MLB Baseball Column: Draft Strategy
With the Hot Stove comes a bunch of players in new places, so before you consider adding them to your fantasy team, it's a good idea to think about how they'll be affected by their new home parks. Fortunately, park factors aim to account for that.
In a nutshell, a stadium with a park factor above 100 means that is regarded as a hitter-friendly environment while a park factor below 100 indicates a pitcher-friendly environment. It's dangerous to put too much stock in one year of data for a park, since we're only talking about 81 games, so I'm using Baseball Reference's multi-year park factors for the purposes of this column.
While it's true that dimensions play a large in whether a stadium is pitcher-friendly or hitter-friendly, there are other things to consider, such as the playing surface, weather, wind patterns, humidity and the amount of foul territory. These rankings are mostly intended as a rough guide, as things can change depending on something like a player's handedness, so I recommend checking out a website like Stat Corner or picking up the newest Bill James Handbook for more detailed information. But hopefully this will put you on the right track.
If you like what you see here, I'd recommend giving the 2013 Rotoworld Draft Guide a try. We have lots more stuff in there to help you prepare for draft day.
Coors Field (Rockies) - 120
Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (Rangers) - 112
Great American Ballpark (Reds) - 107
Not surprisingly, Coors Field is far and away the most-hitter friendly ballpark in the majors. After trending downward following the introduction of the humidor in 2002, offense has steadily moved back in the other direction in recent seasons. Check out these single-season park factors since 2007: 109, 105, 113, 118, 116, 124.
The Rockies and their opponents combined to score an eye-popping average of 12.5 runs per game at Coors Field last season. Yes, the Rockies' pitching staff was simply dreadful, but consider that they had a 5.97 ERA at home compared to a 4.41 ERA on the road. While that's still not very impressive, it at least shines a light on what can happen with the high altitude, thin air, lack of foul territory and spacious outfield gaps at Coors Field. It's no surprise that Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler hit so much better there than on the road.
Since I last did this column, Rangers Ballpark has surpassed Fenway Park as the American League's most-hitter-friendly venue. Thanks to the dry Texas heat, there's every reason to believe it will continue to favor offense in a big way. I don't think A.J. Pierzynski is a good bet to repeat the 27 homers he hit last year with the White Sox, but he has landed in a pretty good situation from a fantasy perspective.
For the most part, Great American Ballpark has been hitter-friendly since opening its doors in 2003. While lefty sluggers like Jay Bruce have typically thrived there, the Bill James Handbook notes that GAB has been the most favorable ballpark in the majors for right-handed power since 2010. Ryan Ludwick's resurgent 2012 makes more sense through this prism. By the way, with all this offense, Johnny Cueto's 2.78 ERA from last season is all the more impressive.
Chase Field (Diamondbacks) - 106
Fenway Park (Red Sox) - 106
U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox) - 106
It wasn't too long ago that the Diamondbacks discussed ways to make Chase Field more neutral, including installing a humidor like at Coors Field, but any such plans were put on the backburner after Kevin Towers took over as general manager. Meanwhile, the park has continued to be a haven for hitters, especially from the right side of the plate. With that in mind, I like Cody Ross' chances of coming close to the power production he showed with the Red Sox last season. However, I'm expecting an uptick in ERA for Brandon McCarthy now that he'll no longer be making half of his starts in the spacious O.co Coliseum.
While Fenway Park usually skews hitter-friendly, the 37-foot tall Green Monster prevents many would-be home runs. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as they often result in plenty of doubles and triples. The narrow foul territory also gives a distinct advantage to hitters. It's reasonable to expect bounce-back seasons this year from the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew if their health cooperates, but Ryan Dempster is going to have a tough time coming close to his 3.38 ERA from last season.
U.S. Cellular Field doesn't provide as big of an advantage offensively as Coors Field, but the Bill James Handbook notes that the two stadiums have been the best environment for home runs over the past three seasons. This is especially true for right-handed batters. Speaking of righty bats, Tyler Flowers is enough of a power threat to be relevant in two-catcher mixed formats this season, even though he's a batting average risk.
Comerica Park (Tigers) - 104
Miller Park (Brewers) - 104
Yankee Stadium (Yankees) - 103
Comerica Park was known as an extreme pitcher's park when it first opened in 2000, but it has gradually trended to favor offense since the team moved in the left field fence in 2003. While it's still in the middle of the pack from a home run perspective, the spacious outfield makes it one of the most triple-friendly ballparks in the game. Austin Jackson has 10, 11 and 10 respectively over the past three seasons and fantasy owners should expect him to be in double-digits again in 2013.
You might be surprised to learn that more home runs were hit at Miller Park last season than in any other National League park. There were 230 in all, or an average of 2.84 per game. That's a lot of souvenirs. Shaun Marcum's fly ball tendencies were a poor fit over the past two seasons, as he had a 4.69 ERA at home compared to an excellent 2.67 ERA on the road. If healthy, he could prove to be a nice value with the Mets.
Miller Park is a perfect lead-in to Yankee Stadium, which was the most homer-happy park in the majors last season. 232 were deposited over the fence, an average of 2.85 per game. There haven't been fewer than 209 homers hit in any season since the stadium first opened in 2009. Thanks to the jet stream in right field, the short porch has become a favorite target for Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson, for better or worse. The newly-signed Travis Hafner should like it there, assuming he can stay off the disabled list.
Rogers Centre (Blue Jays) - 103
Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Orioles) - 102
Citizens Bank Park (Phillies) - 102
Rogers Centre had a brief run as a pitcher's park in the late-aughts, but it has trended back to hitter-friendly over the past three seasons. While it's a symmetrical ballpark, it has continued to be a more favorable environment for right-handed power. The Blue Jays made plenty of high-profile additions over the winter, but the biggest question is how R.A. Dickey will adjust to life in the American League East. The prospect of a knuckleballer making half of his starts in a climate-controlled dome is appealing, but a repeat of his 8.9 K/9 is unlikely since he's in the tougher league. He should still be plenty valuable in all formats, though.
Camden Yards started out as a hitter-friendly ballpark when it opened in 1992, then teetered between neutral to somewhat pitcher-friendly from 1996-2006, but it has favored offense again over the past few years. While it's only 318 feet down the right field line, the power alley in left-center also makes for a cozy landing spot. It would be nice if Orioles' closer Jim Johnson missed some more bats, but his ability to keep the ball on the ground and in the ballpark serves him well here.
Citizens Bank Park has the reputation of a bandbox, likely due to the power exploits in the early days of the park and the impressive Phillies' lineups during their recent run of dominant in the NL East, but it has actually played closer to neutral over the past few years. While it's still an excellent environment for left-handed power, the Bill James Handbook notes that it has been below average for right-handed batters over the past three seasons. Let's just say that I'm not expecting a bounce-back season from Michael Young in 2013.
Turner Field (Braves) - 102
Nationals Park (Nationals) - 100
Kauffman Stadium (Royals) - 100
Now we're getting into more neutral parks. Turner Field has traditionally played pretty fair, but it has slightly favored hitters over the past couple of seasons. However, the Bill James Handbook notes that it has been in the bottom-third in the NL over the past three seasons for right-handed power, which is worth noting with the newly-acquired Justin Upton leaving Chase Field behind. I still think he's worth a second-round pick in standard mixed leagues, though.
Another NL East venue, Nationals Park has consistently played close to neutral since its inaugural season in 2008, though there is a slight advantage for right-handed power. It doesn't favor pitchers as much as Angel Stadium, but Dan Haren's strikeout rate should get a nice boost thanks to the league switch. Of course, health is the big key with him.
Kauffman Stadium is a below average power park from both sides of the plate, but its spacious outfield leads to plenty of doubles and triples. While it's not as pitcher-friendly as Tropicana Field, at least James Shields won't have to face AL East foes like the Yankees and Red Sox as often.
Marlins Park (Marlins) - 100
Minute Maid Park (Astros) - 99
Wrigley Field (Cubs) - 98
We only have one year of data with the taxpayer-funded Marlins Park, so we'll need more time to see how it truly plays, but its huge dimensions were frustrating for hitters in 2012. ESPN's Park Factors had it as the fifth-most difficult place to homer in last season while the Bill James Handbook had it as the second-most difficult. Fortunately for fantasy owners, Giancarlo Stanton could hit it out of the Grand Canyon.
Minute Maid Park still has the perception as a hitter-friendly park, mostly due to the Crawford Boxes in left field, but it has trended from neutral to slightly pitcher-friendly in recent years. Unfortunately, I don't see the Astros scoring enough runs to make any of their starting pitchers a worthwhile addition in standard mixed leagues.
You might be surprised to see Wrigley Field this low, but it has fluctuated from pitcher-friendly to hitter-friendly during its history. After favoring offense for almost a decade, it has played somewhat pitcher-friendly over the past couple of years. That's an encouraging development for Scott Baker as he tries to reestablish his value following Tommy John surgery.
Busch Stadium (Cardinals) - 98
O.co Coliseum (Athletics) - 97
Target Field (Twins) - 97
Busch Stadium has consistently been slightly-pitcher friendly since opening in 2006. It's close to the league average for left-handed power, but it remains one of the most difficult places for right-handed batters to hit home runs. Interestingly, the Bill James Handbook notes that it has produced the most foul outs of any National League stadium over the past three seasons. That's a nice little bonus for pitchers. If (or when) top prospect Shelby Miller gets a chance, look out.
Speaking of a place with lots of foul territory, O.co Coliseum checks in next on our list. Given the stadium's history, I was bit skeptical when it was a neutral park two years ago, but sure enough, it has trended back to pitcher-friendly. This is the toughest place in the AL for lefty power and not much better for righties. Of course, that didn't bother Yoenis Cespedes last year, as he had 10 homers and a .924 OPS in Oakland.
