By the Numbers: Hitting at Safeco might be in Mariners' heads

Greg Jayne: By the Numbers

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

Believe it or not, there is some good news about the Mariners' offense.

Sure, they are next-to-last in the AL in runs. Sure, they have regulars with batting averages of .186, .187, .201, and .203. Yes, their first baseman has an on-base percentage of .265.

Can you imagine? Neifi Perez was an awful major-league hitter, and he had a career OBP of .297. Justin Smoak can't even get into the same zip code as a .297 OBP.

Yet that's beside the point. We could go on and on with the laughably awful numbers being compiled by Seattle's hitters, but that would mean we're ignoring the good news, wouldn't it?

And the good news is this: Seattle is fourth in the American League in runs per game on the road.

That's right. The Mariners don't hit just a little better on the road; they don't have a merely competent offense away from Safeco; they actually have a good offense, a better-than-average offense.

In games at Safeco, the Mariners are hitting a Neifi-like .195 with a .273 OBP and a .289 slugging percentage. On the road, those numbers are .256/.305/.410.

That's not exactly Ruthian, but the numbers do reflect something more than the typical park effects. They do reflect something that is both physical and psychological in nature, a combination that is teaming up to destroy the Mariners' offense and likely give their young hitters a complex.

Let's start with the ballpark.

Safeco, without a doubt, is a haven for pitchers. This year, the Mariners and their opponents are combining for 6.24 runs per game at Safeco and 9.70 runs per game away from Seattle.

That means Safeco is reducing runs by 36 percent, an extraordinary difference that makes it the second-best pitcher's park in baseball so far this season, behind the Giants' AT&T Park.

The previous three years, Safeco reduced runs by 5, 19, and 15 percent, indicating that the numbers likely will even out a bit over the second half of the season. Unless, of course, the Curse of Safeco has become so ingrained in Seattle's hitters that they'll need a witch doctor in the clubhouse to find a cure.

Larry Stone of The Seattle Times asked the Rangers' Adrian Beltre, a former Mariner, about that at the All-Star Game.

"Oh, yeah. For sure," Beltre said. "It's different when you sit at home plate and face a guy, and you know in your head, if you make good contact, solid contact, and hit it in the air, it might go out.

"But in Seattle, you don't get that feeling when you sit at home plate. If you put a good swing on the ball, even you put it in the air, you know it might be an out. It's just a different feeling. Confidence has a lot to do with results. If you're confident, you perform better."

Safeco has become the place where fly balls go to die and hitters go to see their careers get destroyed. And that apparently has a larger impact on those who play half their games there than it does on the guys who come to town for three games and then leave.

A generation ago, fans, media and even front-office personnel had little understanding of this. Park effects were not part of the vernacular, and nobody who observed the game was aware of the profound impact they can have on statistics.

Ballparks have unique dimensions, unique weather patterns, and unique hitting backgrounds. Those factors combine to affect the statistics that hitters compile, and in extreme cases they can mess with a hitter's head.

Jim Rice, for example, batted .320 with 208 homers and 802 RBI in Fenway Park over his career. On the road, those numbers were .277, 174, and 649. It's safe to say Jim Rice would not be in the Hall of Fame if he had spent his career in an average ballpark.

And, the way things are going, it's safe to say none of the Mariners' young hitters will be joining Rice in Cooperstown.

Question or comment for By the Numbers? You can reach Greg Jayne, Sports editor of The Columbian, at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne