October 18, 2001: The Seattle Mariners fall to the New York Yankees in Game 2 of the ALCS at Safeco Field. At the time, no one knew it would be the last MLB postseason game played in Seattle for 20 years and counting. But that could change very soon.

The Mariners are close to securing a postseason berth for the first time since that ill-fated 2001 ALCS. Not only that, Seattle remains in contention to host a three-game Wild Card series at the since-renamed T-Mobile Park. It’s a joyous time to be a baseball fan in the Pacific Northwest. Still, a measure of indecision has crept into my mind.

Would the Mariners be better off playing the Wild Card series on the road rather than at home?

Huh?

Home field disadvantage?

Some of you may view my concern over a possible Mariners home field disadvantage as misguided or something Debbie Downer would bring up at a team rally – perhaps both. Still, the numbers tell us Seattle’s bats have been more productive away from T-Mobile Park this season.

M's Home/Away Run Production
RS/G
HR%
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
wOBA
Home
3.8
3.2
.219
.303
.374
.677
.299
Away
4.6
3.2
.236
.322
.399
.720
.317
MLB
4.3
2.9
.243
.312
.395
.707
.310

At home, nearly all of the Mariners’ offensive stats fall conspicuously below MLB averages. The most concerning: runs scored/game (RS/G). Away from the Emerald City, the lineup isn’t gangbusters. But it’s average-ish, which is a notable improvement. One exception; home run percentage is better-than-average regardless of location. We’ll circle back to this point later.

Now, let’s focus on how individual Mariners have performed at T-Mobile Park and on the road this year. The following illustrates each player’s home and road on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) with the delta between their home and away numbers also included.

Home/Away OPS of 2022 M's
Home
Away
Delta
Julio Rodríguez
.874
.820
.054
Ty France
.808
.765
.043
Eugenio Suárez
.823
.799
.024
Abraham Toro
.568
.551
.017
Carlos Santana
.662
.694
-.032
J.P. Crawford
.664
.701
-.037
Adam Frazier
.583
.628
-.045
Jesse Winker
.611
.736
-.110
Dylan Moore
.583
.931
-.348
Cal Raleigh
.552
.961
-.409
MLB OPS
.717
.698
.021
Red = Home field disadvantage

A few hitters are fine at home, while others are in deficit mode. The positive OPS delta of Julio Rodríguez, Eugenio Suárez, and Ty France suggests hitting in Seattle hasn’t affected their productivity. Conversely, regulars J.P. Crawford, Adam Frazier, Jesse Winker, Carlos Santana, and Cal Raleigh are in the red. This indicates they’ve been more successful away from T-Mobile Park.

I know what some of you are thinking. Several of the players just mentioned aren’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard anywhere – Crawford, Frazier, and Winker in particular. Plus, Raleigh didn’t become the regular catcher until May and is still developing as a hitter. Others may note the sample size of individual home/away splits for a season is relatively small.

All reasonable points. So, let’s review the career road and home OPS of several current players with the Mariners for a few years and a select group of recognizable Seattle hitters from the last decade or so.

Career Home/Away OPS of Recognizable M's
Home
Away
Delta
Brad Miller
.714
.700
.014
Ty France
.795
.805
-.010
Jean Segura
.758
.772
-.014
Dustin Ackley
.645
.660
-.015
Robinson Canó
.815
.836
-.021
Mike Zunino
.667
.697
-.030
Mitch Haniger
.779
.841
-.066
Kyle Seager
.728
.800
-.062
Dylan Moore
.664
.735
-.071
Nelson Cruz
.865
.951
-.086
Michael Saunders
.696
.782
-.086
Franklin Gutierrez
.684
.770
-.086
J.P. Crawford
.629
.757
-.128
Justin Smoak
.611
.748
-.137
Red = Home field disadvantage

Once again, we see the vast majority of hitters performing better away from Seattle. There are exceptions though. Brad Miller is the lone Mariner in the black. France, Robinson Canó, and Jean Segura were productive regardless of venue and have a relatively benign split. Nelson Cruz had great numbers at T-Mobile Park, although his -.086 delta was extreme.

On the other hand, Kyle Seager, a Seattle mainstay for a decade, was significantly more productive on the road. Same with old friends Franklin Gutierrez, Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak and current Mariners J.P. Crawford, Mitch Haniger, and Dylan Moore.

Advantageous to pitchers

The numbers keep telling us hitting away from T-Mobile Park is advantageous to the Mariners’ run production effort. But what about the team’s pitching staff? Let’s take a look.

