# What if the Fences Were All the Same Distance Away?

Programming note: I’m taking a break from my Five Things column this week, as I’m traveling to Chicago for Saberseminar. Five Things will return next week with events from the last two weeks. In the meantime, please enjoy a ridiculous hypothetical.

This week, someone in my chat asked me an interesting hypothetical: How different would baseball be if the fences were the same distance from home plate all the way around? It would obviously be wildly different from how the sport currently works. Center field is the deepest part of the park by far, of course, and it’s hard to picture exactly what an equidistant fence would look like. You might think it’s a triangle, but that’s not right – it looks more or less like an arc, which is what an actual stadium looks like, only with a much sharper curvature.

That sounds so darn weird that I wanted to see what it would mean for offense. I don’t have any strong analytical reason for doing so. We aren’t plumbing the depths of smart baseball analysis here; we’re making up a dumb world and wondering what kinds of dumb things would happen in it.

First things first: There would be more home runs. I picked 370 feet as the distance because it feels reasonably close to the real world average of fence depths. I picked a 10-foot tall wall for similar reasons; if we’re getting weird in some ways, I’d prefer to standardize the others. There’s an easy math trick you can use here; baseballs tend to fall at roughly a 45 degree angle by the time they’re descending, their forward momentum getting slowly blunted by air resistance. That means that a ball that clears the wall by a millimeter would travel 10 more feet before hitting ground that was at field level – in an outfield bullpen, say. In other words, every ball that travels 380 or more feet in the air is going to be a home run now.

There have been a lot of balls hit like that this year — 5,062 as of Tuesday’s games, to be precise. Still, that’s only resulted in 4,257 home runs (again, through Tuesday); as it turns out, tucking in the power alleys and dead center would turn tons of balls in the gap that would have previously been doubles or outs into homers. If you look at the spray chart of a powerful-but-not-off-the-scales hitter – I picked Teoscar Hernández, who has the 25th-highest ISO among qualified batters – you’ll see some deep outs to center field that would become homers with the new dimensions:

I actually started with 350 feet as the wall distance, but that completely broke things; we’re talking double the number of homers that would otherwise have occurred, and that doesn’t seem reasonable. With these new walls, homers would go up but not by a totally ridiculous amount. The league leader in homers would still be Aaron Judge, but with 48 homers instead of 45. Shohei Ohtani, Juan Soto, and Bobby Witt Jr. would all have 41 – they’re at 39, 35, and 25 respectively. Marcell Ozuna would climb up from 37 homers to 40. Witt isn’t alone in adding a ton of homers, incidentally. Here are all the hitters who would add 10 or more homers:

Home Run Gainers, 370-foot fences
Batter HR 370-foot HR Change
Bobby Witt Jr. 25 41 16
Ezequiel Tovar 19 31 12
Yordan Alvarez 25 36 11
Matt Chapman 20 30 10
Jesús Sánchez 15 25 10
Andrew Vaughn 14 24 10

There are two hitter archetypes who add the most homers: Naturally powerful guys like Witt, Alvarez, and Chapman who spray tons of hard-hit batted balls to center; and hitters who play in Coors, like Tovar. If this was going to be a real-world change, the league would surely put deeper walls in Colorado, but I’m going to stick with the standard setup for simplicity. You’re welcome, Ezequiel! The other side of the list is an interesting one, too:

Home Run Decliners, 370-foot fences
Batter HR 370-foot HR Change
José Ramírez 32 24 -8
Josh Naylor 27 20 -7
Oswaldo Cabrera 8 2 -6
TJ Friedl 10 5 -5
Gunnar Henderson 33 29 -4
Josh Bell 18 14 -4
Isaac Paredes 18 14 -4
Max Muncy 11 7 -4
Cal Raleigh 27 24 -3

There are some obvious names on there, but I didn’t expect the Orioles duo to pop up, nor Naylor and Muncy, who seem more like pure power hitters to me. And how wild is it that Paredes, who we think of as the master of squeezing fly balls just over the pull side wall, would only lose four long balls? He’s truly something else.

