Bill Shanks

Could SunTrust Park be the ‘Re-Launching Pad?’

Atlanta’s Matt Adams follows through on a home run at SunTrust Park.
Atlanta’s Matt Adams follows through on a home run at SunTrust Park. AP

For the first 30 years they were in Atlanta, the Braves played at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. It was known as the “Launching Pad,” as balls regularly flew out of the round, ashtray-type stadium that was a hitter’s paradise.

It had the highest elevation in baseball, at least until Coors Field opened in Colorado in 1993. That was the big thought of why the balls carried so well and made ordinary hitters power hitters.

Turner Field, its replacement, was known more as a fair park. Perhaps the Braves designed it differently due to the success of their pitchers in the mid-1990s. Perhaps it was because the park was not enclosed and the winds could not impact the flight of the ball as much.

Now, in SunTrust Park, it’s like we’re watching games at the “Launching Pad” again. The ball just carries so well in the new park. It’s not even just the home runs, but the balls hit in the gap that just seem to linger in the thick air a little bit longer.

The Braves have hit 21 home runs in their first 22 games at SunTrust Park, while opponents have hit 34. That’s 2.5 home runs per game so far in the new digs. Last year the Braves hit 52 home runs in 81 games at Turner Field, while opponents hit 79 — that’s 1.62 home runs per game.

The players can even tell in batting practice, when it’s a home run derby every day. And here’s the scary point — it’s not even really hot yet. Summer is still three weeks away. What will happen in that place when the dog days of summer take over in a few months?

Yeah, home run derby here we come.

So why is this new stadium different? Well, home plate at SunTrust Park is pointed toward the southeast, while Turner Field’s pointed north-northeast. Perhaps the openings, the gaps between the club level seats behind home plate and the other upper level seats, create additional wind patterns. Or maybe the high-rise buildings under construction outside the stadium almost give the park a circular feature compared to the open-air feel at Turner Field.

Right field in SunTrust Park is closer to home plate than it was in Turner Field — by 5 feet straight down the line and by 15 feet in the right-center field gap. No wonder Freddie Freeman got off to a great start.

If this trend continues, and SunTrust Park becomes known as a hitter-friendly venue, it might make the Braves look differently at how they construct their roster moving forward. They may look more closely at left-handed power hitters, and it might make them really evaluate what pitchers will do well there.

One pitcher we should look at is Julio Teheran, the team’s No. 1 starter. He has struggled mightily at home (8.40 ERA in six starts) compared to on the road (0.71 ERA in four starts). Teheran’s problem has been home runs. He has allowed none on the road and an amazing nine at SunTrust Park.

Could this mean the Braves will think about trading Teheran, if he doesn’t improve at SunTrust? Could they instead maximize Teheran’s trade value and maybe acquire a pitcher with a better ground-ball rate?

You know the Braves are thinking about adding a veteran (not a 40-year-old) for next year’s rotation. But doesn’t that list of potential free agents or trade targets get paired down with pitchers who have good curveballs or sinkers — pitches that usually create more ground balls than fly balls?

The curveball is seeing a comeback around baseball; even with pitchers throwing harder they are still throwing off-speed pitches more frequently. That might help Atlanta’s pitchers combat hitters who will be licking their chops to hit at SunTrust Park.

If SunTrust Park truly does become a hitter’s park, the Braves better make sure they have a strong bullpen each year, as big leads will not be very safe.

It’s still early, but there is reason to wonder if the Braves’ new home will become the “Re-Launching Pad.” And it will be a task for the front office to adjust accordingly as it continues to rebuild the Braves.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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