Thursday, February 24, 2005

Safeco as Hitter's Paradise 

Derek Zumsteg's latest Off the Wall piece is a decent read. Send your comments to the PI, and maybe Derek can make it into the printed edition someday. This week covers similarities between the 2005 Mariners and the 1995 Mariner team that saved baseball in Seattle. Derek says that the M's can win in 2005 with a big offense, which runs against the conventional wisdom of building a strong pitching staff to work in the offense-imparing environment of Safeco.

The references to park factors reminded me of a blogentry I made last year, where I asked if Safeco was turning into a hitter's paradise?

In that post, I argued that changes made to the Safeco, specifically adding non-reflective black-painted honeycomb aluminum as a background, had changed Safeco from a pitcher's park that suppressed runs, home runs, and batting average, into a hitter's park, that at the least elevated home runs, and was league average for batting average and runs.

Lets check that hypothesis by looking at the 2004 park factors for Safeco, relative to past history.

Season    R   BA   HR
====== === === ===
99-00 84 88 88
2001 89 94 85
2002 84 94 77
03/1st 83 90 89
03/2nd 110 97 110
2004 85 88 113
Interesting. Run scoring and batting average both tumbled to pre-2003 levels. But at the same time, the trend for home runs continued. Safeco is essentially a homer haven. Even moreso when broken down for left-handed hitters as a lefty was a whopping 46% more likely to homer in Safeco than in a league-neutral park! At the same time, the park was slightly below league average (96) for right-handed sluggers.

Undoubtedly, some of this is a result of our 2004 homer-happy pitching staff, and some of the suppression on runs and batting average is the result of our craptacular season at the plate. But it sure looks like Safeco is a place for home runs now. Its just too bad that we couldn't add another lefty slugger to the mix this offseason, as Safeco seems ideal for them.

This is also why Bobby Madritsch, as a lefty who gave up a meager 3 home runs in 88 innings last year (and just 1 in 6 starts in Safeco), should be a mortal lock for the starting rotation. In a ballpark that naturally elevates home runs, but suppresses batting average, pitchers who do not give up home runs should have particularly high value.

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