BY John Hickey 11:30AM 05/29/2012

Hickey: Mariners' Safeco home is a .193 sinkhole

The Mariners are averaging an MLB-worst .193 in their home park, easily the worst offense in the club’s 35 years, and no one seems to have an answer.

Hold the applause for Jesus Montero hitting at home; he has a .194 average at Safeco. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

No place like home? Not if you’re a hitter for the Mariners, who are batting .193 as a team at Safeco Field.

The Mariners finished a 2-5 homestand Sunday by pounding out three hits in a 4-2 loss to the Angels. Three whole hits.

The man who had two of those hits, first baseman Justin Smoak, was asked about the Seattle offense, or lack of same, on a homestand when the Mariners hit a ghastly .167 and averaged three runs per game.

“It will be good to go out on the road and relax a bit,’’ Smoak said.

Relax? From the pressure at Safeco, 27th in MLB attendance?

Monday on the road, they didn’t seem too relaxed in another 4-2 loss, this one against the Rangers in Arlington, TX. But they did scrape together seven hits. That’s more than they had in any of the final five games of the homestand.

Seattle hitters need to figure out how to survive in Safeco Field. Soon.

The best home-park hitter for average? Casper Wells, .235, only he’s in AAA Tacoma right now. Ichiro is at .232, Brendan Ryan .217, Dustin Ackley .213, Alex Liddi .212, John Jaso .206, Kyle Seager .200, Jesus Montero .194, Smoak .188, Michael Saunders .185, Miguel Olivo .121 and Chone Figgins .118.

The next-worst home hitting team in the American League is, predictably, Oakland, at .202. There’s a big gap to No. 12, Cleveland, at .236. The Rangers are tops at .284.

In OPS, the Mariners are also last at .584, 20 points back of Oakland and more than 150 points back of the AL average of .736.

Safeco is a tough place to hit; no one disputes that. But when the home team’s average through the first 22 games in Safeco is .193, jaws drop. So does the job security of the batting coach. And the manager gets on thin ice, too.

The American League average through Sunday was .251. The Mariners’ average in 28 road games before the trip was .249.

What on earth is happening when they play in Safeco? Do bats rot? Do opponent fastballs become smaller, and sliders invisible?

Batting coach Chris Chambliss never had to hit in Safeco during a storied big league career. But he doesn’t demonize the place. It’s a baseball field, like any other.

“It should be just another ballyard,’’ Chambliss said. “What’s happening is that we’re not getting it done. It’s not happening.’’

Why not? Yes, the Mariners are mostly young. But they are going to get old in a hurry if they don’t learn how to use Safeco to advantage.

They need to hit the ball down the line and in the gaps. Safeco has deep fences and cool, heavy air that make home runs tough. But that drawback means that the park is ideal for doubles and triples, if the batting approach is right.

That’s not happening.

The past two seasons under the rebuilding program, installed by general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge, is about learning. Yet the current crop of Mariners seems to have learned so little about maximizing the Safeco experience.

Their performance at home has been historically bad. In 2009, the Mariners averaged .255 at Safeco. That number fell a staggering 20 points to .235 in 2010, the worst mark for any Mariners team at home, either at Safeco or the smaller Kingdome.

The record dropped another dozen points to .222 last year.

Now this. The Mariners still have two-thirds of their home games yet to play, but that albatross of a .193 average won’t easily be altered.

Is Safeco – a place that has seen seven batting coaches in the past 11 years – getting into the psyche of the Mariners?

Chambliss said it shouldn’t be. The distance from the mound to home plate is the same as anywhere. The distance between bases is the same. If anything, there is more room to get balls between outfielders.

It comes down to the Mariners’ inability at Safeco to hit the ball hard – they averaged nine strikeouts and nine groundouts, many of them lame groundouts – in the last homestand. The season averages aren’t much better.

What seems to be missing is the slashing line drive – the kind of ball that streaks past infielders and forces outfielders to do wind sprints in pursuit.

To look at Ichiro, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders, Chone Figgins and Brendan Ryan, in particular, one would think they were born to be line-drive hitters. But they haven’t shown it, particularly at home.

“We’ve struck out way too much,’’ Chambliss said. “We should be better than all these strikeouts. We need better concentration at the plate and better contact.’’

Zduriencik says he is trying to build a team that can compete daily, weekly, monthly and yearly in the American League West.

The pitchers have mostly done their part. The hitters have to step up. At home.

Safeco is a tough place to hit, but it’s not as tough as the Mariners are making it.


YourThoughts

  • UncleWalter

    The fences should be moved in to make Safeco comparable to other ballparks.  It’s a depressing place for Mariners hitters; let’s try something else for a change.  Bring the fences in until the stats are the same as in Texas and let’s see what happens.

  • Zirkle

    How about developing some major league talent? Other teams have no problems hitting at safeco.

  • Tian Biao

    maybe it’s the lighting? or the hitting background? or the mound? or the distances? I have no idea, but the Ms execs should commission some studies and find out what the damn problem is. although zirkle has a point: lack of talent is obviously a factor. I mean, year after year, for at least five years, we’ve had high-strikeout guys who can’t draw a walk. And every year, in the spring, we hear that the Ms are changing their approach, and we are promised that THIS will be the year that the hitters are more patient and will draw walks and won’t strike out as much, and then a couple months into the season, we get to read articles like this one.

    Here’s a novel idea: don’t try to change anyone’s approach – just draft guys who already know how to hit, and draw walks, and shorten their swings with two strikes. In other words, get guys who are NOT like Saunders and Smoak and Liddi and Seager. That might work.

  • jafabian

    The M’s should consider having Edgar Martinez working with the hitters or at least get his input.  He was one of the few Mariners who hit well at Safeco, hitting for a .311 career average at both the Kingdome and Safeco Field however at Safeco alone he was over .300 until the last couple years of his career and even then he was hitting .248 at Safeco.  

    If the club moves in the fences all that does is make things easier for the visiting team.  Instead of losing games at a 3-1 score they’d be losing at a 9-6 score.

  • http://twitter.com/tyrell418 Tyrell Osborne

    Not hit like Seager? Are you an idiot? He’s one of our best hitters..

  • RadioGuy

    Uhhh, John, it may have been instructive to mention what Mariner OPPONENTS are hitting at Safeco this year.  That’s about the only stat you didn’t mention, but it surely would’ve helped bring a sense of perspective.

    Bringing in the fences isn’t the solution (why penalize your own pitchers?) so much as getting Seattle players to swing for line drives instead of long fly balls that MAY leave the yard.  I’ll take a blooper into shallow center over a warning-track out anytime.

    I’m a total broken record on this, but to win in Safeco, the Mariners need pitching, defense, hitters with GAP power and speed-speed-speed in the field and on the bases.  Home runs are great (and fun to watch), but they don’t assure you a winner…you still have to outscore the other guys whether the final score is 2-1 or 8-7.