Archive for July 2015

Ballpark Review: Globe Life Park

July 31, 2015

Franchise: Texas Rangers

Year Opened: 1994

Capacity: 48,114

Games Attended: September 14, 2014 v Atlanta Braves; September 24, 2014 v Houston Astros; July 29, 2015 v NY Yankees

Sec 216, Row 1 , Seat 1; Suite; Sec 39, Row 27, Seat 15

They say everything is bigger in Texas and Globe Life Park can be added to the list of examples. While the park is dwarfed by its neighbor in AT&T Stadium, Globe Life Park definitely is a giant structure in itself. It is also a hard park to judge. For everything it does great, there is seemingly another flaw to bring it down a peg.

1) Aesthetics- 17/25

Exterior- 5/5

Outside of Yankee Stadium, Globe Life has the best exterior design of any ballpark. It almost looks like a castle, as it sits on an open grass space surrounded by a lake. Each corner gate of the park has columns that rise up, just like those of a castle. There is beautiful red brick with designs of Texas achievement sketched into the brick- some depictions include cowboys, cattle, and the space program.

Interior-  7/10

Globe Life is known for borrowing from other stadiums. They had a manual scoreboard in left field like Fenway Park (now it’s LED). They have a facade that resembles Yankee Stadium. The grandstand in right is supposed to bring back memories of Tiger Stadium. On their own, these are really cool tips of the cap. When executed all together though it makes the look of the park messy. Yes, I love that it makes the park somewhat unique, but the execution isn’t quite there. One really cool thing are the office spaces in center field. I think if they had just picked their favorite quirk- the grandstand or offices or fence in left- and forgot the rest, the whole look of the park would have been better.

Backdrop- 5/10

It is rare these days to see a fully enclosed park and that is a good thing. Unfortunately, Globe Life is not one of those parks. While I like the grandstand and I like the offices in center, everything looks clunky. For example, the decks in both left and right jut in front of the offices and it makes the backdrop just look awkward. If left field or right field had been left open, I would be a bigger fan.

2) Seats & View- 11/20

Sight line- 5/10

There are some really good seats here- and some not so good ones. My favorite location was on the second level, between the bases. With these seats you feel close to the action, get great angles, and food service! However, at this park the closer you get to the foul poles, the worse angle you get. I also sat down by the foul pole on the first base side, in section 39. The way the seats were built, the rows stack up high the further you go back. So you feel close to the field despite being 20-30 rows back. However, you can’t see most of right field. Any ball hit there I couldn’t see if it was caught or not. As for the upper deck- it is really high up.

The right field outfield seats look really good for an old-time experience, but there are the support beams, overhang, and you can’t see the video board because that is located on top of the grandstand.

Proximity- 3/5

As I mentioned above, some seats will let you feel like you are right in the middle of the action. Other seats make you feel like you are a mile away. The first and second level are fine, but the third and fourth level are worse than most other parks.

Comfort- 3/5

The seats do squeeze together, but there is average leg room so it’s not too bad. The only thing that made me feel uncomfortable was the barefoot guy a couple seats down who had the ashiest feet of all-time. His feet looked dead.

3) Atmosphere- 9/15

Fan Participation- 3/5

I was expecting a lot more because I know a lot of passionate Rangers fans but I was slightly let down. Maybe this was because the Rangers have been a bad team the times I’ve gone. But despite a Rangers win in all games I’ve gone to, the loudest I’ve heard the park was for a fight in the stands.

Attendance- 3/5

Again, this is due to the record of the team over the past couple seasons, but I went to two games in 2014 that were sparsely attended and the Yankees game this season looked to only be at 60% capacity.

Fan Knowledge- 3/5

The fans that do show are very loyal and try their best, but aren’t what most consider experts of the game. Sorry Dallas, Houston had you beat in this regard for best fans in the state. It pains me to say that because Dallas is a nicer city.

4) Attractions- 8/15

Museums & Team History- 7/10

The Rangers have a team museum which will always be a plus in my book. It’s not nearly as well done as Turner or Yankee Stadium, but it has some pretty neat stuff in there, including designs for Globe Life. My favorite part was a line of plaques outline “firsts” in Globe Life history, such as first game, playoff game, All-Star game, etc. All were losses by the Rangers/AL and all were games decided by 1 run.

Outside of the museum though, I didn’t see much celebration of team history. But with no World Series titles in over 50 seasons, you can understand why.

