Seattle Mariners: How will Nelson Cruz handle spacious Safeco?
Nelson Cruz has spent the majority of his career playing in hitter friendly parks, his first eight full seasons in Globe Life Park with the Texas Rangers and last season at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with Baltimore. Now, he takes his bat to one of the most extreme pitcher friendly stadium in the Majors, Safeco Field.
One of my favorite things about the game of baseball is the way no two stadiums are the same. Football fields and basketball courts are the same in every city, but baseball fields vary wildly. The best statistic to compare stadiums is the park factor. The park factor compares offensive performance at home to a neutral park in order to determine how many runs, home runs, doubles, et cetera a park is stealing or adding. A park factor less than one favors pitchers while a park factor greater than one favors hitters.
There are quite a few methods for calculating park factor. The one I am going with here belongs to Tony Blengino who writes for Fangraphs. After the Mariners signed Cruz, Blengino, who once worked in the front office in Seattle, wrote a thorough piece examining how Safeco would affect Nelson Cruz. I highly recommend heading over and reading Blengino’s article if you really want to get into the numbers regarding Cruz and Safeco.
Despite moving the fences closer in 2013, Safeco still plays as one of, if not the most pitcher friendly stadiums in the league. The 2014 park factor for home runs at Safeco was 0.84. That means Safeco yields 16% fewer home runs than a league average stadium. Overall, the dimensions of Safeco should not put a huge damper on Cruz in the home run department. His average home run distance last season was 403.90 feet, so most of his home runs would have gotten out of any stadium. Cruz hit seven line drive home runs last season. Consider those wiped from the books in Seattle.
Blengino’s analysis boiled down to the following conclusion. The Mariners cannot expect 40 home runs from Cruz at any point in his contract. Thirty will be a stretch. He will also see a significant reduction in his batting average. Keep in mind, that Cruz was a .260 hitter for most of his career in Texas, one of the most hitter friendly environments in the league. A batting average above .250 will be a stretch for Cruz in Safeco. The nature of Safeco Field forces the Mariners to overpay to attract hitters, and they definitely did so with Cruz. An extreme pull hitter like Cruz has only one way to go as he ages – down, and that decline will only be hastened by the cavernous outfield of Safeco Field.