The Mariners’ Spring Power and Traveling North

Sometimes it’s worth unpacking something that seems like it’s fairly cut and dry. Like, for example, the Mariners are showing quite a bit of power in spring training right now, but it seems like folly to put too much stock in those numbers. That statement alone can send you on a journey.

As of Thursday morning, the Seattle Mariners had hit 30 home runs this spring. The second-place team, the Cleveland Indians, had hit only 21. No other team had 20. In three times as many games last year, the Tigers led Spring Training with 46 home runs. Then again, the San Diego Padres led the National League last season so there’s clue number one that this power surge may not be such a big deal. (The Padres only hit more home runs than two teams in baseball last regular season).

But the Mariners tied for 14th in spring training home runs last year, and they’ve already hit more home runs than they did then. The new acquisitions must be working. Break up the Mariners.

Except that weather is a big part of power. And Arizona doesn’t have much in common with Seattle. Check out the average temperature by city last season:

City Ave Temp City Ave Temp
sfn 63.3 ana 73.2
oak 63.4 col 73.5
sea 63.7 mil 73.9
chn 68.5 pit 74
bos 68.9 hou 74.2
cha 68.9 phi 74.5
sdn 69.6 cin 75.6
cle 69.9 mia 76.7
tor 69.9 sln 76.8
min 70.8 was 77.2
det 71.6 bal 77.5
nyn 71.9 kca 77.9
tba 72.1 atl 80.2
nya 72.2 ari 81.9
lan 72.9 flo 83
tex 86.3

There’s Arizona, all the way near the warmest part of the country, and Seattle over there by the coldest part of the country. Physics professor Robert Adair found that ten degrees of air temperature meant four extra feet of batted ball distance, so this means something. Jeff Zimmerman agreed, or he found that those same ten degrees meant 4.2 feet of distance. Our own site found a relationship between batted ball distance and home runs per fly ball, so this is meaningful stuff.

It’s not some ‘heavy air’ thing either. If you bucket games into temperatures as Zimmerman did, you find that the ball goes 274 feet in Seattle when it’s colder than 65 degrees, and 277 in the rest of the country at that temperature. When it’s over 65 degrees, the ball goes 279 feet in Seattle and 282 feet otherwise. The effect due to temperature is more stark than any effect due to humidity.

So it really looks like Arizona’s atmosphere is conducive to power and Seattle’s isn’t. But did you see Carson Cistulli post about spring training run environments and how there are *fewer* home runs in spring training then there are in the regular season? That’s weird.

Maybe it’s because it’s colder in Arizona in spring than your average mid-summer park? It’s 69 degrees there this year. That’s way colder than the seasonal average. It’s been 79 degrees the last two Marches in Phoenix, though. Either way, 69 is still warmer than Seattle, most days.

It can’t all be about weather. The studies looking at relationships between spring statistics and the regular season have found that component stats like strikeout and walk rates are more predictive than overall stats and in-season studies have found similar things about samples during the regular schedule. It takes a long time to know a player’s true-talent power level.

So if we were going to say something about the Mariners and their power this coming season, we’d have to first be able to say that the new parts will definitely show more power than the old parts. We do have, as ammunition, ZiPs projected isolated slugging numbers for next season, and a crude depth chart, too:

2012 Mariners ISO 2013 Mariners (ZiPs)
C John Jaso 0.180 C Jesus Montero 0.144
Miguel Olivo 0.159 Kelly Shoppach 0.149
DH Jesus Montero 0.126 DH Kendrys Morales 0.181
Mike Carp 0.128
1B Justin Smoak 0.147 1B Justin Smoak 0.153
2B Dustin Ackley 0.102 2B Dustin Ackley 0.126
Chone Figgins 0.090
3B Kyle Seager 0.164 3B Kyle Seager 0.132
SS Brendan Ryan 0.084 SS Brendan Ryan 0.078
Robert Andino 0.085
LF Casper Wells 0.168 LF Raul Ibanez 0.162
Jason Bay 0.130
CF Michael Saunders 0.185 CF Franklin Gutierrez 0.130
Franklin Gutierrez 0.160 Michael Saunders 0.150
RF Ichiro Suzuki 0.092 RF Michael Morse 0.162
Team 0.135

Looks like a few upgrades and a few downgrades and maybe a little nudge in the right direction. It’s no Slam Dunk Solution ™.

