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Orioles reset: Camden Yards could be the site of unprecedented home run displays this summer

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

It will probably be a while before another team allows more home runs to open the season than these Orioles, who’ve given up a major league-record 57 in their first 23 games.

It's an astonishing rate befitting of the experience and quality of their pitching staff, albeit one that's being done no favors by the confines of their home ballpark, Camden Yards. Baltimore's beloved ballpark might be on pace for a home run total not seen anywhere this century.

Alex Cobb might be right that the baseball is different than it used to be. Manager Brandon Hyde definitely is right that the Orioles miss their spots and find barrels too often. But let's not ignore Camden Yards itself, the venue in which the most home runs have been hit in three of the past six seasons (2013, 2015, 2017) and the second-most in baseball over the past 10 years.

Allowing that the construction of the Hilton Baltimore changed the air flow at Camden Yards, the last 10 years of data paint an ominous picture for pitchers trying to keep the ball in play there this summer.

In 10 games at Camden Yards this season, the Orioles and their opponents have combined to hit 52 home runs, an unsustainable rate of 5.2 per game. The simple thing to do would be to extrapolate that out to 81 home games to 421 home runs. It's actually more ominous than that.

The searchable data on BaseballSavant.com goes back to 2000, and the most home runs hit at any one ballpark in that time frame was 271 at what is now Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago in 2004. The next highest was 262 by the Orioles and their opponents at Camden Yards in 2017. Just 21 of those came before May 1.

The difference in the home run rate in April (1.9 per game) that year compared with the whole season (3.2 per game) is the largest of any season in the past 10 years at Camden Yards.

Seven of those 10 years had home run rates in April that were lower than the season as a whole, and there's not a lot of year-to-year correlation, but the ballpark's April home run rate the past 10 seasons is 2.33 per game. From May 1 on, it jumps to 2.73.

There are plenty of ways to use this rough math, starting with the idea that 5.2 home runs per game over a full season at Camden Yards is 421 home runs.

Even if there are 2.73 home runs per game the rest of the season at Camden Yards, that's 194 more home runs for a total of 246. Or, the assumption could be there will be a similar jump of 0.4 home runs per game onto the 5.2 per game the ballpark has already averaged, and there will be 397 more home runs this year at Camden Yards, and 449 in total.

The first calculation wouldn't even be a Camden Yards record. The latter would be absolute folly. But given what we know about this ballpark, the experience level and general quality of the Orioles pitching staff, and the general state of baseball, would Camden Yards being Ground Zero for an unprecedented power display this summer really strike anyone as implausible?

Hyde nearly rolled his eyes when addressing Cobb's claim that the baseballs themselves are "ridiculous," saying he has "no idea" on that claim.

"The ball is flying everywhere," Hyde said. "I'm not a scientist, and I'm not that smart, so all I see is what we're giving up — which is a lot."

He has plenty of theories as to why home runs are up around the league, even if his own Orioles pitchers are being hurt by them most often.

"I think there's all different kinds of factors [in home runs]," Hyde said. "Some of it is guys are being trained to hit the ball in the air more. That's no secret. Guys are pitching at the top of the zone more, guys are looking to hit the ball in the air more. There's not as many 88-mph sinker/slider guys in the big leagues anymore. It's velo. It's four-seam [fastballs] and guys are looking to drive the ball. Training their swings — we were taught and trained to get above the ball, try to back-spin it and cut the ball in half. Now, guys are working underneath the ball more and hitting the ball on more of an upswing. With that being said, balls are flying."

Most notable, however, was his last and shortest point. It was about the ballpark that, until Sunday, had seen at least one home run in every game since July 14.

"This is a really good park to hit in, and it's already warm and it's April," Hyde said.

What's to come?

It was around this time last year that the Orioles were scuffling and went to Detroit in a series that was viewed as a way for bad team to beat up on another bad team and get back on track. The problem was, it was the Tigers who did that to the Orioles, and not the other way around. There will be no such trap as the Orioles prepare for six of their next nine games against the 8-12 Chicago White Sox.

