Discussing how Coors Field affected Larry Walker’s home/away splits and his tenuous Hall of Fame candidacy made me wonder. Which Seattle Mariners benefited most from playing at home?
To address this question, I separated the franchise’s history into the Kingdome and Safeco Field/T-Mobile Park eras, but omitted the 1999 season when the team used both venues. Home/away OPS and ERA splits will be our comparative stats for hitters and pitchers respectively.
First up, the place where it all began in 1977.
The Mariners’ original home had a reputation for being hitter-friendly. Let’s see which hometown hitters experienced the largest OPS splits while playing in the climate-controlled, indoor venue.
|Ken Griffey Jr.|
Illustrated above are many notable names, including Mariners Hall of Famers and two Cooperstown inductees. On that note, please bear in mind a noticeably better home OPS doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem. A great example of this is Edgar Martinez.
Edgar’s combined .930 road OPS during 1990-98 was fifth best among MLB hitters with over 2,000 away plate appearances. Essentially, he was great everywhere – just a bit better when sleeping in his own bed.
Furthering that thought, appearing on our list doesn’t mean a player possessed a reputation as a strong offensive contributor. As with Edgar, they simply had a markedly improved OPS at the Kingdome compared to the road. That’s it.
As we go along, I’ll cherry-pick names from each category we’re about to review. On deck, the gent with the biggest OPS gap.
Bruce Bochte (1978-82)
We recently noted Bochte was the best Mariner to originate with the Angels. Apparently, the Kingdome suited him well.
Bochte’s tenure with Seattle was the most productive of his 12-year career. In fact, the Santa Clara product’s .290 batting average ranks tenth all-time in Mariners franchise history.
Alvin Davis (1984-91)
Davis was the first great player in franchise history and arguably its best first baseman. “Mr. Mariner” was particularly special when at home.
Although it’s been nearly three decades since Davis played, the former ASU Sun Devil remains in the team’s top-10 for home runs, hits, RBI, and OPS.
Ken Griffey Jr. (1989-99, 2009-10)
There’s a statue of Griffey’s likeness and sweet swing outside T-Mobile Park, but he enjoyed his best moments as a Mariner in the Kingdome.
Griffey wasn’t exactly slacking on the road. His away OPS was second best among Mariners behind only Edgar’s during the Kingdome era. Moreover, Junior’s 29 road home runs during his 1997 AL MVP season tied NL MVP Larry Walker for most in the majors.
Beyond the numbers, the Kid’s most memorable Kingdome moment may be his iconic smile amidst the celebratory bedlam in the Dome following “The Double” in 1995.
Pitchers weren’t necessarily as fortunate as batters in the Kingdome. Yet, there were Mariners hurlers with better stats at home than on the road.
Let’s quickly discuss the pitcher with the biggest Kingdome edge. Then, the Hall of Famer simply known as the “Big Unit.”
Matt Young (1983-86, 1990)
After posting a strong home and road ERA during his rookie campaign with the Mariners, Young experienced the most extreme of splits by any pitcher in our group. In fact, his 3.47 home ERA was a run better than his career total.
Young spent four seasons with the Mariners before a trade sent him to the Dodgers in 1986. The UCLA alum returned to the Emerald City in 1991 and continued his Dome dominance with a 2.69 ERA compared to 4.73 outside Washington.
Randy Johnson (1989-98)
He’s mid-pack on our table, but the best Mariner acquired from the Expos deserves mention.
Johnson threw the first of two Kingdome no-hitters in 1990, which happened to be the first in franchise history too. Rotation-mate Chris Bosio tossed the other no-no in 1993.
Johnson’s Kingdome ERA tops all pitchers with 200-plus innings at the now-extinct facility – next closest is Bryan Clark (3.35).
Safeco Field/T-Mobile Park
As much as Seattle’s old yard had a reputation of helping run production, the new place has proven to be quite the opposite.
Few Mariners hitters have performed noticeably better at the park located at the corner of Edgar & Dave than on the road. For this reason, I’ve illustrated those with the largest negative splits.
Let’s discuss three players. The person topping the list, a current Mariner, and the club’s best power hitter during the Safeco/T-Mobile era.
Mike Cameron (2000-03)
The two-time Gold Glover and All-Star had a great run with the team. Yet, Safeco was kryptonite to his power bat.
