFK was. It should help the hitters, which in turn will help the pitchers achieve wins and boost their confidence.
About Ryan Dodson
Dodson is a KFFL Contributor and has been with KFFL since 2002.
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