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Mariners continue search for the right kind of righty power

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

There is a major shortage of righty power in baseball. The Mariners entered this offseason in a desperate search for righty power. When you pause to think about it, it's all a very Mariners predicament, in an almost humorous way.

And while I say they entered this offseason with that as item number one on the shopping list, it's been towards the top for a while. There was the draft, where they took Alex Jackson and Gareth Morgan up top. Then after their big addition last offseason, the Mariners completed their middle-of-the-order makeover by signing Corey Hart. Before that, there was Michael Morse. And in the middle, a failed try for Justin Upton.

It's been a struggle.

Like a batter trying to hold his hands a little higher, pull his socks up and untuck his back pocket in an attempt to bust out of a hellacious 0-fer, the Mariners are relentless in their effort to fix this. While committing more resources to the issue than they have before in adding Nelson Cruz, they've also continued with project-type players in Rickie Weeks and Justin Ruggiano.

Through it all, I come back to one idea, something I wrote on when the Mariners signed Nelson Cruz: not all right-handed power hitters are created equal. That issue is especially magnified when playing at Safeco Field.

In that article I wrote on Cruz, I noted something former Mariners front office member Tony Blengino wrote on back in November on Safeco and the challenge in getting a ball out to to left-center:

There were exactly three 2014 Safeco LCF homers hit under 100 MPH in 2014. There were 21 such homers hit at Citi Field last season. That kind of puts it into perspective. Any righty power hitter the Mariners target needs to hit the ball at 100 MPH to his pull power alley as a matter of course.

As I mentioned in that aforementioned piece, the Mariners got just such a guy in Cruz. And while Blengino, like almost everyone, is extremely pessimistic on the back half of that deal, he even acknowledged later on Fangraphs that "Most of his fly ball homers, presently, will get out of any yard, including his new one." That could change, of course, but right now the skill-set fits the park.

And while Cruz is going to be the guy most fans note when they talk about the Mariners adding righty power for 2015, there are two other names here. One is the guy at the top of the page in Rickie Weeks, and the other is Justin Ruggiano. In addition, there might be a bit of a pattern here.

We don't have the elaborate HITf/x data Blengino likely still has access to, but we can get an idea what's going from sites like ESPN Home Run Tracker, which uses a range of factors (hang time, distance, etc) to estimate a ball-off-bat speed for players', you guessed it, home runs. And what's that telling us? These guys are strong.

Here's a quick look at their estimated batted ball velos since 2009 as compared to the average Seattle Mariner over the same timespan.


It doesn't look like a lot—or, maybe it does until you look at the Y axis—but an individual mile per hour can make a difference. And that's the minimum here, basically between Ruggiano and the average Mariner. For Weeks and Cruz, the gap is greater.

Again, all this tells us that they have some pop, the strength to drive the ball out of the park. Still, a lot depends on what they do with it. Safeco has beat up on pure-pull hitters, guys who can't drive the ball through Safeco's soul-crushing power alley.

So let's take a look at their capabilities—and because it's been damn near Rickie Weeks week here on LL, let's start with...

Justin Ruggiano

Ruggs managed just six home runs in limited time in 2014, but he has the track record. He's primarily going to play against lefties, versus whom he has a career .508 SLG and .241 ISO. That'll do. But yes, that power alley. Ruggiano doesn't seem to have trouble with powering a ball out to left center, judging by this home run in New York.

As Blengino wrote on above, Citi Field has quite the friendly power alley, but ESPN's Home Run Tracker estimates that the dinger above left the bat at 104.6mph—and that's really only a touch above his home run average for 2014.

Because the sample is limited in 2014—thanks to half of his home runs going the other way, which we'll get to in a moment—it's worth looking back at 2013, where he put on a couple displays of his power to the alley.

That one's in the hitter-friendly Chase Field, but HRT has that 108mph 438-foot knock leaving every ballpark in baseball. If you're curious how the power plays at more cavernous venues, here's a look:

That's 107.9mph and 426 feet. Yeah, that'll be alright.

Rickie Weeks

For Weeks, even with the limited time in 2014, we need not look past last year for examples of his power alley prowess. He lived out there last year, and that included what was the 17th-longest home run in all of baseball last season.

That was 111.6mph and 464 feet. And it wasn't even the only home run he hit with an estimated velocity over 110mph. Here's the other.

That was an estimated 112.6mph and a distance of 417 feet. Now, as you might guess, that's not getting out in every park—but it's not getting caught in a single one either.

Alright, one more.

As you might surmise, that's the home run from the photo up above. And the highlight is missing the bat flip—which should be some kind of crime. That was 107.5mph and 423 feet.

Nelson Cruz

I think we're all well aware of what Nelson Cruz can do.

That was Nelson Cruz's second-longest home run of 2014, measured at 107.3mph, 442 feet. People talk a lot about Cruz leaving the friendly confines of the AL East band boxes for the West's bigger parks, and that's fair—but he's also going to play at Globe Life and Minute Maid too.

Now, Minute Maid didn't cause that one, which is estimated to have left the bat at 109.8mph, traveling 435 feet. Alright, last one.

Yes, Nelson Cruz can hit the ball hard. We're aware.


Now, I don't intend to write on what someone on Twitter rather cleverly called "anecdata," I just wanted to make this accessible and post home run videos. Really. But if you haven't, it's worth clicking your way through the home run charts for RuggianoWeeks and Cruz. There's some interesting stuff, and you'll see a lot of video of them hitting the ball hard.

That doesn't mean it's always going to stay that way. It might have jumped out to you in looking at that first chart, that those velos are trending in a certain direction—and that's entirely fair. Then, there's the part where they have to stay on the field to show what they're capable of doing, something that's been an issue at times for each of them.

And, lastly, if you're worried these guys constantly driving balls to the left-center power ally is a bad idea (because it would be), that's certainly not all they do—each has shown the ability to hit the ball the other way. Weeks, Cruz and Ruggiano managed to hit 20 percent, 25 percent and 50 percent of their 2014 home runs to right of center, respectively. That's a key skill for a righty at Safeco.

I can't say it enough (though I think every Mariners fans is educated enough on the subject): we don't know if this is all going to work. It might not. There's a good chance it doesn't But when you look up and down the roster, you can begin to understand the thought process.

And before long, we'll be able to do more than just guess at the thought process. We'll watch it. One week to pitchers and catchers report—we're almost there.