The Effects of Safeco in 2012

Dave · June 29, 2012 at 10:44 am · Filed Under Mariners 

So, I’ve been looking into this Safeco Field home/road split thing for the last week or two, and finally got around to writing up some information from a data-centered perspective. While everyone seems to focus on the team’s lack of hitting at home, the reality is that the evidence suggests that there’s just some crazy park effect going on in Seattle this year. It’s not just the Mariners hitters that are struggling in Safeco, it’s everyone, and to almost the same degree.

Anyway, I ended up writing 1,500 words on the subject over at Fangraphs, and you can read the full explanation over there, but the gist of it is that I think the weather is probably the main culprit. Seattle has been abnormally cool this year, especially relative to the rest of the country, and the park is just destroying home runs while turning balls that would be extra base hits into outs. From an observational standpoint, it appears that the marine air has been holding the balls up long enough for outfielders to run under them, and the climate in Seattle this year has turned Safeco into Petco North.

Whether this will continue or not, I have no idea — I’m not a meteorologist and I can’t speak to expected climate changes. It seems like, though, that this isn’t something that will persist, as Safeco’s been open for 13 years now and we’ve never seen it play anything like this before. My guess is that eventually the weather will get warmer and the ball will start to fly a bit.

Until then, though, realize that this is not something that is just affect the Mariners hitters. This is a park effect that is treating everyone equally, and we need to adjust our understanding of player performance accordingly.

Comments

44 Responses to “The Effects of Safeco in 2012”

  1. maqman on June 29th, 2012 11:01 am

    I had a feeling that this was responsible for the abnormally poor hitting in the park. It makes sense to me.

  2. Mariners35 on June 29th, 2012 11:08 am

    What can be done about it, though?

    How reasonable is it to have a hitter recognize that this is happening and change their approach at the plate to compensate?

    I’m not making that a veteran vs. rookie question, or average player vs. elite player question, necessarily. But I do wonder if it’s just flat impossible after a certain point for a player to recognize that that is happening and then change their approach in anything less than a full season. The variety of other moving parts in their swing, the many pitchers they face and how they attack the hitters, defensive alignments, just sheer control any batter might have after a certain point…

    It just seems like there’s no way to fight it except to have elite hitters, or hitters whose batted baseballs are never more than 6 feet above an infielder’s outstretched glove arm to begin with.

  3. Dave on June 29th, 2012 11:11 am

    Elite hitters are getting whomped here too. There’s nothing you can do but accept that the park is playing as an extreme run depressor and adjust your evaluations accordingly.

  4. rodgered on June 29th, 2012 11:30 am

    Perhaps it is not the dimensions of the park, but instead the humidity in the air in this very wet month of June? Perhaps a solution taking account of the humidity variable needs to be looked into by the Mariners with balls handed to the umpire coming from a dehumidifier so the balls are not so heavy. Does not Denver with their altitude and “thin air” make balls fly out so they put the balls in a humidor to add humidity to the balls and make them not leave the park so easily? Seattle, San Diego, Oakland and San Francisco all have parks near sea level and the associated issues with a marine layer. Maybe when the marine layer/humidity is high (like this June), baseballs have the humidity drawn out of them in a “Safeco Field dehumidor” to X factor, and when conditions are less humid (hopefully this July and August), then the baseball humidity is drawn out to Y factor? In other words, depending upon the marine layer/humidity in the air, the baseballs are dehumidified to a varying degree. Just an idea that the Mariners should look into.

  5. Brantid on June 29th, 2012 11:44 am

    Great article. Makes the fact that the M’s are doing better offensively this year compared to last seem more significant. Not saying we are there yet or that we have a good offense. But we are improving.

  6. Steve Nelson on June 29th, 2012 11:49 am

    A good example is last night. Boston’s offense was much more impacted by Safeco than was the Mariners.

