I believe that a team’s fans have an important role in encouraging a team to be great, but they can also discourage or distract the players. It's an interesting aspect of the game to think about, especially when you are looking at the Mariners slow start to 2023, although they did have a better home record in 2022 (.568% to .543%)
Logan Gilbert’s win-loss home and away statistics from 2022 made me wonder about the extent to which the fans influence the Mariners’ players, both positively and negatively. Last year, Gilbert had a 5-5 win/loss record at T-Mobile Park. He had an 8-1 win/loss record on the road. While this could be due to random circumstances, does Gilbert feel more at ease pitching on the road? Can he focus better on his throwing when only the opponent’s fans are present?
It is worth noting that win/loss isn't everything for a pitcher. Gilbert had a much better BB rate at home, K rate was very similar, his ERA was a 3.25 (Home) vs a 3.16 (Away), while his slash lines were very similar, posting a .254/.293/.384 at home with a .309 BABIP compared to a .233/.297/.395 with a .281 BABIP on the road. Due to that low walk rate, his WHIP was actually better at home, at 1.145 compared to 1.205 on the road.
I suspect that we may see the Mariners winning more once they start traveling. Every team wants to win and hopes to please its fans. Players do not make it to the pros without a desire to succeed. I suspect, however, that sometimes the desire to please or fear of displeasing the fans can be stressful. In addition, fans do not just make noise when they are in the ballpark. Their feelings about the team, the players, the management and the win/loss record appear in the news and social media.
Mental health affects a player's ability to perform as much as physical health. Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka are athletes who have brought some of the pressure to our attention. Considering the immense stress that professional athletes are under to perform, fans can lessen it by expressing faith in the team.
While I have no idea as to the mental health of the Mariners' players (and am by no way suggesting that Gilbert is struggling this way), being criticized rarely improves a person's self-confidence. When you consider how many of us cringe to speak in public, imagine if we had to speak regularly at ballparks around the country. Or, if any time we made a phone call or gave instructions at work, 40,000 people listened in and then critiqued everything we said or did.
I believe in being a positive fan, a diehard. I can recognize when a team is playing below their potential, that an individual player is in a rut, or that management might want to make a few shifts, but I do not believe in bad-mouthing teams, players, or management. Leave that, I think, to the Mariners’ opponents’ fans. If I want my team to win, the last thing I want is for the players to hear booing or see negativity in news or social media.
Plenty of Mariners' fans regularly support the team and give the players the best chance to succeed. It is tempting to fear that the whole season will be like the first several games, but I think that all of us need to keep the faith because we have seen what this team can do.