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In moving fences back, the Orioles solve a small problem, leaving the big one for later

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The Orioles moving back the fences should help their pitchers a bit. They’ll really solve their problem when they get better players.

MLB: MAY 15 Yankees at Orioles
With a taller wall, catches like this by Ryan McKenna will be less easy to pull off.
Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the last 30 years, it has been an ironclad truth of the universe that Oriole Park at Camden Yards is a hitters park. This is one of those facts that “everyone” knows so thoroughly that no one even needs to look at any numbers to verify it, and unlike a lot of things that fall in that category, when you look at the numbers, it is demonstrably true. Camden Yards is the fourth-most hitter-friendly park, and second-most friendly for home runs.

That is going to change starting this season. The Baltimore Sun’s Nathan Ruiz grabbed a scoop on Tuesday evening that the team is moving back the left field fences for the 2022 season. The team also sent out notifications of some of the changes to season ticket holders whose seats are in the affected area, citing “extensive research by our Baseball Operations and Analytics departments.”

According to Ruiz’s reporting, the new outfield dimensions “will cover the area from the left-field corner to the bullpens in the left-center field.” There will be an increase in the height of the wall from about seven feet to about twelve feet, with the fences moving “as much as 30 feet” farther away from home plate. The league has already approved the adjustments, and construction that began this week, Ruiz wrote.

How much this impacts the way the stadium plays is going to depend a lot on which section of the fence gets the “as much as” part of that increase and which sections are not pushed back as far from the plate. Ruiz notes that the previous 333 foot dimension to the left field corner is about average for MLB stadiums, but the O’s prior 364 foot fence in left-center was “one of the most reachable” by distance in addition to having the shortest wall of any stadium in that area.

It’s all guesswork as to how this will impact play at the stadium until the exact distances are known. How many rows will be impacted in each section? Are the remaining seats going to be angled differently because of a new angle in the fence line? Will there be any irregular protrusions as opposed to the current clean lines?

The fact is that Orioles pitchers only gave up four home runs with a Statcast measured distance of 360 feet or shorter to left field. Expand that to 370 feet and left or left-center field and it’s nine home runs. Orioles batters had two homers to LF under 360 feet and seven homers to LF or LCF under 370 feet. I feel like the analytics department isn’t having them move the fences to eliminate 16 home runs per season with a net favor of two to the Orioles, but I really don’t know.

What kinds of previously-homers are going to be impacted? The players who hit the ball in that direction most often are right-handed hitters with pull-side power. Deeper fences and taller walls are surely going to make an impact on how often those players are able to hit home runs. Home runs that landed in the first couple of rows may now end up either hitting off the higher fence or turning into warning track power flyouts.

Let’s look at a few. Regrettably, it seems that embeddable video is unavailable due to MLB’s choice to remove content about current players from its main site. Statcast video remains, so I’ll share you links to those.

One kind of home run that’s probably getting wiped out is cheap fence-scrapers when lefty hitters go opposite field. Dean Kremer was on the wrong end of one of these on April 28 last year. Check out Mike Ford’s drive that barely gets into the first row in almost the shortest part of left field. With a higher wall, that’s in the park, possibly even a long single rather than a double. The Orioles lost this game, 7-0, so the homer wasn’t terribly relevant to the outcome.

How far back the foul pole goes will have an impact as well. September 11 saw Toronto’s George Springer hit a go-ahead home run off of Tyler Wells in the seventh inning, the final inning due to pandemic-era doubleheader rules. His 28 degree launch angle fly ball traveled 353 feet to bounce off an empty seat in the third row of the section just on the fair side of the pole. Toronto was down to its final batter when Springer hit this homer. This would likely have scored a game-tying run with two outs even if it was only a double.

Orioles batters can end up with front row dingers in that part of the stadium, too. Ryan Mountcastle’s shortest OPACY home run traveled 357 feet. He hit this one in a June 19 game against Toronto. That kind of golfed line drive is bouncing off the wall now. Probably so are fly balls like this one hit by Austin Hays, 363 feet to left center earlier in that Sept. 11 game.

Mountcastle is the current Orioles batter who might face the biggest impact here. Three of his 22 Baltimore-hit home runs went to left or left-center at 368 feet or fewer. Less concerned could be Trey Mancini. Although he’s a right-handed hitter, only three of his 14 home-hit homers went to left or left-center, and the shortest of these was 408 feet.

What about pitchers? There were five Orioles who gave up at least ten home runs at Camden Yards. The two leaders were John Means and Kremer. Means is going to be very interested in where that left-center fence ends up. Perhaps this 380 footer won’t be a dinger any more, or this 384 footer. (If this second one is 384 feet, then I have my doubts that the number 364 painted on the wall marks 364 feet from home plate.)

Kremer’s name has already come up here. He allowed 13 home runs out of 138 batters faced at Camden Yards, which is, uh, pretty bad. Kremer had another cheap one, as that Sept. 11 game against the Blue Jays was chock full of them. I think 361 feet in this spot could be held in the park by the new fences. Probably no one would feel much better about Kremer if these two home runs were wiped off his ledger.

The other three pitchers who gave up 10+ home runs at Camden Yards were Spenser Watkins, Matt Harvey, and Adam Plutko. The shortest homer Plutko allowed to left or left-center was 398 feet. Harvey had one relatively cheap 363 foot shot to left.

These three guys accounted for a bit more than one in five home runs allowed at OPACY by Orioles pitchers. They are, collectively, an illustration of a bigger issue. Their problem wasn’t the fence. Their problem was they weren’t good enough to pitch against MLB hitters in 2021 and the team made them do it anyway. When the players suck, so will the results, no matter what the stadium dimensions are.

The 2021 Orioles pitching staff allowed 258 home runs, most in MLB. If they cut the number of home runs allowed at home by 10%, which does seem to be possible if the change in fence dimensions is shaped a particular way, they’d have allowed 16 fewer home runs, which still would have led the American League. They don’t need a handful of guys to give up a handful fewer homers. They need a few guys who give up tons of homers to not pitch for them any more.

One last thing to think about is that having a deeper fence in left field means that there will be more need for the Orioles to have a left fielder with some natural speed and outfielder instincts to cover the expanded territory. It’s been tough enough watching guys like DJ Stewart and Mountcastle out there over the last couple of years with the amount of ground to cover being what it was before. Putting those guys out there in 2022 would be even more rough.

The pitching prospects (and in some cases ex-prospects) who Orioles fans are counting on to help revive the team’s fortunes surely won’t complain about the new, more distant and taller fence in left field. Maybe some day it might even help the team pull in a free agent pitcher who’s actually worth signing.

That will be a fun time when it arrives. If we’re lucky, we might even start to see some signs of it by the end of this season. Until then, cheap home runs to left field aren’t going to come quite as cheaply any more, and if nothing else that will be something different to discuss.

Poll

How are you feeling about the Orioles moving back the LF fences in Camden Yards?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    PRINT THE WORLD SERIES TICKETS!
    (60 votes)
  • 44%
    Cautiously optimistic
    (248 votes)
  • 19%
    Meh, who cares
    (106 votes)
  • 15%
    I was happy the way things were
    (86 votes)
  • 9%
    Fire Elias and/or Angelos sell the team
    (54 votes)
554 votes total Vote Now