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The burden of pitching at Camden Yards

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For a long time now, Oriole Park at Camden Yards has been known as one of the more hitter-friendly venues in baseball. And that has not changed in 2019.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Oriole Park at Camden Yards: a beautiful place for a fan to watch a baseball game, and a bad place for a pitcher to pitch. None of this is news. This year, once again, the latter is being borne out in real time.

Just look at the record setting pace the Orioles are giving up home runs. Through 42 games, they lead the league in long balls allowed with 89. The next closest team in that category is the Seattle Mariners, at 71.

Opponents are hitting home runs in bunches against the Orioles, and it’s become the elephant in the room for the manager and players alike. They have allowed 51 home runs at home and 38 on the road.

In 21 games at Camden Yards so far in 2019, Oriole pitchers have a 6.09 ERA while opponents are hitting .280 with a .543 slugging percentage. Compare that to the pitching staff’s numbers on the road, where they have a 4.74 ERA, .250 BAA and .470 opponents’ SLUG.

How do those numbers factor into the pitchers’ cumulative stats for the year, you ask? Well, the O’s are dead last in all of baseball in ERA (5.44) and opponent’s OPS (.848). They are also second to last in BAA (.266) and fourth to last in WHIP (1.43). Plus, they lead the league in home runs surrendered with 89.

Now let’s take a look at park differences from the perspective of Baltimore’s hitters. In 21 games at home, Orioles hitters have 30 home runs and a .413 SLUG. In 21 road games, they have 18 home runs and a .367 SLUG. The home/road split for batting average is negligible; .238 at Camden Yards and .235 everywhere else.

ESPN has an interesting tool called MLB Park Factors, which “compares the rate of stats at home vs. the rate of stats on the road. A rate higher than 1.000 favors the hitter. Below 1.000 favors the pitcher.” As you could have probably guessed, there are a lot of factors at Camden Yards that favor the hitter.

Out of all 30 Major League ballparks, Camden Yards has the third highest runs park factor at 1.263, fifth highest home runs at 1.446 and fourth highest hits at 1.126. Important to note, park figures have been calculated through May 15.

In 2018, the O’s had the 9th highest HR park factor at 1.121. In 2017 it was 1.236 (third highest), in 2016 it was 1.009 (18th) and in 2015 it was 1.415 (second highest). So in the last four full seasons, Baltimore has twice had a home run park factor in the top three in all of baseball.

These ballpark factors may have been more bearable in the early-to-mid Buck Showalter era, when the Birds were hitting the long ball at a considerable rate. But those times are over, for now at least. The Orioles are 21st out of 30 MLB teams in home runs hit this year with 48. A few years ago they would have out-slugged most of their opponents at home, but this year, not so much.

Other than getting better pitching, one solution to this problem would be moving the fences back. Or more accurately, moving home plate back. But the Orioles tried that already.

In the winter of 2001, the Orioles decided to adjust the dimensions of the ballpark, increasing field space by up to seven feet in some places while moving home plate backwards and orienting the field more toward left. There was also markedly less area in foul ground.

But these changes worked too well the following baseball season. While there were 196 home runs hit at Camden Yards in 2001, there were only 152 hit the following year when dimensions were expanded, according to the Associated Press’ Baseball Roundup. So the field was put back to its original configuration. The big change only lasted one year. Another reason from the team for why the change was scrapped so quickly was because the larger dimensions ‘ “adversely affected the viewing angle of the batter’s eye.” ’

So what’s the answer to the Camden Yards dilemma? Better pitching, of course. But should the team also revisit the ballpark dimensions? Maybe one year in 2001 was too small a sample size to make any grand judgement on a bigger field. Changing it again may seem drastic, but never say never.

Stats provided by ESPN, Baseball Reference and Associated Press.