  7. WalterNeff on June 29th, 2012 12:01 pm

    Well, that explains the perfect game by a nobody

  8. Westside guy on June 29th, 2012 12:06 pm

    It’d be a hard sell, but – with a good outfield defense, one could possibly argue this effect could be of benefit to the Mariners.

  9. stevemotivateir on June 29th, 2012 12:09 pm

    Two or three weeks ago, I was researching Seattle weather patterns for April and May, while discussing the Safeco hitting issues in a game thread. My argument at the time, was that the poor weather this year, might be the real culprit. At least more than the fences. The weather hasn’t warmed up that much since, so it’s nice to see a post that goes into more detail.

  10. Rick L on June 29th, 2012 12:42 pm

    I think we should move the fences back. Other teams are hitting too many home runs here.

  11. msfanmike on June 29th, 2012 12:42 pm

    Good post. Makes sense. Several have surmised the weather being a contributor or even a main culprit.

    The Anti-Coors.

    Knowing what you have and finding ways to work with it – is all that can be done. As the weather warms, the numbers will probably move upward. I don’t know what the data shows historically for average runs scored per game – by month at Safeco – compared to league average, but that might be an interesting analysis.

    Maybe Safeco could end up with its very own weighted runs prevented wRP- stat … Separate from traditional park factors.

    Regardless, nice article. Thanks for researching it.

  12. Mid80sRighty on June 29th, 2012 12:49 pm

    I think they should heat the baseballs before putting them in play. At least until the weather warms up. Or maybe use a Japanese ball, aren’t they smaller?

  13. Logger on June 29th, 2012 12:54 pm

    Rick L,

    Good point. If we aren’t hitting home runs, why should we let our opponents?

    Mid80sRighty,

    Smaller baseballs = harder to hit, right?

  14. Prosser Steve on June 29th, 2012 12:54 pm

    This article makes sense. I remember years ago when ownership was threatening to move the team to Denver. If that had happened we could have a complete reverse situation than we have now at dead ball Safeco. Imagine that!

  15. buffstuff95 on June 29th, 2012 1:03 pm

    So does this change the way we look at some of our young hitters slow development? I’m bummed about Smoak’s lack of hitting this year. Hoever, when you take into account last year’s physical bumps in the road, and hitting in such a rough environment at home this year, maybe it gives us some hope that he could still develop late and that his hitting numbers thus far might not be representative of what he is can still become.
    It also makes me feel a lot better about Montero and some of the other young hitters.

  16. msfanmike on June 29th, 2012 1:21 pm

    There are a lot of good comments/discussion on the Fangraphs article that Dave wrote. They are worth a read. A lot of intelligent dialogue regarding the effects of temperature, humidity and stadium elevation. What I did not see discussed were the effects of temperature on a player. A slight decrease in bat speed during a cold day/evening would certainly have an impact, too. As would playing with layers of clothes. There are a number of potential impacts associated with cold weather.

  17. stevemotivateir on June 29th, 2012 1:27 pm

    At .626 HR’s a game, nobody is hitting the ball hard at Safeco. That includes other teams.

  18. opiate82 on June 29th, 2012 1:34 pm

    I think the last paragraph is the most important. Everyone advocating moving in the fences just completely discount the fact that it would help out the M’s opponents as well. Doesn’t do the M’s much good to hit 100 extra homers a season if their opponents hit an extra 150 against them.

  19. vetted_coach on June 29th, 2012 1:38 pm

    There’s no arguing with the atmosphere. What remains in any event is the .202 (or thereabouts) that the home team is hitting as well as the fact that road teams are winning more games at Safeco this year than we are.

    All the team can do is control it’s response and strive to win more games at home somehow. Pitching is an obvious factor, but there are two things batters can do. First, they can’t allow it to become a mental thing. I’m sure it’s gotten into someone’s head and there are hitters who are pressing and/or over compensating in a counter productive manner. Rushing their hands, for instance, over- striding, pulling their head, cheating fast balls, whatever.

