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.
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.
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.