There were times this summer — lots of them, in fact — when I couldn’t tell if I cared about baseball anymore. The Mariners weren’t provoking any sort of emotional response at all, and that’s supposed to be ...
There were times this summer — lots of them, in fact — when I couldn’t tell if I cared about baseball anymore. The Mariners weren’t provoking any sort of emotional response at all, and that’s supposed to be my most favorite team. I didn’t just not want to watch them; I actively avoided them, and I recognized my own behavior. But it turns out it wasn’t baseball — it was the Mariners. The Mariners were downright unwatchable for stretches. I’m sitting here, watching the playoffs, and it’s incredible. No one has a better atmosphere than the Pirates right now. Pirates fans have been through a lot worse than we have. The Pirates are proof that the Mariners can be good again, and Safeco can be packed and loud again, and baseball can be fun again. Don’t know when, but no matter how you feel about the Mariners today, they’ll pull you back if and when they can win 90 games. Baseball’s awesome when it matters.
The Mariners have a vested interest in mattering, and last offseason, a step they took toward that end was bringing in most of the fences at Safeco Field. It wasn’t something that was going to directly give the Mariners any more wins — it was a change that would affect the Mariners and their opponents equally. But the change was intended to make the park more neutral. More fair. More appealing to other players. More tolerable for current players. There probably was too much imbalance before, and it’s possible the park got into some hitters’ heads. Safeco seemed overdue for a fence-bringin’, and over the course of some months those fences were brought. A full season, now, has been played.
So it’s only natural to wonder what’s become of Safeco Field. We grew accustomed to all the old park effects. How about the new park effects? We should have an idea by now, right, since it’s been a whole season? What is Safeco Field, v2.0? The answer is not contained within this post. But there will be numbers anyway.
The most important thing to get is that park factors take more than a year to overpower the noise. There’s signal in there — there’s signal in there after even just one single game — but this is going to take years. Split the season in half, first. That’s how many home games there were. Then you have to consider all the balls in play, and how many of them were grounders, or routine flies, or homers that would’ve easily cleared any fence. Only a small percentage of balls in play are subject to park effects, and there aren’t that many of them hit to each location. Plus, there’s the matter of other, unseen, confusing park effects, like effects on walks or groundball rate. Parks do lots of stuff, directly or indirectly, and you just have to let the games be played for a while.
There are a few things we know for sure, though. The fences were brought in in left, left-center, center, and right-center. The fence was lowered a little in left. Automatically, we know that’s going to mean more dingers. Reasonably, it can’t not. The dinger threshold is reduced, so home runs will go up, because they have to. The question is by how much, and the other question is what else is going to happen? What happens to doubles and triples? What happens to run-scoring, overall?
Nothing can be said conclusively, but we can at least look in the numbers for clues. Below I’m going to include a table, showing 2000-2012 Safeco Field, and 2013 Safeco Field. The percentages are simple park factors. A percentage of, say, 90% means that Safeco’s rate was 90% the same measure on the road. For example, between 2000-2012, games in Safeco had a .252 batting average, while Mariners road games had a .269 batting average. The percentage shown is (.252/.269) * 100 = 94%. This approach is too simplistic, but I have interest in simple approaches.