Conspiracy theories, if not taken particularly seriously, are kind of fun to imagine being true. One of the more fun ones was when NBA referees were accused of fixing games for the Los Angeles Lakers to boost basketball ratings. That was obviously untrue; referee decisions in the NBA and NFL are arbitrary and subjective enough that if you squint enough, you can find an argument on either side.
Baseball conspiracies; well, they can be more fun but are sometimes more rare. The most recent one is probably Derek Jeter getting his last game, or All Star game appearance, fixed for appearances. Lately, conspiracies have focused squarely on Christian Yelich.
Yelich, if you haven’t noticed, is having an incredible start to his 2019 season. Hitting a whopping .352/.459/.787 with 16 home runs in just 148 plate appearances, Yelich-focused conspiracies have mainly focused on his splits, which are truly... jarring.
Despite hitting .406/.524/1.141 at home, he has hit a much more pedestrian .293/.379/.397 with just a single one of his 16 home runs on the road. That’s... definitely odd! If you look at previous home-road splits, it definitely stands out among even the best performers over the last two decades:
Huh! Conspiracies always contain a nugget of truth, which is why they’re appealing in the first place; something odd becomes less odd when formed into a cohesive, semi-believable narrative. So, what’s the narrative anyway?
You could browse Twitter and find a summation of the discourse: essentially, the allegation is that the Miller Park lighting crew is changing the lighting just when Yelich is hitting to benefit him (I don’t know in what way), and then adjusting the lighting back for the other team. This theoretically doesn’t apply for day games when Miller Park’s roof is open, but there’s a pretty easy way to test if this is true. Let’s take two games, and two players—a Yelich player, and a non-Yelich player. Let’s say it’s Wilmer Difo.
Here is Yelich on May 8th...
...and then here is Difo on the same day:
Then, I used a color contrast calculator on the same grass point (I used right by the ‘M’ on the left side) to see if there actually was a contrast difference in the lighting. Here are the results:
So........ there’s basically a negligible difference between the two colors in the grass, so no difference in ballpark lighting. I did this for the previous day with Yelich...
...and Difo again:
Then I re-ran my color contrast calculator:
Again, what other conclusion could you come to other than this being bunk?
Now, this conspiracy is likely tongue-in-cheek, and this rebuttal is tongue-in-cheek as well. I look forward to continue peering at Yelich’s home-road splits to see if they hold up, especially considering they are at levels beyond peak-Barry Bonds.
Conspiracies are fun when tongue-in-cheek only, especially when something exists so outside the norms of what we would consider normal baseball behavior. Yet baseball isn’t normal in 2019, and Yelich sure as hell isn’t.