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Exposing the Impact of Shortened Fences on MLB Home Run Totals

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Exposing the Impact of Shortened Fences on MLB Home Run Totals
Donald Miralle/Getty Images
On deck and at the plate at Petco Park—two places hitters have long wanted to avoid.

Contrary to popular belief, the best way to get from Point A to Point B is not, in fact, a straight line.

The best way is to shorten the distance between the two points whenever possible. Which it is in this case, where Point A is home plate and Point B is the outfield seats.

In other words, move the fences in.

With pitching on the rise and offense on the decline over the past few seasons, it's no surprise the Mariners and Padres decided to do just that this past offseason.

Of course, the Mariners and Padres also have been two of the worst offenses in baseball in recent years. They need all the help they can get, even if it takes a little stadium nip here, a small ballpark tuck there.

Bringing in the fences seems like a logical solution to the question, "How do we hit more home runs without getting better hitters?" but...does it work?

In the past decade, four teams have reconsidered the distances necessary to hit one out and deemed their fences were too far: the Tigers, Mets, Mariners and Padres.

For each club's ballpark, we'll...

  1. Mention any notable changes to the dimensions
  2. Put the data into table form, highlighting: the overall home runs per game at that venue; the home team's home runs per game at that venue; and the home run park factor* (from ESPN's Park Factor page), in which a rate higher than 1.000 favors the hitter, below 1.000 favors the pitcher.
  3. Compare the three seasons immediately preceding the change in dimensions—indicated by the lighter-shaded rows—and the season (or seasons, when possible) immediately after—indicated by the darker-shaded rows.

Let's take these one by one.

 

Detroit Tigers

Comerica Park opened in 2000, and three seasons later the fences were amended, starting with 2003.

Notable change: Moved the left-center field fence in from 395 feet to 370 feet.

Results:

 

Note: ESPN's Park Factor data goes back to 2001, so it was unavailable for 2000.

To put those numbers in context, in 2002—the last season prior to the changes—there were 122 homers hit in 80 games at Comerica, with 61 by both the Tigers and opponents. In 2003? There were 162 homers hit overall in 81 games, 67 by Detroit and 95 by the opposition.

 

New York Mets

Citi Field opened in 2009, and again, three seasons later the fences came in, starting with 2012.

Notable changes: "Moved in portions of the outfield wall at Citi Field as much as 12 feet and lowered the height of the home run line to 8 feet throughout the outfield," according to the New York Mets' official site.

Here's what the changes looked like:

Image of Citi Field alterations (courtesy of MLB.com)

 

Results:

For context, in 2011—the last season prior to the changes—there were 108 homers hit in 81 games at Citi Field, with 50 by the Mets and 58 by opponents. In 2012? There were 155 homers hit overall, 67 by New York and 88 by the opposition.

 

San Diego Padres

Petco Park opened in 2004, and the distances were changed starting with the 2013 season.

Notable changes: "In right-center, the wall moved from 402 feet to 391 feet. The wall also was lowered to match the height of the sub-eight-foot wall in left and center field. The wall in left-center moved in from 402 feet to 390 feet," according to Corey Brock of MLB.com.

Here's what the changes looked like:

Image of Petco Park alterations (courtesy of MLB.com)

 

Results:

To put those numbers in context, in 2012—the last season prior to the changes—there were 109 homers hit in 81 games at Petco, with 47 by the Padres and 62 by opponents. In 2013 so far? There have been 34 homers hit overall in 18 Petco games, 15 by San Diego and 19 by the opposition.

Obviously, there is only a month-and-a-half worth of data on the "new" Petco, so it's too soon to draw any definitive conclusions, but the early returns indicate a noticeable jump in homers.

 

The Seattle Mariners

Safeco Field opened in 1999, and the fences moved in starting with the 2013 season.

Notable changes: "The fence was moved in from four to 17 feet at different points in left field and 4 feet from straight center to the right-center gap. The distance at the left-field power alley decreased from 390 feet to 378 feet. Additionally, the 16-foot-high hand-operated scoreboard down the left-field line will be moved back and no longer be part of the fence, so the outfield wall will be 8-feet high all the way around the park," according to Greg Johns of MLB.com.

Here's what the changes looked like:

Image of Safeco Field alterations (courtesy of MLB.com)

 

Results:

To put those numbers in context, in 2012—the last season prior to the changes—there were 116 homers hit in 81 games at Safeco, with 56 by the Mariners and 60 by opponents. In 2013 so far? There were 40 homers hit overall in 20 Safeco games, 19 by Seattle and 21 by the opposition.

Again, as with Petco Park, there is only about seven weeks' worth of data on the revamped Safeco, so the sample size is too small to make any significant pronouncements, but homers have been hit at a higher rate per game so far.

 

The shocking conclusion? Bringing the fences in very clearly means more home runs will be hit.

Hitters get more homers, fans get more souvenirs, Rawlings gets to supply more balls. Everybody wins.

Well, except for the guys on the mound.

 

*Park Factor compares the rate of stats at home vs. the rate of stats on the road. A rate higher than 1.000 favors the hitter. Below 1.000 favors the pitcher. Teams with home games in multiple stadiums list aggregate Park Factors. 

All statistics come from Baseball Reference, unless otherwise noted.

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