First, why should the A's move in the fences and why now? I will get to the A's specifically in a bit, but let's look at some other teams that have or will move the fences in and see what was said.
Here follows some article's on what these team's did and why.
Both the (click for related articles >) Seattle Mariners and the >San Diego Padres are moving the fences in this year. Among the reasons stated: “Our goal was to create an environment that is fair for both hitters and pitchers".
The Mets moved in the fences last year. The > Mets were thrilled with the results. Home runs increased from 1.33 to 1.90 per game from the prior year. This moved Citifield from 14th in the N.L. to 9th in HR per game.
"It's changed the mental attitude of our hitters."
The thing that helps out the most is, you go up there your first at-bat and you hit a ball 400 feet to left-center, right-center, and the guy catches it, all of a sudden you're frustrated," Mets All-Star third baseman David Wright says. "So the next at-bat, you try and hit the ball a little harder"
I think it would be a more enjoyable experience for fans to watch games," Headley says. "And I think it would be a much more fair place to play. As a player, that's all you can ask for".
So the obvious reason to move in the fences is to increase home runs, which should increase scoring. It may also affect players psychologically, also increasing scoring. Another reason seems to be fan interest. Low scoring games are boring, or at least boring to a majority of fans. So in theory less bored fans means higher attendance which could mean higher payroll. Another reason would be to draw more Free Agent hitters. The A's don't compete for the best ones, but maybe more 5-10 million Free Agent type's would put the A's on their radar or take the A's off their no-trade list.
How could the A's specifically alter the Coliseum? Well besides 1) moving in the fences, and it wouldn't have to be much more than 10 ft here or there, they could also 2) lower the fences, or the yellow line considered in play. Reducing the in play power alley's from 15 ft high to 10 ft high perhaps. Another option is 3) reducing the foul ground. With the Raider's sharing the stadium permanent changes could be hard in some area's. Temporary changes could be done that could reduce the foul ground area 10-30%. Like fencing off part of the 1st/3rd base lines for bullpens. What other suggestions could be tried?
Area of fair territory: 108,000 sq. ft. (about average)
Area of foul territory: Largest in majors
Why now? Would altering the stadium to make it more hitter friendly specifically help or hurt the A's of today?
It would seem the A's have more power (7th in HR in MLB with 195) to take advantage of a smaller stadium than at any time in the recent past. You would need to go back to 2002 for the last time the A's ranked that high (4th in MLB with 205).
And you could make at least three arguments they will rank much higher in the years ahead.
1) They are a young team still gaining power. Cespedes, Reddick, Donaldson, Sizemore, Carter, and Norris have yet to hit their prime. Players like Jaso, Moss, Young and Smith that are in their prime have enough power to have career years in a more friendly park.
2) They are a team actively trying to win now. Jaso proves that the A's are not afraid to trade for upgrades. The next few years could see players like Crisp, Nakajima or Weeks upgraded for more power. And if not, less foul territory could be just as helpful to the contact hitters.
3) And most telling and somewhat shocking, the A's hit the most HR in all of baseball after the all-star break. This after the best players found their (hopefully permanent) spots on the team.
On paper, the A's offence could benefit a great deal in a hitters park.
But what about the pitchers? The A's team identity has been built on solid pitching.
Part of that pitching identity is false because they we're not as good as the core numbers say because of the Coliseum. Espn > Park factors has the Coliseum as 22nd/30 in runs scored. I have seen other park factors over the years ranking them as low as 28th but never better than 22nd. Whatever rank you think they should be, it is no secret the Coliseum is a pitchers park, inflating pitchers numbers. Maybe this is o.k. when the team is better at developing pitcher's or if they are trying to stay out of the cellar as hitting is expensive. But is it good enough to win everyday or in a playoff series?
You could make the argument that this particular A's pitching staff is built specifically for the Coliseum. They are young and need to be especially coddled. I won't. The A's staff had less than a 1.00 ERA difference (.87) at home vr the road. The two teams moving in their fences next year (M's and P's) were over a 1.50 ERA difference. Those teams sucked though? How about two teams with big parks that didn't suck in the Giants and Angels? Both had about a 1.20 ERA difference.
But what about the defense? The A's could have the best outfield defense seen in a generation. A big ballpark seems to be perfect for reducing runs if you have strong outfield defense. Well, again, moving in the fences may be only 1/3rd of the changes. Those players might not get many balls hit 10 ft from the wall much more after a fence change than before. Strong arms could play stronger. Lowering the fences could also have very little effect on balls caught. And reducing foul ground will affect the infield more than the outfield, the infield that's expected to be weak at defense everywhere but third. So it could be a push or close to it.
I argue the time is now to make some combination of changes to make the Coliseum more of a hitters park. The combination should be enough to at least move the park close to neutral in runs scored. Say in the 13th/30-17th/30 range of ballparks. The team is built to benefit from it right now, and maybe more so in the near future.
What happens when this teams window closes, and the benefits are not as apparent? Well most fan's dig the long ball and a higher run scoring environment couldn't hurt attendance, whether you particularly are one of those fans or not. And maybe there will be a new stadium in place by the time the next competitive A's team is ready. The last few years of the Coliseum could even be fun with a little makeover.