Even if the White Sox are struggling, Orioles fans should look at Chicago’s roster and just hope that some of the pieces that are blossoming at the major league level and were acquired during rebuild-type trades can ultimately have parallels in Baltimore.

Top prospect Eloy Jiménez and starter Dylan Cease came from the cross-town Chicago Cubs in the José Quintana trade. Breakout infielder Yoan Moncada was one of two high-profile players, along with Michael Kopech, acquired for left-hander Chris Sale in a trade with the Boston Red Sox. And right-hander Reynaldo López was part of a big trade package that sent Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals.

Combine that with homegrown picks such as Tim Anderson and Carlos Rodon, and it's a core that's far better than the record shows. Whether executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias has his own version of a Sale or Quintana or Eaton to trade is another thing entirely. But that's the type of return that Orioles fans will be hoping for if Elias does make some deals, and it'll be on display starting Monday at Camden Yards.

What was good?

If this column space were a Monopoly square, Trey Mancini would have been here enough to start collecting rent every time someone passes. But with respect to him, the nod this week goes to Renato Núñez, who is starting to really heat up after a slow start to the season.

Even with an 0-for-3 Sunday, Núñez hit .345 with three home runs and a pair of doubles last week, driving in runs in five of seven games. He was responsible for seven of the club’s 32 runs all on his own, and is giving the Orioles some lineup firepower behind the reliable Mancini.

Hyde chalks it up to confidence in getting to play every day, and notes that Núñez's swings are made for the modern game.

"Nuney's swings are aggressive, and Nuney is looking to do damage," Hyde said. "He's always hit, and now he's figuring some things out where he's staying on some breaking balls that he wasn't early. He's back-spinning the ball, and it's awesome to see."

According to Statcast data from BaseballSavant.com, Núñez's average exit velocity of 92 mph is in the 85th percentile in the league, and second on the team behind Chris Davis (92.1 mph). His hard-hit rate of 44.7 percent is a career best.

What wasn't?

The Mike Wright era will be remembered as a lot of things, but will mostly be defined as being too long by about a year, at least in Baltimore. The hope for him is that he can get a fresh start elsewhere, having spent the past two seasons basically pitching in situations no one would want to and having to live with the results, good or bad.

The real problem is just how long the odd standard of results mattering for all but one player persisted here. Wright made the team despite being out of options out of spring training in 2018, and in 97 2/3 innings since, had a 6.08 ERA.

There's plenty of logic in trying to keep a live arm in the fold for as long as possible, but not this long. So in three weeks in 2019, the Orioles have addressed a seeming double standard on the hitting side with some accountability and consequences in the sense of lost at-bats when Davis struggled, and now on the pitching side with Wright.

More power to him if he can put it together elsewhere. It was just the attempts to get there in Baltimore took far, far too long, and left a bad taste in a lot of mouths in the process.

On the farm

Remember Cody Sedlock? Well, some of the new Orioles brass will be forgiven if they haven't had a reason to look him up as they were going through what they inherited on the farm.

But now, after struggling badly through his first full season in 2017 with elbow soreness and missing most of 2018 with shoulder soreness related to thoracic outlet syndrome, the 2016 first-round draft pick seems to be getting himself back on track back at High-A Frederick.

Sedlock allowed only a home run to breakout Red Sox prospect Jarren Duran on Sunday in Frederick, walking three and striking out two in five innings to lower his ERA to 2.87 with a 1.02 WHIP and 14 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings over three starts. It's his best stretch since the beginning of that 2017 season — ostensibly the last time he was healthy, and the last time he truly held the promise that comes with first-round picks.

On Sunday, his fastball was in the 88-92 mph range, and he was effective with his curveball, something Sedlock had even last year when his velocity was down late in the season. Perhaps with a new regime in place with new ideas, and without the pressure of having to live up to a front office's expectations for what a top pick should be, Sedlock is getting back to the form that made him Dan Duquette's top pick in 2016. Maybe it's as simple as health.

Either way, Sedlock's best stretch in two years is worthy of some attention, given all the attention paid to the struggles that came to define his career since his last good stretch.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

twitter.com/JonMeoli

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