In a bid to get out of the cellar in runs scored in the American League and team wOBA in all of baseball, the Mariners made another move to bolster their offense. This time they acquired Michael Morse, star of one of my favorite baseball plays in recent memory. Seriously, please watch this if you never have, it’s AMAZING. Anyhow, Morse leaves behind a home ballpark that had a pretty neutral reputation to one that killed right-handers. But, that ballpark is undergoing changes. Let’s see if we could possibly figure out how the switch will affect Morse.
As usual, below are the relevant park factors for each park. A couple of notes this time, however. First, the strikeout park factors are for right-handed batters since Morse is a righty. Second, the remaining park factors are for both handed hitters because Morse goes to all fields. Third, these are obviously last year’s Safeco Field park factors which are before the changes made to the fence distances for the upcoming season. Here’s a good summary of the changes.
|Ballpark||K||RHB 1B||LHB 1B||RHB HR||LHB HR||RHB Runs||LHB Runs|
|Old Safeco Field*||111||102||97||70||91||78||80|
While it’s certainly possible, the strikeout factor shouldn’t be affected by the closer fences in Safeco. Assuming the impact remains the same, this is a dramatic difference. Morse departs a park that suppresses strikeouts to one that drastically inflates them. Contact isn’t exactly Morse’s strong suit, so this could be problematic. Over his Nationals career, he has posted a K% of 23.8% at home and 24.9% away. That doesn’t mean a whole lot due to sample size issues and the fact that hitters perform better on average at home. But it does match up decently with the park factor. All else equal, more strikeouts mean a lower batting average and fewer home runs.
The singles park factors are fairly similar. However, the changes to Safeco will likely reduce BABIP. Outfielders will be playing closer to the diamond, which will lead to fewer balls dropping in front of them. Also, what used to be a double may very well turn into a home run, which suddenly becomes a non-ball in play and doesn’t affect BABIP. What isn’t included above though is doubles and triples, both of which were suppressed greatly at Safeco field. That likely factored into the BABIP dampening effect the park had overall. Pre-FanGraphs Jeff Sullivan tried to figure out what was causing the horrific BABIP the Mariners were posting at home and was at a loss. So at best, this park switch is neutral for Morse’s BABIP, and at worse, this is going to hurt him. He sports a career .344 BABIP, which has allowed him to contribute positively in batting average, but he may be at risk of continuing to earn positive value in the category.
Over the last two seasons, Morse’s home runs have generally come between left-center and right-center. Nationals Park overall was pretty neutral on power. But as we know, Safeco Field has not been. However, the fences are coming in 12 feet in the left-center power alley and 4 feet in the right-center power alley. The change in left-center could be huge for right-handers whose power is primarily in that direction. But Morse won’t benefit as much since he also has great power the other way. We obviously can’t be sure exactly how Safeco will play for power yet, but it will likely still be worse for Morse’s power than Nationals Park was.
Last on the park factors table is overall runs. Nationals Park, as usual, plays relatively neutral. Safeco has been a pitcher’s haven, which we knew. The changes to the fence distances will bring it closer to neutral, but it will probably still play as a pitcher’s park. To what degree, I don’t know. So on the whole, Morse should see a reduction in fantasy value based solely on the park switch, but clearly not as much as he would have had the Mariners not decided to adjust the Safeco dimensions.
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