M's Home/Away Pitching Splits
RA/G
ERA
HR%
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
Home
3.5
3.14
3.0
.224
.278
.369
.647
Away
4.0
3.94
3.0
.247
.319
.406
.725
MLB
4.3
3.98
2.9
.243
.312
.395
.707

A pattern similar to what we saw with run production reveals itself. There’s a distinguishable gap between the home and away splits. Unlike the offense, Mariners pitching has been elite at T-Mobile Park. On the road, it more closely resembles MLB averages. That’s necessarily not a bad thing.

BABIP? In this economy?

Suggesting the Mariners’ home isn’t a great place to hit isn’t exactly breaking news. It may not be as challenging to generate runs since the team revised fence dimensions prior to the 2013 season. But Statcast ranks T-Mobile Park’s offensive favorability from 2020 to 2022 as worst in the majors.

Statcast’s Bottom-5 in Park Factors
26. Tropicana Field – 95
27. Busch Stadium – 95
28. Oakland Coliseum – 94
29. Petco Park – 94
30. T-Mobile Park – 91

Note: A 100 park factor is league-average. 

Having said that, it’s important to differentiate between mounting a consistent offense from hitting home runs. As we noted earlier, the long ball has become a strength for the Mariners. Yet, scoring runs generally remains problematic. This suggests to me chronic run production challenges at T-Mobile Park are rooted in batted balls not going over the fence. With this in mind, I turned to BABIP.

Batted Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) represents batting average on balls hit into the field of play. Home runs are not included. 

I generally have no use for BABIP because it’s a hybrid of batting average and therefore doesn’t remove defense from the equation. But in this case, BABIP is an ideal resource for our conversation since it excludes home runs. Also, I feel compelled to mention it’s my wife’s favorite stat. She likes the way “BABIP” sounds.

Using the Baseball Savant search tool, it quickly became evident ground balls hit at T-Mobile Park weren’t an issue. Grounders have a league-average .246 BABIP at Seattle’s home field dating back to 2015. On the other hand, non-home runs hit into the air (fly balls, pop ups, and line drives) have the lowest combined BABIP of any MLB venue dating back to the beginning of the Statcast era in 2015.

Lowest BABIP for Airborne Balls (2015-22)
25. Globe Life Field – .322
26. Yankee Stadium – .322
27. Oakland Coliseum – .321
28. Dodger Stadium – .320
29. Tropicana Field – .315
30. T-Mobile Park -.312

MLB average = .341

Why T-Mobile Park ranks at the bottom is immaterial to our current conversation and something we could delve further into during in the offseason. Maybe it’s field dimensions, marine layer, the fact the park sits 10 feet above sea level, or ghosts from the Kingdome haunting the new place. Whatever the reason, a ball hit into the air in Seattle isn’t as advantageous to hitters as it is in other locations unless it’s a home run.

What does matter is whether playing on the road would benefit the Mariners in a Wild Card series. Let’s expand our view to the home field BABIP on airborne balls for all potential Wild Card hosts. Included is Cleveland’s Progressive Field since the Guardians will be the home team for one of the two series.

BABIP on Airborne Balls (2015-22)
9. Progressive Field – .347
18. Oriole Park at Camden Yards – .334
19. Rogers Centre – .333
29. Tropicana Field – .315
30. – T-Mobile Park – .312

It appears the Mariners’ offense might have an opportunity to be more productive at three of the four alternative venues listed above with the lone exception being Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field.

During our conversation, we’ve established three points. Seattle’s lineup is more productive on the road; the pitching staff performs well regardless of location; T-Mobile Park is one of the least favorable venues for offense (and best for pitching) in MLB. Therefore, it’s plausible the Mariners would have a better shot of advancing to the ALDS by playing the Wild Card round away from home.

Still, there’s a fundamental flaw with such a conclusion.

Baseball is supposed to be fun.

Yeah, but…

There are adult Mariners fans who’ve never felt the excitement of watching their team battle in the postseason. That’s what a decades-long postseason drought does to a fan base. It’s time for this to change.

Sure, it’s possible the Mariners’ lineup would be more dynamic as visitors in the Wild Card round. Then again, this team has won home series against the Guardians, Braves, Yankees, Blue Jays, and Padres. All have either earned a postseason berth or are very close to doing so.

Beyond the Mariners’ success against quality teams at T-Mobile Park this season, the team’s fan base is more than capable of bringing enormous energy to the ballpark. Especially in a postseason environment. Who can forget then-newcomer Jesse Winker describing T-Mobile Park as an “electric factory” in early April?

I can’t. And after 20-plus years of waiting, Mariners fans deserve the opportunity to continue electrifying T-Mobile Park into the postseason.

Even if the offense isn’t as productive at home.

My Oh My…

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins