Eye Color Inside the Baselines

Rangers’ outfielder Josh Hamilton suggested that guys with blue eyes have trouble hitting during day games.

“I ask guys all the time,” Hamilton told ESPN 103.3 FM’s Bryan Dolgin when asked if he had any theories to his drastic splits. “Guys with blue eyes, brown eyes, whatever … and guys with blue eyes have a tough time.” . . .

“It’s just hard for me to see [at the plate] in the daytime,” Hamilton said. “It’s just what it is. Try to go up [to the plate] squinting and see a white ball while the sun is shining right off the plate, you know, and beaming right up in your face.”

So is Josh myopic?  There has to be SOME explanation for his career split of .240 in day games and .334 at night.  Perhaps Hamilton is right, given what a local optometrist opines later on in the article:

Dr. Richard L. Ison, an optometrist since 1990 who is practicing in Murphy, Texas, said it’s true that having blue eyes makes it tougher to see during the day than those with darker eyes.

“Because of the lack of pigment in lighter color eyes — like blue or green eyes as opposed to brown — you get a lot more unwanted light and that can create glare problems,” Ison said.

Ison said the phenomenon is called intraocular light scatter, meaning the light scatters as it enters, producing a focal point that isn’t as good.

His solution for Hamilton: Find a pair of sunglasses that he’s completely comfortable wearing while batting.

Are there other possible explanations?  Perhaps he is just NOT a morning person? (small sample size alert notwithstanding):

Results indicate that players who were “morning types” had a higher batting average (.267) than players who were “evening types” (.259) in early games that started before 2 p.m. However, evening types had a higher batting average (.261) than morning types (.252) in mid-day games that started between 2 p.m. and 7:59 p.m. This advantage for evening types persisted and was strongest in late games that began at 8 p.m. or later, when evening types had a .306 batting average and morning types maintained a .252 average.

Then again, maybe Hamilton was onto something and he just needs cloud cover?:

It turns out that batting averages go up when the sun ducks behind a cloud, according to a new study that looked at thousands of major league baseball games played between 1987 and 2002.

And hitting isn’t the only thing — the presence or absence of clouds affects baseball in all sorts of ways, from strikeouts to errors to which team wins, Wes P. Kent and Scott C. Sheridan report in an analysis published by the American Meteorological Society.

“Brighter conditions may result in increased eye strain for a batter and a higher level of glare in a ballpark,” the researchers suggested. . . .

Home teams had a .266 batting average on cloudy days, the researchers found. That slipped to .259 on clear days. For the visitors, the batting average was .256 when it cloudy and .251 on clear days.

Obviously, if cloudy days are better for hitting, sunshine should benefit the pitcher, and that’s just what they found.

Earned runs allowed by home pitchers were lowest on clear days at 3.93, climbing to 4.26 on cloudy days. For visiting pitchers the ERA was 4.50 in the clear and 4.68 under the clouds. . . .

The analysis is based on statistics from 10,758 major league day games obtained from STATS LLC and weather data collected by the National Climatic Data Center, showing the conditions at the nearest National Weather Service office to each stadium at game time. The findings are published in the current issue of the journal Weather, Climate and Society.

Kent said he had expected to see better hitting in cloudy conditions but was surprised by how strong the effect was on strikeouts. Home pitchers averaged 6.65 strikeouts on clear days, but in cloudy conditions that fell to 6.22. For visiting pitchers, the drop from clear to cloudy was from 6.14 to 5.67.

With regard to the eye color question, there WAS a small study done more than 20 years ago on this matter, with the following abstract:

Examined the batting statistics of 139 professional baseball players taken from the back of bubble gum cards. Players were classified by eye color as 45 dark-eyed White (DEW) players, 27 light-eyed White (LEW) players, and 67 Black players. An analysis of scores with DEW and LEW players as independent variables yielded no significant effects for any statistics. An analysis with LEW and DEW players combined and Black players as independent variables showed that Black players scored more 3rd base hits, stole more bases, and had better batting averages than White players. Associations with eye color were not clear enough for adequate explanations. (emphasis mine)

Tracking down ballplayers’ eye color is not easy, even in today’s “everything is on the Web” world.  I have no desire to spend boatloads of time going through my old baseball cards and coding “blue”, “brown”, uh . . . “heterochromic“.  So let’s examine this “day game” issue from a different perspective.  Do entire teams or leagues hit better during the daytime?  Does this difference change from year to year?  Do the Rangers hit better in home day games than road day games (as compared to night games)?

