Safeco Field Fences and Power

We need more power, we said. So we got some sluggers and made the ballpark smaller. Moving Safeco’s fences closer to home plate couldn’t possibly hurt offensive numbers. That much seemed obvious from the start. The question always was, how much would it help? This off season, I suggested not very much—with some pretty pictures—and that is holding true so far in 2013.

The 2012 season was not kind to batters in Safeco Field. Seattle was the second-worst place to hit homeruns, and the worst place to score runs in all of baseball. But perhaps surprisingly, in 2011 Safeco’s homerun factor was league average. But then again, in 2010 the homerun factor was second-worst.

What’s my point? There’s a ton of variation to park factors. It could be weather patterns, seagull migrations, train choo choos or revolving joojoo. Or it could just be natural fluctuation—randomness or luck, if you will. In any event, if we’re going to find evidence of increased power at home this season, there’s either going to have to be a huge difference in homerun totals in Safeco, or we’re going to need a large sample size.

So far, we’ve gotten neither of those two things. ESPN’s 2013 park factors has Safeco at second-worst for homeruns, and sixth-worst for overall run scoring. Because of all that variation in park factors that I mentioned before, this doesn’t mean that moving in the fences was pointless. Again, logic suggests that it can only help. However, the effect is probably small enough that we’re going to need a lot more time to see it.

But how is that 2013 park factor possible? Aren’t the Mariners hitting more homeruns this year?

You might be thinking to yourself that the M’s have already past the halfway point to last year’s homerun total—85 down, 64 to go!

You might be thinking to yourself that Mike Morse and Raul Ibanez are showing power reminiscent of Jay Buhner and Ken Griffey, Jr. two decades ago—in fact, their per-game power numbers match up almost exactly!

But combining those two observations, we should probably arrive at a different conclusion: that the increased power is not so much due to the change in Safeco’s left and center field dimensions, but rather the change in personnel. After all, Ibanez and Morse represent a sizable chunk of the “power surge” and are also new to the team (sort of). Still, 59% of Seattle’s dingers have come on the road—comparable to last season’s 62%, and actually more than 2011’s 50%. And Ibanez doesn’t even hit the ball over the shortened fences anyway.

The fence move is probably never going to increase power numbers in any way that can be seen in one game, ten games, or even during a full season. There’s just too much variation and too many other factors (like personnel!) to notice such a minor change. In the end, this need for more power has led to two things: unnoticeable park benefits for sluggers and the addition of two replacement level players that each do just one thing well—hit homeruns.

The Mahatma once said, “The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the Mariners will be relevant again.”

I always liked that guy.

  • maqman

    He also said “Be the change you want to see in the world.” The Ms wanted to see more winning so they changed where the fences were and they changed some players for ones that can hit homers more often. I’m trusting Gandh-ji will see that we see the desired effect eventually.

    • Matthias_Kullowatz

      Maybe if the future sluggers can play some defense.

  • Casey McLain

    This guy and Urban Dictionary.

    • Matthias_Kullowatz

      Virtual gold.