The Marlins tell us they’re considering bringing in the fences and possibly lowering the walls at Marlins Park next season. David Samson confirmed the team has been discussing the possibility.
On the surface, one can see what the fuss is about. The Marlins boast the third-lowest park factor for home runs in baseball through last season, ahead of only the San Francisco Giants and AT&T Park and the Pittsburgh Pirates and PNC Park. Yet neither of those teams are considering moving their fences in as a response to poor power production. If you Google "Miami Marlins fences," you will get a number of results, many of which come from this very website. Google "Pittsburgh Pirates fences" or "San Francisco Giants fences" and you get a lot stadium information.
This is not the first time this thought has come up. The Marlins want to make the stadium fair to those hitters who get a piece of the ball, but they would prefer being pitcher-friendly overall. After all, it fits their desired model of "pitching and defense" that they so often preach and never practice in terms of team-building. The arguments for it include the psychological aspect it has had on the players on the team. It can certainly be defeating to see long fly balls turn into outs when they would have been out of the park at other places. But if this was the case, why are (supposedly) more unfair stadiums like AT&T Park and PNC Park not also being rumored for changes? The Giants own a classically absurd set of stadium dimensions, including a notorious right field fence that contains a divot far worse than the center field "Bermuda triangle" in Miami. That place has awful bounces, is a triple's paradise, is impossible to hit home runs in, and no one seems to be complaining.
The more likely reason why teams like the Giants and the Pirates are not complaining about their seemingly more unfair stadiums is that the clubs are hitting significantly better than the Marlins are. Since 2012, when Marlins Park first opened, Giants non-pitchers own a .271/.329/.406 batting line, good for 12th in all of baseball in wOBA. Pirates non-pitchers own the seventh-best wOBA with a .260/.326/.414 line. The Marlins, who have fielded one of the worst teams in baseball over that time span own a .252/.315/.379 batting line, good for 29th out of 30th in the league. Like the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres before them, the team is reacting only because the Marlins have been a terrible offensive team.
The difference is that, while the fences have affected home runs, the rest of the run scoring situation appears to be pretty even in Miami. San Diego's Petco Park was notorious (and still is) for truly suppressing run-scoring; the same could be said for San Francisco and Seattle, whose park factors all hung out in the low 90s (suppressing eight to 10 percent of average run scoring). However, the measurements three years into Marlins Park's existence still showed that the stadium was fair to run scoring, even though the home run park factor was low. Marlins Park ranked 15th in run-scoring park factor at an even 100 (even with the league's run scoring environment) in 2014.
This means that, if the Marlins move the fences in, the likelihood is that the park factor will go up and that the team's once spacious stadium may become more of a hitter's park, which defeats the initial purpose of Miami's build. While that may help the team score more runs, it of course will also allow the Marlins to allow more runs. Miami's batting line, if the team does not improve, may superficially look better, but it may not mean anything significant if the run scoring environment increases overall. This also affects the psyche of the pitchers, who are directly affected by such a move as well.
The Fish clearly want to spruce up offense, but it is not as though more run-scoring from both sides is going to boost attendance at the park or improve the Marlins' bottom line. The only way to attract fans is to actually improve the offense, and that means focusing on team building rather than superficial changes to the stadium. Investing in moving in the fences likely does nothing competitively for this roster, especially as it is currently constructed. The club's only power hitter is Giancarlo Stanton, who clearly showed this year that he does not need assistance in hitting homers in Marlins Park. Much of the rest of the team is built on speed and gap hitting, which may not change as much with a fence move. Dropping the fences in will not help Dee Gordon or Adeiny Hechavarria leave the yard much more.
If the club wants more runs, it should find a way to invest in talent rather than a method that will boost runs for and against it. Moving the fences in is unnecessary right now.