But then there’s John Dewan’s rule: in 2009, he showed in his Stat of the Week newsletter that players who beat their career slugging percentage by more than 200 points in Spring Training had more than a 60% chance at beating their career slugging percentage during the regular season (mininimum 200 regular season at-bats and 40 Spring Training at-bats). Does anyone satisfy his rule right now? Quite a few: Raul Ibanez, Franklin Gutierrez, Brendan Ryan, Justin Smoak, Jason Bay, Jesus Montero, Casper Wells and Michael Saunders.

Take out everyone definitively past their power peak — why would Jason Bay show a power surge beyond his career rates, at his age — and you get Justin Smoak, Michael Saunders and Jesus Montero. Those guys are maybe halfway to maybe showing something that could have a 60% likelihood of carrying over into the season.

At this point, things have gotten weird. The weather is some sort of factor, in a power-dampening way. The level of competition in spring training is a factor, also suggesting the team power surge is a mirage. The roster upheaval is a factor, and it seems like a positive, but the players doing the best this spring — doing so in the most believable way at least — were all on the team last year. It’s probably not the new guys. We’ll have to see about the fences.

It seems unlikely that this Mariner power surge will travel north. And we might have thought so from the beginning, but it was fun checking it out anyway. Maybe three young men and a set of new fences will make a grand impact against the odds.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

41 Responses to “The Mariners’ Spring Power and Traveling North”

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  1. Angry Miguel says:

    Michael Saunders is playing for Team Canada.

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  2. cody.lerum says:

    How does ZIPS projections handle the fence adjustments at Safeco?

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  3. Sabermetric Solutions says:

    Interesting article, however, I think that the ZiPs projections for iso are slightly misleading. Gutierrez has been struggling with injuries for the past few years and has proved he can sustain an iso between .130 and .140 when healthy. As you said, Smoak, Saunders, Montero, and also 25 year-old Seager are all improving and should improve their home run total this year. Finally, over the off season, they added Morales and Morse, large improvements over Jaso and Suzuki. Whether this will help the Mariners win games? I don’t know, but it’s an interesting strategy.

    By the way, good luck to you and Mike on Monday in Tout Wars.

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    • Ike Clanton says:

      Which of those do you think is an improvement over Jaso? Maybe I’m lending too much value to the 2012 ISO, but I think Morales will be similar with the bat to Jaso, but with fewer walks and more strikeouts. So, not really similar at all, except in ISO (where I doubt they are more than .010 apart by the end of the season (barring any injury induced small sample sizes).

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      • joser says:

        Jaso was platooned; it’s unlikely he’d sustain the same rates over the 500+ PA that Morales/Morse will get (though a lot of M’s fans would’ve preferred they hang on to him and see him try).

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    • Choo says:

      Just returned from Peoria a few days ago . . . Gutierrez finally put that weight back on. He looks much stronger.

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  4. Chris from Bothell says:

    No mention of the mighty Carlos Peguero, a.k.a. Carlos Saguaro?

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  5. Twm says:

    Good read, but this bit confused me:

    “If you bucket games into temperatures as Zimmerman did, you find that the ball goes 274 feet in Seattle when it’s colder than 65 degrees, and 277 in the rest of the country at that temperature. When it’s over 62 degrees, the ball goes 279 feet in Seattle and 282 feet otherwise.”

    One of those numbers — either 65 or 62 — is a typo, right? Or am I not understanding this?

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  6. Basil Ganglia says:

    It’s not some ‘heavy air’ thing either. If you bucket games into temperatures as Zimmerman did, you find that the ball goes 274 feet in Seattle when it’s colder than 65 degrees, and 277 in the rest of the country at that temperature. When it’s over 62 degrees, the ball goes 279 feet in Seattle and 282 feet otherwise. The effect due to temperature is more stark than any effect due to humidity.

    That effect is likely due to park configuration and prevailing winds. Prevailing winds are from the north and the configuration of the park makes it easiest for wind to enter the part from the north side. The north side of the stadium is left field, and the power suppression is particularly severe for balls hit to left field – i.e., into the prevailing wind. In contrast, Safeco has been near neutral to slightly hitter friendly on homeruns hit to right field. The shortening of the fences for the 2013 will be greatest in left field, particularly in the left-center power alley.

