Padres get expected results from Petco fence changes
Baseball operations staff counts 21 'new' home runs in 2013 after modifications
SAN DIEGO -- Bud Black thought he had a pretty good idea of how the fence modifications at Petco Park were going to play before the season started, though the Padres' manager had reason to second-guess himself just four innings into the home opener on April 9.
That's when Dodgers' third baseman Juan Uribe -- a right-handed batter no less -- essentially came out of his cleats, jumping all over a 1-0 changeup from Clayton Richard, sending the pitch toward right fielder Will Venable, who drifted back toward the modified fence.
"Off the bat, it didn't seem like a home run," said Padres general manager Josh Byrnes.
Eventually, Venable ran out of room -- sooner than he would have just a year ago.
That long fly ball ended up a home run, landing in the new party deck in right field, where the fences were brought in as part of subtle changes that were made to help the Padres' downtown ballpark play a little more fair to hitters.
"My initial thought was, ball off the bat, that it wasn't a homer," Black said of the Uribe home run. "It was like, 'OK, things have changed.'"
He was right, though the fence modifications -- moving the right-field fence in 11 feet and 12 feet in left-center field -- produced some interesting data after one season.
According to Josh Stein, the Padres' director of baseball operations, 21 "new fence" home runs were hit at Petco Park.
Yes, there were more home runs at Petco Park in 2013 -- 1.8 per game, up from 1.3 in '12 and 1.2 in '11. But run scoring at Petco Park was down (7.4 runs per game) from 7.7 in '12. The National League average this past season was 7.9 runs per game.
In a move toward neutrality -- not to it -- the Padres made subtle fence modifications last offseason. In left-center field, the fences came in from 402 feet to 390 feet. Most notably, from the right-field line to the gap in right-center, the fence was moved in from 402 feet to 391 feet, with the fence lowered to 8 feet.
"The thing that stood out for me was some of the drives to right off the bat of right-handers were where I saw the shorter fence come into play," Black said. "And there were a couple of fly balls, on day games -- I don't want to say the fence played short, but off the bat I thought they would be outs, but turned into hits -- either eluded the outfielder or home run.
"That led me to believe the park did shorten up on certain days earlier in the year. But I think that it sort of played out the way we thought it would."
Stein and several others in the Padres' baseball operations department looked at every home run hit in 2013. There were a few close calls on balls that might not have been a home run a year ago.
And while Stein and others want and need to see three years of data to truly gauge how the fences play -- to remove as much variance and randomness as possible -- the modifications essentially played out like everyone thought they would, even after that Uribe scare in the first home game in April.
"I don't think it's too surprising and I think that's one of the positives. It didn't fundamentally change the way the park plays," Stein said. "I think that was one of the stated goals of this whole project. It was not to swing the pendulum too far from what we are and how we've built our team and the way Buddy and the coaches manage, which is more toward run prevention and do the little things to score runs and not rely on the three-run homer."
Byrnes said he's satisfied with how the ballpark played in 2013. The sample size, of course, is still small, but the changes to the dimensions seem to have satisfied all parties.
"I think earlier in the year it's only natural to sort of pay attention to homers that were a result of the new dimensions. But we also hoped that they would generally even out, make the park more fair and generally make the topic go away a little bit," Byrnes said. "After a year, it's done all that. It's still a good place to pitch, but it's not so extreme. That's what we hoped for."
Here's a closer look at how Petco Park played in 2013:
• The month-by-month breakdown of "new" home runs at Petco Park: April (five in 12 games), May (four in 16), June (four in 15), July (two in 10), August (three in 15), September (three in 13).
• There were nine "new" home runs hit during day games, with 12 hit at night.
• Of the 21 "new" home runs in 2013, eight were by the Padres. Opponents accounted for the 13 other home runs.
• Venable was the greatest benefactor of the new dimensions, as three of the 15 home runs he hit at home would not have previously been home runs.
• Only one home run landed in the modified area in left-center field: a two-run, first-inning homer on April 22 by Ryan Braun of the Brewers.