    A productive approach physically is to aproach what works best in most situations. That is, adjusting with a shorter swing, better coverage, and letting the ball travel. The idea is to drive the ball instead of lift it. More ground balls are hits than fly balls. Most people know this, but crisis often clouds the obvious.

    The Mariners need to adjust better than their opponents are adjusting.

  20. Dave on June 29th, 2012 1:44 pm

    That is exactly the kind of conclusion the data refutes. There’s no evidence the Mariners are “pressing”. In fact, they’re being more selective at home than they are on the road, and opposing hitters are doing relatively worse in Safeco (compared to their road performance against the M’s) than the M’s hitters are.

    Safeco is playing like an extreme pitcher’s park. It’s not the hitters. Stop blaming the hitters. Stop quoting batting average and buying into BS.

  21. djw on June 29th, 2012 1:47 pm

    the fact that road teams are winning more games at Safeco this year than we are

    Occams razor: Other teams are better at playing baseball than the Mariners. The solution would be to field a better team, not worry about the park.

  22. Boy9988 on June 29th, 2012 1:54 pm

    So what would the team’s wRC+ be if it was evaluated on this season alone, not historic averages?

  23. vetted_coach on June 29th, 2012 1:59 pm

    “better at playing baseball” includes precisely some of the factors to which I have alluded.

    With all due respect – and I mean that – what you are calling “BS” is to a great extent some of the very principles that represent the backbone of what is evaluated and taught by the vast majority of uniformed personnel in professional baseball.

    Sabermetricians are an impressively informed and tediously disciplined group. Unfortunately, most of them have not played the game at its highest levels. One of the first things Bill James clarified was that his numbers and theories were never intended to predict anything. Sometimes that humility gets lost.

  24. Mid80sRighty on June 29th, 2012 2:15 pm

    “what you are calling “BS” is to a great extent some of the very principles that represent the backbone of what is evaluated and taught by the vast majority of uniformed personnel in professional baseball.”

    Just because “that’s the way it’s always been done” doesn’t make it correct. Admittedly, I haven’t played at the HIGHEST level, but I made it pretty far. And all I can say is that for some actually playing the game gives them better insight and for others playing the game just reinforces the nostalgic, almost dumb, way of approaching talent evaluation. Focusing on a pitcher’s win/loss record or a hitter’s batting average. Throwing around terms like gritty, “it” factor, somehow they (magically) find a way to win…you know, all the crap they say about Tebow.

  25. thurston24 on June 29th, 2012 2:15 pm

    I saw someone mention on the fangraphs’ article that maybe someone should try to dry out the baseballs. I wonder what would happen if they did that. Maybe create a baseball sauna or something and see how they carry. Coor’s has a humidor, Safeco has a sauna, how cool would that be?

  26. Dave on June 29th, 2012 2:19 pm

    With all due respect, a large part of what uniformed personnel officials in MLB think is just straight up wrong. On field personnel are the least educated parts of almost every Major League organization, and a large part of their belief systems are based on myths, legends, and traditions that have no basis in reality.

    If uniformed personnel dealt more in the realm of evidence and less in the realm of “my speculation is important because I wear a uniform”, the game wouldn’t include so many terrible on field decisions.

    Appeals to authority aren’t exactly the basis of humility.

  27. Westside guy on June 29th, 2012 2:21 pm

    So, Dave – it’s possible there might be a problem with this analysis.

    I mentioned your post to a UW Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, Cliff Mass. He pointed out that 2011′s spring/early summer was actually somewhat worse than this year’s. So, if the cool weather is the cause of this year’s home woes, we should’ve observed a similar effect last year as well.

    Now he didn’t dismiss the idea out of hand. He said he’s going to talk to some of his colleagues who are more baseball-minded than he is (so they’d be thinking more in line with observations that correlate with the baseball season). Depending on timing, it’s always possible there are shorter-term effects that could weigh more heavily this year than last – one situation where “small sample size” might be a valid predictor. :-D

  28. CapSea on June 29th, 2012 2:27 pm

    New theory – The Mariners are so upsetting to watch, that even the run values get depressed.