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    • Basil Ganglia says:

      sorry – the nested blockquote is actually my response to the blockquote.

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      • Evan says:

        Prevailing winds in Seattle are certainly not from the north. They are from the Southwest which are blocked by stadium configuration. However, because the north facing portion of the stadium is the least protected, wind tends to wrap around from the southwest and blow toward right/right-center.

        I’ve seen so many balls hit to dead left and then fade to the deepest part of the ballpark in left-center. Winds are almost never blowing strong in at Safeco. (Only happens when you get an off-shore flow when high pressure off the coast draws air from Eastern WA).

        It is clear that cold springs on the west coast have slowed early season power. Looking at HR/AB pre and post ASB you see the following four teams substantially ahead of the average change in the league in 2012.

        SD +47.20%
        OAK +45.34%
        LAD +39.84%
        SEA +20.64%
        (SF was #9 at +13.10% and LAA was #11 at +10.19%)

        The post-ASB league average change was only 2.97%.

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  7. edgar4evar says:

    Thanks for the analysis, Eno. I want to dream that my M’s will hit 1,000 home runs this year, but after all: Mariners. I think what we’re seeing is competition level, primarily. As spring training wears on, minor league pitchers get sent back down and the starters get their legs under them the home runs will dry up. Encouraging, though, that there’s at least a little evidence that a couple of players could improve. I think if you’d polled M’s fans Smoak and Montero would be “breakout” candidates this year and nobody would be surprised if Saunders hit a few more dingers as he enters his prime.

    One note (pet peeve: “lead” is metal, “led” is past tense for “to lead.”

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      gnashes teeth. thanks!

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    • Persnickety Grammar Guy says:

      Edgar4evar, your grammar correction contains a grammatical error.

      What I really came here to say: Seeing Morse with a 0.162 projected ISO is surprising to me, when I consider how hard I often see him hit the ol’ pelota.

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  8. legendaryan says:

    That 3-4 difference at constant temp is the key. Ball trajectory varies in places like Seattle. You can assume that the ball leaves bats with relatively the same trajectory- regardless of the environment. But that difference in distance menas that while in flight, the ball is being acted upon by the environment. Balls get knocked down in places like Seattle/SF/Oak.

    I think the league will learn that bring in the fences in an environment like Seattle, will not help the offense. San Francisco/Oak compares most with Seattle in terms of temp, humid and elevation and yet, the Giants/As play with an enormous OF.

    The M’s will learn that by shrinking their OF area, they are going to take away more collective hits, than they will get back with HRs.

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    • legendaryan says:

      It doesn’t help that Seattle’s “open air” ball park is open on the OF side.

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      • Evan says:

        …Are there are ballparks open on the home plate side?

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      • Basil Ganglia says:

        It doesn’t help that Seattle’s “open air” ball park is open on the OF side.

        Yes – as I posted above.

        I also think the slope of the left field bleachers exacerbates the situation. Normally, when air moves up and over a vertical wall, there is a wake zone in the lee of the wall in which the air coming over the wall immediately sinks and enters a kind of eddy zone immediately adjacent to the base of the wall. The bleachers in cross section are a wedge, with the slope of the wedge on the lee side. I think this prevents an ordinary wake from forming – the wind goes over the wall and then travels down to field level as a steady air stream aimed directly at the first plan. So the ball isn’t just going into a horizontal northerly wind that pushes against the flight path; it’s going into a wind that also has a downward plane that is pushing the ball down as well retarding it horizontally.

        Anecdotally, this is consistent with what I and others have observed with fly balls hit to left field. They seem to go normally until they reach the middle of the outfield. Then the balls suddenly slow down and start sinking unusually rapidly. It hasn’t been uncommon at Safeco to see a ball dead in flight at the warning track but with an apogee that was only about fifty feet closer to home plate.

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        • edgar4evar says:

          This makes me want to buy a 3D printer and create a mini-Safeco for wind-tunnel testing.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Don’t balls get “knocked down” in the bay area for the same reason they get “knocked down” at Wrigley Field?

      The Midwest humidity in July/August should also “decrease” home runs, but I’m not sure it actually does to a significant degree.

