Chase Field, historically, is not a friendly place for pitchers.
The stadium’s elevation, the second-highest in Major League Baseball, makes it a tough place to pitch, and more to the point, to keep the ball in the yard. But the weather conditions also play a huge part. Arizona is the hottest and most arid big league climate, so gripping the ball can be a challenge for pitchers.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are taking steps to help their pitching staff, and others from visiting teams.
Team president and CEO Derrick Hall announced on Doug and Wolf Thursday morning on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM that the club is installing a humidor in which to store baseballs. Chase Field is only the second MLB venue to have a humidor, joining Coors Field in Denver, which famously installed one in 2002.
The Diamondbacks have tinkered with the idea for some time, according to Hall.
“We, for the past five or six years, have talked about the idea,” he said. “We talked to former pitchers, whether it’s J.J. Putz or pitchers who have retired or pitchers we’ve traded, and said ‘what did you like, what didn’t you like?’ They all talk about the grip.
“The one thing you don’t really want to do is negatively impact the offense, because that’s part of the fun of Chase Field or Coors Field, but I don’t think it really did diminish the offense at Coors Field. We don’t know if it’s going to make much of a difference, but it’s probably a necessity.”
Hall explained that there was a study done through Major League Baseball that concluded they would like to have baseballs stored at 70 degrees, with about 50 percent relative humidity. That’s impossible to do in Phoenix, especially in the hot summer months where temperatures climb into triple digits and humidity can be a single number.
Storing the balls in a humidor will hopefully improve a pitcher’s grip and provide more consistency throughout the sport.
Skeptics might suggest that the D-backs, who uncharacteristically shelled out $206.5 million for free agent pitcher Zack Greinke prior to the 2016 season, are making such a move to appease him and make his numbers look better. Hall says that’s simply not true.
“I think you could talk to Zack Greinke, or any pitcher we have, and they say ‘this is news to me’ just as it is to everyone else out there,” Hall said. “We’ve never had a conversation with any current pitcher and this is something we’ve looked at for five-plus years, so well before Zack Greinke was here. It had nothing to do with last year’s ERA, as bad as that was.
“I think we started looking at this when we were pitching pretty well, too.”
Hall said MLB has strict guidelines in place once the humidor is installed. Among them, once it’s on, it’s on. All balls used in games at Chase Field will be subject to the same handling procedures and the club can’t turn it off when and if they feel like it.
The D-backs hope to have the installation completed in about a month, before the hot, dry summer months hit.
“Again, I don’t know if it’s going to make a difference,” Hall said. “It hasn’t made a huge difference at Coors Field, I don’t think. But even our pitchers say when they grip the ball there, it’s a better feel than it is here, so let’s at least try to get it consistent with the rest of baseball.”