First, let’s look at league-wide OPS in day games and night games since 2000 (2011 data through Thursday):

MAJOR LEAGUE OPS – DAY/NIGHT SINCE 2000
YEAR DAY  NIGHT  DIFF
2000 .785 .780 0.6%
2001 .756 .760 -0.5%
2002 .746 .748 -0.3%
2003 .750 .757 -0.9%
2004 .765 .762 0.4%
2005 .746 .751 -0.7%
2006 .767 .769 -0.3%
2007 .759 .758 0.1%
2008 .749 .750 -0.1%
2009 .747 .753 -0.8%
2010 .726 .730 -0.5%
2011 .716 .705 1.6%

More often than not, players have had slightly better offensive stats during night games.  2011 is an outlier so far, with the highest difference either way (but in this case in favor of day games) since 2000.  I would tend to chalk this up to the higher proportion of day games played in April and May than you would find in an entire season, leading to greater familiarity and comfort during the early months.  In the later, warmer months, more night games are played and the pitcher’s arms tend to be taxed, increasing offense.

Unfortunately for Hamilton, the Rangers, though they still lag behind the major league average for playing home day games, have in recent years increased the number of afternoon tilts:

MLB TOTAL TEXAS ONLY
DAY GAMES % OF TOTAL DAY GAMES % OF TOTAL
1972 695 37% 13 17%
1973 688 35% 3 4%
1974 703 36% 6 8%
1975 652 34% 6 8%
1976 683 35% 8 10%
1977 713 34% 7 9%
1978 711 34% 6 7%
1979 694 33% 4 5%
1980 685 33% 5 6%
1981 476 34% 5 9%
1982 620 29% 8 10%
1983 656 31% 6 7%
1984 670 32% 8 10%
1985 726 35% 6 8%
1986 746 35% 9 11%
1987 690 33% 6 7%
1988 660 31% 9 11%
1989 656 31% 7 9%
1990 607 29% 5 6%
1991 621 30% 8 10%
1992 663 31% 6 7%
1993 742 33% 10 12%
1994 528 33% 6 10%
1995 618 31% 8 11%
1996 772 34% 12 15%
1997 785 35% 11 14%
1998 755 31% 11 14%
1999 778 32% 13 16%
2000 795 33% 12 15%
2001 800 33% 14 17%
2002 783 32% 11 14%
2003 799 33% 15 19%
2004 802 33% 21 26%
2005 791 33% 24 30%
2006 785 32% 15 19%
2007 752 31% 16 20%
2008 764 31% 17 21%
2009 782 32% 15 19%
2010 789 32% 18 22%

So, how have the Rangers as a team fared in the day and the night?  Do Hamilton’s struggles extend to his teammates? (Note: Hamilton joined the Rangers in 2008):

TEXAS RANGERS YEARLY OPS – DAY VS. NIGHT
YEAR  DAY  NIGHT  DIFF
2000 .802 .796 0.8%
2001 .804 .818 -1.7%
2002 .795 .794 0.1%
2003 .810 .774 4.7%
2004 .743 .806 -7.8%
2005 .843 .776 8.6%
2006 .721 .803 -10.2%
2007 .756 .753 0.4%
2008 .774 .829 -6.6%
2009 .752 .769 -2.2%
2010 .707 .776 -8.9%
2011 .675 .782 -13.7%

A lot of volatility in this regard through 2007.  But since Hamilton traded his Cincinnati Reds uni for Rangers colors in 2008, the entire roster seems to have a Dracula-like aversion to the sun.  These extreme differences run counter to the small variances league-wide, regardless of the decline in total offense over the past few years.

Next, I wondered if the Day/Night differences might be due to the ballpark.  Maybe the oppressive Texas heat negatively impacts the Rangers’ offense more in day games?  Perhaps the “Ballpark at Arlington” provides a worse background for batters during the day?

The following table shows the percentage difference in OPS at home versus on the road, split out between day and night games.  A positive number means that the Rangers performed better at home.

HOME VS. ROAD OPS DIFFERENTIAL
YEAR DAY DIFF NITE DIFF
1972 4.7% 6.2%
1973 -13.1% 10.7%
1974 0.8% 1.6%
1975 -10.9% -1.8%
1976 5.3% 7.9%
1977 10.4% -1.5%
1978 -2.6% 2.4%
1979 -1.4% 4.2%
1980 1.3% 6.6%
1981 13.7% -3.1%
1982 2.5% -4.9%
1983 -2.6% 9.2%
1984 13.1% 1.1%
1985 -12.4% 17.6%
1986 -4.3% -0.9%
1987 -3.1% 11.0%
1988 17.3% 6.6%
1989 2.7% 5.2%
1990 6.5% 9.7%
1991 15.8% -1.6%
1992 -14.9% 1.3%
1993 -13.1% 12.0%
1994 * -8.8% 1.3%
1995 13.9% 8.7%
1996 7.4% 9.0%
1997 23.4% 6.8%
1998 5.9% 8.3%
1999 0.3% 5.3%
2000 22.4% 12.8%
2001 5.1% 4.6%
2002 15.7% 17.5%
2003 40.3% 13.5%
2004 7.9% 15.0%
2005 14.6% 14.3%
2006 7.4% 3.3%
2007 12.1% 10.3%
2008 7.4% 14.3%
2009 5.9% 17.1%
2010 9.8% 11.3%

* 1994 – Rangers move into new home ballpark

So, for example, during the 2009 season, Texas hit 17.1% better during night games at home than they did on the road, and only 5.9% better during day games at home than on the road.