Things to See & Do- 1/5

The concourse is large and there are a ton of places to eat and drink, but very little to see and do. I wish I could expand, but there are no cool statues, plaques, monuments, or anything in that vein. If you don’t go to the team store then just walk around and find some food.

5) Food & Drink- 9/10

Hot Dog- 3/5

The most average I have had at a game. Definitely tasted like a generic dog.

Best of the Rest- 5/5

Globe Life has the best food offerings of any park I’ve been to. They have beers of Texas, beers of the world, craft beers, and more. They have BBQ plates in addition to ballpark staples. They have giant portion foods, such as a 24 inch hot dog, 24 inch kabob, mega burgers, and mega sandwiches. And bacon.

Signature Dish- There are too many to choose from between the Boomstick (24in hot dog with chili, cheese, onions, jalapenos) to the Beltre Burger ($26 to give you a reference for how big it is). +1

6) Game Entertainment & Presentation- 2/5

It is not that good. They have something going on every inning, but it’s all very boring and unoriginal. And the mascot is one of the worst in baseball if not the worst.

7) Cleanliness- 4/5

For an old, big park, I thought Globe Life is very clean. Not brand sparkling new clean, but better than average.

8) Local Scene & Location- 1/5

There is nothing to do here. It is in a giant land area it shares with the Cowboys stadium and 6 Flags. That is it. No local shops or restaurants. You go to the game and then you leave. The area is not bad, but it is just an area with nothing else to do.

9) Access & Cost- 2/5

The accessibility is terrible. You can only get to Globe Life by car and while there are main highways that can get you to the game, there will always be terrible traffic during the week. Moreover, because the park is in the middle of nowhere, it will take quite a bit of time to get there and you will eat up a good amount of gas driving from most nearby towns that you might be staying at.

Game tickets are relatively expensive but it all depends on how good the team is and how good the team they are playing is. I got 200 level tickets for $20. But I also got tickets against the Yankees for too much than I should have for a weeknight game.

Food and drink though? GLP has some of the best prices in baseball. I would love to give a better ranking here just for that, but the access is really that annoying!

10) Misc- 0.5

Stats & Info- .5

All relevant information is very accessible. It’s on the LED boards around the park and the main video board. My one problem- they didn’t keep track of the pitcher’s stat line. Just their balls, strikes, and pitch count. Not hits allowed, runs allowed, etc.

Concourse- 0

Closed. Very disappointing. The concourse were spacious though which is always nice.

Out of town Scoreboard- 0

It was LED which I didn’t like and they only had 4 scores up at time and rotated them. I hate that.

Personal Score- 3/5

I like the park and I know the ratings from this will make it seem terrible- it is not. From food and drink to aesthetics to overall game experience, this park is above average. But there are so many wonderful parks out there that it just doesn’t quite stack up to most of the pack.

Overall Score- 66.5/115

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Royals Making Mistake in Sending Down Yordano Ventura

July 22, 2015

The big news out of Kansas City today is that starting pitcher Yordano Ventura is being sent down to AAA for “struggles”. The same Yordano Ventura who was a revelation last October, christened “the new Pedro”, and was the Royals Opening Day starter this season. While Ventura spots an ugly 5.19, it is a somewhat misleading ERA- something ERA often does. Ventura should not have been sent down, and is in fact, their best pitcher. For a team trying to make it back to the World Series, this move sure does seem like a head scratcher. But if we take a closer look, maybe we can find something that the Royals didn’t like.

To start, here are Ventura’s 2014 numbers.

183 IP, 7.82 K/9, 3.39 BB/9, 0.69 HR/9, 3.60 FIP, 3.74 xFIP, 2.4 fWAR (2.6/200IP)

For a 23 year old rookie, those are some good numbers. Most of those numbers are above average and as mentioned, he was 23 with a FB velocity just over 96MPH.

Now compare that to 2015…

76.1 IP, 7.66 K/9, 2.95 BB/9, 0.83 HR/9, 3.69 FIP, 3.68 xFIP, 1.0 fWAR (2.6/200IP)

His K rate is pretty much the same and he traded less walks for more home runs. His FIP is about the same from 2014 and he is on pace for the same fWAR. So, what’s the problem? Where is the perceived struggle? Let’s dig a little bit deeper.

