How moving the fences at Safeco could ruin the Seattle Mariners

Time For A New Fence?

Off season thoughts lead one back to the golden age of Seattle Mariners Baseball, when fan favorite Ken Griffey Jr. was moving toward being the all time home run king.


Surrounding the kid were A-rod, Buhner and of course Edgar Martinez all of whom could go yard at any given time.  It is hard to remember that in 1997 the Seattle Mariners broke the record of team home runs in a single season with 264.

This record still stands today.

During this time the M’s made their home in the Kingdome.  The dimensions of the field were symmetrical as it was 330′ to the left and right field foul poles and 405 straight away center.

(The walls were actually pushed back and were sitting at 410 when the M’s moved into the new stadium).

From 1988-1998 the M’s hit 965 long balls in their home park. 

That is an average of 87.7 home runs per season.

Moving to the open air park integrates several humidity, temperature and wind variables that would have an affect on the ball.  Leaving out 1999 when Seattle made the transition to the new stadium mid season, the M’s have hit  816 home runs from the year 2000 until 2011, putting the average at 68 home runs per season.

This drastic difference in home run production has lead many fans to the conclusion that the fences at Safeco field should be moved in to allow for more balls to leave the yard.

Surprisingly, looking over the design and dimensions of Safeco field help one to understand what the strategy of the franchise should be, to make their home field an advantage.

The current field dimensions are 331′ to left field foul pole, the field deepens to 388′ in the alley and back to 405′ dead center.

From there the field shrinks to 385′ in right field and ends up only 336′ to the right filed foul pole.

What is the thinking behind this.

1. Home run hitters are expensive

The Mariners do not have, and likely will never have the budget to have a lineup full of long ball hitters like the Bronx bombers.

In making a park with a big outfield and plenty of places to hit, the Mariners can play quite an aggressive style baseball.  In the year that the M’s won 116 games they only hit 79 ball over the fence in Safeco.  This opens the options for the Mariners to win on a budget.

Remember that Alvin Davis, and Ken Griffey Jr. were home run hitters that the Mariners raised from the farm.

Ken Griffey Jr.

Remember that Alvin Davis, and Ken Griffey Jr. were home run hitters that the Mariners raised from the farm.

That is a much cheaper option.

2. Preventative defense

The strategy is that if the Mariners focus on developing dominate pitchers, then they can use their home field as an advantage in lessening the potential threat of the opposing teams going yard.

Since 2000 Seattle pitching has given up an average of 79.6 home runs at home while they have given up 89.5 home runs per season on the road.

This means that the Mariners hit fewer home runs, but so does the other team.

3. Left handed batters

Safeco favors the left handed bats as they can pull the ball over the right field wall much easier than a right handed power bat can pull one over left.

Left handed power is more common than it once was.

When Griffey was in his prime, Safeco was a playground for him.

It really is the house that Griffey built.

4. Strong Outfield Defense

In expanding the field, the Mariners need to rely on outfielders that are strong defensively.  This is especially true of left field, as right handed hitters are likely to drop balls deep.

Left field for many teams is less about brains and more about brawn.

If the defense were stronger, the pitchers could be more dominant as they wouldn’t have to worry about letting the right handed batters hit.

5. Left handed pitching

This is something every team wants, but there are few to choose from.  In building a park with a large left field it allows left handers that may not have as much value in other places to be better in Seattle.

Again this depends on defense.

So should the M’s change the field or concentrate on their strategy?  It seems that when the Mariners stray from strategy and go for a big bat, like Richie Sexson, the number of home runs increase  but the win ratio stays very much the same.

Prince Fielder

Prince Fielder to Seattle feels more like a publicity stunt.

Now M’s fans are putting pressure on spending 20 million per year to get Prince Fielder.

This move would be exciting and put more people in the seats, but it would not likely change Seattle’s position in the standings more than one place.

Unless Prince comes with a discount, his move to Seattle feels more like a publicity stunt.

It may be better to leave the fences where they are, invest the money into good pitching and solid defense and save some bucks to put into Carp or Ackley once they move into their prime and are being courted by the Rangers and the Yankees.

Do you want more home runs or do want to see the Mariners move closer to a world championship?

With the resources available at the M’s disposal it is likely the team can have one or the other.

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  • AJPerugini

    The fences should have been moved in years ago!! Maybe griffeys career would have ended up differently had he stayed. Would we have world championship banners in safeco? Would A-Rod have been inclined to stay in Seattle? Griff and A-Rod could have been the deadliest 3-4 combo of our generation! They both wanted the fences moved in. Let’s not make the same mistake if Prince comes to Seattle. Move em in…sign prince…and target ground ball pitchers!

    • The point is made well here.  Griffey left because he wanted to be closer with family.  A-Rod left for money.  The Mariners can’t rely upon a superstar to carry them.  They simply don’t have the budgets to compete.  Using the field as an advantage for small ball players is a good strategy considering this.  Also as a side note.  If we move in the fences the home run ratio will increase in Safeco.  Both for the M’s and for the opposing teams.  If you want Prince then the fences shouldn’t be moved, because right field is already the shortest distance for a pull hitter like Prince.

  • AJPerugini

    I have to disagree with the whole, Prince will put fans in the seats. See: Roger Clemens (Toronto), or more recently, Jason Werth (nationals) only winning will put fans back in the safe.

    • I agree.  Signing Prince will put fans in the seats, and I would cheer him on being there.  I’m just not convinced he is worth the 22 million per year to do it.  If the Mariners stayed on target in strategy instead of getting stars in their eyes, I bet the club would be in a different place.  The 2001 crew was basically a crew of under rated talent, but they were happy to be together.  They were a team.  Putting all the expectation on one player like would be done with Prince would help for a season or two, but I doubt it is the answer everyone hopes it will be

  • Damin Schultz

    Homers sell tickets!  Maybe we will never lure the all-time greats because we are a small market, but we did have one of the largest budgets in baseball at one time.  Developing players should always be the Mariners’ #1 strategy — it’s the one thing it has absolute control over, but we still want to bring guys here via free agency that have both an on field impact as well as a marketing impact.  This is a great place to live, but it is not a true baseball market.  Look at Busch Stadium, Wrigley Field, Fenway mid season and then look at Safeco.  Seattle needs something to draw superstars in.  Not Chone Figgins, Rich Aurilia, Ben Brousard, Spezio, Kotchman, etc.  
    Guys come here and tank.  Guys that are not superstars, but good support casts.  These guys come here and wind up hitting well below their averages — every single time.  I like what Gillick was doing with the pitching and defense, but that was when we were winning.  It has not panned out since, and I want to see homers! 

    • Home runs are exciting, but the bad thing is that the opposing teams already out hit the Mariners in homeruns at safeco so is the problem the field or the ownership.  I think signing prince fielder could work if the payroll were higher and the M’s wouldn’t have to risk losing all the talent that they have developed when they need a raise to be convinced to stay.  Of course maybe Jack Z will get more to play with now that big Al will be in the division.

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