Thejust wrapped up a ten-game homestand during which they won four games and lost six games. Over the ten games, the Mariners scored 21 runs, which is not a lot of runs, and they batted .175, which is not a lot of batting. Now's as good a time as any to talk about Safeco Field, so below, facts, with only limited commentary, until the end maybe. Let's find out together.
(1) The 2012 Mariners have played 41 games at home, averaging about 2.9 runs per game.
(2) The 2012 Mariners have played 43 games on the road, averaging about 4.9 runs per game.
(3) It's not just the Mariners' bats. At home, the Mariners have allowed about 3.4 runs per game. On the road, they've allowed about 5.1 runs per game.
(4) Safeco has been killing power, obviously. For the Mariners, at home, 5.2 percent of plate appearances have resulted in extra-base hits. On the road, 8.2 percent of plate appearances have resulted in extra-base hits. As for the Mariners' opponents, the extra-base hit rate at Safeco is 5.4 percent, and away from Safeco, it's 9.4 percent.
(5) It's not just power. The 2012 Mariners have a home BABIP of .240. The next-worst home BABIP in baseball is .257. They've allowed a home BABIP of .261. On the road, the Mariners have posted a .299 BABIP, and they've allowed a .298 BABIP. Those are normal BABIPs.
(6) Something very, very odd has been going on at Safeco Field in 2012. Or nothing odd has been going on and we're at the extreme end of random fluctuation, but the numbers are very, very odd.
(7) Safeco Field has barely changed since it was first opened. To my knowledge there have been changes only to the batter's eye, and those were supposed to make hitting easier. Remember the trees and the honeycomb and everything? I haven't heard anyone complain about the batter's eye since the honeycomb was installed. I have heard people complain about pretty much everything else.
(8) Since 2002 - as far back as FanGraphs will take me - the Mariners have posted a .701 OPS at home, and a .727 OPS on the road. They're one of just three teams to have a lower home OPS than road OPS over that span, joining theand the .
(9) The Padres' OPS gap since moving into Petco is 60 points. That is, their home OPS has been 60 points lower than their road OPS. Crazy! The Mariners' OPS gap since 2002 is 26 points. Significant, but much smaller. Petco's played more extreme, 2012 notwithstanding.
(10) Between 2000-2003, when the Mariners were at their peak and when they called Safeco Field home, they averaged 5.0 runs per game at Safeco and 5.6 runs per game on the road. They won 62 percent of their games at Safeco and 59 percent of their games on the road.
The Mariners have established in the past that they can win at Safeco Field, that they can score at Safeco Field, and that they can generate a fun, lively atmosphere at Safeco Field. Safeco's never been hitter-friendly, and in the Mariners' best years they scored more often on the road, but they also allowed runs more often on the road, as these things usually go. Safeco has never been a or the problem, at least in the big picture.
I have absolutely no idea what's going on in 2012. Obviously balls aren't carrying at all, but balls have never carried. Is it the weather? Is the grass longer? As Matthew has shown, the Mariners' plate-discipline approach hasn't really changed at home or on the road - it's a matter of the swings, and what those swings have produced. Because Safeco hasn't changed, we have to believe that it'll play more normally as time goes on. We have to expect that it'll regress toward its established mean, because there's no good reason for this to keep up.
But the issue isn't only getting Safeco to play like a "normal" pitcher-friendly park. It's keeping it out of the young hitters' heads. I don't know if it's in their heads, and if it is I don't know what that means, but psychological shit is irrational, which is what makes this tricky. You can tell the hitters "just swing normally, you'll get your results," but it's discouraging when you hit a ball hard and it dies in one of the alleys. It sticks in your mind. How are these hitters doing in batting practice? They take BP in Safeco, too, and is that just as frustrating?
We know that, in the big picture, the Mariners can have success in Safeco Field, because they've done it before. What the Mariners need to evaluate is what Safeco might be doing to the individual players. It's possible that Safeco could be encouraging bad habits in the hitters and pitchers alike and stunting development. It's very possible that it isn't, but how should I know? That's on the Mariners. This is something they need to figure out, and if Safeco is having a marked effect on the players, the Mariners need to decide whether it's easier to fix the players or change the park. Rationally I don't think changing the park is the solution, because the solution is to just get and develop better players, but if it's relatively inexpensive to move the walls a bit maybe it's better to just stop being stubborn and remove the ballpark excuse. Make Safeco more neutral and Safeco isn't a talking point anymore.
There's some weird shit going on in Safeco in 2012. The Mariners absolutely need to find out whether this is affecting their players more than it ought to. They need to find out if Safeco in general is affecting their players more than it ought to. I don't know how they could do that, but that's why people get psychiatry degrees, and there need to be discussions. Lots of 'em. Safeco isn't the one thing that absolutely needs to change, but maybe it's one of the things. Just maybe. Figure it out, Mariners. Along with all of the other things you need to figure out.