Have you ever watched a baseball game and put any thought into the angle at which the game is presented to you? Odds are you probably haven’t. Unfortunately, this is something you’re now going to consider anytime you watch a baseball game and I apologize in advance if I ruin the viewing experience for you.
With that said, the majority of baseball fans consume the sport through the lens of a camera. It is impossible to attend all 162 of your favorite team’s games during the season and with MLB.TV making it easy to view out-of-market games for much of the country (sorry Iowa), you’re probably bouncing around the league watching a lot of out-of-market games. Not to mention all of the wonderful, awesome, spectacular GIFs all over Twitter that MLB thankfully
allows us to share turns a blind eye to (unless the game is broadcast on Fox, in which case the DMCA takedowns swarm like flies on…you get it).
Now, we need to define what is important as a viewer. What is it that we want to see during a baseball game? Obviously, we want to see any batted ball events. If a ball is hit to second, we want to see the play. If a ball is hit to the warning track, we want to see the outfielder running to the spot where he either makes the catch or dives trying. There are cameras all over every ballpark, and crews are good about cutting to the correct camera in real-time to show us what’s happening. But we don’t care about those angles, they are not the problem (and frankly, they’re mostly all the same).
Most of the action during a baseball game is between the pitcher, the catcher, and the batter. And sometimes Ángel Hernández. But mostly between the pitcher, catcher, and batter. Naturally, that makes the center field camera angle the most important aspect of broadcasting a baseball game. So why aren’t all center field camera angles the same?
“Wacky angles and weird dimensions are what make baseball great!” Sure, when it comes to ballpark dimensions. If ballparks were all the same shape and size the sport would be much less fun. But that’s not what I’m talking about. For those of us watching at home, it’s all about that center field camera, and wacky camera angles can actually make baseball a pretty crummy product.
Let’s take a look at two pitches – one by Casey Lawrence in Baltimore, and one by Logan Webb in Philadelphia. These are both changeups, and we know that changeups will naturally move down and to the glove side.
Notice a difference? If you didn’t notice before, you will now. And again, I’m sorry if this ruins the viewing experience for your favorite team.
The camera in center field at Camden Yards is just off center to the right of the pitcher. The plate is framed just to the right of the center of the screen, while the pitcher is framed left of center. The camera is zoomed out enough for us to see plenty of space around home plate. We see the ball come out of the pitcher’s hand, travel towards the inside part of the plate, and then fall off to his arm side below the zone and out of reach for the batter. The batter sees the ball coming inside initially, then falling away from where he expected it to be as he swings through it. With this angle, for this pitch, we see the same thing the batter sees.
For the pitch at Citizens Bank Park, the camera is much more zoomed in. The plate is still around the same area of the screen, but the pitcher is framed in the left third of the screen. The batter is framed in the right third of the screen. The angle follows the Rule of Thirds, but it shouldn’t! We see the ball come out of the pitcher’s hands. Where is it heading initially? Because of how the camera is positioned, we can’t tell which side of the plate the ball is thrown to. We see a ton of vertical movement, but how much horizontal movement does it actually have? That horizontal movement is exaggerated because the ball has to travel left to right across the screen on its’ way to home plate. With this angle, we do not see the same thing the batter sees.
Let’s isolate the movement of the ball on the screen. I’ve clipped each pitch, starting at the pitcher’s release point and ending at the moment the ball hits the glove. I’ve inverted the clip so we can only see the ball, and I’ve zoomed in and slowed it down.
Which clip is a more accurate representation of how the movement of a changeup is supposed to look? Spoiler alert, it’s the first one. If you’re wondering, I chose to feature these two ballparks because they’re #1 and #30 in the rankings, respectively. Now you can see why.
So let’s get back to what is important – viewing the action between the pitcher, the catcher, and the batter. This is Pitcher List after all – we care about the pitcher above all. We’re in the Pitching Ninja/PLV/Stuff+ era, and we care about nasty pitches and movement and deception and all of that fun stuff. If you’re watching a game from home, the product is totally different depending on which ballpark the game is being played in. I repeat: The product is totally different. This should not be the case.
If Corbin Burnes throws a 96 MPH cutter up in the zone to a left-handed batter in Baltimore, and he throws the exact same pitch to a lefty in Philadelphia, it’s going to look exactly the same to the batter. However, for the viewer, it’s going to look totally different. And that’s a problem not just for our viewing pleasure, but for the marketability of the sport in general.
