Mariners trying to attract bats, fans with Safeco changes

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Let’s face it, there’s one very big reason the Mariners are pulling in the fences at Safeco Field next year:

Attendance/game
2007: 32,588
2008: 28,762
2009: 27,105
2010: 25,749
2011: 23,411
2012: 21,417

The Mariners peaked at more than 43,000 fans per game while leading the AL in attendance in 2001 and ’02. They ranked sixth-to-eighth each year from 2006-11 before plummeting to 11th this season.  That’s despite the fact that they’ve gone from 61 and 67 wins the last two years to 73 with two games remaining this season.

From a performance standpoint, there’s good reason to think the Mariners are better off playing in an extreme pitcher’s park. They have one of the game’s five-best pitchers in Felix Hernandez, they’ve gotten quality results out of journeyman arms and they possess two of the game’s top 10 (and three of the top 20) pitching prospects in the minors. To put it kindly, more of their talent is concentrated in pitching than in hitting.

But it’s also true that the Mariners aren’t winning anyway, and 80 percent of the time, they’re just not very interesting. The truth is that more people would rather watch the Mariners lose 7-5 than 2-0.

Now, that possibility alone won’t bring fans streaming through the turnstiles. But adding a couple of quality hitters might, and it’s going to be easier to sign free agent bats in the new Safeco than it was in the old Safeco. As it was, no big-time power-hitter with a bunch of suitors was going to choose Seattle.

That has to be part of the thinking here. It doesn’t seem at all likely that Josh Hamilton will make the move to the Pacific Northwest this winter, but the Mariners will try to add two hitters, one likely an outfielder.

I’m still not at all convinced this is the right move, at least not to the extent to which they’ve gone. They’re bringing in the left-center power alley by 12 feet and as much as 17 feet in one spot. It’s only going to be a four-foot difference down the left field line and in center (right field is staying the same), but combine the power alley difference and the lower wall in left and it looks like Safeco is in for quite the significant change. Something more mild that would have guaranteed Safeco remained at least a modest pitcher’s park would have been a better idea in my mind. But this is more about money than winning ballgames and it shows.

MLB’s juiced baseball is juicing Triple-A home run totals too

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There has been considerable evidence amassed over the past year or two that the baseball used by Major League Baseball has a lower aerodynamic profile, leading to less drag, which leads directly to more home runs. If you doubted that at all, get a load of what is happening in Triple-A right now.

The minors have always had different balls than the majors. The MLB ball is made in Costa Rica at a Rawlings facility. The minor league balls are made in China. They use slightly different materials and, by all accounts, the minor league balls do not have the same sort of action and do not travel as far as the big league balls. Before the season, as Baseball America reported, Major League Baseball requested that Triple-A baseball switch to using MLB balls. The reason: uniformity and, one presumes, more accurate analysis of performance at the top level of the minor leagues.

The result, as Baseball America reports today, is a massive uptick in homers in the early going to the Triple-A season:

Last April, Triple-A hitters homered once every 47 plate appearances. As the weather warmed up, so did the home run rate. Over the course of the entire 2018 season, Triple-A hitters homered every 43 plate appearances. So far this year, they are homering every 32 plate appearances. Triple-A hitters are hitting home runs at a rate of 135 percent of last year’s rate.

Again, that’s in the coldest, least-homer friendly month of the season. It’s gonna just get worse. Or better, I guess, if you’re all about the long ball.

Which you had better be, because if they did something to deaden the balls and reduce homers, we’d have the same historically-high strikeout and walk rates but with no homers to provide offense to compensate. At least unless or until hitters changed their approach to become slap hitters or something, but that could take a good while. And may still not be effective given the advances in defense since the last time slap hitting was an important part of the game.

In the meantime, enjoy the dingers, Triple-A fans.