Hunting the Dreaded Sun Monster

Nats fans are all too well acquainted with the dreaded Sun Monster that ate up both Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth during a Sunday afternoon horror show against the Brewers at Nats park on September 23. (Of course, this creature already has its own twitter account.)

Well, the Nats will travel to Saint Louis to play the Cardinals in the National League Division series. Because television is run by media elites who write idiotic hit pieces about DC, the Nats will play at 3:00 P.M, Eastern time. Thanks to the New York DamnYankees and their stranglehold on prime-time television scheduling, the Nats will have to play an afternoon game for the benefit of the legions of unemployed television-viewing baseball fans everywhere who would otherwise be numbing their pain with vicodin and bourbon cocktails while watching Dr. Phil.

This also means that Harper, Werth, and possibly Morse might have to contend with a Saint Louis Sun Monster. James Wagner of the Post has already written a fairly good piece on the difficulties of the sun in Saint Louis. I commend that piece to you if you want to read about how players felt about the sun.

But here at Natstradamus, we like verifiable phenomena where we can find them. So the question is: when is the worst sun field time at New Busch Stadium in Saint Louis?

If you don’t want to be blinded with science here’s your short answer: the Sun Monster is going to gobble up whoever is standing in center field at 4:02 P.M. Central Time (5:02 Eastern).

Let’s start with the ballpark orientation. You should all bookmark this diagram by the brilliant FlipFlopFlyBall. That’s a graphical representation of the direction a batter faces in all MLB ballparks, relative to True North.

Let’s assume that a center fielder in straight-away center field lines up so that he could stare at the batter directly in the eyes–that is, they would be on the same line, facing each other. (I know this isn’t how real defensive alignment works, but go with me on this, OK?) That means that the center fielder would have to be facing 180 degrees opposite the batter’s facing.

Refer again to that diagram and look for Busch Stadium. If you plug Busch Stadium into Google Earth and measure the angle from home plate to straight away center field, you will see that the batter faces about 68 degrees from true North. The Center Fielder, then, would have to be facing the other direction (180 degrees opposite!) so the Center Fielder’s facing is about 248 degrees from true North.

Thanks to the hard work of scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the general public has access to an excellent Solar position calculator. The value we’re looking for is the Solar Azimuth: the position of the sun in degrees clockwise from north.

At the start of the game (2:00 P.M. Central Time, 3:00 P.M. Eastern), we can already see that the solar azimuth is at 221.94 degrees. Things get progressively worse as the afternoon goes on, however. At about 4:02 local time, things are at their worst: the solar azimuth reaches the dreaded 248.06 degrees: right into the eyes of the center fielder.

Yikes. How about a shadow? That’s going to need a bit of trigonometry.

At the start of the game, the solar elevation (the angle of the sun, measured from the horizon) is 36.06 degrees. I don’t have good measurements of the height of the stands at Busch Stadium, so I’m going to assume the stands are about 100 feet tall at their highest point. We’ll also imagine that the center fielder is playing about medium depth (start of the inning, no basenners, no defensive shifts on) which puts him maybe 375 feet from home plate. I don’t know the measurement of the foul ground between the plate and the backstop. Let’s assume it’s 12 feet.

The length of the shadow at any given time, then, assuming that the sun is shining directly behind home plate, is the long side of a right triangle formed by the base of the backstop (A), the top of the stands (B), and the position of the center fielder (C). If that value is equal to or greater than 387 (375+12), the center fielder is in the shadow; if less, the Sun Monster has him.

So how long will the shadow be at 4:02 PM central time? well, that’ll be

\tan{\theta} = \frac{\text{height of stands}}{\text{distance from backstop}}

Which means

\text{Length of shadow} = \frac{\text{height of stands}}{\tan \theta}

Where

\theta = \text{angle of elevation}

With an angle of elevation of 16.51 degrees at 4:02 PM local time,

\text{Length of shadow} = \frac{\text{100 feet}}{\tan 16.51^\circ} = 337 \text{feet}

Our center fielder will get no help from the shadows, then. If he stands 375 feet from the plate, he’s 387 feet from the backstop, and in the full sun. Fifty feet ahead of him (in what would now doubtless be infield-fly territory), the relief of the shadows beckons. But he must live with the full sun.

At the start of the game, by the way, the shadows are much shorter–a mere 137 feet–so even if the sun isn’t directly in the center fielder’s eyes, pretty much the whole outfield is in direct sunlight.

There you have it, Nats fans. We had better hope that there are no fly balls hit to Nats outfielders tomorrow.

Corey Brown: The Future at Center Field?

As I was getting myself psyched up for tonight’s Nats game against the Phils, this tweet caught my eye:

Translated:
Corey Brown has looked like Mike Trout in the minor leagues. He’s a left-handed batter. Looks like he’ll play winter ball. Where?

Whoa. Wait. Corey Brown? Corey Brown? I mean, I liked what I saw in a couple of brief appearances with the big league club, and I was dimly aware that he was tearing up the Nats minor league system, but nobody had ever compared him to Mike Trout.

I couldn’t let a statement like that go unexamined. And, although the comparison is inapt, a quick look at the numbers suggests that maybe, just maybe Corey Brown is the Nats’ Center Fielder of the Future.

In 3 seasons (and 260 games!) at AAA (one at Sacramento, two at Syracuse)Corey Brown’s slash line is .255/.340/.463 over 1,036 plate appearances.

Mike Trout’s rise was so meteoric he spent only 20 games in AAA, posting a .403/.467/.623 slash line over a paltry 93 plate appearances. Advantage to Trout–but over a miniscule sample size.

How about their AA performances? Over 156 games and 667 plate appearances in AA, Brown posted a .298/.397.496 slash. Trout spent 91 games and 412 plate appearances at AA, posting a .326/.414/.544 slash line.

But look at those slash lines again. If we subtract the batting average from slugging percentage, we reach Isolated Power, a measure of raw power (since we throw out all the lousy singles). The gap narrows significantly: Corey Brown posts an ISO of .208 in AAA and .198 in AA, while Mike Trout posts an ISO of .220 in AAA and .218 in AA.

The difference seems to be in their strikeout rates. Trout doesn’t strike out a lot: 18.4% in AA, 17.2% in AAA, and 19.9% in his time in the big leagues so far. By contrast, Brown struck out 24.4% of the time in AA, 25.7% in AAA (We’ll throw out his big league appearances for now, since the sample size is so small).

In AAA, Brown walks 9.7% of the time and a respactable BB/K ratio of .383. This compares well with Trout’s AAA walk rate of 11.8%, but Trout trounces Brown in BB/K at .690.

Still, Brown has managed to get on base at a .340 clip in AAA. If he were to get on base at that clip in the big leagues, he would be a viable choice in the lead-off spot for the Nats. That would make him better at getting on base than any of the current Nats’ lead-off hitters.

What does all of this add up to? I guess you might say that Corey Brown is a (very) poor man’s Mike Trout–an outfielder who bats for a lot of power and gets on base at a respectable clip.

But the most important thought to carry with you into September’s roster expansion and spring training 2013 is this: Assuming Brown’s plate discipline doesn’t deteriorate, he might be the center fielder and lead-off hitter we’ve been waiting for all these years.