Before the Braves moved into the old, crumbling, and decrepit Turner Field in the incredibly distant past of 1997, the Braves played in a ballpark that was unquestionably a hitter’s ballpark. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was affectionately referred to as “The Launching Pad” since a combination of environmental effects — specifically the fact that it used to have the highest elevation in baseball before MLB decided that it would be cool see what baseball would be like on the moon (a.k.a. Mile High Stadium and pre-Humidor Coors Field) — allowed hitters to overcome the relatively deep dimensions at the old cookie-cutter stadium to send balls flying.
According to our friends at Beyond the Box Score, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium had an average park factor of 105.4 (going back to 1974), which only trailed Mile High Stadium and Coors Field. Meanwhile, things leveled out when the Braves moved to Turner Field, as the average park factor went down to 99.1 (as of the date of the aforementioned article). That doesn’t make it a pitcher’s park, but it also meant that the days of “The Launching Pad” were now a thing of the past.
Now that the Braves have moved into their new digs in Cobb County, the main question now is whether or not those launching days may be coming back soon. Of course, it’s still far too early to make a definitive case as to whether or not a park is going to play in favor of hitters or pitchers, but it’s still fun to speculate and mess around with early results, right?
For starters, let’s look at who figures to be the primary beneficiary of the move to SunTrust Park — Freddie Freeman. When the dimensions of the park were revealed, it was petty clear that the Braves had the stadium built with their powerful first baseman in mind. It’s very early, but so far it appears that Freddie is loving life at the new ballpark.
It took a few games for him to get going at SunTrust Park, but Freeman finally exploded on Monday night when he smacked two dingers and slugged two doubles as the Braves eventually won in walk-off fashion. I’m not suggesting that this will be something common for Freeman — after all, only four other players in Braves history had accomplished the single game two homer/two double feat that Freddie reached on Monday night. Still, it appears that Freeman is going to get well acquainted with the Chop House — either by playing wall ball or putting the ball over the wall.
It’s clear that this is definitely a ballpark that is tailor-made for a hitter like Freddie Freeman, and we’re probably going to see him put up some lovely offensive numbers at this ballpark when it’s all said and done. If you’re building a new ballpark and you’ve got a hitter like Freddie Freeman in your employ, it’s smart to at least build the parks to the strengths of a player of his quality and it appears that the Braves have done just that.
Meanwhile, other hitters are benefiting from the offensive slant of the new ballpark as well. Career .098 ISO hitter Ender Inciarte already has two home runs at SunTrust Park. He’s already matched his career total at Turner Field — he had a grand total of one homer at The Ted last year, and his first career dinger actually came in Atlanta — and even though Inciarte went into this season with nothing even approaching a power stroke, there’s still something of a chance that with the way SunTrust Park plays, some of those balls that Inciarte pulls to right field could go over the fence and bounce their way into the Chop House.
Meanwhile, we’ve already seen at least one hitter benefit from the shortened power alley in right center field. At The Ted, right center field was 390 feet. On the other hand, the fence in Cobb County is 375, and Adonis Garcia’s homer from Saturday hit the top of the fence and was eventually measured at 390. Either way, that probably wasn’t a dinger at Turner Field, and instead of being a pop fly or something approaching warning track power, it ended up being a homer. I’d imagine that we’re going to see a few more shots like that as the season progresses.
Plus, there’s a tiny bit of evidence that the ball may be jumping off of the bat like it did in the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Brandon Phillips’ homer on Saturday was a no-doubter that would have left any ballpark. It landed 438 feet away from home plate, which is an impressive shot in its own right. What made it interesting is the fact that (according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker) BP hasn’t hit a home run that deep in seven years, which is when he sent a grand slam 439 feet at Miller Park. Again, this could just be a fluke and maybe Phillips just really got a hold of the pitch that he sent deep into the Cobb County night sky on Saturday, but it could be the sign of something interesting.
We’re still in the extreme infancy of SunTrust Park as a MLB stadium, but I don’t think that you’d be too far off to assume that this park is probably going to play well for the hitters in its current incarnation. This could be a case of the Braves’ offensive renaissance from the tail end of the 2016 season just translating into 2017, and it also could be a case of this being another symptom of the “juiced ball” era. Either way, it’s still a bit early to make definitive conclusions, but I’d be shocked if SunTrust Park magically turned into a pitcher’s park once we get enough data to really sink our teeth into things.
There’s always a chance that the Braves could play with the dimensions of the park if things get too weird and other circumstances could cause the ballpark to play differently in the future as well. For now, though, it seems like batters are going to be looking forward to swinging away at SunTrust Park right now. With the way the Braves have been swinging the bat, this could be a very intriguing development for the team going forward.