Last year Ventura had a BABIP of .288 and a LOB% of 73.5%. This year those are .321 and 64.8% respectively. Despite pretty similar peripherals to 2014 (his K% is down just 1% and his BB% is better by just 1%), he has been unlucky on balls in put in play, leading to more runs and thus an ERA that jumped two runs, from 3.20 to 5.19. So that must explain the discrepancy between FIP and ERA, the numbers will normalize, and the Royals are nuts…right?

Well, the story doesn’t end there. There may be a reason for the higher percentage of home runs and balls in play landing for hits. If you look at his soft, medium, and hard hit ball percentage you will see some major differences. Last year 20.2% of balls hit were classified as soft v 25.1% classified as hard. In 2015, only 10.5% of balls hit are considered soft while 33.3% are considered hard. Along with that, his pull percentage went from 40.3% to 49.6%, with that difference coming entirely from balls hit to the opposite field. His contact percentage on balls in the zone has gone up 5.1%. All of the above can explain why his BABIP and HR% have both increased.

What can explain this discrepancy? I am not quite sure. His 4-seam and 2-seam fastballs are each down 1 MPH, but a 1 MPH decrease shouldn’t create such drastic changes. Moreover, even with the slight drop in velocity his FB reaches 95-97 MPH, which is still hard. Looking at his Pitch F/X values, the only pitch that is noticeably worse than 2014 is his 4 seam FB, which he throws more than any other pitch (38.8% of the time, down from 53.9% in 2014). Its value is -7.4 or 7.4 runs below average, a drop of about 13 runs from 6.3 in 2014. You take 13 runs off his season line, and suddenly you have a 3.66 ERA.

As to why his FB is so hittable and leading to harder hit balls that batters can pull, I don’t know. I am not good with Pitch F/X and it would be great if someone were to do the analysis on it.The obvious guess is that he is not locating in the zone, which can explain the fewer walks (more balls in the zone and more balls in play before getting deep in the count), higher contact percentage, more balls in play being pulled, and more balls being hit hard at the expense of soft hits.

Yet in spite of his struggles with the FB, Ventura has still been above average this season and the Royals best starter. Whatever is going on, I am sure it is something he can fix at the ML level. In a perfect world you might want to send him down to work on mechanics or whatever the problem is- release point, tipping pitches, grip, etc- but when you are trying to contend for the division and the pennant, you cannot replace your #1 starting pitcher down the stretch.

Ballpark Review: Minute Maid Park

July 2, 2015

Franchise: Houston Astros

Year Opened: 2000

Capacity: 41,574

Game Attended: June 26th, 2015 v New York Yankees

Section 128, Row 20

Minute Maid Park is strange to me. It looks like an amazing park from pictures and TV, with the facade in left and view of downtown Houston, but it is often maligned in ballpark reviews and rankings. After visiting, it still feels strange to me- I had never seen baseball played under a roof before!- but I just don’t see how some people are so down on it.

1) Aesthetics- 20/25

Exterior- 3.5/5

Like most modern parks, Minute Maid embraces the brick layered design. It is a fail-proof look, but with so many teams embracing a brick laden exterior, Minute Maid doesn’t stand out from the crowd.

Interior- 9/10

Minute Maid Park is beautiful. I love the Crawford seats, I love the facade with the train on top, and I love Tal’s Hill. Minute Maid is extremely unique and that is what makes it so great. Some people hate that it’s disingenuous and quirky (there is no need for Tal’s Hill they say). But who cares? Funky dimensions, fences, and features is what makes baseball and baseball parks so special compared to arenas of other sports. One real interesting feature is how the park is “split in two” due to the roof. In left field is the facade and view of downtown Houston while the jumbo video board takes up the whole of right field. The only downside to Minute Maid is the roof. While it does get to be REALLY hot in Houston for most of the season, the aesthetics of the stadium would improve without the roof. The whole time I kept thinking, “it’s comfortable in here…but how amazing would this stadium look with the roof open”.

Backdrop- 7.5/10

Foul pole to foul pole, this is one of my favorite views so far. Obviously an open roof would help, but the buildings of downtown Houston rising above the facade in left make for a wonderful background to the game. Despite having no backdrop in left, the view in left more than makes up for it. Those who are able to enjoy an open roof game will marvel at the view.This is an 8 with the roof open and 7 with the roof closed.

