It’s Official – Safeco Fences Moving In for 2013

marc w · October 2, 2012 at 1:40 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Today the M’s officially announced that they’ll be moving Safeco Field’s fences in for next season. Greg Johns has a story with a graphic highlighting the changes here. As you’d expect, the big change will occur in the left field power alley. While most of the fence in RF and the LF corner will come in by just 4 feet, the fence in left center will move in from about 12 to 17 feet. In addition, the hand-operated scoreboard that forms part of the wall in the LF corner will be moved, giving the wall a uniform height of 8′ – the scoreboard made the wall 16′.

The M’s apparently tired of playing in an extreme environment, and while I’ve generally been supportive of the current/’old’ dimensions, this year has offered a powerful argument for change. The park factors for RHB at Statcorner are amazing. For righties, Safeco is playing like a perfectly inverted Coors Field, circa 1998. That’s not good, and it was starting to impact the M’s ability to build a competitive team. Beatwriter emeritus Ryan Divish said this on twitter: “It’s a well known fact that right-handed hitters didn’t want to come Seattle. Word of mouth from former players (Beltre) spread quickly.” If true, and I can’t believe it isn’t given that Beltre is alive and can speak, that’s the sort of thing that swing the argument. Yeah, yeah, Jason Vargas probably isn’t too happy right now, but I understand the move, and I certainly can’t argue against it.

Comments

41 Responses to “It’s Official – Safeco Fences Moving In for 2013”

  1. 9inningknowitall on October 2nd, 2012 1:46 pm

    This is huge for a lot of young right handed hitters in the M’s system. I wonder how much this will affect Montero, Wells and even Guti.

    I am also really interested to see how this affects free agency and contract talks with guys like Vargas.

  2. djw on October 2nd, 2012 1:51 pm

    Perhaps this is an overreaction, but I wonder about the wisdom of paying Vargas his ~8 mil. for next year.

    Not as big of a deal as some obsessives make it out to be, but on the whole probably a good idea. Very interested to see how the new park will play.

  3. 9inningknowitall on October 2nd, 2012 1:59 pm

    With this change we need to sign Olivo to a long term contract because now his bat will be worth even more……JUST KIDDING JUST KIDDING JUST KIDDING!!!!!

    We really need to get rid of Olivo before someone gets the bright idea that his ‘veteran’ presence will make the team hit better with the new fence dimensions.

  4. Westside guy on October 2nd, 2012 2:06 pm

    There’s no such thing as a free lunch. While it’s true this might make it easier going forward for the team to attract good hitters, I’d think it’d make it trickier (and probably more expensive) to construct the pitching staff.

    I’m not averse to this change, but I suspect the fanbase-at-large is going to end up surprised and disappointed that the other teams will be hitting more dingers too.

    On the plus side, having a stadium that’s not as detrimental to right-handed hitters will probably make roster construction easier. There just aren’t that many of us southpaws around.

  5. californiamariner on October 2nd, 2012 2:06 pm

    Also, think about how much it could help someone like Zunino. And hopefully it helps bring a free agent OF to Seattle this offseason. I think the M’s will have good enough pitchers to make up for the shorter fences. Although I wouldn’t mind losing Vargas once the young guns are ready.

  6. 9inningknowitall on October 2nd, 2012 2:08 pm

    I think that the potential of bringing in solid right handed hitters might be the best part of this. I’m not sure it will make a huge difference but some times the mental aspect of it might just be enough of a change to get hitters believing they can hit at Safeco.

  7. jephdood on October 2nd, 2012 2:10 pm

    Everyone must learn how to throw a sinker.

  8. marc w on October 2nd, 2012 2:11 pm

    I’m kind of with you two. At the very least, it will color the negotiations.

  9. marc w on October 2nd, 2012 2:15 pm

    Westside,

    Opposing hitters put up a .227/.288/.340 line at Safeco, so fans are going to need to accept that not all baseball games are 2-1 pitcher’s duels. And I think they’re perfectly willing to make that trade, frankly. The majority of people I’ve talked to wanted this change made years ago.

    After growing up watching the other team score a lot of runs in the Kingdome, a part of me will miss ‘old’ Safeco, but if they’ve had free agent righties laugh and then hang up the phone, then they’re right to make the change.

  10. opiate82 on October 2nd, 2012 2:23 pm

    I think it will help the ballpark play fair for both pitchers and hitters. But in the next couple years I think the visiting teams are going to get a bigger boost from this move than the M’s will.

