What If the Royals Moved the Fences In?


Earlier today, the Seattle Mariners announced that they were going to change the dimensions of Safeco Field to “create an environment that is fair for both hitters and pitchers“. Safeco has always been considered a pitcher’s park and has been rough on right-handed hitters with a deep power alley in left-center. Part of the change will move that fence to 378 feet. Dead center will move in four feet to 401 feet.

Via Katron.org. Balls in play overlayed onto Safeco Field layout. Dark blue = homers; light blue = doubles/triples; orange = fly outs in Kauffman Stadium.

For some perspective, if you  were to overlap Safeco’s current layout and Kauffman Stadium’s, you’d see that the K is even a bit bigger and some balls to straight away left or right field would have gone out in Safeco.*

*Environment does have some effect as well, so home runs aren’t solely based on dimensions but the distance from home to the fence is the biggest factor to me.

So if the Mariners can decide to move their fences in, it could be something for the Royals to consider.

Of course, from 1995 to 2003, the Royals had the fences moved in a bit – ten feet in the alleys and center field to be exact. In 2004, the fences were returned to their original distances and, predictably, home runs dropped. Obviously, it’s a double-edged sword to move the fences. Yes, the home team can hit more home runs that way, but the visitors can do the same.

When the fences were moved up, the Royals hit the majority of their homers at home (50.7%) and gave up the majority at home as well (52.6%). Starting in 2004 when the fences moved back, they hit 44.5% of their homers at home and gave up 45.8% at Kauffman. This season is the only year when the Royals gave up more homers at home than on the road and in only one season since moving the fences back (2006) did they hit more than half at home.

That much is intuitive: moving the fences back to their original distances resulted in less home runs being hit. I find it interesting that the difference was that drastic, though. Homers have dropped in general, so you have to consider that in the equation. There were some pretty awful pitching staffs in those pulled-in years, so that’s under consideration as well. Also, by 2004, Jermaine Dye had already been traded and Carlos Beltran was in the last months of his Royals career. There wasn’t as much talent to prevent homers after pulling the fences in and there wasn’t as much talent to hit the ball out after moving them back. Still, while there are various factors in play, the dimensions were the biggest factor (after all, the talent level of the rest of the league didn’t diminish greatly after 2003).

So let’s say that the Royals pull the fences in by ten feet in the alleys and in center again.

Via Katron.org. Balls in play in Kauffman Stadium overlayed on the Rogers Centre layout.

The Rogers Centre in Toronto would have similar dimensions to the New K at 375 feet in left- and right-center field and 400 feet to center.

It’s not a huge change, but it seems like there are 20 balls that otherwise would have been flyball outs or hitting the wall that went out of the park.

That could impact the Royals in a few ways. For one, the group of hitters they have now would be able to accumulate a few more homers per year. Some fly outs would turn into doubles off the wall, too.

The flip side still applies – the Royals would likely give up more homers, and with Jake Odorizzi and a returning Bruce Chen as strong possibilities in a future rotation, they could give up a lot. Both are fly ball pitchers historically. Zack Greinke, a free agent hopeful since about five minutes after the Royals traded him two years ago, is another fly ball pitcher. Perhaps the current dimensions are in mind as they look at options. Hopefully, though, if the Royals were to make a change, the pitching rotation would have been solidified and the Royals could reap the benefits of a smaller park at the plate but still outscore opponents.

With the current group, it could also signal an end to one of the more embarrassing records in baseball.

I speak, of course, about Steve Balboni‘s franchise record 36 homers – the only such record that sits below 40 among active franchises. At one point this year, it looked like Billy Butler would have a shot at the record. Alas, he went a month without a homer and fell off the pace, but different dimensions may have given him a better shot. A hit chart for Butler from FoxSports.com shows that anywhere from three to six outs near the wall may have had the potential to leave the yard if the fences were moved in by ten feet. It’s not exact, but at this point, six more homers would put Butler at 35 and one great day from breaking the record.

Moving the fences in wouldn’t necessarily turn each Royals hitter into a 30-40 home run guys, but it could allow some players to add a handful of dingers to their totals. If the Royals were able to assemble a pitching staff to prevent some homers, that could be a great combination.

As of today, there are no reported plans to move the fences in. Will they ever do it? Should they? Perhaps after Seattle tries it out for a year, the Royals will follow suit.

Home runs in Kauffman Stadium during periods with fences in (1995-2003) and fences moved back (2004-through 10/1/12)

YearHR hitTotal HRPercent at HomeHR allowedTotal HR allowedPercent at Home
YearHR hitTotal HRPercent at HomeHR allowedTotal HR AllowedPercent at Home