The Mariners‘ home/road splits have been big news this year.
On the road, the Mariners are hitting .259/.310/.420, in other words, pretty average. MLB average (at home and road) is .254/.320/.405. At home, they are hitting an atrocious .198/.276/.293. For comparison, Chone Figgins is hitting .229/.300/.284 since joining the Mariners. The first thing you notice is that the Mariners have a BABIP of .299 on the road, but a terrible .243 BABIP on the road. So is it bad luck, Safeco, or something more sinister?
At home, they are hitting line drives 20.7% of the time, ground-balls 41% of the time, and fly-balls 38.3% of the time.
Combined with the Mariners’ walks and strikeouts, it is an expected OPS of .694. Their OPS is .569 at home, nearly .130 points of difference.
On the road: 20.9 LD%, 44.2 GB%, 34.9 FB%, expected OPS of .707. Actual OPS of .730.
Weirdly, they are putting the ball in play 5% of the time more than on the road than they are at home, walking 3% less. On balls off the bat, they have an expected OPS of .869 on the road and an .873 OPS at home.
Fly-balls at home turn into homers just 5.9% of the time, while on the road they turn into HRs 12% of the time. This is with virtually the same infield fly-ball rate.
394 plate appearances on the road have taken place either at Coors Field in Colorado or the Ballpark in Arlington in Texas. That is 23.34% of their road plate appearances. The Mariners’ OPS in those games are .816. At Coors Field, the average OPS has been .873 and at the Ballpark in Arlington it is .776, for an average of .825 OPS at the two parks. So it would seem that Mariners’ road splits are being affected by two really hitter friendly ballparks. If you take those two parks out of the Mariners’ road splits, they average 14.4 total bases per game (versus 17.6 per game at Texas and Colorado). However, at home, they are still averaging just 9.1 total bases per game. League average is 13.78 total bases per game. So even when controlling somewhat for environment, the Mariners are still a pretty good hitting team on the road and have massive home/road splits.
How about Mariners’ pitchers? Can their splits give us a further look into the meaning of all this?
at home: actual OPS of .618, .261 BABIP, Expected OPS of .902 off the bat, Total Expected OPS of .719
On the Road: actual OPS of .799, .297 BABIP, Expected OPS of .854 off the bat, Total Expected OPS of .702
So at home, either Safeco, luck, defense, or a combination of the 3 is saving the Mariners’ pitching a full .100 points in OPS. On the road, they have been terribly unlucky. They have also been pitching differently on the road than at home, as the expected OPS’ off the bat show. If I were a reporter or beat writer, I would love to ask the pitchers’ if they consciously pitch different at Safeco than they do at home. It certainly seems that they do. All of this information seems to point to the main culprit being Safeco. However, this could be a fluky half season thing, so let’s look at previous years. From 2003-2011, Mariners pitching has given up a .281 BABIP at home, while hitters have a .296 BABIP at home. At home over this period, Mariners’ hitters had a .704 OPS. On the road in this period, they had a .719 OPS. That is certainly a difference, but it really isn’t that significant. So it seems that, as Safeco has not changed, a lot of this year’s weird splits on both sides are somewhat fluky.
Let’s go to some spray charts:
First Justin Smoak:
The big thing to look at one these charts is right center field, where Safeco is the most expansive. These charts include both home and road, so you will notice that some balls are homers and some balls are out in the very same area. Smoak has at least one, possible two this year. However, that does not make a huge difference..
In his Mariner career (Rick Randall tweeted this out), he has hit .239/.306/.397 on the road and .202/.301/.342 at Safeco (in about a full season at each). Obviously, the road statistics are unacceptable. He is simply not a good hitter. Will he improve? That isn’t the point of this article (I don’t really think he will, although some smart people think he will). The point is that when someone says something like this:
it just isn’t correct. It isn’t a good argument to say that Justin Smoak’s problems are tied to Safeco. Yes, those are significant splits, but he hasn’t been good on the road. For the argument to work, Smoak must be a good hitter on the road. He isn’t. I have heard some say that big ballparks often do something psychological to hitters that cause them to struggle even more so than the park should. This maybe true, but it may not be. I am not a psychologist. Just as importantly, neither is any baseball analyst I’ve ever seen. While psychological issues play a role in baseball, people who have not studied psychology extensively shouldn’t make psychological claims (to be clear, I am not insinuating that Keith Law makes this kind of argument in the screenshot above, he doesn’t). Baseball announcers and MLB Network employees, despite being former players, are probably not the ones that we want to be trusting when it comes to how the mind works. Is there something psychologically related going on with Smoak and Safeco? Maybe! But isn’t it just as likely, nay, more likely that Smoak simply isn’t a very good hitter when it comes to upper level pitching? He put up mediocre numbers for a PCL first baseman. There is a mental side to baseball. Of course there is. But we shouldn’t pretend that we fully understand it. We understand statistics and scouting better. Let’s evaluate players on that, not on some really speculative, uninformed opinion on how Smoak’s mind is working. As his spray chart shows, he has made a lot of outs between 1st and 2nd (weakly rolling over on pitches when he is a lefty or hitting weak ground-balls the other way when he is a righty). He has also made a lot of outs to centerfield. This could be looked at 2 ways: 1. You just aren’t going to homer to center, or at least he isn’t or 2. He is hitting the ball hard, and the hits will eventually come.
How about Kyle Seager, who has sadly been one of the more productive hitters on the Mariners this season:
As you can see, he has been robbed by Safeco a couple of times in right field, but has absolutely clobbered the ball that way as well.
Here is Ichiro:
He really has had only one robbed by Safeco.
Overall, while Safeco has produced some weird splits for the Mariners this year, it doesn’t appear to mean a whole lot. It is not as if it suddenly grew overnight. it seems that the Mariners’ offense has been lucky on the road and unlucky at home. Moving in the fences will just make the pitching worse. Whether you lose 2-0 or 5-3 doesn’t really matter a lot. The Mariners just need better hitters (better pitchers would be nice as well).