Why aren’t the Mariners landing big bats? Ballpark may be the answer
Apr 24, 2023, 4:05 PM
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
The Seattle Mariners have not come out of the gates in 2023 like fans were hoping for after the team broke its long playoff drought last year. Going into a nine-day road trip that begins Tuesday in Philadelphia, the M’s are 10-12, placing them fourth in the five-team American League West.
That slow start has led to understandable frustration from a contingent of Mariners fans who already felt Seattle didn’t add enough players on offense in the offseason, with their general consensus being that the M’s were unwilling to pay what it took to bring in players, whether they’re superstars like shortstop Trea Turner or a players looking to rebound like designated hitter Josh Bell.
It takes two to tango, though, and as Mike Salk brought up Monday on Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk, the reason that the Mariners didn’t add any big-name bats in free agency could have just as much to do with the players’ unwillingness as the Mariners. And that comes down to where the M’s play their home games.
Seattle’s T-Mobile Park is the worst stadium in all of baseball when it comes to hitting. Seriously.
According to Statcast using data from 2021 through this season, T-Mobile Park has a ballpark factor of 91 (league average is 100). Seattle’s home stadium ranks last in baseball in terms of how easy it is to score runs, get on base, get a hit, and most drastically get a triple – the metric for that is 47, meaning it’s 53% harder than league average to hit a triple in Seattle, whereas Detroit’s Comerica Park has a 203 rating. In fact, it seems the only thing that isn’t the hardest in the league for a hitter to do at T-Mobile Park is hit a homer, where the stadium actually ranks ahead of 10 others.
Salk shared why concerns over how the ballpark plays for hitters has only become more and more apparent to him.
“I’ve spent a lot of time, and I have talked with a lot of people in and around this organization – and it’s not like I’m just talking to (Mariners president of baseball operations) Jerry Dipoto. I’ve talked to people all throughout the organization in management, players, coaches, ex-players, etc., to try to understand what it’s like to play for this team and this organization,” Salk said. “And the more I talk to people – widely – the more I hear about the ballpark effect there.”
Why is T-Mobile Park hard on hitters?
In the earlier days of T-Mobile Park (which was originally called Safeco Field), it was known to be pitcher-friendly with an expansive outfield. In order to help hitters, the fences were moved in prior to the 2013 season. Problem is, that may have helped in one way but hurt in others.
“So again, I talked to a lot of different people, and the big thing I get is this ballpark is very hard to hit in every day,” Salk said. “And yes, I know that there’s somebody right now screaming at the radio, ‘But the other team has to hit there, too.’ Yes, they do. But it’s easier, apparently – and I’m basing this on things I’ve heard from players, etc. – to come in and do that for three games than it is to do that for a full season. It doesn’t affect you as much. It doesn’t get in your head.”
The marine layer at sea level in Seattle, something that is especially evident in the colder spring months, suppresses some fly balls that may be home runs elsewhere, but it’s even worse on line drives that usually find grass.
“The problem is balls hang up in the air here,” Salk said. “It’s not just that it kills would-be home runs, although it does, but it also makes line drives hang up in the air and get caught by the outfielders. … I was talking to a player yesterday, and he’s like, ‘Yeah, you know, the home runs are certainly annoying. You hit a ball at this trajectory, this bat speed, you’re like, OK, that’s gone. And then it gets caught, and you’re like what the heck? That’s annoying. But what’s more annoying is I hit a line-drive base hit and it just hangs up an extra second and the outfielder comes in and makes a play.’ And oh, by the way, because they moved the fences in, it’s not that deep to right and left field.
“It’s hard to hit it because of the dead ball here, but right and left aren’t that deep. So guess what? Those outfielders don’t play very deep, so now balls are hanging up and you’ve got outfielders that aren’t playing that deep because they’re not afraid of anything getting over their head. So you end up taking away more hits, and now you start to exacerbate the problem and it gets in guys’ heads.”
That is a likely explanation for the Mariners putting a good amount of their focus on players who produce elite exit velocities when they make contact such as Julio Rodríguez, Jarred Kelenic and Teoscar Hernández.
“Can you can you get past it? Sure. When you’ve got guys who hit the ball as hard as Julio or Kelenic or Teoscar or Nelson Cruz, are they going to still have success in this ballpark? Yes, absolutely they are. No one is going to say that it’s impossible to hit here,” Salk said.
Why aren’t hitters signing with the Mariners?
This all leads to a likely explanation for both why free agents who know their numbers will take a hit playing half their games at T-Mobile Park choose to sign elsewhere, and why the Mariners may favor acquiring players with less years on their contracts.
“I think it leads to two things: one, certain players that just don’t want to sign here,” Salk said of the way Seattle’s ballpark plays. “Like, ‘Yeah, I’m good. I don’t want to go play in that every day. I want to get another contract when I’m done here, and hitting for two years in that ballpark maybe isn’t going to be the best thing for the future of my earning potential.’ Two, I think (the Mariners) need to sample the goods a little bit. … This idea of spend, spend, spend, spend, spend is fine. But if you have two players who both stink, I would rather have one making $2 million than $25 million.”
Brock Huard, Salk’s co-host, said that reminded him of the saying “fail fast,” which resonated with Salk.
“So if you’re going to fail, fail fast,” Salk said. “If I’m the Mariners and I know that certain players can’t survive here – and Jesse Winker last year is a great example but he’s not the only one – don’t I want to sample the goods before I buy? And maybe that’s what they’re doing with Teoscar Hernández. ‘Hey, we think this guy hits the ball real hard. Let’s sample the goods before we buy. Let’s see if this works because so many of the other options haven’t worked because this ballpark can absolutely take dudes out, both physically and mentally.'”
It may be no coincidence that other than Rodríguez, the two big contracts the Mariners have signed players to in recent years have been with pitchers Robbie Ray and Luis Castillo, who unlike hitters can benefit from the T-Mobile Park effect.
“I’m speculating, but maybe that’s the reason they have approached some of these offensive free agency issues the way they have,” Salk said. “It didn’t stop them from spending on (pitcher) Robbie Ray, and he didn’t have any issue coming here. ‘Yeah, I’ll go play there. Sign me up.’ But I think I can maybe understand if they want to sample the goods on some of the other guys, and if players like J.D. Martinez or Andrew Benintendi, etc., don’t have any interest in signing here – or Brian Anderson’s another good example, he signed for short money in Milwaukee – where would you rather hit every day: in the NL Central in Milwaukee or here? He wants to build his value back so he can go make money in his next contract. Well, where do you want to do that?
“So that to me is just sort of the bigger picture. I’m not trying to make excuses because it’s also helped their pitching, and it allows Luis Castillo and others to be even better than they are. But maybe that helps as part of the explanation for how the Mariners behave the way they do.”
Listen to the full Brock and Salk conversation in the podcast below.
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