  11. Westside guy on October 2nd, 2012 2:24 pm

    Oh, yeah, Marc, no question – I understand that. It’s just that there is a non-trivial number of people (that I’ve talked to, anyway) who somehow seem to think moving the fences in will help our hitters but not the other team.

    I don’t know how that’s supposed to work, but there you have it.

    I’m sure, as someone else commented, Justin Smoak is dancing in the streets right now. And will be… until Zduriencik signs a free agent first baseman.

    I don’t know if this actually will matter for Smoak, though. A number of those “I hit that with everything I had” strokes didn’t get past the right field grass. I guess it’ll depend which version of Smoak we see next season.

  12. msfanmike on October 2nd, 2012 2:29 pm

    Se la vi’

    I am not surprised the power alley in LCF is being moved in. I figured it would move in by approx 8′. Apparently it is a bit more than that, but that’s fine. I was wondering what moving that part of the fence in would end up doing to the overall geometry of the park. Per the Greg Johns article, the fence will be 17′ closer to the plate in some areas and that is not really all that “fine” IMO.

    Although it will only be 4′ closer down the left field line, the 17′ reduction in one general area is pretty drastic. Probably overly drastic.

    Taking the hand operated scoreboard out of play is also a etty dramatic reduction in length (for hitting HR’s, at least).

    I am looking forward to seeing how the field plays next year, in all honesty. Maybe the changes won’t be overly dramatic.

    If the park plays fair – I am fine with it. Since there is no real good definition of “fair” -I guess I will be fine with it.

  13. furlong on October 2nd, 2012 2:29 pm

    Let me see if I got this right we are moving the out field fences in but we can’t get rid of that Albatross around our neck Dave Sims!

  14. Pete Livengood on October 2nd, 2012 2:34 pm

    I have mixed feelings on this move, and agree with opiate82 that, because of roster construction designed to minimize the impact of the stadium’s old dimensions, other teams may be in better position sooner to take advantage of the changes than will the M’s.

    One consequence for future roster construction I haven’t seen mentioned yet: the M’s may be able to target more conventional LF/corner OF guys without worrying if they can cover the cavernous left-center alley, defensively. Whether Michael Saunders is the LF of the future now becomes much more about his bat than his CF-capable defensive abilities.

  15. gwangung on October 2nd, 2012 2:35 pm

    I keep on saying that “fair” or “pitcher friendly” are not binary conditions. I’ve always felt that the field was so pitcher friendly that it was ridiculously loaded against offense–and that’s really not in anyone’s interest.

  16. MoreMariners on October 2nd, 2012 2:42 pm

    The people on Mariners.com are complaining that the Mariners aren’t built on power, so this will benefit everyone but the Mariners, causing it to hurt them. They also think that no RH hitters avoid/struggle in Safeco.

  17. Pete Livengood on October 2nd, 2012 2:43 pm

    I should have also added that it is one thing to make a decision that “moving the fences in” is in the best interests of the team (which I can go along with – probably a good idea), but the execution of that decision is another – and I am not sure I can go along with that part. Like msfanmike, I wonder about a move of 17′ in for parts of the left-center alley, and also wonder what need there was to move the fences in at all in right field (even if it is only 4′), as RF already played “fair” to even favorable to hitters.

    Overall, I will withhold judgment until we see how it plays, and how players (and specifically free agents) seem to be reacting to it, but I am a bit skeptical initially.

  18. gwangung on October 2nd, 2012 2:49 pm

    Hm. According to ProspectInsider, the move still leaves the left center power alleys as slightly above the average for the league. Given the winds and heavier air, that still plays as pitcher friendly, it seems to me…

  19. Jordan on October 2nd, 2012 3:07 pm

    This only hurts the team in the short term if they still can’t sign a real RH bat or three. But, I think it is beneficial moving forward, maybe just not immediately.

    I look forward to this off season much akin to the overhyped 2008 season when we were all Bavasi’d.

  20. nvn8vbryce on October 2nd, 2012 3:14 pm

    I think that Marc is right in that Safeco is like an inverted Coors. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of disagreement (ha!) about the “humidor” effect that the marine layer has on the Safe, so anything to counteract it is gravy IMHO.

  21. marc w on October 2nd, 2012 3:26 pm

    Right – because it’s not strictly the dimensions that made 2012 so harmful to offense, I think there’s a chance that this move might not actually accomplish as much as it’d seem.

    That’s probably also why they needed to make such a sizable change in the LF alley – a change of 4-10′ just wouldn’t do a whole lot.

