The fence dilemma

Last night, Brandon Hicks hit what looked to be an opposite-field home run to the 362 mark in right, only to be robbed by the 15-foot high wall. Over the years, many a hitter has been robbed by the high walls in both power alleys. It was merely Hicks’s turn. Until most recently, the A’s have been a power-starved bunch, which when combined with the already pitcher-friendly dimensions of the Coliseum, has had many a fan and media member calling for changes to the field. CSN’s Casey Pratt, in particular, has had issues with the high wall. Last night he brought it up after Hicks’s double, and radio play-by-play guy Vince Cotroneo mentioned it in the postgame wrap. It didn’t matter that the issue was rendered moot once Jemile Weeks singled home Hicks, and Chris Carter’s blast in the 11th left no doubt about what a home run looks like.

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Regardless of the outcome, there still remains a sense that the Coliseum’s deck is stacked too much in the direction of pitchers. You won’t find last night’s starter Tommy Milone complaining, that’s for sure. Then again, do you remember any M’s hitters reaching the warning track off Milone?

Pratt has long advocated that the high fence between the 362 and 388 marks in left and right should be taken down to the 8-foot height down the lines and in center. The high wall containing the out-of-town scoreboards could be kept intact, which makes sense since those are the most hitter-friendly parts of the park. I suggest going a step further by getting rid of the contrived “Jagged Edge” outfield fence design altogether, going with a fairly straight fence that lowers the alleys to eight feet and brings in the 367′ dimensions at the stairs in 10-15 feet. The out-of-town scoreboards would stay more-or-less intact.

The field would still play pitcher-friendly to fair, mostly because of the atmospheric conditions. Historically, the Coli hasn’t played as poorly as Petco, Safeco, or even AT&T. It may be Billy Beane’s desire to keep the ballpark geared towards pitching, since that’s been much easier to develop over the last several years. Yet it might make sense to change the dimensions to create a transition to a new ballpark, especially if the new place ends up with much more hitter-driven dimensions like Cisco Field. It’s easy to think that in the A’s current consecutive-games-with-a-HR streak, that power isn’t that hard to come by. Just remember the last two years of A’s squads. Power does come at a premium.

22 thoughts on “The fence dilemma

  1. I find it interesting that the fence is an issue. Maybe it could simply be made straight, but if you look at an overhead view of the Coliseum it’s easy to see the way the shape of the bleachers above alters the way the fence is set up.

    Since it goes from 367 to the sides of the scoreboards closest to the lines, then in a few feet to 362 instead of going deeper to the typical power alleys, then finally deeper to 388 before reaching center, the true power alleys are roughly 15 feet closer to the plate than they are in most ballparks (375 or so usually being average).

    I’ve always taken it that the higher fences in the power alleys are there to offset the cheaper home runs that would follow with a basic 8-foot fence all the way around. Maybe the Coliseum itself already plays enough toward favoring pitchers that lowering it wouldn’t matter, but they could always split the difference and make it 11 or 12 feet high.

    I just don’t think the fence can be moved much deeper in the alleys because there would probably be issues with the bleachers hanging over them.

  2. Seriously, who careswhat casey pratt has to say? As far I am concerned, he is the JV version of Brodie Brazil – which isnt saying much.

  3. @compelledtorespond – That’s a clown response, bro.

  4. agreed about cutting the wall height down. a hr that even goes over an 8-10 ft wall int he power alleys still isn’t gonna be a cheap hr especially at night. i don’t know about moving the fences in though. maybe they could somehow cut down on the foul territiory too?

    do the a’s have to get the approval of mlb to make such alternation to the park within the season?

  5. @letsgoas – they can’t change anything during the season as far as I know. It’d have to be done in the offseason.

    Just having a straight section where the out of town scoreboards are along with the shape of the bleachers above seems to have locked them into an outfield wall that’s full of angles. Not saying that can’t be changed, but they may be somewhat limited with what’s behind them.

  6. I honestly think the stadium would look worse exposing the underside of the bleachers with low fences. It would just contribute to the second-rate look.

  7. I’ll add what I just said over on Twitter:

    It’s hard to really show the clear breakdowns of all the dimensions of each ballpark because of how many variables there are and the way one definition of “left field” or “left center” can be a bit different, but if you look it up yourself you should see the true “power alleys” at the Coliseum are among the closest to the plate in the bigs, if not the closest.

    Having the 15-ft fence helps compensate by limiting cheap home runs to the alleys and while the place may still trend toward favoring pitchers due to the large foul territory and climate, every one of those doubles that hit high off the walls in the alleys would be out if the fence was the same height as it is to center and closer to the corners.

    Look at it another way: assuming the locations of the fence stay unchanged, you’re talking an 8-ft fence to the alleys, 362 feet from the plate compared to a more common 375-380 in most places. Just a 15-20 foot difference can be major.

    I believe going with a standard fence from pole to pole would require a redesign of the outfield fence all around, but like I said before I’m not sure how well it’d work to the alleys given where the bleachers are. And, yeah, the high walls do hide the vast amounts of nothing beneath the bleachers.

  8. I also don’t see any reason to screw with the wall. The current set up with the high wall is a direct result of the distance between the old pre-Raider destruction of the Coliseum wall and the current wall. It was done to approximate the home run distances of the old 330-375-400-375-330 wall. When you consider the 362 mark today is approximately where the old wall was 375 you can’t eliminate the high wall without making the Coliseum a launching pad. Even out at the far end of the high wall at 388 it’s not yet to the relative location the wall was prior to 1995 as evidenced by how far it is from the only remnants of the old curved wall within a few feet of the 400 mark. I understand it’s frustrating when balls bounce off the high wall, but remember that they would have bounced off of the old wall before Al Davis’ folly as well (or worse been caught on the old warning track for outs).

  9. The point I was making initially was that with the extreme foul territory they could neutralize the park factors a little with lower fences. The ball doesn’t exactly travel well here at night when they play most of their games. Since the team is always stacked with quality pitching and a little offensively challenged I don’t see how it couldn’t help the A’s win.

    @compelledtorespond – I loved your comment so much I texted it to Brodie. I’ll take it as a compliment since I have only been on the job a little over a month.
    @cuppingmaster – that’s nothing more tarps cant fix. (joking)

  10. Keep the fences in tact and get rid of all the foul territory.

  11. @Hoegarrden
    I wish I could give you upvotes/recs/likes, because you would have all of them.

  12. a lot easier to chop that wall in half than it is to get rid of part of the foul territiory though. i mean it should take only a day or even less time to get rid of the top half of the wall in the power alleys. what can they do to take away even half the foul territory? put more on field seating down the lines?

  13. @gojohn10

    Getting rid of all the foul territory will help the A’s offense but it will hurt their pitching in exchange. Everything about the Coliseum is pitcher-friendly now and their teams have been built in part to take advantage of that.

    It’s not that different from the way the old Cardinals teams in the 80s were built for speed with the artificial turf. Line a ball into the gap, let it roll on the carpet, and you’ve got an easy triple. In fact, during the 80s they led the NL in triples four times and were 2nd or 3rd three times. Take out their low of 33 in 1988 and they averaged 50.7 a season.

    As long as the A’s pitching is good enough to keep other teams from scoring a bunch of runs, especially at home, there’s no real reason for the A’s to try to alter the dimensions or the fence, let alone reduce foul territory. It just means we have to be used to an offense that is usually subpar, but that’s only part of the issue with the bats over the last number of years.

  14. E. Coli-seum has a park factor which ranks ~#20 out of the 30 teams. That’s not exactly compelling to see it as affecting us that much offensively (we’re barely ahead of Yankee stadium). Considering also that our strength is/had been pitching, i’m inclined to leave as is. I can understand ML’s point of transitioning to Cisco Field if/when the TRs are lifted but for today, it’s best to protect our most important assets: our pitchers.

  15. I may be in the minority, but I’d love to see any sort of aesthetic change that makes the place look different. I have now traveled to several existing MLB ballparks (half of the existing stadiums). I have yet to make it to Tampa, but without a doubt, the Coliseum is the least atheistically pleasing. The only place I have ever been that I would say was worse was the old Kingdome. If anyone thinks this doesn’t influence decisions on whether to go to a game or not, I’d encourage to ask a casual fan that has (hint, they didn’t say a single thing about crime rates or how horrible Oakland was, they did compare the Coliseum very unfavorably to other stadiums) recently been what they thought. I had an interesting conversation with one recently that was really a fair assessment of the place.
    .
    Neutralizing park factors by reducing the height of the sections between CF and the out of town scoreboards would be fine, but I’d like it to be a change (as cuppingmaster alludes too) that made it somehow “easier on the eyes.”
    .
    I am sure there are ways to do it. Murals in the outfield, getting more gold than green in the color scheme, sweet tarps, etc. All of it is just window dressing until there is a new yard somewhere, but I’d welcome it.

  16. Has Wolff or the A’s front office ever mentioned the possibility of a spruce up of the Coliseum? It’s probably my own bias, but I just have a hard time seeing current ownership committing to really revamping the place.

  17. Wouldn’t expect them to do much more than has already been done. It’s not their stadium, it’s Oakland’s stadium to fix.

  18. wasn’t there a report during the previous offseason that they were gonna replace the old video screens that are still there from the original renovation done in the mid 90s? i’m guessing they haven’t done that.

  19. I was at the game in question, and when Hicks hit it, it “sounded” gone. Then I remembered where I was, and spent a moment to watch the play unfold. Moving the fences in, or cutting them down to a symmetric 8 foot height isn’t going to do one damn bit of good for the long-term health of the franchise in that stadium – the only thing that will help is for a demo crew to come in and remove Mount Davis. Perhaps then the outbound wind will aid fly balls in going out, and you won’t have to look at those foil-covered windows any more. Only downside is losing the guys in 149, who were having too much fun. But their arms got kinda tired after two or three minutes of the Balfour intro tune.

  20. Isn’t the Collie more homer-friendly now than it was pre-Mt. Davis. My understanding is that the winds generally blew in and that Mt. Davis blocks them to some degree. The dimensions are also shorter than they were.

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