Yes, the Orioles are quite aware that their pitching staffs in recent years have struggled. But the changes underway in left field and left-center field at Camden Yards are more about producing a park that plays more neutral and more toward norms in Major League Baseball. Right now, the club plays in a stadium that produces among the most home runs and runs in baseball - for all pitchers - and this will create a shift in that.
Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said during a Zoom interview with reporters today that discussions of changes have been ongoing since he was hired, but really gained steam starting last summer. He added that changes were not made with the current roster or any acquisitions in mind. But Elias does feel making the park play more fair for all pitchers could help the club in pursuing free agent pitchers.
“It’s definitely a significant factor in our move to do this,” said Elias. “We still expect that this will remain somewhat of a hitter’s park and we like that about Camden Yards. But the conditions here have been very extreme, toward 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 is just no way around that. I do think this will help going forward.”
The club released renderings today which show that the new fence, which will also be about five feet higher, will rapidly increase from a distance of 333 feet down the line to 384 feet and move to 400 feet as the new fence reaches the bullpens, which will not change. This will create an L shape at the bullpens and the fence in front of the bullpen will be 380 feet at its closest point to the foul pole.
“This is something that I am very excited about and we as a baseball operations department are looking forward to very much,” added Elias. “It is being done with the goal in mind of bringing the playing conditions in our stadium more towards the league norm. This has been, since its inception in 1992, an extreme park for home runs.
“For any team, for any park to be toward the very extreme in either direction, it’s a bit of a challenge and it’s something that has posed a challenge for this franchise and we think this will improve the playing condition and the style of play. And be beneficial towards us and the type of competition that occurs here.
“We are very hopeful what the effects will be in bringing this park towards neutrality. It’s still going to remain very much a hitter’s park; (this) is our expectation. And even a hitter’s park for right-handed batters will still be the case, but this will bring the conditions more toward the league norm.”
Elias said the stadium will lose about 1,000 seats in this process and those seats could be made available to the public at some point through a charitable event with more details to come later.
Orioles assistant vice president for analytics Sig Mejdal was also on today’s Zoom call with reporters. He feels these changes will remove Camden Yards from among the parks in MLB yielding both the most homers and most runs for both teams.
“If you look at many of the third-party sites that have more than half a decade of data, Camden Yards is No. 1 or No. 2,” said Mejdal. “We’re privy to some of the Statcast data, so we can model it a bit better than the third parties. And we’re seeing that this an extreme home run park. If not the most, then the second-most, and for right-handed batters, it seems clear this is the most extreme home run park. As Mike said, that doesn’t do the team any favors and we wanted to take a significant step toward neutrality.
“Retrospectively, we can see what these changes would have done over the last half decade and the effect it would have. But going forward, I don’t want to give the specifics, but we expect this to be a significant step toward neutrality.”
Elias does not see these park changes leading to any adjustments in the type of player the club seeks in acquisitions or the draft.
“I don’t think this is going to effect our player acquisition strategies across either category of position player or pitcher,” he said. “And that has not been part of our thinking. ... This is where we landed with the most sensible and efficient way of neutralizing the park effects here as regards to home runs per fly ball. And really, our fair share, so to speak, of home runs per fly ball in this particular part of the park was very out of whack. So addressing this area was a priority.
“We worked with a design team and our baseball operations team to figure out what was plausible and we landed on something that we’re going to be able to turn around in one offseason. The dimensions we are going to have coming out of this are not unprecedented in Major League Baseball. It’s going to be very similar to PNC Park in Pittsburgh in this part of the process. We know it is something that has worked successfully.”
The L shape this will create as the new fence reaches the bullpen is indeed like PNC Park. Does Elias have concerns about an injury factor there?
“It is something you’ll keep an eye on,” he said. “But the fact that this sort of configuration has existed successfully in other major league parks for awhile amongst other things has given us assurances we will not have any issues, undue issues, in that department.”
Over time, O’s outfielders could have an advantage simply by playing more games in the park over visitors when they come to town. They will learn the nuances and how balls play off the wall at various points. That was not a necessary intention for these changes, but Elias said it could create a more exciting brand of baseball at Oriole Park.
“We’re not seeking any type of advantage (on defense), but I do think this might encourage a more exciting, athletic 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, and it’s something 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.”
An artist rendering on what the final product will look like after the construction/changes at Oriole Park. pic.twitter.com/ClVmi8FXSo-- Steve Melewski (@masnSteve) January 14, 2022
This rendering essentially shows before and after of the outfield fence at Oriole Park. OF quickly deepens and extends to bullpen. pic.twitter.com/QKCy4FKvxf-- Steve Melewski (@masnSteve) January 14, 2022