    As for why they’d even move the RF fence at all, well, it’s still a pitcher’s park for LHB too – it’s just far less so. Fangraphs has the 2011 park factors here.

  22. Jopa on October 2nd, 2012 3:35 pm

    I love it. I was surprised to read in Greg Johns’ article at the link above that the M’s are 6th in HR’s and 6th in runs scored on the road (in the AL). That’s much better than I was thinking, and most of it with Ichiro getting the most AB’s on the team.

    Off-season, my top two wishes are for a Felix extension and a shiny new RF. After that, firm up the rotation. I can live with giving everyone else another year (i.e. Smoak) and hoping Zunino is up mid-season for all the right reasons.

  23. Des71 on October 2nd, 2012 3:36 pm

    After reading the following MLB.com article in June, I was convinced that making changes to the Safeco Field dimensions were necessary. Especially now, with both Montero and Zunino being part of the Mariners future.

    Bad air days: Pacific conditions give hitters fits
    Marine layer puts added burden on sluggers in West Coast parks

    “Over the past five years, the six coastal parks in the west have been among the eight toughest in the Majors to create offense. Seattle is the most difficult place to produce runs and homers in the American League, followed by Oakland.” – Lyle Spencer (http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20120617&content_id=33487892)

  24. Pete Livengood on October 2nd, 2012 3:39 pm

    I am not sure the Fangraphs park factors by handedness is all that helpful, at least for what I am talking about, which is how the park plays for balls *hit* to RF (regardless of whether hit by a RHB or LHB). My sense has always been that a ball hit to the RF gap carries, while a ball hit to the LF gap does not. Handedness PF will get to this, to a degree, but only in a roundabout, indirect way.

    And, if you have a slight pitchers park for LHB (which is what the FG data shows), is that a bad thing? I would argue that a *slight* pitchers park is a good thing, and a move that is likely to make it anything more than neutral (which I think this will) is probably not a positive thing.

  25. Westside guy on October 2nd, 2012 3:42 pm

    Am I reading those park factors correctly? It appears (to me) that when it comes to doubles and triples, the Safe is actually punishing lefties significantly more than righties.

    I’m guessing that’s due to the relative sizes of RF versus LF?

  26. stevemotivateir on October 2nd, 2012 3:42 pm

    Thanks, Westy…. you blew-open our lefty conspiracy to suppress the right-handed majority. Last time I let you in on anything.

    Personal issues aside, I’ll reserve judgement on this move for at least a year. Hard to argue against it, though, if Safeco has seriously scared away potential free-agent signings. Considering that the inner-organizational pitching depth is good, it makes sense to appeal a little more to the bats which will need to be found elsewhere.

  27. Mariners35 on October 2nd, 2012 3:42 pm

    This is more about changing perception of Safeco, to bring higher quality players here, than it is about actually making it easier to hit home runs.

    Go here: (http://katron.org/projects/baseball/hit-location/) and count just the fly balls. See how few were fielded at the warning track? Move the fences in by the width of the warning track – which approximates some of what the 2013 fence move does – and then count up how many were from M’s hitter. I count around 11 HRs total, 7 by M’s.

    There is probably value in saying “see, we moved the fences” just to get it out of some players’ heads, or get them to stop contorting their swings. And as mentioned, to get higher quality players to consider Safeco. But realistically, I doubt this does nearly as much as say glassing in the left field concourse, or a sauna for baseballs as the counterpart to Coors’ humidor. :)

  28. Pete Livengood on October 2nd, 2012 4:29 pm

    Reserving judgment is a good call – one that (despite my moderate bitching above) I plan to make too.

    One thing is certain, though: the Mariners have given the better part of a decade-plus to trying it with a severe pitcher’s park, and for the most part, it has not worked. It is time to try something different – even if I may quibble about how they do that – whether that is purely a matter of perception, getting the park out of hitters’ heads, making the team a more attractive free agency destination, or whatever. If it doesn’t work well, there is nothing saying they can’t make further adjustments.

  29. Steve Nelson on October 2nd, 2012 4:32 pm

    I thought that the decision to move in the fences was pretty much a fait accompli after the USSM event this summer when Jeff Kingston commented about how the extreme nature of the park made it more difficult to assemble a roster. Jeff wasn’t talking about the reluctance of some players to come to Seattle. The gist of what I took from his comments was that as a result of the extreme nature of the park, the number of players who had the basic skill set to thrive at Safeco was much smaller, which in turn limited the available options to upgrade the roster.