Cameron’s home SLG was no higher than .370 for three seasons before jumping to .429 in his final year in Seattle. Despite his Safeco power outage, Cammy remains my wife’s second favorite Mariner behind Edgar.
Mitch Haniger (2017-19)
Haniger’s name routinely appears in stories suggesting the team is listening to trade offers for its Opening Day right fielder. His stats suggest he’s a different hitter at T-Mobile Park.
During Haniger’s All-Star season of 2018, he hit just 10 doubles at home compared to 28 on the road. It’s important to remember the Cal Poly alum has played just 316 games with the Mariners. His splits may evolve through time.
Nelson Cruz (2015-18)
Boomstick was better on the road, but awesome wearing the Mariners home uniform too. His OPS ranks second only to Edgar among hitters with 1,000-plus T-Mobile plate appearances.
Cruz’s 74 home runs in T-Mobile with the Mariners is third best in club history behind Raúl Ibañez (78) and Kyle Seager (77). Furthermore, his 83 career homers at the ballpark matches Raúl for most ever by a visiting or home player.
Fun Fact: Mike Trout has highest OPS (1.109) of any hitter with 200-plus plate appearances at Seattle’s home park.
Of course he does.
Since we’re just having fun, here’s a look at relatively new players with at least 200 total plate appearances this year. Several actually did better at home than the road; the leader of the pack may surprise you.
Please note we’re wading in the small sample-size end of the pool, so I’d avoid putting much stock into the numbers. That said; let’s discuss the three individuals possessing a positive split and currently projected to be in next season’s Opening Day lineup.
Mallex Smith got off to a rough start this year. First, a Spring Training injury delayed his preparation for the regular season. Then came a demotion to Class-AAA Tacoma. Despite the bumpy debut, Smith managed to be average-ish at T-Mobile with a .253 AVG and .327 OBP.
Still, the Floridian must perform better than his overall .227/.300/.335 slash-line. Otherwise, he risks being swept away by the wave of young minor league outfielders likely to begin arriving next season.
The same somewhat applies to Domingo Santana. The Dominican Republic native delivered substantially better production than Smith did regardless of location. However, a season-ending elbow injury and shaky defense clouds his 2020 outlook.
Then again, Domingo’s bat would be tough to replace next year. In the last decade, only seven Mariners have posted a better home OPS than Santana’s .792 mark this season – Cruz, Haniger, Kyle Seager, Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, Kendrys Morales, and the man we’re discussing next.
Now, let’s consider Mariners who seemed to be dramatically better pitchers at T-Mobile Park than on the road. Long-time fans will recognize everyone listed.
Leading off, a familiar face from Mariners TV broadcasts followed by a pair of starters likely to anchor next season’s rotation. We’ll finish with arguably the franchise’s best pitcher.
Ryan Rowland-Smith (2007-10)
The ROOT Sports personality’s 5.67 road ERA is the highest recorded by a Mariner with 130-plus inning away from Safeco Field since the ballpark opened in 1999.
Across the board, Rowland-Smith’s numbers were considerably worse on the road during his four years with Seattle. Although numbers don’t always tell the whole story, Safeco seemed to be a safe haven for the Australian southpaw.
Marco Gonzales (2017-19)
Long balls on road trips appeared to be problematic for Gonzales during his first two full campaigns with Seattle.
Despite the spike in road homers, Gonzales was easily the Mariners’ best pitcher this year. The former Gonzaga Bulldog likely retains that title next season. Moreover, his contributions appear central to the team’s current rebuild plan.
Yusei Kikuchi (2019)
After eight seasons with Nippon Professional Baseball, the very crafty lefty struggled regardless of location during his first MLB season.
It’s important to note Kikuchi lost his father and experienced the birth of a child this year – momentous events for anyone. All of this while living in a new country and adapting to the rigors of an MLB schedule.
Remaining patient with the talented and hardworking 28-year-old is the most reasonable approach entering next season.
Félix Hernández (2005-19)
King Félix may be a free agent, but his 15 seasons with the team make him the most beloved Mariner of this century. Realistically, Félix was great everywhere, especially during his peak seasons.
Félix’s Splits (2007-15)
Then again, some may contend the King’s Court was the best of all home field advantages. After all, Félix did notch strikeouts more often in front of the home crowd.
And who can forget that sunny Seattle day when the King tossed a perfect game?
My Oh My…