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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

April 19, 2011 at 11:30 AM

Do more people come out to watch Felix Hernandez pitch?

felixsafeco.jpg

(Felix Hernandez waves to the crowd at Safeco Field as he receives his Cy Young award prior to the home opener. Seattle Times photo by John Lok).

The comments in yesterday’s post seemed to be strongly against trading Felix Hernandez, as I suspected.

That got me to thinking about how much of a drawing card Hernandez has become at Safeco Field. Fans obviously revere Hernandez; does that translate into more butts in the seat?

Using last year as a guide — which seemed reasonable considering it was a Cy Young season by Hernandez in the midst of a miserable season by the Mariners — I came to the conclusion, after crunching a lot of numbers, that he is indeed a drawing card. But the boost is not an overwhelming number.

For starters, I looked at the overall attendance figures. Hernandez made 16 of his 34 starts at Safeco Field. Here’s how he fared:

Felix Hernandez in 16 home outings: 440,137 fans (27,508 average)

Mariners total attendance in 81 home dates: 2,085,950 (25,752 average)

Mariners in 65 games not started by Hernandez: 1,645,813 (25,320 average)

Hernandez gain: 2,188 fans per start

So the Mariners got a Hernandez bump of slightly more than 2,000 fans per start. But that could be a little misleading, depending on when he made his starts. I decided to differentiate between games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, which tend to be the biggest draws, and those on weekdays (Monday through Thursday). Here are those breakdowns:

Felix Hernandez in 8 starts on Friday, Saturday, Sunday: 252,156 (31,520 average)

Mariners in 39 dates on Friday, Saturday, Sunday: 1,168,145 (29,952 average)

Mariners in 31 dates on Friday, Saturday, Sunday not started by Hernandez: 915,989 (29,548 average)

Hernandez gain: 1,972 fans per start

Felix Hernandez in 8 starts on weekdays: 187,981 (23,498 average)

Mariners in 42 dates on weekdays: 917,805 (21,853 average)

Mariners in 34 dates on weekdays not started by Hernandez; 729,824 (21,465 average)

Hernandez gain: 2,033 fans per start

It holds pretty steady — about 2,000 more fans per start when Hernandez pitches. One thing I didn’t factor in was various promotions, such as bobbleheads, which obviously can skew the numbers. So can the opponents — the Yankees and Red Sox tend to be huge draws no matter who’s pitching, and last year the Cubs drew very well for an interleague series. But I figured those games would pretty much cancel out with the Royals and Rays of the world.

One other thing I looked at: I figured that if Hernandez is indeed a drawing card, it would have really come into play in August and September, when the Mariners’ season had unraveled. But interestingly, it didn’t work out that way:

Felix Hernandez in 5 starts in August and Sept./Oct: 104,178 (20,944 average)

Mariners in 29 dates in August and Sept./Oct.: 642,017 (22,139 average)

Mariners in 24 dates in August and Sept./Oct not started by Hernandez: 537,299 (22,387)

Hernandez decline: 1,443 fans per start

Note: Hernandez’s starts in August, September and October were Thursday vs. Texas, Tuesday vs. Oakland, Tuesday vs. Angels, Sunday vs. Cleveland and Friday vs. Texas.

Next, I thought it might be instructive to look at another starter, to give someone with whom to compare Hernandez. I picked Jason Vargas, the only other Mariner starter to remain in the rotation the entire season. Conveniently, he, too, made 16 starts at Safeco in 2010:

Jason Vargas in 16 home outings: 395,062 (24,691 average)

Mariners in 65 games not started by Vargas: 1,690,888 (26,013 average)

Vargas decline: 1,322

Hernandez gain over Vargas: 2,817 fans per start

Vargas on weekends averaged 29,906 (1,614 fewer than Felix per night) and on weekdays he averaged 21,563 (1,935 fewer than Felix).

Finally, I took a look at Cliff Lee, who would logically have been the other Mariner pitcher last year fans might have come out to see. Lee, you might recall, was on the disabled list for a month to start the season, and was traded on July 9. That means his sample size for starts at Safeco is even smaller than Hernandez’s — six starts.

In those six starts by Lee, the Mariners drew a total of 168,006, which averages to 28,001 — 493 fans per game more than Hernandez in his 16 starts. In three weekend starts, Lee averaged 33,855, while his starts on weekdays averaged 22,147. It’s hard to draw too much from that, because he was long gone when the Mariners’ crowds started to decline precipitously in August and September.

My conclusion? Hernandez did appear to put some butts in the seats last year — but not as many as you’d expect from the Cy Young winner. And it didn’t seem to help much in the dog days last season of August and September.

Note: I was an English major at Cal. I’m pretty sure the numbers presented above are accurate, but if anyone has a better method of measuring Hernandez’s impact on attendance, I’m all ears.

I’d also be interested in hearing from fans whether they make it a special point to go to games that Hernandez is pitching.

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