Is Wrigley Field a hitter's paradise?
Welcome to Wrigley Field, where the sun always shines and a friendly warm breeze always blows out toward the bleachers.
Well, not so much.
The Chicago Cubs are getting set for the National League division series, and they'll have homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs as far as they advance.
Wrigley Field provided the Cubs a big edge this season as they finished 57-24 at the Friendly Confines.
The weather may have helped, and it may continue to help as the cool autumn days and nights settle in.
Wrigley Field may have a reputation as a hitter's paradise, a reputation fueled by warm winds that send baseballs flying over the ivy-covered walls at the height of summer.
But as Cubs manager Joe Maddon has pointed out, the old ballpark plays most days as big as any stadium in the major leagues.
"It's like no other place," Maddon said recently. "There's no other ballpark I've been involved with anywhere that can change so dramatically from day to day. But that's what it is, and it's a beautiful thing."
The big reason Wrigley plays so big on many days is the wind.
Unlike many new ballparks, Wrigley Field has no outfield upper deck, which can create a swirling effect. At Wrigley, what you see is what you get when it comes to the wind affecting baseballs hit into the air.
The wind blows in far more than it blows out, and it has done so for many years.
This season the wind blew in at Wrigley Field 48 times. It blew out only 19 times, and there were 14 crosswinds.
The wind is considered to be blowing in when it comes from the north, east or northeast. East and northeast winds come in over the cold or cool waters of Lake Michigan.
It's blowing out from the south, west or southwest. Northwest and southeast winds are crosswinds, and those generally favor the pitchers.
When the wind blew in this year, the average number of runs per game at Wrigley was 7.3. When it blew out, the average was 9.6. Crosswinds produced a figure of 7.9 runs per game.
This year's figures do not represent an anomaly. Beginning with the year 2000, the wind has blown out more than it has blown in at Wrigley only once, in 2004, when it blew out 39 times compared with 35 times blowing in, with eight crosswinds.
The wind has blown in at least 50 times in these four seasons: 2000, 2001, 2009 and 2013.
That seems fine by Maddon.
"I love it," he said. "I know the hitters hate that, but really, from a manager's perspective, it's easier to manage in a pitchers ballpark than it is a hitters ballpark.
"From your perspective, you think you've made the correct decision, but at the end of the night, if the ball is put up in the air and the wind is blowing out and you lose on a popup or a flyball, it's very annoying."
ESPN.com compiles ballpark factors for each season. According to the site, "park factor compares the rate of stats at home vs. the rate of stats on the road. A rate higher than 1.000 favors the hitter. Below 1.000 favors the pitcher."
For runs scored, Wrigley Field ranked 25th, at 0.874. For home runs, it was 24th, at 0.819.
At the top of the list for runs was Denver's Coors Field, at 1.368. For home runs, it was New York's Yankee Stadium, at 1.377. The toughest for runs was Houston's Minute Maid Park (0.808). The hardest for homers was AT&T Park in San Francisco (0.704).
The wind is only one factor at Wrigley Field, and there are mitigating factors that favor the hitters, such as short power alleys (368) feet and small foul territory, which has shrunk even more in recent years as the Cubs have added premium seating. Foul balls that are caught in some other parks fall harmlessly into the stands at Wrigley, giving the batter another chance.
There's another thing working in the favor of an outstanding Cubs pitching staff, and that's the team's extraordinarily good defense. Fielders such as Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward and others have turned many a hit into an out.
"When you talk about our defense, our defense playing so well, it could be aided by the fact that the ball is not going to be blowing over the fence all the time," Maddon said. "It definitely impacts a hitter's thinking.
"It's no different than if you're a golfer and you get up on the tee box and the wind's in your face and you see this nice little water hazard right in front of you. It alters the way you think. You can't help it.
"So when you get up there and the wind's in your face all the time, it definitely sends a different thought into a hitter's head."
When pressed, Maddon said he prefers pitcher-friendly parks.
"Preference wise, I'd rather manage in a big ballpark," he said. "I'd rather manage a team playing in a big ballpark with pitching and defense any day of the week. I do prefer it, although if we hit home runs and win, I prefer that.
"I like neutral elements whenever possible. You could take full advantage of your team that way. If I had my choice, yes, I would prefer it slanted to pitching and defense over offense.
"I think the team that plays better baseball under those circumstances has a better chance of winning. Sometimes when it's slanted toward offense, a flyball in the eighth inning … you could play a perfect game, guy makes a decent pitch and a flyball gets out and all of a sudden you lose."
Maddon speaks from experience.
"I lived it in Midland, Texas," he said. "I played that. When you manage in West Texas in El Paso and in Midland, wow, it's an entirely different … it's just like Denver or Colorado Springs, Salt Lake City. If you really want to see more offense, put some franchises in those cities. You're going to see some offense.
"I prefer neutral to slanted toward pitching and defense. I think then, if you're a really good baseball team, you've got a pretty good shot."