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    • evo34 says:

      legendaryan, Do you have any evidence that a cold/humid/low environment flattens a ball’s trajectory so much that moving fences in won’t help hitting? Of course you don’t.

      You’re probably also unaware that SF and Oak both have significant prevailing winds heading out, not in — which makes them not at all comparable to Seattle, which has no prevailing wind direction.

      In any case, where is the evidence that moving fences in an any park environment will hurt hitting?

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  9. MakeitRayn says:

    The 4′ of batted ball distance is for balls hit at 400 feet to dead center.
    That 4′ change will decrease on balls hit less than 400′, and it will increase on balls hit greater than 400′; same thing implies for all the conditions Adair mentions.

    It might be better to just compare barometric pressure. This will cover the changes that temp, humidity, and altitude have on the air density–which affects the distance the ball travels.

    1000′ added in altitude is +7 feet added to distance. With Arizona being around 4000′ feet up and Seattle being at 500′, this could make a huge difference.

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    • MakeitRayn says:

      Looks like Phoenix is around 1200′. So a difference of 700′ in elevation would add about 4.9′.

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      • Mike says:

        Safeco Field is at sea-level. It is nowhere near 500 feet in elevation.

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        • Daven says:

          The physical field itself is 2 ft. below sea level according to

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        • Balthazar says:

          So Daven, that makes sense. Street level outside Safeco Field is in the flood plain of the Duwamish, and about four blocks on a straight line from its tidal estuary into the sound. The rise from the estuary to the park can’t be more than 10 fee, and likely isn’t that. However, the estuary itself is not likely ‘at sea level’ since tides in Puget Sound are fairly extreme; rather shore level there is on the order of another 15 feet at least above sea level to exceed ‘king tides.’ So figure a maximum street level of 25 feet above sea level. —However, anyone who’s gone through the turnstiles at Safeco knows that you enter level with the concourse behind the field side seating which descend _at least_ 25 feet to reach the actual surface level of the field. Accordingly, a spec statement of the field as 2 feet below sea level fits very well. Hard to get closer that that.

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      • schneidler says:

        Not a big deal, but Seattle is not at 500′ above sea level. Or at least Safeco isn’t. Let me put it this way. We take a ferry to downtown seattle to go to the game, then walk to the stadium from the ferry. In that walk from the ferry to the stadium we might climb 10 feet in elevation, tops. The playing field can’t be more than 100 feet above sea level, and probably closer to 20 or 30 feet.

        I don’t put any weight in spring training stats, but I thought “Dewan’s Rule” was really interesting. I wouldn’t be surprised if Brendan Ryan and Casper Wells beat their career slugging % this year as well.

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        • MakeitRayn says:

          I just used the average elevation of the cities. Didn’t look into the actual elevation from the sites location. Just wanted to show that difference in elevation affected travel distance.

          Just looked up a topo map and it appears safeco is around 20′ above sea level, and apparently the stadium drops down 25′. So the -2′ someone said above makes sense.

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    • Jonas Gumby says:

      Yeah, it looks like Phoenix has been at 4000 feet since the Piacenzian epoch.

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  10. Matt P says:

    How does Safeco Field’s new dimensions affect things?

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  11. Ryan says:

    Just one minor clarification, about the heavy air. Humidity actually makes air less dense and allows balls to travel farther. The difference is negligible when compared to air temperature, however.

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    • craig richards says:

      INtersting but I had heard/read that humidity was a definate factor and that one remedy might be a dehumidifier for the game balls– exact opposite of Denver where they are juiced with a humidifier to try and keep a few of them in the park. Now I am confused…
      Ahh… Go Ms!!!

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  12. maqman says:

    The environmental factors will undoubtedly affect the dinger totals in Seattle but to write off the potential contributions of Morse, Morales, Ibanez and maybe Bay because of a personal opinion that they are past their power peak is not conducive to rational reasoning. Every other team in Arizona is playing in the same environment and the M’s are out-slugging them all. That’s a clue.

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    • majnun says:

      That’s not what he did

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Well for one, it’s not an opinion that they are past their power peaks, that’s a researched finding. But I did take the projections and how that they would be an upgrade, probably just not a huge one. And all the other teams aren’t going home to one of the coldest parks in the league.

      But a huge spring from Ibanez does not mean much to me, no.

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