Marlins Park proves a challenge for home run hitters


MIAMI (AP) — The weekend before the Reds’ Todd Frazier won the All-Star Home Run Derby, he couldn’t slug his way out of Marlins Park.

Marlins right-hander Dan Haren counted two or three balls hit by Frazier in the four-game series that would have been homers in Cincinnati but came down short of the distant fences in Miami. Haren said the vast dimensions cost the Reds four or five homers, including a couple in the game he pitched and won.

“I love Marlins Park,” Haren said.

Most pitchers do. The ballpark’s colorful home-run sculpture doesn’t get much use because Marlins Park is the toughest place in the majors to hit a homer.

Giancarlo Stanton, Miami’s $325 million slugger, has long contended the park doesn’t play fair. But visiting managers say they find the contrast to bandboxes elsewhere refreshing, and Marlins officials have thus far resisted calls to move in the fences.

This year has been a huge disappointment for the injury-ravaged Marlins, but team president David Samson said the organization’s recipe for success remains pitching and defense, with ballpark dimensions to match. While changes will be considered after the season, it’s possible the fences will remain as they are, even with the Home Run Derby coming to town in 2017, Samson said.

“There is certainly evidence it’s a ballpark favorable for pitchers,” Samson said. “However, we believe it’s a pretty fair ballpark. After the initial thought from some players that it played too big, there is certainly evidence it plays big, but that it plays fair.”

As Miami begins a homestand Tuesday against the Nationals, only 60 homers have been hit this season at Marlins Park, the second-lowest total in the majors ahead of Atlanta’s Turner Field with 59. There have been 96 homers in Miami’s road games.

Since Marlins Park opened in 2012, it has yielded the fewest homers in the majors — 361 in 290 games, an average of 1.2 per game. And that’s with Stanton on the home team.

“This place plays big,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “You’ve got to earn it to get it out.”

The power alleys are distant — 384 feet to left-center field, 392 to right-center and 422 to center. The wall is high, ranging from 11 1/2 to 13 1/2 feet. And the ball doesn’t carry well under a retractable roof that is almost always closed.

The Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon counted himself fortunate to homer during his visit to Miami this year. His ball cleared the wall near the 335 sign down the right-field line.

“It’s just a tough park to hit in,” Blackmon said, “being that it’s big, and the ball seems to just never come down, but doesn’t go far, either.”

The Rockies’ Coors Field is at the opposite extreme from Marlins Park — a slugger’s paradise.

“I wouldn’t say either is fair,” Stanton said. “Obviously, a hitter is going to want to be at Coors, and a pitcher is going to want to be here.”

What is the ideal?

“Way in between,” he said.

While playing at home, Stanton has hit some of the longest homers in the majors this year. One sailed through the center-field camera well, and another landed near the 502-foot sign in center.

So tailoring Marlins Park to him isn’t necessary.

“There’s no ballpark that can hold Giancarlo,” Samson said. “I’ve said it to him — he’s not even a thought as we look at this. He hits home runs anywhere. We’re looking at the impact on pitchers and other players, not Giancarlo.”

Stanton began this week tied for the NL lead in home runs even though he has been on the disabled list since June 27 with a broken hand. He has hit 125 home runs since 2012, the most in the league, according to STATs.

More than half of them — 68 — have come at Marlins Park.

“It plays big for everybody but one guy,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

But does it play fair?

“If you’re a pitcher, it’s very fair,” Maddon said. “If you’re a hitter, it’s very unfair.”

Visiting managers have had little complaint with Marlins Park.

“It’s a breath of fresh air from pitching in Cincinnati and Colorado and Philadelphia and some of these other places that play smaller,” the Reds’ Bryan Price said.

“It always depends what type of hitter you are,” the Yankees’ Joe Girardi said. “The infield is really fast, so if you hit groundballs, you’re going to get a lot of hits. If you hit balls in gaps, you’re going to get a lot of extra-base hits. For me, this is probably the kind of ballpark I would have liked.”

So while it’s harder to hit a homer at Marlins Park, it’s not necessarily harder to hit. Since the park opened, the Marlins’ batting average, on-base plus slugging and runs per game are higher at home.

And while the Marlins are headed for their fourth consecutive losing season since Marlins Park opened, they have been less lousy at home. Their winning percentage over the past four years is .369 on the road and .483 at home.

“You want the ballpark to play fair,” Samson said. “And you want it to be a place where the Marlins win a majority of their games.”

By Steven Wine

AP Sports Writer

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