Extreme makeover, O's edition: Welcome to the pitcher-friendly Camden Yards
In the top of the sixth inning April 29, Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts lifted a fly ball to deep left field at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
In any of the previous 29 seasons since the ballpark opened in 1992, the ball would've landed in the left-field seats.
Instead, it came to rest in the glove of Orioles left fielder Ryan McKenna, who stood on the edge of the new warning track, just beyond where it met the outfield grass.
On the MASN broadcast, Orioles play-by-play voice Kevin Brown exclaimed: "Welcome to the new Camden Yards, Xander Bogaerts!"
During the offseason, the Orioles announced the unusual decision to move back a significant portion of the left-field fence. They became only the second of the 23 modern parks - the era Camden Yards launched - to move a fence back. Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park is the other, though that change was a modest one of just a few feet. (The Colorado Rockies have also raised the right-field fence at Coors Field).
The Orioles tore out several rows of seats over the winter and moved most of the left-field wall back 26.5 feet. They also doubled the fence height from 7-foot-4 to 13 feet.
"It is being done with the goal in mind of bringing the playing conditions more toward the league norm," Orioles general manager Mike Elias said in January. "Since inception, it's been an extreme park for home runs. That has only grown as the style of play in the major leagues has evolved."
Yet even if a deadened baseball isn't helping the calculus, the early returns are much beyond the league norm.
In 2021, Camden Yards was the most favorable place to hit a home run, according to ESPN's park factors, with a rating of 1.574. It was ranked in the top 10 in eight of the 10 years from 2010-19.
This season? Camden Yards is the third-most difficult place to homer through the season's first month with a rating of 0.497.
There are still 70 games remaining there, but it appears Camden Yards has been transformed from a bandbox to something like the original dimensions of Citi Field or Comerica Park. (The fence in both power alleys in New York has since been brought in considerably, while Detroit's left-center wall was brought in by 25 feet.)
After Wednesday's 9-4 win over Minnesota, the Orioles have hit just six home runs at home this season, tied for the third fewest in the majors, according to FanGraphs.com.
So far this season, only Orioles outfielder Ryan Mountcastle has "scaled Mount Baltimore," as Brown dubbed the left-field wall April 29.
Examination of Statcast data shows the new dimensions have robbed players of three home runs in the first 11 games.
On May 1, Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander launched a long fly ball to left that would've been a grand slam last season. He settled for a sacrifice fly.
On April 12, Trey Mancini drove a ball off the higher left-field wall, where it now angles sharply from the corner.
Did the Orioles move their left-field fence back too far? Well, it depends on what their aim is.
Baltimore is 6-6 at home. That might not seem that impressive, but consider the team is 3-10 on the road. Last year, the Orioles were a lowly 27-54 at home and about as poor on the road (25-56). They're rarely able to outslug the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays, so perhaps they're better off trying to reduce scoring to improve their chances. In basketball terms, Baltimore is trying to play a slower, half-court game.
The Orioles are averaging 3.4 runs per contest at home this season while opponents are scoring just 3.1 runs per game.
Last year? Opponents scored 6.3 runs per game in Baltimore, the highest mark in the majors.
On the road, the Orioles are averaging 3.2 runs per contest this season. Opponents are averaging 5.3 runs per game against Baltimore pitching away from Camden.
It's still early. The weather has yet to warm, and the newly installed humidor could provide a run-scoring jump at Camden Yards with balls less humidity-soaked compared to the Baltimore summer air. It'll take time to see how the changes in the outfield dimensions really alter offense at Camden.
Travis Sawchik is theScore's senior baseball writer.