  29. marc w on June 29th, 2012 3:16 pm

    You’ve probably seen it, but Scott Sistek, the meteorologist at KOMO seems to disagree – his point is that even though June saw the biggest variance from normal temperature, the differences aren’t enough to explain such huge gaps in run scoring.
    His article is here.

  30. Mariners35 on June 29th, 2012 3:35 pm

    There’s nothing you can do but accept that the park is playing as an extreme run depressor and adjust your evaluations accordingly.

    That’s a reasonable stance for professional bloggers, amateur talent evaluators, online commentators, and the average fan. Your posts lay out why home struggles aren’t about the hitters or about fences.

    But this isn’t just about our expectations of players and whether to give up on specific guys (*cough* Smoak *cough*). It’s about the wins and losses too. Those things that teams that aren’t the M’s care about. ;)

    What can a major league baseball team that is trying to win games, do? Is it about being allowed to modify the baseballs, i.e. are the Coors-like approaches suggested here something MLB might go for? I agree with thurston above, “Coors has a humidor, Safeco has a sauna, how cool would that be?”

    If not even an elite hitter can change their approach to be able to get hits there – hits at all, just line drives that reach the outfield at all – then at what point is the park so broken as to throw part of MLB itself out of whack?

    I don’t have any similar circumstance to compare it to except Coors yet again, but if the park plays that differently, are the M’s win/loss records – and those of their opponents in Safeco – skewed enough as to affect the standings significantly? I don’t mean suddenly having the Mariners contend, obviously… more like, the Orioles get a couple more wins here than they would have normally because their good hitters just contribute as average hitters while the M’s average hitters all hit like Brendan Ryan. If the wild card is a close race at the end, and it’s designed to be, then Safeco Field contributes – however minorly – to the O’s fighting for a second wild card.

    Isn’t trying to correct one wacky stadium a little more important in a season with an extra wild card?

  31. msfanmike on June 29th, 2012 3:40 pm

    If all else fails, CapSea’s new theory might be worth further analysis.

  32. TomC on June 29th, 2012 4:31 pm

    In regards to blaming it on the weather, I just do not think we have enough data. Aren’t issues like length of the grass in the infield or outfield just as important to explaining the park effect? How about mapping cold wet days to home games – after all it doesn’t really matter if it is wet and cold when they are on the road

    Certainly, the take away is that Safeco is playing like an extreme pitcher’s park this year – for whatever reason. I try to keep that in mind when people tout our pitchers and scorn our hitters.

  33. goalieump413 on June 29th, 2012 10:48 pm

    Undoubtedly, the cool weather this season has reduced overall offensive output. The data is compelling enough, and I, living in Seattle, don’t need much more than empirical evidence to support this claim.

    The reason Safeco is a pitcher’s park has less to do with the outfield dimensions and more to do with cool air effecting the flight of BOTH a pitched AND batted ball.

    A pitched ball with move more in heavier air, breaking in, away, down, etc on its flight to home plate. This makes squaring up a pitch more difficult. I’m not suggesting that Safeco is unique, but with cooler air on average than other ballparks this season, the average expected pitch fx rates should be higher.

    Additionally, the delta T from first pitch to final out at Safeco may cause further grief. Batters who would otherwise “figure out” a starter by their second or third PA, now have to deal with a pitcher whose soft stuff is more effective. Even a 2 seam fastball, with its tailing action is now more difficult to tame.

    Further, a batted ball also breaks on its flight from home plate. The spin of the ball, pressure against it from the denser air, etc, can cut down a fly ball or line drive hit to an otherwise unoccupied portion of the outfield.