2) Seats & View- 15/20

Sight line- 7/10 From walking around the park pre-game, there are not too many bad seats. But there are a lot of average ones. Where we sat was the first section into the outfield on the first base side. We had good sight lines for balls in play and the video board. But you really have to crane your neck to face the pitcher. Moreover, there isn’t much of an incline on the first level, so if you’re short, you better hope no one tall sits in front of you. In right field on the first level you will have a great seat in the first several rows. After that your sight line on fly balls is cut off because of the second deck overhang. Seats down the third base line are angled in to face the pitcher so you don’t need to crane your neck. But then you can’t see the wonderful out of town score board on the left field fence. As for the upper deck, sight lines are great unless you are at the very top. Then beams and A/C tubes block your vision. So this rating is a tough call- there are good views, but several areas where it does lack.

Proximity- 4/5 Despite sitting 20 rows up, I felt really close to the action. Moreover, third and fourth level seats are angled so you feel on top of the action. Obviously the highest seat in the park isn’t going to be great, but you don’t need to bring binoculars to keep track of the action.

Comfort- 3/5 I was not cramped in my seat, but there wasn’t a lot of side to side space, although the leg room was pretty good. However, from where I was I did have to crane my neck which did get uncomfortable. For me it was a minor issue, but for some I can see it being annoying or problematic. I’m sure there are a lot worse parks in terms of comfortable seating (see Fenway) but there are also a lot more cozy parks.

3) Atmosphere- 10/15

Fan Participation- 4/5

The fans were loud and made their presence known every time something good or bad happened to the hometown team. When the Astros came from 6 down to tie the game, everyone was standing and hollering and it was a really fun environment (other than the fact the Yankees had just blown a 6 run lead). However, things were quiet when the Yankees were leading and some fans left early when the Yankees went up for good.

Attendance- 3/5

: I know the Astros attendance has been bad while they’ve had losing season after losing season, but with the Yankees in town the game I was at was packed. I don’t think it was a sellout, but the park was at least 90% full. The fans were loud and made their presence known every time something good or bad happened to the hometown team.I would rate this higher based on the game I was at, but I know it was a weekend game v a premium opponent.

Fan Knowledge: 3/5

: My one complaint and the one thing keeping them a tier below your NY, Boston, and Philly tier fans is they don’t respect standing with two strikes two outs. I stood in that very situation with Dellin about to close the game out- and was scolded. Afterwards when joking to my friends about it, they started chirping from up the aisle. Now maybe these were rogue fans unrepresentative of the Astros fan base, but it is a baseball game. You are supposed to stand with two strikes and two outs, at the very least.

4) Attractions- 5/15

Museums and Team History- 3/10

On the outside, they only have a tiny plaza with Bagwell and Biggio statues with a few other plaques. But it looks like the Astros almost went out of their way to hide this “tribute” area from the public. Inside, there is no team museum as far as I could tell. The Astros have “only” functioned as a franchise for just north of 50 seasons now, but there is no real tribute to their team history. Granted they have no World Series, just one pennant, and until recently, a lack of quality players throughout those 50+ years. Yet ballparks that pay homage to their team legacy definitely stand out from those that do not. They have retired numbers in the park, but I couldn’t even find murals of past players of big moments in team history.

Things to Do and See- 2/5 Outside the HR Oil Pump in left- an oil pump displaying all the HR’s ever hit in MMP- there wasn’t any special attraction to the stadium, unless you count Tal’s Hill (which I don’t). There is the train on top of the facade, but you can’t actually go up and check it out before or during the game. Your only real chance to check it out is to hope the home team goes yard during the game. The team store was relatively big, but didn’t offer anything too special. Moreover, the organization and layout was terrible leading to overcrowding and insanely long lines.

5) Food & Drink- 4/10

Hot Dog- 1/5 The Astro Dog. You can top it with chili cheese, onions, spicy mustard, and more. It’s made with Nolan Ryan beef which has a great reputation. In spite of this, the Astro Dog was terrible. By far the worst ballpark dog I have had and I don’t see another stadium serving a worse dog. The only redeeming quality was the toppings, but the hot dog itself tasted terrible and looked like no hot dog should look on the inside.

Best of the Rest- 3/5 As for the other food options, I only got the hot dog but they had some really good concessions like build your own fajitas and BBQ plates. I’m sure I would have liked them if I tried it. But the cost for these dishes were $10+. There was even a salad bar which I was tempted to try, before reminding myself I was at a ballgame. Beers here are quite expensive, as you pay just under $12 for 24oz. That coupled with the Astro Dog and I walked away as an unhappy camper with this aspect of the Minute Maid experience.