Baseball is already facing a casual fan viewership crisis. Those of us who are baseball fans will watch baseball regardless, but casual fans need to be enticed to watch the game. In the three-true-outcome era, casual fans have lost interest because the product, in their minds, sucks. One way to combat that is by emphasizing the greatness of today’s pitchers – show off that filthy, nasty stuff that gets a ton of eyeballs on Twitter. But we can only do that when the true movement of the pitch is shown through the lens of the camera. And for half of the league, the camera angles suck. That makes for an inferior product for fans of half of the league, and it’s totally unfair to them.
I write this as a plea to the league and any of the teams with inferior angles. Please, please, correct this issue. Normalize the camera angles in every ballpark to show off the true movement of all pitches as best as possible. The game is suffering because Zac Gallen’s home park has a terrible camera angle. The game is suffering because José Alvarado’s ridiculously filthy cutter looks totally different in Philadelphia than it did in Tampa Bay. You owe it to your current fans and your future fans, and those of us that make up Baseball GIF Twitter can help you show off the incredibly talented pitchers in your league if you fix your center field cameras.
While we’re at it – for fans at the ballpark, replay nasty pitches on the jumbotron immediately! Let the ooohs and ahhhs be heard around the stadium as fans react in real-time to a filthy pitch. This aspect of the game is completely lost for fans in attendence, as 99% of fans have a terrible viewing angle on a pitch-by-pitch basis. Giving fans in attendance a similar experience to the one they would find on Twitter will grow the game. Just do it, MLB.
Now that we understand the importance of a good camera angle, let’s get to the rankings. I’ve ranked each ballpark 1-30. I’ve included a GIF for each ballpark, showing both a righty and a lefty throw a changeup and a slider. This way we can easily see what arm-side and glove-side movement looks from either side of the rubber in every park. We’ve also tried to normalize pitch movement and location as much as possible. The shape of every pitch is not exactly the same, but we’ve done our best to minimize the impact that variable has on each pitch. A huge shoutout is due to our Director of Data Analytics & Research, Kyle Bland, who spent a good chunk of time tracking down these pitches for me despite a crying newborn keeping him up all night and day. Thank you Kyle!
As you scroll through, you’ll notice that most of the angles have a right-handed pitcher bias, meaning the camera is off-center to the right of the pitcher. This makes sense since 72.6% of all pitches in 2022 were thrown by a RHP. However, that makes the ballparks that are LHP friendly just that much sweeter, and their ranks benefited as a result. Who doesn’t love a good Shane McClanahan banana sinker?
I want to make one thing clear – these rankings are not an indictment on the people behind the controls of the cameras themselves. The men and women who brave the elements every day from March to November on a seat out in center field don’t choose where the camera is placed. They do incredible work to bring us the game we love, and their efforts are greatly appreciated. Likewise, those who are part of the broadcast in other areas, whether it be in the stadium or in a truck, make split-second decisions to bring us all of the action on a daily basis and they are also excellent at their job. These rankings are solely based on the placement of the cameras relative to home plate, not on the people involved in bringing us the game we love.
And with that, let’s do this!
Cream of the Crop
These are the best of the best. If I see a good pitcher pitching in one of these ballparks, I’m tuning in and firing up the GIF machine. Televised games in these ballparks are a joy to watch.
(1) Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Slightly off center, nothing in the way. Perfectly zoomed. Always great lighting. Excellent camera work. It’s not the best for lefties, but it’s good enough. The gold standard.
(2) Truist Park
These dead-center angles can be hit or miss (more on that later), but Atlanta and Boston are both hits. They’re at a great height, the pitcher is rarely blocking the plate after throwing the pitch, and they show great horizontal movement, including from lefties. Vertical movement leaves a little to be desired, but the good largely outweighs the bad in these parks.
(3) Fenway Park
Shadows are an issue during day games, but that’s not the camera’s fault.
(4) Tropicana Field
The colors at Tropicana Field are totally washed out and the field is an ugly shade of green, but they really nailed the camera angle. This is the best angle for lefties, so if you’re looking to see Shane McClanahan, Framber Valdez, Max Fried, etc., be on the lookout for their games in the Trop.
Most of these are very similar, almost cookie cutter. Changeups and sinkers by right-handers have emphasized movement, but that secretly increases the nasty factor and makes for a better GIF.
(5) American Family Field
This one is dead on center, but is a little too low. The pitcher is often still in the frame after the pitch is thrown and can sometimes block our view. Otherwise would be higher on the list. Watching Corbin Burnes pitch at home is an absolute dream.
