Safeco Field is a beautiful ballpark, but it has not exactly been a hitter-friendly home for the Seattle Mariners in recent years. Has that been because of the spacious dimensions? Or, have the Mariners just struggled to put good hitters on the field?
Don’t answer that just yet.
Prior to the 2013 season, the decision was made to move the fences in. This was something that had been discussed for a few seasons, but the Mariners were not sure if they wanted to surrender some of the pitcher-friendly dimensions for more offense.
Ultimately the fences were moved. Did it do any good? Let’s start with the power numbers:
2012 team home runs: 149 (56 at home, 93 on the road)
2013 team home runs: 188 (88 at home, 100 on the road)
Based on those numbers, it would seem that moving in the fences helped the power numbers. The Mariners hit 57% more home runs at Safeco between 2012 and 2013. Of course, moving in the fences works both ways:
2012 home runs surrendered: 166 (60 at home, 106 on the road)
2013 home runs surrendered: 174 (82 at home, 92 on the road)
Translation? The Mariners hit more home runs at Safeco Field, but they also gave up a few more to the opposition. Specifically, 37% more. That was only counterbalanced by fewer surrendered homers on the road. Meanwhile, the team batting average looked like this:
2012 team batting average: .234 (.220 at home, .247 on the road)
2013 team batting average: .237 (.239 at home, .235 on the road)
That statistic is interesting given that Seattle hit much better at home in 2013 but subsequently struggled on the road. The bottom line is that the Mariners improved their team average by .003 from 2012 to 2013. Hardly a reason for excitement.
Obviously, you have to be careful when making these types of comparisons. There are a lot of variables that can be difficult to measure and isolate. Personnel changes from year to year and even when the players are the same, performances can be drastically different for a variety of reasons.
It would seem that the hitting issues for the Mariners are more about personnel than dimensions. During the historic 116-win season of 2001, the Mariners had a team batting average of .288, which included hitting .283 at home. The Mariners only hit 79 of their 169 home runs at Safeco Field that year, but they didn’t really need the power.
That team put players on base. The long ball is exciting, but it appears that it might be a bit overrated.
In the end, did moving in the fences help to jumpstart the offense? Not exactly. The Mariners hit more home runs, but to win games they needed a few more singles. Moving the fences did not help Seattle get the boring, but ultimately effective, base hit.