We could take a look at how those changes in homers affect offensive production, but I’m not done calculating changes yet, so that will have to wait. An increase in the home run rate isn’t the only thing that short fences would do – they’d also change the way defenders play. As baseball is played today, center fielders start roughly 25 feet deeper in the outfield than corner outfielders (298 feet on average in left, 323 in center, 295 in right). With equidistant fences throughout the park, center fielders would start much closer to home, because they’d have far less distance to cover on balls hit over their heads. They’d also be somewhat closer to the infielders than current corner outfielders (thanks, geometry), though I’ve basically ignored that effect in the following analysis for the sake of brevity (ha, me brief, sure).

The main effect of this change in positioning would be fewer singles. For example, major league hitters have lofted 26,472 batted balls that fit the following criteria: cleared the infield in the air, traveled fewer than 380 feet before bouncing, and were hit to either left or right field. Those batted balls turned into hits at a 22.8% rate. Meanwhile, batters have hit 14,475 batted balls with the same distance characteristics, only to center field. Of those, 29.1% have turned into singles. In other words, bloops are landing at a higher rate in center because there’s more ground to cover out there. That effect would go away almost completely with the new walls.

In fact, batted balls that remain in play but head down the lines would likely be more valuable than ones hit up the middle due to the presence of the walls. It’s hard to hit a “double down the line” to center, particularly with short walls keeping it from splitting the defenders quite so easily. For the purposes of this exercise, I left the rate of doubles unchanged on balls to center. Maybe that’s not quite right, but we’re pretty deep into the theoretical world here, so just go with it.

Sticking with just the change in singles, that means the remaining batted balls to center will land for hits less frequently. I took each batter’s individual single rate and lowered it by 21.5% to mirror the lower rate of batted balls turning into singles. I didn’t force the same rate on every player, because that’s just not how things work. Some guys hit more popups, some hit more low line drives, and so on. The rate at which those types of batted balls turn into singles is most of what changed, so I slashed the singles hit to center field proportionately and replaced them with outs.

Likewise, I had to figure out how to handle balls that are home runs in current stadiums but wouldn’t be in our new world. That’s all homers below 380 feet. There are roughly 1,000 of these hits, and they look pretty much how you’d imagine. Here are all of them hit by the Guardians this year, for example:

These hits come in two varieties: line drives that clear the wall quickly and fly balls that loft over. The fly balls would likely become outs, thanks to the fielder out there. There have been 1,862 fly balls that roughly fit these categories hit to center field this year, and they’ve produced a .049 batting average. Line drives, on the other hand, carry a .299 batting average and .624 slugging percentage even when hit to center. I think that both of these numbers would go up thanks to the shallower fielders – some of the fly balls are only outs because center fielders are just closer to 380 feet from home plate in the first place – but I’m going to differentiate between the two types of batted balls and assign each their own likelihood of doubles and outs. I’m skipping triples because that’s easier, and because shallower fences would mean even fewer triples.

From there, adding everything together is easy. You just take the non-contact events as-is; add every batted ball that doesn’t leave the infield as-is; turn all the 380-plus foot ones into homers; adjust the pulled or opposite field balls that are homers now but wouldn’t leave the new fences; adjust aerial hits to center to account for shallower defenders; add in the shorter fly balls to the corners as-is. Pretty soon you’ve got a stew going. More specifically, you’ve got a completely new batting line for every player in baseball, for our hypothetical world of 370-foot fences all around the field.

To give you the results, I’m going to be using OPS as well as slash lines rather than either wOBA or wRC+. That’s partially because it made my calculations a lot easier, but it’s also because I’m not quite sure what either of those measures would mean in a world where the stadiums were changed so much. The relative value of various types of hits might change a lot, and park effects would mean something very different in a world where every stadium was the same.

In any case, guess who would lead baseball in OPS in this new world? That’s right: Aaron Judge. What an exciting alternate history! But he’d actually have a lower OPS than he does in the real world, because many of his home runs are hilariously far beyond the wall already and he’d lose a ton of hits that normally fall in front of the center fielder. He’s also one of the league leaders in fly balls that squeak out in the corners — not because he’s weak, but because his mishits just carry that far sometimes — so he’d lose all of those, and they’d mostly turn into outs.

Witt, on the other hand, gains a ton from this new hypothetical world; he’d be slashing .355/.404/.699, a 74-point increase in OPS. Soto’s all-field game would benefit as well; he’d see a 30-point increase in slugging while everything else stays pretty much the same. The hitter who would benefit most from the fences changing shape is a guy who plays with a notably short porch already: Yordan Alvarez, who would be hitting .317/.405/.625 in our new world. That’s an increase in every slash line stat, and he’d also have 11 more homers, as we saw up above. The guy really stings the ball to every part of the park, and these strange new fences would make that pay off in a big way.

