Padres moving the fences in at Petco in 2013
Distances in outfield gaps will decrease by as much as 12 feet
SAN DIEGO -- Dimension changes are officially coming to Petco Park in 2013, changes the Padres hope will allow their downtown ballpark to play more neutral moving forward.
The team announced on Monday that the modifications will affect left-center, right-center and right field. Construction is set to begin this week.
The changes will include:
Moving in the wall that runs from the right-field porch to right-center 11 feet. The wall will also be lowered to match the height of the sub-eight-foot wall in left and center field.
The out-of-town scoreboard in right field will be relocated. Seating modifications in that area will be announced later. In right-center, the wall will move from 402 feet to 391 feet.
The wall in left-center will be moved in from 402 feet to 390 feet.
The visiting bullpen, currently down the right-field line in foul territory, will be moved to center field behind the existing home bullpen area.
The Padres, who moved into their downtown ballpark in 2004, have ranked last in the Major Leagues in runs scored at home four times since 2004 (2006 to 2009) and 29th on two occasions (2005, 2011). Their best finish, oddly enough, occurred this past season, when they ranked 24th.
The Padres pored over offensive data dating back to the ballpark's opening but focused more of their attention on the results of the last three seasons. Josh Stein, director of baseball operations, and his team were the ones responsible for the research.
But you don't need an MBA in Quantitative Analysis to know what you were seeing at Petco Park.
"We compared some of that research to what our eyeballs were telling us," said general manager Josh Byrnes. "Clearly, ours was extreme. We felt it was right to make these changes."
What they came up with were these new dimensions, ones that won't qualify the ballpark as neutral but will certainly move it away from being a supremely run-suppressing environment.
"I understand that there should be nuances about every stadium, but I feel the overall goal should be for it to play fair for pitchers and hitters," third baseman Chase Headley said on Monday. "And since it's been built ... it hasn't been fair to hitters. I think anything they can do to make it play fair is great."
Earlier this month the Mariners announced their intentions to make dimension changes at Safeco Field, which rivals Petco Park as pitcher-friendly ballparks go. The biggest change at Safeco for 2013 will have the fences in left moved in anywhere from four to 17 feet.
The discussions about potential chances in dimensions occurred before executive chairman Ron Fowler and his ownership group came onboard in August. Fowler made sure to check with baseball operations to make sure this was indeed the right decision.
"We didn't ask them once, we asked them twice," Fowler said. "That's when we decided to pull the trigger."
In April, president and CEO Tom Garfinkel indicated that the team was considering modifications to the dimensions of the ballpark with the hope that such changes wouldn't suppress offense nearly as much. These results are close to what he envisioned.
"It's probably similar to what we expected. We had a lot of conversations. If we did it, it was how much and where," Garfinkel said. "This was driven from a baseball standpoint -- in terms of the right way to make it work for players. Players know what's fair and what's not.
"Baseball fans want to see the game the way it's intended to be played. When a hitter gets hold of a ball, it should go out."
Some would disagree -- not surprisingly, pitchers. Many feel the Padres have created something akin to a competitive advantage for themselves at home.
"It's a truly fair ballpark. No cheap runs seem to get scored there," said Chicago White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy, who won the 2007 National League Cy Young Award while with San Diego. "That's a comforting thing to know as a pitcher."
Former Padres GM Kevin Towers, now the GM of the D-backs, used to call the area in right-center "Death Valley" -- the dimensions were originally 411 feet until after the 2005 season, when a change brought in the fence to 400 feet.
"Petco plays a little bigger than what we originally thought it would," Towers said in 2010.
Currently, the dimensions of Petco are 336 down the left-field line, 402 feet to left-center, 396 feet to center, 402 feet going out toward right-center, 375 feet to straightaway right field and 322 feet down the right-field line, which is, oddly enough, a place where not a lot of balls are hit.
The initial roomy dimensions didn't happen by accident, said Erik Judson, who was instrumental in the design and development of the ballpark.
In 1996, while Judson was working on his MBA at San Diego State, he met former owner John Moores and then-club president Larry Lucchino. He was part of a group performing comparative analysis of the financing of sports facilities across the country.
Judson, who is now the a principal of JMI Sports LLC, worked with HOK Sport (now called Populous), the architectural firm that has designed numerous sports facilities, helped to execute Lucchino's vision of a baseball-only park.
"We studied and analyzed every single seating category. Dimensions were an important part. First and foremost, we wanted to have dimensions that played fairly. There was clearly a focus on pitching and defense. Collectively, that was something we felt was important to the franchise," Judson said in 2010.
There was another important aspect that weighed on the minds of those who would shape the ballpark -- consider it the Coors Field effect.
In 1995 the Rockies moved into Coors Field after two years at Mile High Stadium. Their new downtown ballpark played more like a launching pad. That season alone, the Rockies hit 134 of their 200 home runs at home, with a gaudy slugging percentage of .556, compared with .384 on the road.
This, Judson said, was not what Lucchino and the Padres wanted, by any means.
"We wanted it to be fair, but we also didn't want to make a mistake the other way," Judson said. "This was a time when balls were flying out of Coors Field in record numbers."
What the Padres got instead was the polar opposite of Coors Field -- a ballpark where the marine layer and wind patterns have shifted and changed over the years, where hitters of various size and strength have often been reduced to rubble.
These modifications, manager Bud Black said, will help.
"Players know certain things about dimensions on a ballpark," said Black, who has managed the Padres since 2007. "Pitchers and hitters understand dimensions. Pitchers will understand it, hitters will like it."