How have the new dimensions at Camden Yards impacted the Orioles?

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles
New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles / Patrick Smith/GettyImages

It is no secret that many things changed around Baltimore following a 110-loss season for the Orioles in 2021. This was their third consecutive full season with 100 or more losses, and their fifth consecutive season finishing below .500 in a highly competitive American League East. Amongst many personnel changes in 2022, which included MLB debuts for Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, as well as the selection of Jackson Holliday No. 1 overall in the amateur draft, the most controversial change in Baltimore was a functional change to their ballpark. Now infamously, they moved the left field wall back 26 and a half feet while also adding six feet of height.

Across Major League Baseball, this change was sudden and difficult to get used to. However, the majority of the league, including the Orioles themselves, seem to have accustomed themselves to the change while adjusting their strategy in the face of an unorthodox configuration. The majority of the league does not include the New York Yankees.

Monday evening, the Yankees chose to once again bring up feelings of ill will towards the Orioles and their new ballpark when broadcaster Michael Kay mentioned that a deep flyout by Oswaldo Cabrera would have been a home run three years ago. What Kay did not mention was that the same flyout would have been a home run in only six of 30 MLB ballparks, and Yankee Stadium was one of the 24 ballparks where the ball would have into the glove of the left fielder on the warning track.

Similar to Kay, Aaron Judge also expressed feelings of ill will towards the O's in 2022 when a deep fly ball did not leave the yard when it would have in every other ballpark. Judge called Camden Yards a "Create-A-Park" more than two years ago, and it seems the division rivals still have not figured out a strategy to defeat the creation outside of complaining to the media.

Yankees can't stop complaining about Orioles' wall, but has it really affected games?

The change to the ballpark configuration was schemed by the Orioles as a way to negate the extreme hitting environment caused by the ballpark's initial dimensions. On paper, the changes immediately helped the O's, as they are 105-74 at home since the change. This compares to a 65-130 home record in the three previous seasons before the change. Of course, a major increase in talent in all aspects of roster construction accounts for most of the success, but pitchers have also been much more successful in the past three seasons relative to before the change.

The park factor stats are one way to judge the change. In 2021, OPACY was tangibly a hitter-friendly environment, according to Baseball-Reference. That season, hitters were four percent better than average at Camden Yards, while pitchers were seven percent worse. In 2022, that number decreased to no discernible favorability one way or the other, as pitchers were precisely average and hitters were one percent worse than average. 2023 proved to be much more pitcher friendly, which can at least be partially attributed to a stronger pitching staff in general for the Orioles.

Essentially, the early returns indicate that the new dimensions are acting exactly as intended: to neutralize a previously non-neutral environment that heavily favored right handed batters. According to Statcast data, some of the returns have been significant. Between 2019 and 2021, OPACY was the second most conducive ballpark to offense among full-time MLB ballparks, trailing only Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. In these three seasons, there were 24% more home runs at OPACY than the typical ballpark. The data factors in many variables, which include the propensity for home runs in general during this time period.

Since 2022, OPACY has ranked 22nd in the same category, with nine percent fewer home runs than the typical ballpark. In other words, Camden Yards' home runs decreased 33% relative to the average ballpark and fell 20 spots. Of course, this is a significant change, which moved OPACY from the easiest AL East ballpark to hit a home run to the most difficult.

Along with home runs, Statcast measures the overall favorability of ballparks to hitters in general in the same time frames. According to the all-encompassing metric of park factor, the Orioles had the third easiest ballpark to hit at between 2019 and 2021, but it has ranked 20th in the same category since 2022. Before 2022, only Coors Field and Fenway Park were more favorable hitting environments, and each of those stadiums have extenuating circumstances which make the park specifically easy to hit at.

Looking specifically at right handed hitters, the difference between park factors are even more glaring. For instance, between 2007 and 2021, right-handed batters hit at least 12% better at OPACY than average in terms of home runs. In 2022, that number fell to seven percent above average, while it dropped to three percent below average in 2023. To put it simply, the new dimensions have turned a home run haven for righties into a difficult place to put the ball over the wall.

This, in turn, has had a negative impact on runs scored, although this has been more regression to average. Every year between 2019 and 2021, right-handed batters scored ten percent more runs than average, while that number has steadily decreased and finished at exactly average in 2023.

The Orioles have also built their roster to match the changes in the dimensions at OPACY. The majority of power hitters on the roster, as well as top prospects in the minors, are either left-handed hitters or switch hitters. The two most notable exceptions are Ryan Mountcastle and Coby Mayo. Mountcastle is the easiest case study, since he played two seasons prior to the expansion and is now in his third season with the walls moved out.

Simply put, Mountcastle's power numbers have decreased between 2021 and now, and the wall likely plays a role in this decrease. Over a full season, Mountcastle had a career high in home runs, slugging percentage, and isolated power in 2021. Since then, he has struggled to replicate the success of that season, but has adjusted his approach to become a better contact hitter with more plate discipline and patience. His overall offensive statistics have steadily improved since 2022, and he is better equipped now to take advantage of an unfavorable ballpark despite his frustrations.

Mayo has yet to make his big league debut, but his ability to perform will be particularly interesting, given that he is even more extreme of a power hitter than Mountcastle. From a pitching perspective, the change in dimensions was also advertised as a lure for free agent pitchers. Since the walls were moved back, the most notable pitcher signed in free agency was Craig Kimbrel, while the most notable starter was Kyle Gibson. In other words, the return on investment has not yet been felt in that category, but could be a big factor in attempting to retain a pitcher like Corbin Burnes, who has had some issue allowing the long ball to righties.

All in all, despite numerous complaints from Yankees fans, players, broadcasters, and otherwise that this change in dimension was the worst change in sports, the returns seem to have had the exact result that was intended, allowing the Orioles to craft a roster that thrives on the sort of distinct advantage their division foes have enjoyed for decades. It can be frustrating to watch long fly balls land in play that would otherwise be home runs, but no change has ever come without controversy.