Justin Smoak audio: [HTML1]
Justin Smoak hit a pair of balls tonight, both of which I thought were home runs. In his first at-bat, Smoak, who was batting right-handed, drove a ball to right-center. He got his arms extended, went with the pitch and did everything he was taught. The ball took off to the right-center gap and died on the warning track in front of the 385 mark.
"I hit that ball well," Smoak said.
The second time up, he ripped a pitch to the left-center gap. I thought it was gone when it left the bat, as did the crowd. Instead, it too was caught at the wall. Brendan Ryan stood on the top step of the dugout and seemed apoplectic with his hands on his head, mouth wide open and just staring.
"That's all I've got," he said.
Smoak singled up in the middle in his next bat. He also appeared to have a double to left, when looped a ball down the line. It was about four inches foul.
"I told the catcher, 'yep, that pretty much sums it up right there,'" Smoak said.
The players don't grumble about the fences. They grumble about how the ball doesn't carry.
"You get frustrated," he said. "You go up there and try and put yourself in the best position to succeed. You crush a ball and it goes nowhere."
It isn't constant complaining. Smoak and all the other players try to be diplomatic as much as possible. But you can tell its in their head a little.
Now a few quick thoughts ....
This isn't my blog or my beat anymore, but the whole situation of the fences and moving them in is something I'm familiar with having listened to the debate for a while now. So why not pound out a few thoughts and then disappear for a few days.
As a whole, I'm relatively indifferent to the subject. Since I'm not a fan of the team, I don't really have any passion one way or the other. But closer fences might mean more offense, which means more entertaining games. You can only appreciate good pitching for so long. Realistically, I do think the current set up puts the Mariners at a competitive disadvantage. I think it would be better for the team and the organization moving forward to move them in a little.
Of course, this arguments leads to debate filled with misnomers, myths, opinions, falsehoods that are kind of annoying.
1. When Albert Pujols or some other player hits a few home runs at Safeco, invariably you hear, "Well, it doesn't seem to affect Albert Pujols."
Really? It doesn't seem to affect one of the greatest right-handed hitters in our generation? Name a park that affects Pujols. Guys like Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Jose Bautista aren't affected by Safeco cause they have titanic power. Name one player on the Mariners that even has that sort of power potential. Even when he was with the Rangers and going to play in hitter-friendly Arlington, Smoak was never considered a 40-homer a season guy. Montero has power. But the guys above are different level. How many teams have guys like that? And of those that do, they usually only have one.
So don't give me the exception when making your point about someone hitting a home run. Yes, Albert Pujols hit a home run. The Mariners don't have Albert Pujols. They probably won't for some time. Why? Because players like him don't come around every day.
Even then, check out this homer
Pujols scalds that pitch. And you'll notice that he stops admiring it and takes off running because he's watching the ball not carry like it should and realizes, "Damn, I just crushed that ball and for some reason it might not get out of he park. I better start running."
2. Well, since Safeco is such a vast expanse there should be a lot more doubles and triples. That's a way to score runs.
Triples? Have you seen Smoak or Jesus Montero run? Montero singled off the wall in left field tonight. All kidding aside, Safeco had 18 triples last season, while that cavernous ballpark known as Fenway Park had 30. Safeco was 14th in MLB with doubles. Part of the idea of an extra base hit is that the ball must driven past the normal fielding range of the defenders to generate the extra base. The problem with Safeco is that the ball does not carry well, making it difficult for it travel past that range. So a ball driven into the gap that has a fair amount of air under it hangs up there. Instead of one-hopping the wall of the warning track. It stays up long enough for an outfielder to make a play on the ball. For an outfield like the Angels with Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells, that extra space just gives them more room to run and track down a ball.
So if the ball doesn't carry does it matter if the fences are moved in? Well, yes and no. The ball still won't carry because of the marine air. Yes, it matters. The wall gets there sooner so a ball that is driven still has a slightly improved chance of going over it or hitting it with the shorter distance. It also forces outfielders to deal with the wall and make plays with the it factoring in.
3. The Mariners strength is pitching so it will cost them wins. Why not play to the strength?
Seems to me the strength hasn't produced to many winning seasons. The best pitching in the world still needs run support. And you can ask any pitcher on that team if they would allow a few more homers on the chance that they would get a few more runs in support per game, and they would all say yes. If the Mariners pitchers is as good as some claim, then they can navigate a smaller home field.
I don't know if moving the fences in will solve the Mariners problems. But I do know that it affects the players mindset. On a cold gray day early, they know the ball isn't carry. Smoak said the players expect that on night games with the roof open that the ball isn't going to carry well. That wears on hitters. What you don't want to happen is for Smoak, who had two really good swings and drove two balls that would be homers in most other parks, to start overcompensating and doing something to his swing or approach to generate a little more power to get it over the fence. That's where bad habits begin.
Remember the series in Texas? Players love hitting in Texas. Why? Well it isn't for the moderate conditions. That place is three degrees cooler than the sun. But with the warm weather and the slight wind, they know the ball carries. More importantly, they know if they keep a good approach, get a good pitch and hit the ball squarely, they will be rewarded more often than not. That's not the case at Safeco. Just ask Smoak.
Some bullet points
- Yes, it affects free agency. Players know it's death valley for right-handers. And players like Adrian Beltre aren't afraid to make it known. It's not sabotaging the Mariners. It's the truth.
- The ball does carry better in warm weather. So that will help for about 14 games this summer - if summer ever actually gets here.
- The ball carries better during day games. It's the warm weather thing. But baseball for the most part is played at night. It's a money thing.
- Remember when the architects of Safeco Field mentioning how a mammoth shot to left could possibly fly out of the stadium? Yeah, neither do they.
- I believe the number of guys in affliction t-shirts with faux hawks in the centerfield beer garden also has a negative affect on the ball carrying as well. It's a problem.
I don't know what the answer is to the problem. I don't see what moving in the fences closer in left and left center would do. Would it make the Mariners an offensive juggernaut? No. Would the Mariners pitchers be shell shocked from the extra homers? No. It would make the park play a little more fair. It would makes game more entertaining. It would likely get out of the Mariners' hitters heads.