The list of hitters who would most benefit from the new hypothetical way of things is pretty similar to the list of home run gainers up above:

OPS Gainers, 370-foot fences
Player BA OBP SLG OPS Old OPS Gap
Yordan Alvarez .317 .405 .626 1.031 .946 .085
J.D. Martinez .262 .347 .509 .856 .778 .078
Andrew Vaughn .249 .303 .466 .768 .690 .078
Ryan O’Hearn .286 .362 .511 .873 .796 .077
Jesús Sánchez .246 .300 .481 .781 .706 .075
Bobby Witt Jr. .355 .405 .690 1.095 1.020 .074
Ezequiel Tovar .281 .303 .524 .827 .753 .074
Michael Toglia .221 .303 .555 .858 .789 .069
Brandon Lowe .249 .332 .554 .886 .820 .066
Francisco Lindor .276 .348 .533 .881 .815 .065

On the other hand, the players declining the most are just Guardians, more or less:

OPS Decliners, 370-foot fences
Player BA OBP SLG OPS Old OPS Gap
José Ramírez .252 .309 .453 .762 .860 -.098
Josh Naylor .222 .303 .404 .707 .788 -.081
Ryan Jeffers .214 .295 .423 .718 .785 -.067
Isaac Paredes .215 .325 .363 .689 .750 -‘.062
Eddie Rosario .159 .198 .275 .473 .531 -.058
Connor Wong .270 .326 .383 .709 .766 -.057
Paul DeJong .217 .266 .403 .670 .726 -.057
Luke Raley .220 .294 .384 .678 .733 -.055
Steven Kwan .297 .358 .419 .777 .831 -.053
Cal Raleigh .196 .288 .396 .685 .738 -.053

Kwan might surprise you because he barely loses any homers, but he’s the exact kind of player this new defensive alignment would hurt most. A shallow center fielder would feast on the flares that Kwan produces, with shorter walls keeping the true gappers from turning into triples anyway – they’d just bounce off the wall. Luis Arraez would lose out, as would Mookie Betts. Bryce Harper would shockingly take a hit, at least with this year’s batted ball data; Alex Bregman would unshockingly take a hit with the Crawford Boxes gone. You can look at all the silly data here if you’d like.

One of the most surprising things I found? Overall, offensive production wouldn’t change much. The aggregate batting line in our weirdo world would be .239/.308/.408, hardly different from the actual .244/.313/.401 mark so far this year. There’d be fewer hits but more power. One notable takeaway: You might expect slugging percentage to shoot higher, what with the 1,000 extra homers and all. But many of the batted balls that go from non-homers to out of the park were already extremely high value; balls that travel 380 or more feet in the air have produced a .785 batting average with a 2.876 slug this year. Even the ones that aren’t homers are going for .395/.839. Meanwhile, the balls that went from homers to staying in the park are mostly turning into outs. The tradeoff is basically homers for doubles and outs, and that’s not the kind of baseball anyone wants to watch.

In the end, I think this hypothetical proves one thing: Baseball is pretty great in its current outfield form. More than that, it’s really interesting to me how similar the end results would be if the game radically altered its dimensions. I went into this without any strong conviction as to what the end result would be; more homers, surely, but that’s about all I had. I made all my calculations piecemeal, trying to replicate what would change about that section of the field without spending too much time thinking about the aggregate. And in the end, it came out almost exactly the same. That’s a pretty cool conclusion – even if it would make for absolutely miserable baseball.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

Inline Feedbacks
22 days ago

Was not expecting the story coming out of this to be “the Guardians’ offensive success is built on optimizing their stadium dimensions.”

tdmocmember
22 days ago

muh wind tunnel

johndarc
22 days ago

Like a team of Isaac Paredeses

22 days ago

Paredi!

MikeSmember
22 days ago

At home: .243/.316/.413, wRC+ 108
On the Road: .231/.301/.376, wRC+ 90

I’m too lazy to check every team and see who has the biggest difference, but that seems pretty substantial to me. They have the 10th best wRC+ at home and 25th best on the road.