    You’d think that with relatively deeper outfield distances, outfielders would likely play a few steps back to cut down on balls hit over their heads or into the gaps, but this has proven unnecessary. They play relatively shallow due to the air effect, and consequently, can run down what would otherwise be a stand up double.

  34. BLYKMYK44 on June 30th, 2012 12:49 am

    My question is if anyone believes moving the fences in would have that much of an impact. It might increase HRs, but wouldn’t it also make singles, doubles and triples even harder to achieve since the OFs would have less ground to cover?

  35. UVAfan on June 30th, 2012 6:32 am

    Sure, Safeco is tough to hit HRs, but why not use that to our advantage? UVA has one of the tougher stadiums in college baseball to hit HRs, but they build the team to suit the park. Good pitching, solid defense, situational hitting, moving runners, and line drives to the gaps all lead to success…especially at home where their opponents are not built similarly. Everyone loves to see HRs, but they love to see the home team win even more. With half of the games at home, it only makes sense to build the team to suit the park and use the park to create a huge home field advantage.

  36. cflm on June 30th, 2012 7:35 am

    So what about cooking the baseballs to dry them out? Has this been considered? It does seem they have had some success with the humidor at Coors Field.

  37. neo-realist on June 30th, 2012 10:31 am

    I would think the BoSox hitting 4 four home runs and getting nine hits on Friday night would put an end to this nonsense of this demand that the fences be brought in at Safeco. If you can square the baseball, get good wood on it, and drive it (unlike the Mariners most of the time), you will have success; even in a pitchers park.

  38. brianc1279 on June 30th, 2012 10:43 am

    Would it makes sense for the mariners to dry the baseballs? Essentially the opposite of what they do in Colorado.

  39. amnizu on June 30th, 2012 12:59 pm

    I’m not sure that drying out the baseball via a sauna or dehumidifying process will have the complete opposite effect as making it more moist or adding water as the do in Colorado.

    The problem is not the baseball it is the high humidity and dense air that the ball must travel through. Removing water from the ball is going to make it lighter and less ‘squish’.

    Perhaps the better choice would be to dry out the bats?

  40. stevemotivateir on June 30th, 2012 1:55 pm

    Maybe it’s the grease from the garlic fries? That would make a lot of sense. The smell distracts the players AND thickens the air.

  41. Westside guy on June 30th, 2012 2:58 pm

    More evidence that the Mariners batters aren’t pressing at home is provided by a piece Matthew posted over at Lookout Landing:

    Seattle Mariners Hitting Approach, Split

    So to summarize what we know: They’re walking more at home, and they’re swinging at pitches both in the zone and outside the zone at pretty much exactly the same rate whether at home or away. They’re even making contact at the same rates, both in the zone and outside the zone!

    By any measure, they’re doing exactly the same things at home in the same manner as they’re doing them on the road – they’re just not being successful at home (meaning not scoring).

    If you still want to argue somehow they *are* pressing, you’re going to have to find a definition for “pressing” that doesn’t involve a measurable change in swing rates, a drop in walk rates, or lower contact rates.

  42. Westside guy on June 30th, 2012 3:13 pm

    In my previous contact, the sentence at the end of the second paragraph is phrased ambiguously. This wording is probably better:

    “Even their contact rates, both inside and outside the strike zone, are basically identical whether playing at home or away!”

    I could see my original sentence being interpreted as stating their contact rate inside the zone is the same as their contact rate outside the zone, which is not the case. Inside the zone, they make contact 86% of the time. Outside the zone, it’s roughly 67% of the time.

  43. Westside guy on June 30th, 2012 3:31 pm

    “previous contact” – that’s so weird I’m not sure what I must’ve typed that autocorrected to that!

    Previous post.

  44. msfanmike on June 30th, 2012 4:53 pm

    You aren’t having a stroke, are you Westy?

    I did see the piece by Matthew and it was quite revealing in both the data it provided as well as with the answers it did not.

    This team is a head scratching conundrum wrapped in a riddle.

    “Mariners”

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