Safeco by the Numbers


I have a lot of wonderful memories of Safeco Field. Watching the Mariners tie the American League record for wins. Seeing pitchers from Jamie Moyer to J.J. Putz to Felix Hernandez work their magic. Being present the night Ken Griffey Jr. returned to Seattle and later watching him hit some of his last major league home runs. And let us not forget Ichiro, his impossible hits, his fantastic catches, his amazing throws — all the magic he’s brought to fans over the last ten years. Yeah, lots and lots of good memories of Safeco Field.

And besides the games, there’s the greatness of the park itself. There’s literally nowhere else I would rather be on a summer afternoon, or a late September evening when the sun is setting over the water and the buildings of downtown and merging with the twilight. I’m sure there are many other parks around the country that are as beautiful in their own way — and some with much more history — but Safeco is home, and I love it.

When the M’s moved into Safeco they were riding the crest of the Lou Pinella years, coming off their late 90’s playoff appearances and heading (although no one knew it then) for one of the most historic seasons ever. It was an exciting time to be a fan in Seattle. I still remember watching almost every day as the M’s accumulated wins in the 2001 season, and then the All-Star game with Cal Ripken’s home run. Safeco wasted no time becoming a place of legends.

And yet ….

Well, you would have to say, overall, that the M’s time at Safeco has not been highly successful. You could even ask — I’ve asked, and I’ve heard many others ask — if Safeco itself might be part of the M’s travails. Can it be that they have never (except at the very beginning) built a team that truly fits the park? Could it be that Safeco sabotages their efforts to recruit offensive players, because everyone knows that Safeco is “pitcher friendly” and death to batting averages? How good has this amazing park really been for the team that plays there?

I don’t have the answers to those questions yet, but I’ve started looking at them in detail. To begin with, I thought it might be interesting to take a quick look at batting averages. Since 2000 the M’s at Safeco field have had a perfect split — six winning seasons and six losing seasons. Of course, the M’s made the playoffs only twice, 2000 and 2001 — but a couple of other seasons they were among the top ranked teams in the AL and only missed the playoffs because of the strength of AL West opponents. On the surface at least, those aren’t bad numbers.

The M’s as a team hit .269 in 2000 and .288 in 2001. But in 2000 they only hit .248 at Safeco, and .289 on the road. That’s a big discrepancy. In 2001 they hit .283 at Safeco and .293 on the road — a little more consistent. (It’s worth remembering what kind of team that was — built around speed and finesse as much as power.) In more recent years the numbers are more depressing. In 2010 the M’s hit .236 overall — .235 at home and .236 on the road. This most recent season, they hit .233 overall — .222 on the road and .244 at home. So what does all that mean?

Well, if you look at the records you find that only twice, in their entire stay at Safeco, have the M’s had a better hitting record at home than they did on the road. That was in 2005, when they hit .256 overall, .260 at home and .252 on the road; and in 2008 when they hit .265 overall, .271 at home and .260 on the road.

Just looking at batting averages then, the results are inconclusive. Is Safeco an offense killing field?

Let’s looking at home-runs. In 2000 the M’s hit198 homers — 92 at home and 106 on the road. In 2001 they hit 169 — 79 at home and 90 on the road. In our most recent season (you might want to sit down before looking at these numbers) the M’s hit 109 HRs 59 of which were at home. In the Safeco era the M’s have hit more HR’s at home than on the road only three times (2011, 2007 and 2004). It’s not conclusive, but it does seem to add some weight to the argument that Safeco is a tough park for hitters.

So what does that mean for the M’s future?

In my next post I plan to take a look at how Safeco compares to other parks — and what we can take away from this kind of analysis. Is it really the park that discourages strong offensive players from coming to Seattle? And how does this help us envision the team the M’s would have to build to really thrive here.

Meanwhile, why don’t we forget numbers for a minute and just sit here in the upper decks, watching the sunset out over the sound, listening to the shouts of the fans and the sounds of the game.

Is there anywhere else in the world you’d rather be?