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Fun with Home Runs

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The M's have hit a lot of dingers this year, but will that last?

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

We Mariner fans have seen a number of different mantras and player philosophies 'round these parts over the last few years. First, of course, was the short-lived pitching-and-defense model, with Don Wakamatsu leading the club to 85 wins in Jack Zduriencik's first season.

Soon after, we learned of JZ's penchant for collecting position-less guys who could hit homers, and this thirst for raw power continued throughout his tenure. And finally, this offseason we saw "Control the Zone" take over as the official organizational motto, with the team going so far as to produce a promotional video advertising the slogan.

But for all their talk, the new front office actually would be better served with an oldie-but-goodie: Chicks dig the long ball.

After three homers yesterday - two by Dae-Ho Lee and one by Kyle "K-SWAG" Seager - the M's moved their season total up to 92 dingers in just 61 games, or 1.51 home runs per game. That rate has been equaled or matched by just three teams in the last ten years: the 2009 and 2012 Yankees plus the 2010 Blue Jays.

For four straight games, we've had the joy of watching a different hero step up and club a pair of homers, the first time that's happened in major league history. And it's not just the usual suspects, either.

There was an interesting graphic on yesterday's ROOT broadcast that said that Safeco Field has seen the second-most longballs in all of baseball this season with 91, trailing only the Reds' Great American Ball Park. This makes sense given that the Mariners have the most home runs in baseball, but it's fascinating given Safeco's reputation as a safe haven for pitchers.

This season, per ESPN's Park Factors, Safeco ranks 23rd overall in runs but a respectable 8th in home runs compared to all other ballparks in use in the bigs.

This increased rate begs the question - is the ball juiced? This idea is occasionally mentioned by people on Twitter as a joke, a conspiracy theory that MLB just decided to change the composition of a standard league baseball without telling anyone. On its face, it seems ridiculous.

And yet. This season, 12.6% of fly balls league-wide have escaped over the fence, which would be the highest league-wide rate since 2001, since Fangraphs' batted-ball data only stretches back to 2002. Second place is last year, where 11.4% of fly balls became home runs. This might be the start of a trend! It certainly seems like the most plausible way to explain how, for example, this should-be can of corn turned into a homer on Monday.

The Mariners have a HR/FB rate of 16.8%, highest in the league and tied for the highest of any team since 2002. Sure, part of that ratio could be the immense strength of players like Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Dae-Ho Lee. When you have guys that buff, any fly ball stands a reasonable chance of making it over the fence.

Though this rate seems likely to come down just because it's so ridiculously high right now (and remember, if this rate goes down, that means fewer dingers and more fly ball outs), there remains one other potential reason why it could remain high - the marine layer.

Like most of you reading this, I can tell you from experience how cold an April night game gets at Safeco, and the effect it has on offense sure seems real. It would stand to reason that fly balls don't carry as far when it's colder, meaning a lower HR/FB rate in the beginning of the year. Check out the splits over the last ten years between the first half of the season and the second half of the season for the M's (unfortunately, I couldn't split this into just home stats, but it's a fairly decent proxy regardless).

Year 1st Half HR/FB rate 2nd Half HR/FB rate
2016 16.8% ???
2015 11.3% 16.1%
2014 9.4% 9.5%
2013 12.7% 11.1%
2012 8.8% 11.2%
2011 6.4% 8.5%
2010 6.5% 6.3%
2009 9.0% 10.0%
2008 7.3% 8.0%
2007 8.6% 9.9%
2006 9.6% 10.3%
Average 8.96% 10.09%


Definitely not a major increase, but it's there.

What does this all mean? Well, we're getting kinda lucky, but there's reason to believe we could keep it up, thanks to the warming of the marine layer and the whole we-have-really-strong-players thing. For now, it's both an interesting stat and a really fun one, because homers are just plain ol' awesome. Keep at it, boys. Let's keep this stat sky-high and get a sweep this weekend.

Go M's.