Judging the Royals

How Camden Yards will change the game

Kansas City will play Baltimore Friday in Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Kansas City will play Baltimore Friday in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. MCT

If you want to understand the baseball games you’re about to watch, remember this; ballparks are all different and those differences change the game. Baltimore’s Camden Yards is a much smaller ballpark than Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium.

Here’s why that matters:

In Kauffman Stadium the foul poles are 330 away from home plate, but the outfield wall drops off almost immediately; it’s about 375 feet to the bullpen gates. The wall then continues dropping off to the gaps which are 387 feet from home plate and finally reaches centerfield, 410 feet away.

Camden Yard’s left-field foul pole is 333 feet from home but the fence does not drop off that sharply; it’s closer to a right angle. The left-center gap is only 364 feet away. A fly ball caught on the left-center field warning track in Kauffman is a home run 10 rows up in Camden.

And Baltimore’s right field wall is even closer; the foul pole is only 318 feet away. The gap on the right side is 373 and then the park does eventually open up; Camden Yards is 410 feet to centerfield. But hit a fly ball down one of the foul lines and it’s a got a chance. Pitchers will have to be careful about throwing curveballs down-and-in to lefties; a pitch with slower velocity is liable to be hit down the right-field line and if it travels 319 feet the pitcher’s got problems.

Small wonder that Baltimore leads the major leagues in home runs. Their ballpark’s dimensions make it easier to hit home runs and that means home run hitters want to play there. A guy who makes his living swatting balls out of the park is less likely to have a strong desire to play in Kansas City; why play 81 games in a ballpark that big?

As a result the Royals have gone for more athletic players; guys who can hit line drives, plug the gaps and leg out doubles and triples. Why pay for power when: A.) You can’t afford it and B.) It won’t be as productive? And those athletic line drive hitters you can afford can also cover that big outfield. Once again, small wonder that the Royals lead the major leagues in stolen bases; the Royals are an athletic team.

But the Orioles will do everything they can to slow down those athletic Kansas City base stealers. An average base stealer takes around 3.4 seconds to steal second base. Average big league catchers take 2.0 to receive a pitch and throw to second base, so pitcher delivery times are key—and the Baltimore Orioles’ pitchers are very good at getting the ball to home plate quickly. They do usually do it in less than 1.3 seconds. So if the catcher and pitcher’s times are combined and the come out to 3.2 seconds, a guy who steals a base in 3.4 seconds has to stay put.

That means the Royals are less likely to steal bases unless they can find a key. In this case that means something the pitcher does before he delivers the ball to home plate that gives away his intentions. Some pitchers never attempt a pickoff if they look at the runner on first base; the pick off always comes when the pitcher doesn’t look over. With some it’s the brim of the cap: brim up, the pitcher is looking at home, brim down, he’s checking out the runner.

If the Royals can find a key and use that to figure out what the pitcher is about to do with the ball, a 1.2 delivery time might become a 1.5—then the runner can steal. But even so the Royals might quit running on their own.

Those short Camden Yards dimensions can help Kansas City hitters as well. The Royals might not want to run themselves out of an inning when a fly ball that’s a routine out in Kansas City might be a home run in Baltimore. True power guys—and Nelson Cruz is an example—can hit them out of any park. Those guys lift the ball and hit it a long way. Line drive hitters don’t have the same swing trajectory and probably don’t have the power to make hitting fly balls pay off in Kansas City—but those line drive swings might pay off in Baltimore.

Nothing’s for sure in baseball, but when the series is being played in Baltimore, the Orioles should have an advantage: they were built to play in that park. But when the series shifts back to Kansas City, the Royals should have an advantage for the same reason.

But, as they say in baseball: you never know.

It’s why we watch the games.