From 1995 onward, the Rangers have hit better at home in both day games and night games.  This isn’t too surprising.  However, since Hamilton’s arrival in Texas, the differences are consistently greater during night games.  (In case you are wondering about that 40.3% day game differential in 2003, the Rangers as a TEAM had a .990 OPS in home day games that season, versus a .705 mark in road day games.  That would be akin to having this roster for all your home day games.)

But this still doesn’t totally explain the “daytime” issues.  I decided to sort of “transpose” the prior chart, and break out the Rangers yearly OPS by home and road, day and night.  The “Road D/N DIF” and “Home D/N DIF” columns show the percentage differences in OPS, with a positive number denoting better performance during the daytime.  The “Net Diff” thus shows a positive number if the road differential is higher.

YEAR ROAD D/N DIF HOME D/N DIF NET DIFF
1972 3.7% 2.3% 1.5%
1973 13.6% -10.8% 24.4%
1974 -3.1% -3.8% 0.8%
1975 1.8% -7.7% 9.5%
1976 10.7% 8.0% 2.7%
1977 -9.6% 1.3% -10.9%
1978 0.0% -4.8% 4.8%
1979 0.1% -5.3% 5.4%
1980 3.2% -2.0% 5.1%
1981 -3.2% 13.5% -16.7%
1982 10.8% 19.5% -8.7%
1983 -3.4% -13.9% 10.5%
1984 -16.9% -7.0% -9.8%
1985 8.1% -19.5% 27.5%
1986 0.5% -2.9% 3.5%
1987 7.4% -6.3% 13.6%
1988 -5.9% 3.5% -9.4%
1989 -1.4% -3.7% 2.3%
1990 1.2% -1.6% 2.9%
1991 -3.6% 13.5% -17.1%
1992 2.7% -13.7% 16.4%
1993 16.3% -9.7% 26.0%
1994 1.9% -8.2% 10.1%
1995 -6.0% -1.6% -4.4%
1996 -2.4% -3.8% 1.4%
1997 -3.6% 11.3% -15.0%
1998 -7.6% -9.6% 2.0%
1999 -7.0% -11.4% 4.4%
2000 1.0% 9.6% -8.7%
2001 -1.2% -0.7% -0.5%
2002 4.8% 3.1% 1.7%
2003 -2.3% 20.8% -23.1%
2004 -3.5% -9.4% 6.0%
2005 9.6% 9.9% -0.3%
2006 -11.2% -7.7% -3.5%
2007 1.2% 2.8% -1.6%
2008 -2.6% -8.5% 5.9%
2009 5.0% -5.0% 10.1%
2010 -7.1% -8.4% 1.3%

So, for example, during the 2008 season, Texas hit 2.6% worse during road day games than road night games and 8.5% worse in home day games than home night games.

Finally, what is happening in day games in all other parks outside of Arlington?  Is there something about the Rangers park that is adversely affecting offense there? Here is the yearly breakout of OPS by site (Arlington and everywhere else):

OPS IN DAY GAMES BY SITE
YEAR NON-TEXAS TEXAS DIFF
1972 .715 .647 .068
1973 .743 .668 .075
1974 .746 .812 -.066
1975 .750 .672 .078
1976 .734 .755 -.021
1977 .780 .818 -.038
1978 .751 .672 .079
1979 .770 .891 -.121
1980 .745 .780 -.035
1981 .735 .748 -.013
1982 .758 .718 .041
1983 .764 .656 .108
1984 .753 .703 .049
1985 .757 .757 .000
1986 .762 .696 .066
1987 .793 .797 -.003
1988 .742 .801 -.059
1989 .741 .731 .009
1990 .750 .804 -.054
1991 .749 .814 -.065
1992 .739 .724 .015
1993 .779 .763 .016
1994 .815 .811 .003
1995 .789 .787 .002
1996 .814 .848 -.034
1997 .805 .869 -.064
1998 .792 .835 -.043
1999 .820 .890 -.070
2000 .827 .956 -.129
2001 .794 .881 -.087
2002 .785 .848 -.063
2003 .785 .998 -.213
2004 .804 .809 -.005
2005 .780 .848 -.067
2006 .806 .805 .001
2007 .797 .790 .007
2008 .787 .856 -.069
2009 .786 .825 -.040
2010 .764 .752 .012

As you can see, there is no rhyme or reason to home/road, day/night OPS performance from year to year. However, during Hamilton’s three full seasons in Texas, the Rangers as a team have suffered more during day games, especially at home.

We’ll see if Hamilton’s new glare-resistant glasses or red-tinted contact lenses (as he is wearing in the above photo) help his performance.

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