Oriole officials said on Friday that they hope by moving back the left-field fence and raising the height of the wall it will reduce the number of home runs and allow them to attract free-agent pitchers.
Last season, Oriole Park at Camden Yards saw more home runs hit, 277, than any park in the major leagues. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias thinks that these changes will make the distances closer to the average park in the major leagues.
“This has been, since its inception back in 1992, an extreme park for home runs,” Elias said during a video conference call on Friday. “That has only grown as the style of play across the major leagues has evolved over the past 30 years.”
Elias didn’t offer exact measurements, but said he thought it would be close to those of PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Left-center field at PNC Park is 383 feet. Before the Oriole Park alterations began, left-center field was 364 feet from home.
“For any team, for any park to be toward the extreme in either direction, it’s a bit of a challenge,” Elias said. “And it’s posed a challenge for this franchise, and we think this will improve the playing conditions and the style of play in this part of the park and be beneficial towards us and the type of competition that occurs here going forward.”
Elias said that the alterations will be completed by Opening Day, which is March 31st, and that about 1,000 seats will be removed. Last year’s capacity was 45,971.
“It’s something that we’re hopeful about, what the effects will be towards bringing this park towards neutrality,” he said. “It’s still going to remain very much a hitter’s park is our expectation, and even a hitter’s park in particular for right-handed batters will still be the case. This will bring the conditions more toward league norms so we’re not seeing such extreme outcomes on fly balls to this part of the park.”
Elias said he had spoken to current and former players, coaches and manager Brandon Hyde about the decision and his hope that it would be a more attractive park for free-agent pitchers.
“It’s definitely a significant factor in our move,” Elias said. “We still expect that this will remain somewhat of a hitter’s park and we like that about Camden Yards. The conditions here have been very extreme towards the very most extreme in the league.
“It’s not a secret. It’s been the case for decades and part of having a winning program is the ability to recruit free-agent pitchers and that has been a historical challenge for this franchise. There’s just no way around that. I think it’s going to help going forward.”
Elias said that this has been under consideration since he, Hyde and assistant general manager Sig Mejdal arrived in 2018. Serious plans have been formulated for the last six months.
“Our fair share of home runs per fly ball in this particular part of the park was very out of whack,” Elias said. “Addressing this area was a priority.”
Many of the candidates for the 2022 starting staff — Keegan Akin, Zac Lowther, John Means, Alexander Wells and Bruce Zimmermann as well as top prospect DL Hall — are left-handed. Elias said the changes have nothing to do with that.
“This is something that’s been in place for 30 years,” Elias said. “Baseball has changed a lot over those 30 years in terms of home run and fly ball behavior, and it’s been a persistent challenge for this organization to navigate and having such an extreme environment, we felt it was something we could modify with a relatively manageable adjustment like this.
“We think it will be an improvement overall for Baltimore baseball going forward for a long time, and that made it an easy decision.”
Elias isn’t sure if there will be additional extra-base hits but predicts more action.
“This may encourage a more athletic, exciting style of play in this part of the park,” Elias said. “We will have some additional extra-base hits, possibly triples, balls rattling around. I think it will be very fun and interesting. It’s something that baseball in general needs more of, and I think it will ultimately improve the aesthetic style of play at Camden Yards from a number of angles.”
Mejdal said the Orioles considered moving home plate back, but it’s already about as far back as it can be, according to baseball rules.
“I think it speaks to the outcome that have occurred here that just feel extreme and unnatural to the players,” Elias said. “The ball leaves the bat, and it’s a home run, and no one had expected it to be nor is it a home run at 28 or 29 other major league parks. The players feel that, and it’s kind of a frustrating theme sometimes.
“Obviously it benefits you a lot but to have half of your games in that environment is challenging. That’s the thrust of the move.”