(6) PNC Park
If only the Pirates had better pitching…
(7) Target Field
I have a feeling I’ll be watching a lot of Twins baseball this year with that starting rotation, and games in Minnesota will be near the top of my list thanks to this angle.
(8) Rogers Centre
I’m honestly a little surprised with how high I’ve ranked this one. It’s not one I think of as being a top 10 angle, but the more I compared it to the others the further I bumped it up the list. It could just be an indictment on how bad the rest of the league’s cameras are, but I’ve gotta give credit where credit is due. Just zoom out a tad, will ya?
(9) loanDepot Park
Miami used to be #2 on the list, but they zoomed it out, moved the camera to the right, and pointed it more toward the ground in 2021. Here’s what it used to be:
It’s still top 10, but it got bumped down almost two tiers as a result. It’s a shame, really.
There are worse
I’m not seeking out pitchers in these parks, but I’m not completely ignoring them, either.
(10) T-Mobile Park
The fact that the circle around home plate isn’t centered in the screen irks me and definitely played into this ranking. Otherwise, it’s a decent option.
(11) Wrigley Field
Wrigley’s camera is zoomed in too much, but it’s always a pleasure catching a game called by the great Boog Sciambi.
(12) Guaranteed Rate Field
The south side’s camera is too low to the ground, and pitchers often end up blocking the view of the plate on their follow-through.
(13) Minute Maid Park
Houston only ranks this high because it’s so LHP-friendly. The birds-eye view takes away much of the vertical depth on pitches, and with the camera actually slightly off-center to the left it exaggerates curveballs and sliders by righties a bit too much. However, it’s a great angle for lefties, and Framber Valdez‘ changeup really shines in this ballpark.
The below-average tier starts at #14? Sheesh. We’ve got some work to do, MLB
(14) Dodger Stadium
Imagine if Clayton Kershaw pitched most of his games in Tampa or Houston? We’ve been robbed of some truly filthy GIFs over the years, folks.
(15) Nationals Park
(16) Citi Field
If these rankings were strictly for slo-mo camera work, Citi Field would be #1. The person manning the camera in centerfield for SNY is the best in baseball. Just move it over to the left a bit, will ya?
(17) Yankee Stadium
Most of these are zoomed in too much, but Yankee Stadium could benefit from a little more zoom.
This is where things get offensive. Cameras are way off-center, too high, too low, or with zoom issues across the board.
(18) Coors Field
A birds-eye view that isn’t straight on center, Coors field lacks good views of lefties and masks vertical movement at the same time. A losing combination.
(19) Progressive Field
Too much zoom, too far off-center. That goes for most of the rest of these.
(20) Comerica Park
(21) Kauffman Stadium
The Wild West
I don’t know what it is about the AL/NL West having such poor camera angles. Has the technology not made it past the Mississippi yet? These are all very bad, and I’m usually skipping starts in these ballparks unless it’s someone I really want to watch.
(22) Chase Field
(23) Angel Stadium
If Shohei Ohtani pitched left-handed I would riot.
(24) Petco Park
(25) Oracle Park
(26) RingCentral Coliseum
The seagull played no part in their ranking being this low. Honestly, it may have saved it from being in the next tier.
I can’t even
This tier is honestly just infuriating. I have no words.
(27) Busch Stadium
Busch Stadium seems to be the only park where the shortstop and 2nd base umpire are almost always in the frame. It’s super annoying. Raise the camera, straighten it out, and you’ve got yourself a fine angle with a pretty brick background.
(28) Globe Life Field
Texas is where vertical movement goes to die. Everything either goes left, right, or straight and we lose out on a lot of a pitch’s deception as a result.
(29) Great American Ballpark
Remember what I said about Seattle? Yeah, this is way worse. It’s a good thing GABP is a hitter’s ballpark because watching pitchers here is borderline impossible.
(30) Citizens Bank Park
If Camden Yards is the gold standard, what does that make Citizens Bank Park? I’m not sure it’s even worth my time trying to come up with something funny here. #FreeJoséAlvarado
Photo by Phil Roeder | Design by Quincey Dong (@threerundong on Twitter)
“Oracle Park at Camden Yards” should be “Oriole Park at Camden Yards”.
Good catch, thank you. I definitely thought in my head “Why is there two Oracle parks?” when I wrote it so Oriole park makes way more sense!
This subject doesn’t much interest me at all, just saying.