Mike Elias has heard the rumors about Camden Yards’ dimensions, how the numbers adhered to the green padding of the stadium’s outfield walls don’t truly tell how close to home plate they are.
The rumors are just that, the Orioles’ executive vice president and general manager said Friday, but the fact they exist speaks to why the organization determined it was time to change those numbers.
On Friday, the Orioles unveiled renderings of their planned changes to Camden Yards’ left-field dimensions, with the wall between the left corner and up to the bullpens in left-center field moved back about 30 feet and its height increased nearly 6 feet. The goal is to turn the 30-year-old ballpark from one of the league’s most susceptible to home runs to average in that regard.
“For any team, for any park to be toward the very, very extreme in either direction, it’s a bit of a challenge,” Elias said on a Zoom call. “It’s something that has posed a challenge for this franchise, and we think that 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.
“A ball leaves the bat and it’s a home run and no one expected it to be, nor is it a home run in 28, 29 other major league parks, and the players feel that.”
Official renderings from the team show the wall will be about 26 ½ feet farther than it was previously, with the wall’s height increasing from 7 feet, 4 inches to as much as 13 feet. The left-field corner, a league-average 333 feet from home plate, and the foul pole will remain where they have been, though the wall will quickly reach the 13-foot mark and a distance of 384 feet.
The new layout will add an intriguing element to Camden Yards’ dimensions. With the bullpens in left-center field not being moved as part of this project, the ballpark now has a sharp jut from the bullpen to the rest of the wall. The leftmost point of the bullpen is expected to be 380 feet from home plate, with the first section of seats next to it marked at 400 feet. The format is similar to that of PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Elias noted, and that and other elements give them assurances the unique configuration won’t present a player safety issue.
Although the MLB owners’ lockout of the players amid negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement have barred team executives from speaking with players, Elias said the team got input from players and coaches on a potential change during the season, adding that he also spoke with a handful of former Orioles about the possibility.
“Everybody agrees that this is, objectively and subjectively, an extreme home run environment,” Elias said.
The changes have been loosely discussed since Elias was hired in late 2018, he said, with the coronavirus pandemic putting the concept on the back burner. The alterations are only the second to the ballpark’s dimensions since it opened in 1992, with the other changes in 2001 being undone before the next season. In the two decades since, Camden Yards is the only ballpark where more than 4,000 home runs have been hit, with 18 other teams using the same home stadium during that span.
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In the three seasons since Elias and assistant general manager for analytics Sig Mejdal took over the Orioles’ baseball operations to lead an organization-wide rebuild, there have been 72 more home runs hit at Camden Yards than any other ballpark, a difference as wide as that of the stadiums that rank second and 13th.
“This is an extreme home run park, if not the most, the second most,” Mejdal said. “For right-handed batters, it seems clear this is the most extreme home run park, and as Mike said, that doesn’t do the team any favors. We wanted to take this step towards a significant step towards neutrality.”
Since Major League Baseball deployed its Statcast tracking system in 2015, 27.3% of the flyballs hit to the approximate area of the changes have resulted in home runs at Camden Yards. The home run per flyball rate throughout the majors during that time is 23.9%, or a difference of one of about every 33 flyballs.
The Orioles’ analytics and baseball operations team extensively researched the impact these changes will have and would have had in past seasons. But they declined to share specifics on their projections, with Elias citing the impacts of personnel and luck and Mejdal saying, “so much of the final effect depends on everything from the ball that Major League Baseball decides that we’re going to use to global warming.”
Still, the Orioles felt it would have a significant enough impact to remove what Elias said was about 1,000 seats to make the changes; those seats will be included as part of a future charity event, Elias said, while the orange seat that designates where Cal Ripken Jr.’s 278th home run landed — which set a major league record for home runs by a shortstop — will be part of the Oriole Park Exhibit that commemorates the stadium’s 30-year anniversary.
Although several Birdland Members — the team’s version of season-ticket holders — had their seats impacted by the changes, Elias said the team felt it was important for fans to remain close to the field, with the new 13-foot wall height being the natural result of moving the stadium bowl back to the point they did. He also said he hopes the adjustments lead to more exciting plays in the ballpark’s future, with that area presenting more possibilities for triples.
“It’s been a persistent challenge for this organization to navigate, having such an extreme environment,” Elias said. “We felt it was something that we could modify with a relatively manageable adjustment like this and we think it will be an improvement overall for Baltimore baseball going forward for a long time, and that made it an easy decision.”