Are the Blue Seats Suppressing Home Runs?

On Sunday, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times had a blurb that caught my attention claiming that Tropicana Field has turned into a dead zone in centerfield turning would-be home runs into outs:

The other reason is the number of balls going out of it. The Rays seem convinced that for some reason, well-struck balls are not carrying to centerfield as they should, drives last week by Matt Joyce and Luke Scott the latest examples after the team noticed it last season. Ideas have been tossed out, and some looked into, such as the temperature (lower with fewer people?), humidity and air-conditioning currents.

There is some merit to the claim: From 2005-10, 10.7 percent of the homers hit at the Trop by all teams went to centerfield (112 of 1,046) and 30.4 percent from left-center to right-center (318). In 2011-12, entering Saturday, 3.8 percent (7 of 187) had gone to center and 20.9 percent (39) to left-center and right-center. (The only one to center this year was the Scott ball Seattle's Michael Saunders knocked over the fence.) "I think it's real," hitting coach Derek Shelton said. "I guess the wind's blowing in all the time."

Looking back from 2008 through the present, Rays hitters have only hit 21 balls out to straightaway centerfield at the Trop led by Carlos Pena's seven blasts.

Pena 7
Longoria 5
Upton 4
Rodriguez 2
Zobrist 1
Scott 1
CC 1

Was there any relationship between the number of home runs to centerfield and the number of blue seats that were showing up to any given game? The attendance from 2008-2012 can be broken into the following quartiles:

Quartile Attendance # of HR to CF
Q1 15597.75 2
Q2 20929.5 9
Q3 28570.75 5
Q4 49197 5

Prior to Luke Scott's glove assisted home run, Carlos Pena's June 2010 blast against the Blue Jays was the only Rays home run to centerfield with fewer than 15,597 fans in attendance which is representative of 25% of the Rays games from 2008-present. It's not as ominous as it sounds, because the 2nd quartile had the highest incidence with nine home runs. And if you look at the median of 28,57 fans, there actually was one more home run with fewer fans than more fans.

To get a larger sample I looked at all home runs hit by the Rays to any field from 2008-present and got the following results.

Quartile Fans HRs
Q1 15597.75 86
Q2 20929.5 98
Q3 28570.75 91
Q4 49197 93

It's a surprisingly similar result with Q2 being the highest home run total, Q1 the lowest and Q1+Q2 = Q3+Q4. If you are of the belief that somewhere between 15,597 and 20,929 fans in attendance optimizes the Rays potential for home runs, I've got a shortstop that hits high velocity fastballs better than low velocity that I'd like to sell you. Its fashionable to blame the blue seats for a lot of things, the sapping of power should not be one of them. Now who wants to volunteer to do the air current analysis?

This post was written by a member of the DRaysBay community and does not necessarily express the views or opinions of DRaysBay staff.

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