6) Game Entertainment & Presentation- 4.5/5

In-Game Entertainment- 4.5/5

The Astros do a solid job with their in-game entertainment. There were no mascot races which I liked because too many teams have them while only a few actually do them well. There were your run of the mill kiss cams and whatnot, but the real show is their mascot, Orbit. I believe Orbit is relatively new, but boy is he killing the game. The Phanatic better look out because I think Orbit has a legitimate claim to best mascot in baseball. His best performance when I went was a parody video to the Napoleon Dynamite dance in an effort to get fans to Vote for Jose (Altuve) for the All-Star game.

As far as music goes, I didn’t notice anything that stood out in particular.

7) Cleanliness – 3.5/5

Concourse- Minute Maid still feels really new even though it opened up in 2000. The concourse was clean and everything still seemed high-tech, although that might just be a side-effect of it being a retractable roof stadium that is closed 90% of the time.

Bathrooms- I wasn’t a fan of the bathrooms, but I’m not going to let that spoil their ranking here. It smelled like a bathroom, but then again, IT’S A BATHROOM.

Rows & Seats- I did notice from walking around before the game that there was leftover food in the upper deck from the night before. Fortunately, the first level was clean.

8) Local Scene & Location- 2/5

There is no local scene. There are a couple eateries outside the stadium but because there are only a couple they are extremely packed. Despite MMP being located in downtown Houston, there is nothing to do in downtown Houston. Just walking around the city the next day there are only corporate buildings. I saw no cafes, no restaurants, and few bars. You’ll have to drive elsewhere to find something to do. As for getting to the park- you’ll need to walk if you are staying close by or grab an Uber. Location- Minute Maid is located downtown so it provides for a great backdrop and convenient place to get to. Unfortunately, there is just nothing to do in downtown Houston.

9) Access & Cost- 3/5

Accessibility- Access to MMP is run of the mill. There is light rail and bus that drops off near the stadium and it is very walkable from downtown Houston. Most people will most likely drive in though, and while it is easy to drive to once you get to the city, there will be traffic on the highway that takes you into downtown. It would be better if there were more, simpler alternatives.

Cost- For premium games tickets can be pricey (first level for a Yankees/Red Sox game will probably be around $100) but seats elsewhere in the park are moderately priced and non-premium games run a little bit easier on the wallet. However, both food and drink are priced higher than other stadiums- or at least other stadiums I have been to outside New York.

10) Misc.- 4

Stats & Info- One thing I demand from stadiums is for relevant information such as speed pitch, speed type, pitch count, and players stats to be available and easy to find. At Minute Maid, these information is not easy to find despite a giant video board. One thing I hated: the video board is great- but is a waste of space. In the main, center portion of the board where player head shots, info, and stats are shown, they put a logo of the hitting team. So instead of an A-Rod head shot with player information, it was the Yankees logo.

Out-of-Town Scoreboard- One thing I loved: the out of town scoreboard. It shows the full nine inning box opposed to just a score and what inning it is. You don’t see too many stadiums do that.

Concourse- Minute Maid gets a major check mark for having an open concourse. In today’s day and age there is no excuse for a closed concourse. Fans should still be able to see the action when waiting in line to get food or drink or walking to the bathroom.

Roof- As much as I wanted the roof down, it is necessary. 4 months of the season it is 90+ outside and often it is 100+ with a lot of humidity. The roof is pretty much a necessity.

Tradition- It is always great when a ballpark has tradition and the playing of “Deep in the Heart of Texas” certainly qualifies.

Personal Score- 3.5/5 Watching baseball indoors was weird. But once the action gets going you don’t notice it because you get into the game. It truly is a great park to watch a game and it was a really fun game. Of all the modern stadiums I have been to, MMP might be the most unique and I like that. In fact, the view of left field with the fence, the facade, the train, and downtown Houston is one of my favorite sight lines of any park I have been to. There were some flaws- the food, lack of attention paid to team history, and waste of video board space were all bothersome- but that did not take away from what this park does right.

Overall Score- 74.5/115

Minute Maid Park has a lower score than expected, but it was hurt due to the smaller factors I don’t care as much about. As far as aesthetics, seats/view, and atmosphere, MMP is certainly one of the top dozen parks in baseball.