-- Bill H., Kirkland, Wash.
Great question, because there is a misperception among many that this is a new issue and simply a Mariners issue. Both those ideas are very wrong. Safeco has been tough on both Seattle and visiting hitters since it opened in mid-1999.
In the 13 full seasons the park has been hosting games, the Mariners have had a higher batting average at home than on the road in only two years (2005 and '08). And they've had more home runs at home in only three of those 13 years ('04, '07 and '11).
This year's current home-road batting average difference of 30 points (.246 on the road compared to .216 at home) is the second-largest margin so far, though Seattle has been gradually raising that home mark as the weather warmed, so we'll see where it winds up. The most drastic difference of 41 points actually came in Safeco's first full season in 2000, when the Mariners hit .289 on the road and .248 at home.
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Even in 2001, when Seattle won 116 games and had the best offense in baseball, it hit 10 points higher on the road and had 11 more road home runs.
As for opponents, they've had their Safeco struggles as well. It's well worth noting that Seattle's pitchers have an even bigger home-road split than the batters this season. Mariners opponents are hitting .225 at Safeco vs. .267 at their own parks, which is a 42-point difference. And indeed, Seattle pitchers have had a lower batting average against at home than on the road for all 13 seasons since Safeco opened.
How do the Mariners fare compared to visiting hitters? Seattle has had a higher batting average than its opponents at Safeco Field in nine of the 13 seasons since it opened. Three of the four seasons in which that didn't happen have come in the last three years, which is probably why this issue has been raised more than before. I think another factor is the MLB-wide decrease in offense over the past 10 years, which has accentuated the low averages and pitching advantage of Safeco.
This season clearly has been one of the toughest for all hitters at Safeco. The Mariners have batted .216 with 44 home runs in their first 72 home games this year, while their opponents have hit .225 with 54 home runs. But in 69 road games, the Mariners are hitting .246 with 78 home runs, and their opponents are batting .267 with 91 home runs.
It really isn't just the Mariners who hit better at other parks, and it certainly isn't just this group of Mariners that have found Safeco to be a tough hitting environment.
How many bats do regulars take on a nine- or 10-day road trip?
-- Paul A., Sun City West, Ariz.
Each hitter has his own bat bag and will bring as many bats as they can fit, which is usually about 10-12 for a typical road trip.
Do you think the Mariners will trade Chone Figgins this offseason?
-- Derek L., Vancouver, Wash.
The difficulty with trading Figgins will still be there this offseason, that being he'll still have one more year at $8 million on his original four-year deal. It seems likely that Figgins and the Mariners will part ways, but I doubt they'll get anything via trade since teams will figure they can just wait until he's released and then sign him to their own deal if there's any interest.
With the September callups now arrived, I'm curious what happened to Anthony Vasquez this year?
-- Ed Q., Kalamazoo, Mich.
Vasquez, as you might recall, started seven games for Seattle at the end of last season and went 1-6 with an 8.90 ERA, while struggling to show the same command that had helped him put together a pretty good Triple-A resume.
This year, the 25-year-old lefty started out with a couple nice starts for Tacoma, but then hit a rough spell and was 5-4 with a 6.53 ERA in 11 outings when he went on the disabled list in June with a shoulder issue.
With the advance in technology and slow-motion cameras, why hasn't MLB followed the NFL in using more instant replay? Surely at least the close plays made at the plate, where the decision is between an out and a run, are important enough to warrant a review?
-- Petras R., Kaunas, Lithuania
Current rules only allow for video review on home run calls, but last year's new Collective Bargaining Agreement allows for potential expansion of the process. Commissioner Bud Selig talked this summer of possibly expanding replay to include trapped balls on diving catches in the outfield, as well as fair-or-foul calls on line drives down the line.
The obvious fear is that too much review would slow down games. And it's important to remember that camera angles can be deceiving, so MLB is studying the camera locations and situations at all 30 parks before proceeding. Personally, I think the human element of umpiring and controversial calls is just part of baseball, and I'm not a fan of opening up a flood of review situations or having games continually stopped to check video monitors.
What do you think the chances are that one of the Mariners' young pitchers will get Rookie of the Year this year? And who do you think has the best shot at consideration for the award?
-- Jeff W., Lacey, Wash.
They might as well start engraving Mike Trout's name on the AL Rookie of the Year Award trophy, as the Angels center fielder has been sensational. But if you're wondering who Seattle's best rookie has been, I'd have to lean toward Hisashi Iwakuma at this point, as he's emerged as a strong member of the rotation in the second half and he's technically a rookie since it's his first year in the Majors at age 31. Lefty reliever Lucas Luetge has also had a very solid season from start to finish as well.