Yesterday we indicated that the Miami Marlins were still persistent about the organization's unwillingness to move the fences in. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported that that might get in the way of Giancarlo Stanton re-signing with the Fish, but that the organization remains staunchly opposed to changing the dimensions of the park.
This story is nothing new coming out of Miami. The Fish have long held the belief that there should be no cheap home runs in Marlins Park. Here's David Samson on the matter.
"Our park factor, if you ask some of our statistical 'Moneyball' guys that we hired off the geek squad, they would tell you that where we are is actually a benefit and the park factor, in terms of the number of home runs hit, is not as low as you might think," Samson said. "We do measure it because we've got smart guys. That's what they do. The fact is, where the fences are has helped us more than it hurt us."
I'll leave Samson's odd "geek squad" comment for another time. The team has been adamant since the beginning that the situation at Marlins Park does not require fixing. If the team's numbers match the publicly available math, they are right. In three years, Miami has been roughly an even stadium in terms of allowing runs, with batting lines at home and in other stadiums almost identical minus the home runs. Marlins Park is the second-most homer-suppressing stadium in the game, ahead of only AT&T Park in San Francisco.
It is certainly possible that moving the fences in at Marlins Park would lead to more runs scored, and those runs could turn an even or so stadium into a hitter's park if the team is not too careful. Miami does not appear to want that for their stadium.
"We want it to be pitcher friendly, but fair to hitters who get all of it," Samson said. "No cheapies. If you get it, we want it to go."
The Marlins' stated goal was to make a pitcher-friendly park, so it is understandable that they might not want to do something that would threaten that desire. But other than desire of the team, is there any good reason to keep it at this distance?
Realistically, probably not.
The argument, then, for moving the fences in has less to do with "fairness" and more to do with pleasing the players. After all, the Marlins can have the fences wherever they want, but if the players are not happy with the dimensions and the expansive field begins to get in their head, why not consider a solution? The Marlins need to make sure their players are happy, and if the psychological effect of having the fences deep is affecting their play, that needs to be considered. In the past, we have heard Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison complain about how disappointing it was to watch fly balls die in the outfield rather than head out of the park.
Of course, the Marlins want to keep it a pitcher-friendly park, but there is no inherent value in having it be pitcher- or hitter-friendly. Chances are moving the fences in is not going to dramatically change the park factor to extreme levels, so if it pleases Marlins players, where is the harm?
The Marlins might argue that they were planning to build the team in a certain way around the depths of the new stadium. A focus on defensive prowess, especially in the outfield, and speed along with working with fly ball pitchers would be a strategy that utilizes the stadium's deep dimensions. But Miami has not really played into that strategy, and indeed last offseason, they went the other way. The team spent free agent money acquiring Garrett Jones and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, two hitters who are power-dependent on their offensive games. The team's outfield is robust defensively, but the club is already talking about possibly replacing Gold Glove candidate Christian Yelich with a worse free agent outfielder and moving Yelich to first base. So the "building a team around the dimensions" argument is not really there either. What's stopping Miami?
Part of it is probably money. After all, the club would probably have to spend to make the adjustments to the walls, and we all know how Jeffrey Loria feels about spending. If the front office sees it as an unnecessary cost, they may not deem it important to do.
And if you take out the psychological effect on the players, it is unnecessary. Marlins Park has not been as pitcher-friendly as it has been made out to be. This is not the same situation as in Petco Park in San Diego or Cit Field in New York. The Marlins may have a park that suppresses home runs in extremis, but with regards to runs allowed, the stadium has not done that badly. There is no urgent need to change it to fix something "unfair."
And the psychological argument has a downside too. Moving the fences in may affect pitchers on the team, especially if balls start to fly out a little more often than usual. Guys like Henderson Alvarez and Tom Koehler, who might otherwise struggle in smaller stadiums, might get the fences stuck in their heads, even as some of the hitters on the team are more relieved.
The Marlins had a great time batting at home last year, and the numbers for the last three years for the stadium's run scoring don't lie: Marlins Park is not that pitcher-friendly. Without a need to fix a clearly unfair problem, the Marlins ultimately have no reason to budge right now on their stance, even if there may be benefits.