Former Orioles pitchers Jim Palmer and Ross Grimsley say the change the club made in pushing back the left-field fence at Camden Yards is a positive one, and both say it’ll allow pitchers to be more aggressive in attacking hitters.
The Orioles have had the same dimensions at Camden Yards since the park opened in 1992 outside of the 2001 season, when the club moved home plate back. That only lasted one season because the change affected fans’ sightlines of the field and the look of the batter’s eye for hitters. This time, the Orioles are performing major surgery to the park, with the left field wall being pushed back as much as 26.5 feet and the height of the wall increasing from 7 to 12 feet:
Orioles assistant general manager Sig Mejdal, who heads up the club’s analytics department, explained that the park has surrendered an unusually high amount of home runs to left field and that this change will mark a “significant step toward neutrality.” Camden Yards has surrendered 5,911 home runs since 1992, the most of any ballpark during that time. The previous left-field dimensions — 364 feet to the left-center power alley — were always viewed as a major reason why the park was so homer-happy.
Palmer, the Hall of Fame pitcher and longtime MASN analyst, said on Facebook Live with Stan “The Fan” Charles and Grimsley Jan. 17 that Orioles general manager Mike Elias told him last season that the club was exploring pushing the fences back. The previous version of Camden Yards would’ve been difficult for him to pitch in, Palmer said, so he likes the change.
“I never threw a grand slam, but I would’ve been throwing a lot of 3-2 sliders if I ever pitched in Camden,” Palmer said. “I would’ve been walking a lot of people. The Orioles, other than John Means, everybody else has no experience whatsoever. If you’re a fly-ball pitcher … routine fly balls 368 feet to left-center field, the power alley, are home runs, and sometimes they’re two-[run], three-[run] and grand slam home runs, you’re right, it’s harder to pitch.”
Grimsley, who pitched for the Orioles from 1974-1977 and in 1982, likened the approach pitchers may have now to what he tried to do when pitching at the old Yankee Stadium. The dimensions from the bullpen area to the right-field line will remain unchanged at Camden Yards, with the flag court in particular still being an inviting target for left-handed hitters.
“Years and years ago at Yankee Stadium, they had a short right field, so they had a lot of left-handed hitters,” Grimsley said on Glenn Clark Radio Jan. 17. “The key to pitching in Yankee Stadium then was to keep the ball away from left-handed hitters, make them hit it to center field and left-center — the deepest part. But you’re going to have to see what happens as far as how does the field play, is it going to be a big difference, which I think it should be.”
Elias said attracting free-agent pitchers has been a “historical challenge” for the club and there’s plenty of evidence to support that, with the team usually being left late in the offseason to sift through pitchers with uneven track records who don’t have many other options. Developing starting pitchers, as has been well documented throughout the past couple of decades, has also been a challenge for the club.
Because the Orioles have struggled to attract quality free-agent pitchers and to develop their own arms, they in turn have fielded some of the worst pitching staffs in the big leagues during much of the Camden Yards era.
“It’s difficult to pitch in a ballpark like that because you don’t get rewarded for making good pitches,” Palmer said. “Then you throw in the inexperience factor, you’re going to have a lot of big innings.”
Elias and Mejdal came to Baltimore from the Houston Astros, who built a World Series contender by developing high-level hitters (Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and George Springer, for example) and acquiring top pitchers via trade and free agency (Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke and Charlie Morton).
Under Elias, the Orioles have used their top draft picks on hitters (Adley Rutschman, Heston Kjerstad and Colton Cowser) and have targeted pitchers later in drafts. Grimsley is hopeful that the new Camden Yards will be a more attractive destination for pitchers.
“You want to get, obviously, free agents, so you’re going to have to do something to entice these guys to come here,” Grimsley said. “Now, I think the Orioles are going to have money because they’re not spending it now, and I think in the future when it comes time to get those free-agent guys and see how your minor-league pitchers develop — another big thing — then you move on from there.”
The new left-field dimensions will also increase the amount of balls in play, creating more action in a sport that needs it, and change the assignment for left fielders at Camden Yards because there’ll be more ground to cover. The concern fans have voiced on social media is mostly about the bullpens staying put, creating what is expected to be an odd angle for outfielders to deal with. Plus, any major change to Camden Yards is a bit jarring.
Grimsley says fans are ultimately interested in one thing.
“It’s a beautiful park. It’ll still be a beautiful park. It’s 30 years old. It’s one of the most recognizable and best facilities in the game, still,” Grimsley said. “Changing left field isn’t going to make it any less appealing to the fans. What’s going to make it appealing to the fans is if they win. That will get people back in the stadium.”
For more from Grimsley, listen to the full interview here:
For more from Palmer, watch the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles