Home and road
By Gary Hill
The struggles the past several seasons offensively for the Seattle Mariners have been well documented. The M’s have finished last in runs scored in MLB in the last two seasons, 28th in 2009 and 26th in 2008. The drought has been long and at times extremely painful. This year, however, the bevy of young offensive talent has boosted current production while leaving fans salivating for an expected future of serious offensive output. The offense is trending up as the Mariners are 21st in the MLB with 261 runs scored. They were as high as 11th a week ago as several teams are bunched in the game grouping. They sit 16th in homers and 14th in doubles. They have also moved up to 18th in bases on balls. The progression is positive, but a certain level of frustration remains. The splits reveal something that is very obvious when one watches the Mariners play. They struggle mightily to hit at home. Paging Mario Mendozaâ€¦.. they have the lowest batting average of any team in baseball at home with a skimpy .199. They have scored 83 runs at Safeco Field which is the worst for any team at their home park and they managed to crack just 15 homers. Their OPS is by far and way the worst of any team playing in their home park- .588. On the flip side, their numbers on the road are dynamite. They are tied with the Texas Rangers with the most runs scored on the road with 178. They have walloped 43 home runs which is only bettered by the New York Yankees. They are 9th in batting average and 10th in OPS for road teams. They are tied for 1st in doubles and 4th in triples. Putting the numbers side-by-side is startling-
There many questions that immediately leaps to mind. The first is simple- Why? Safeco Field is the answer Captain Obvious blurts out. The point of Park Effects is to fairly compare different ballparks by taking the rate of stats at home vs the rate of stats on the road. Digging through the ESPN Park Effects will tell you that Safeco Field has been the third least favorable park to hitters in baseball behind PNC Park in Pittsburgh and AT&T Park in San Francisco. The standard number is 1.000 so parks above favor hitters and parks below favor pitchers. Safeco Field sits at 0.699 while the Giants home is 0.630. In case you are wondering Coors Field is the friendliest to hitters by sporting a robust 1.537. If you rank them by friendliest to hitters to least friendly here is where Safeco sits year to year:
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Even if you do not fully accept the mathematical workings of “park effects” data, the sample size is long enough to indicate that Safeco is definitely not hitter friendly. However, it is hard to imagine that Safeco Field is the lone culprit for the giant gap in performance between home and road this year. Certainly we would have seen similar splits in recent years if Safeco Field was the only reason for the massive struggles at home.
I have put considerable thought into the problem, but there is no way my conclusions can be quantified with any sort of data. They have played ten series at home this year and seven of them were against teams in the top half in baseball in ERA. Meanwhile they have played twelve series on the road and the split has been 6 in the top half and 6 against the bottom half. However, the competition does not explain the difference either. The fact that Safeco Field is a place more difficult to hit is a contributor and the slightly more challenging schedule at home may be a slight factor as well. However, I think most of the problem is mental. The young Mariners have been riding the roller coaster this year flashing impressive potential at times and struggling during others. I think the massive struggles at home are simply part of this young team developing. They have struggled at home. They know they have struggled at home and it has become a grind trying to get through it. Perhaps taking the last two games against the Giants will give them a boost when they return.