Grass Is Always Greener On The Other Side

GAME 46 PREVIEW COLORADO ROCKIES (14-31) at CHICAGO CUBS (21-24) Wrigley Field, 1.20pm CT, TV: CSN, Fox Sports RM
SP Mark Prior SP *Joe Kennedy
SS #Desi Relaford CF Jerry Hairston
2B Luis Gonzalez SS #Neifi Perez
1B *Todd Helton 1B Derrek Lee
CF Preston Wilson 3B Aramis Ramirez
RF *Brad Hawpe LF Jason Dubois
LF Matt Holliday RF *Jeromy Burnitz
3B Garrett Atkins CF *Corey Patterson
C #JD Closser C Henry Blanco
Pitcher's spot Pitcher's spot
Todd Walker, freshly back from the disabled list, is never one to shy away from giving his opinion. At the start of the year, for instance, he pronounced that the 16 runs the Cubs scored against the Diamondbacks in the season opener was reliable evidence that the offence wasn't as bad as everyone had feared. Er, okay. He's changed his tune a bit. From today's Tribune...
Even if you're a Tony Gwynn, he's not going to hit here what he hit in San Diego because of the tall grass. You hit balls in the gaps that land in front of the outfielders, and it's a single not a double. It doesn't kick and keep going. If you stand at home plate here, and you stand at home plate at Coors Field, there's a major difference in the outfield as a whole. I'm sure there's a purpose for [the Cubs keeping the grass long]. But here's my point: You either need home-run guys or speed guys. If you're a great hitter--like Nomar [Garciaparra]--he hit .290 [in 2004] instead of .320. A lot of balls Nomar hits for base hits go through third and short. And from what I noticed, those were being caught. Maybe 40 years ago they were hitting the ball around [Wrigley was a hitter's park]. But over the last few years, and especially the last two years, if you don't hit home runs, you have to have guys who bunt and steal and do the small ball thing--not two [players], but more like six or seven of those guys.
Todd Walker is off-base. There's little evidence to suggest that the grass is any tougher on hits (or doubles in particular) than other ballparks, at least according to ESPN's park factors. Perhaps part of the reason for that is that, though when the ball rolls it quickly slows, on the bounce the ball can really scoot. It'll come as news to nobody that Wrigley doesn't quite play like Coors, but I think that's the first time anyone's made the point that the grass is the difference between the two. Thin air at altitude, anyone? As for his comment regarding Nomar, he should be aware that Nomar hadn't hit .320 in Boston for a good few years until the first half of last year, and that even then the words small sample size are somewhat fitting. A more plausible excuse for "only" hitting .290 might also be found in Nomar's Achilles injury. Walker's unlying tone throughout (or at least the tone suggested by the way the piece is written by, er, Paul Sullivan) is that the grass is responsible for all our offensive woes. He's wrong. He's also wrong to come to the conclusion that, the grass supposedly being the problem, the Cubs have to have players up and down the lineup capable of bunting and stealing a base. If the grass really is causing so many extra outs on balls in play and as a result so many fewer baserunners, is the solution really to give up more outs (or risk more outs) whenever you have a rare baserunner on? I somewhat doubt it. It'd strike me as more fitting to instead find ways onto the bases that don't involve subjecting the ball to the grass. Take a wild swing at what I'm talking about. And then, with bases clogged, hit your homers if you will. That is, of course, if the problem is the grass. And it isn't. It's our offence.
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