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The best bullpen designs in the National League

Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The Colorado Rockies find themselves in the middle of a seven-game April homestand. For fans, it comes with trips around the Coors Field concourse once again, refreshing the palate after a winter’s worth of anticipation.

With it comes the yearly confirmation: Coors Field has the best bullpen design in baseball.

It also houses one of the best bullpens in baseball right now, at least in the infancy stages of the 2022 season.

How do the rest of the National League bullpens stack up? A rankings list has to keep a lot in mind: general aesthetic is just the foundation for a great place to warm up. Fan-friendly components include clear sight lines, inclusive views for all ticketed spectators, and placement in a ‘lively’ part of the park. Player-friendly elements are paramount, too. Pitcher needs typically include a tall chain-link fence to clip resistance bands, a solid, flat-surfaced wall to throw plyos, some open space for more dynamic-style stretches, ample shade for when it’s hot and adequate heating for when it’s cold.

If one were to rank the best bullpens in baseball, both the fan-friendly and player-friendly elements must be kept in mind along with general visual appeal.

Let’s do the thing:

National League Bullpen Design - By Home Ballpark

All players will have a different preference on an ideal bullpen, and just because one has a lower ranking on here doesn’t mean it is lower in the eyes of others. Some will prefer the adrenaline of the Dodger Stadium bullpens, while others might prefer the cave underneath the Wrigley Field bleachers.

These tiers are far from definitive, of course, but it helps paint a general representation for why Coors Field is so special:

Left: Photo by Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images; Top Right: Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images; Bottom Right: Photo by Apple Maps

The design of the bullpen itself is unbelievably fan-friendly. All it takes to watch arms getting loose is a quick walk over to the right-field concourse, no special wristbands or ticket stubs necessary. (Perhaps it’s a little too fan-friendly at times: a spectator reportedly dropped beer onto setup man Carlos Estévez while he was warming up on Friday.)

The premier bullpens in the NL are the ones that look like they were designed as a clear priority and not a relative afterthought. It’s easy for an architect to seclude bullpens in favor of more seats on the 100 level, but some designs have successfully integrated both:

Top Left: Photo by Getty Images; Bottom Left: Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images; Top/Bottom Right: Photos by Apple Maps

Look at those crowds!

Dodger Stadium didn’t discount on lower-level seating, as the bullpens are angled perpendicular to the outfield wall. Citizens Bank Park managed to partially wedge its bullpens behind some seats, all while keeping them wide open for what they call Ashburn Alley right behind.

The Dodgers could have the edge between these two from a player standpoint, as there is more room for stretching out. Philadelphia might have the bigger home-field advantage, though; the Phillies occupied the ‘upper’ bullpen when the park first opened but later switched so their home fans could give opponents a tougher time.

Our B-tier bullpens are still pretty solid, for the most part. All have some pretty good viewing areas for fans, and they check the major boxes for player needs:

All right-side images (and full bottom row) courtesy of Apple Maps. Left-side images in descending order: Photo by John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images (SD); Photo by Jeff Haynes/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images (MIL); Photo by Fred Vuich/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images (PIT); Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images (WAS)

These gathering points, like the small walkway at Petco Park and PNC Park, are far from the concourse expanse of Coors Field or the open feel of our A-tier bullpens. Some of the B-tier bullpens are a little more exclusive, too; don’t expect to find a spot at Great American Ballpark where you can just casually catch a glimpse of some warmup pitches. American Family Field has an open walkway behind it, but the artificial turf and cinderblocks are far from the blue spruces you’ll find in Denver or the theater-style crowd you will see in Los Angeles.

Fan access is a prime separator between the B-tier and C-tier:

Images in clockwise order starting with NYM: Photo by Rob Tringali/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images (NYM), Photo by Rob Foldy/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images (MIA), Photo by Nils Nilsen/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images (ARI), Photo by Kevin Liles/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images (ATL), Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images (SF), Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB via Getty Images (STL)

It would appear as if Chase Field and Busch Stadium just took out a few seats for their bullpens. Fan access is limited to the paid ticket stubs around the bullpens themselves, while Citi Field, Marlins Park and Truist Park have areas that are secluded underneath a seating overhang entirely. (This is great during rain and toasty summer days, however).

There isn’t much distraction for players in these areas, so it isn’t fair to rate them poorly over fan access alone. It doesn’t do much to inspire a young fan that wants to learn how their favorite pitchers prepare, however.

The no-distraction poster child rounds out our NL list:

Left: Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images; Right: Photo by Apple Maps

The bullpens at Wrigley Field are literally under the outfield bleachers. A door amidst the outfield ivy leads you to this warmup spot.

This is pretty cool to avoid summer humidity, but it’s an awkward adjustment when a pitcher goes from warming up on the field, to warming up in a glorified cellar, to taking the mound for a game. It’s unusual; this doesn’t make it entirely bad, as the early spring and late fall at Wrigley can be bitter cold. From a fan perspective, however, this could be the least fan-friendly part of the Friendly Confines.

The bottom line: Coors Field is the only bullpen in the big leagues with actual trees in it. How cool is that?

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Outfielder Randal Grichuk came up big for the Rockies on Monday night, driving in two of his team’s four runs en route to a 4-1 victory. His .809 OPS to this point has helped the case for the Rockies serving as a surprise team in the NL this month. Duane DaPron of Rox Pile features some quotes from Grichuk himself in this one.

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If it weren’t for the universal designated hitter, there is a chance the Rockies wouldn’t be seeing much of Bryce Harper this week. Phillies manager Joe Girardi said Harper is currently dealing with some elbow tendinitis in his throwing arm, but the DH allows his dangerous bat to remain in the lineup.

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On the Farm

Monday, April 18: League-wide off day for all minor league affiliates

New series starting today:

Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes at Round Rock Express

Double-A: Somerset Patriots at Hartford Yard Goats

High-A: Hillsboro Hops vs. Spokane Indians

Low-A: Lake Elsinore Storm vs. Fresno Grizzlies

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