ORACLE PARK — The San Francisco Giants grounds crew was already bulldozing the on-field mound on the first base side by the time the club’s president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi began speaking to media on Tuesday morning.
It’s an exercise that’s repeated every offseason, as Oracle Park gets ready for Top Golf Swing Suites, concerts, soccer, rugby and other events, but this time, it’s permanent. Pickaxes and shovels peeled away the dirt and the clay base, and forklifts took away the underlying steel plates.
After studying designs throughout the season, the Giants are committed to eliminating their on-field bullpens, one of the last three sets left in Major League Baseball. Their move is part of a plan that’s expected to reconfigure the dimensions of the China Basin ballpark, and by consequence, increase the club’s offensive output.
“I guess that’s the problem, the thing you have ongoing studies is people are going to want to know what came out of them at some point,” Zaidi said. “We’ve made a lot of progress on designs that would have them move out to the outfield and potentially alter some of the dimensions out there.”
More details, Zaidi said, will be made available in the coming days and weeks.
Only Oakland and Tampa Bay — objectively two of the worst stadium situations for any team in Major League Baseball — still have bullpens on the field. The Giants famously had one of their top prospects — Mac Williamson — stumble over the left field bullpen mound and into the padded wall separating field from stands while pursuing a foul ball in April of 2018. He suffered a concussion, and after failing to return to his level of production before the injury, was let go by the Giants, before being picked up by the Seattle Mariners.
“The primary objective there, as we’ve talked about over this year is safety,” Zaidi said. “Moving those bullpens out of the field of play, that will certainly, at least to some degree, kind of change the offensive environment that we have here in this part.”
During the renovation of Wrigley Field, the bullpens were moved from on the field to the outfield, completely concealed underneath the bleachers. Closed-circuit cameras are needed to see who’s warming up. San Francisco wouldn’t have to do that.
It would make sense to move the bullpens to the current Triples Alley, which has gobbled up dozens of home runs in the 20-year history of the park. By cutting off the 421-foot power alley to a more left-handed-hitter-friendly 380, and perhaps taking out the section of bleachers (maybe for a grass berm with terraced bullpens), the Giants would add a fun new element to a ballpark entering its 21st season, eliminate an offensive bugaboo and increase player safety in one construction project.
Any seats lost could be made up by bringing in the seats down the right field line, where bullpen mounds currently exist, or beyond the photographer’s well down the left field line. Giants employees were out scouting those areas on Tuesday, pacing off distance from the foul lines.
Moving the bullpens into the outfield and moving certain parts of the fences in (even the left-center power alley would be a possibility) would address what have been persistently anemic offensive performances that have scared away potential power-hitting free agents.
In 2019, the Giants went 35-46 at home — matching the 1984 team for the worst home record in modern club history — and scored just 271 runs — 3.34 runs per game. In contrast, San Francisco went 42-39 on the road and scored 407 runs. The Giants slugged better on the road by 60 points (.361 compared to .421), hit 104 home runs on teh road compared to 63 at home and hit .248 away from Oracle, compared to .229 at home.
“There’s a feeling that, if we could have sustained offense a little bit better in this park, it would have certainly put us in a better position,” Zaidi said.
As of the trade deadline on July 31, the Giants were 2 1/2 games out of the National League wild card. On Aug. 26, after taking two games from the Oakland Athletics — who play in Wednesday’s AL wild card game after winning 97 games for the second year in a row — San Francisco was still only four games out of the second wild card spot.
From Aug. 26 until the end of the season, the Giants went 6-13 at Oracle Park, averaging 3.05 runs. During that same span, San Francisco went 6-7 against the Cardinals, Dodgers, Red Sox and Braves.
“Obviously, the offensive output in those 19 [home] games was was a major issue,” Zaidi said.
Any changes, Zaidi said, won’t have a “distortionary effect” on how baseball is played, and will maintain the spirit of the park, but given the record numbers of homers hit this season, the fact that San Francisco couldn’t go yard in its own yard was that much more apparent.
Once the new dimensions are decided upon, the Giants will recruit players whose hitting profiles fit the new space, much like Kevin Pillar, who had a career year while hitting more hard line drives.
“I don’t see us doing something overly dramatic, where a year from now we’re talking about unwinding some of those changes,” Zaidi said. “I think we’re going to be conservative with with any potential changes there.”