    That was an aspect of the issue that I hadn’t really thought about previously. Prior to his comments I was on board with the notion that moving in the fences would probably be a net neutral, benefiting hitters of both the Mariners and opponents roughly equally, while penalizing pitchers similarly. When Jeff cast the issue in terms of how that impacted the pool of players who who were “good fits” I sensed where he was coming from. And given that he was expressing it in those terms at a USSM confab, as well as the way he conveyed the situation, I thought it was clear that the front office had identified this as a distinct problem that was creating specific operational difficulties.

  30. marc w on October 2nd, 2012 4:38 pm

    Pete-

    I’m with you that a slight pitcher’s park is a good thing. I don’t want the ‘new’ Safeco to be a hitter’s paradise. I’ve just gradually come to agree that Safeco had gotten TOO extreme.

    I’m also not sure that this will make it neutral. It may, but given that this addresses one of the two components of the problem (dimensions + wind/weather), it might only mitigate the disadvantages hitters face. We’ll see.

  31. marc w on October 2nd, 2012 4:42 pm

    One more thing –

    My wording was terrible in the post, but the RF *corner* isn’t moving. Most of RF will come in by RF, but that doesn’t include the extreme RF corner. That’s not going to move.

  32. Steve Nelson on October 2nd, 2012 4:58 pm

    Without doing a detailed analysis my impression is that even with these changes Safeco is still going to be a pitchers’ park. In the current configuration, Safeco has been difficult to straightaway left field, and death in the left-center power alley. It has been neutral to good for line drives pulled down the left-field line at the hand-operated scoreboard. Line drives, by staying low, are less effected by the wind coming over the left field stands. (Yes, in that way José Lopez was a good fit for Safeco.)

    With the revisions, the left field line and straightaway left field aren’t going to change significantly, whereas I would surmise the left field power alley will now probably be roughly as difficult as straightaway left field.

  33. seattlery on October 2nd, 2012 5:08 pm

    I applaud in general any move to help free agent perception, and also make home games less, well, Mariner-ish. But I also wonder if there’ll be a negative effect on batting average (SEA and opponents): If the fences are moved forward in left and center, that means the LF and CF can play that much closer to the plate than before, and therefore cover more ground in the shallow outfield. You’re essentially trading more HRs and ground rule doubles for less shallow outfield hits. And, gee, it sure seems like we have a lot of shallow outfield hits.

    Is there a way to look at this graphically, one wonders? I’m interested to see how it all plays out.

  34. Steve Nelson on October 2nd, 2012 5:17 pm

    Ooops – the 8-foot high wall down the left field line (versus the 16-fot high wall at the hand-operated scoreboard) will probably make that portion of the park more friendly. José Lopez’s agent may be checking in with the Mariners sooner rather than later.

  35. Westside guy on October 2nd, 2012 5:36 pm

    I wouldn’t want Lopey! But if Adrian Beltre were to call… ;-)

  36. stevemotivateir on October 2nd, 2012 5:52 pm

    If Beltre calls, it will be to scold the M’s front office for not doing it sooner -and to rub a little salt in the wound, boasting about his numbers since leaving.

  37. Bremerton guy on October 2nd, 2012 6:44 pm

    This about guarantees that Smoak will be the Opening Day first baseman.

  38. msfanmike on October 2nd, 2012 6:59 pm

    I was thinking the same thing, Bremerton Guy. Smoak is coming back. The April ’11 or the September of any year version if him, will be fine. Two good OF’s (one of which can play 1B) would be a good area of focus – as about a jillion others have mentioned previously. And a rotation bolstering.

  39. msfanmike on October 2nd, 2012 7:28 pm

    20!

    Oops, wrong thread

  40. The_Waco_Kid on October 2nd, 2012 7:55 pm

    I’m glad they’re not moving them in very much. I’m fine with Safeco being a pitcher’s park. I remember the Kingdome. It was fun seeing more HR, but I remember Bobby Ayala blowing lead after lead. I think more offense will mean more fans, but other teams will benefit, too, so we still need to get better.

    It sure seems like something different has been happening at Safeco this year, and the RF wall is maybe too far, but we use to hit pretty well here despite that. I think something is weird with the air (as someone posted earlier). If it continues, we may need to move the walls in every 10 years, lol. If it reverses, we could see a lot of HR.

  41. Sports on a Shtick on October 2nd, 2012 7:58 pm

    About time! Safeco Field now falls within the realm of an average hitting environment for RH batters instead of the dead zone it is now.

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