We now have three years of data at Target Field, and while it was 12th in home runs allowed in 2012, it has mostly played pitcher-friendly. It continues to suppress power from the left side, but right-handed hitters have fared much better, especially last season. It's also been above the league average in producing hits, doubles, triples and walks. Trevor Plouffe and Darin Mastroianni may turn out to be nice values in the later rounds of fantasy drafts.
Citi Field (Mets) - 96
Dodger Stadium (Dodgers) - 96
Tropicana Field (Rays) - 94
After Citi Field averaged a major-league low 1.43 home runs per game from 2009-2011, the Mets made some changes last offseason by lowering the left field wall from 16 feet to eight feet and bringing in the right-center field fence by 17 feet and the left-center field fence by 13 feet. It made a difference from a power perspective, as 155 homers (or 1.91 per game) were hit there last year, including 46 which wouldn't have been home runs in the previous three years of the stadium. This resulted in four extra homers for David Wright. However, offense was down overall, potentially because the decreased surface area in the outfield led to easier outs. Of course, we may need a couple more years to see if it was just an aberration. But it's worth watching.
Dodger Stadium was slightly-hitter friendly for a blip 2006 and 2007, but the pitchers have regained the edge in recent seasons. Doubles and triples are hard to come by, but this is actually an above-average environment for home runs. This is especially true with left-handed batters, so I'm optimistic for a power rebound from Adrian Gonzalez in 2013. The deep-pocketed Dodgers did about $100 million worth of renovations during the offseason, during which they added about six feet of extra foul territory in front of the dugouts, so this can only be good news for pitchers.
Few parks have limited offense more than Tropicana Field in recent seasons. While it appears conducive to power down the lines, it hasn't worked out that way for hitters from either side of the plate. At least recently, anyway. It also has an expansive stretch of foul territory in the outfield, which comes in handy for pitchers. In fact, the Bill James Handbook notes that Tropicana Field has been the best environment for foul outs over the past three seasons. With those factors in mind, I like Matt Moore and Alex Cobb to both take steps forward this season while Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi might make for interesting fliers in deeper formats.
Progressive Field (Indians) - 93
PNC Park (Pirates) - 93
PETCO Park (Padres) - 92
Progressive Field had a single-season park factor of 105 back in 2007, but it has become increasingly pitcher-friendly in recent seasons. This is one of the most difficult venues in the majors for right-handed power, in part due to the 19-foot high "Little Green Monster" in left field. However, it actually is above-average for left-handed power, so the switch-hitting Nick Swisher might not have as rough a transition as some are expecting.
We saw A.J. Burnett benefit greatly last season with the move back to the National League and the pitcher-friendly PNC Park. While the deal isn't done quite yet, the Pirates are hoping they'll have similar luck with Francisco Liriano. It's not a bad idea, as PNC Park limits homers and is especially favorable for left-handed pitchers. It might not matter much if Liriano continues to miss the strike zone, but assuming he eventually signs on with Pittsburgh, he's someone I would consider as a late-round flier.
PETCO Park has been just as pitcher-friendly as ever since I last did this column in 2011, but it's going to have a new look this season. The Padres are in the process of altering the dimensions of the stadium, most notably in right field, where the fence will be moved in 11 feet and lowered to eight feet. Left-center field will also get a makeover, as it will be moved in from 402 feet to 390 feet. Perhaps PETCO Park won't be death to left-handed batters anymore, which is a positive development for the likes of Yonder Alonso and Will Venable, but the heavy marine air will likely keep the park from straying too far from its roots.
Angel Stadium of Anaheim (Angels) - 92
Safeco Field (Mariners) - 90
AT&T Park (Giants) - 88
It wasn't too long ago that "The Big A" slightly favored offense, but check out these single-season park factors since 2007: 105, 100,102, 94, 93, 91. 161 home runs were hit at Angel Stadium last year, which was 14th-most in the majors, so it might be surprising to learn that it actually suppresses home runs. This is especially true with left-handed batters, which is why I'm thinking Josh Hamilton will miss playing half of his games at the Ballpark in Arlington.
Long known as the American League's most-pitcher friendly venue, Safeco Field will also look a little bit different in 2013. The Mariners announced in October that they were changing the dimensions, most notably in the left-center field power alley area, where the fence will be as much as 17 feet closer. The 16-foot-high hand-operated scoreboard down the left-field line will also be moved back, which means the outfield wall will be eight-feet high all around the stadium. The alterations could result in fewer doubles and triples, but it should be seen as a positive for someone like Jesus Montero, who hit just .227 with six homers and a .337 slugging percentage at home last year.
And now we have reached the end of our journey. AT&T Park has taken an interesting path over the years, as it began as pitcher-friendly park when it opened as Pacific Bell Park in 2000, then trended from neutral to slightly-hitter friendly as recently as 2009. However, it has limited offense ever since. There's not much foul territory, so it plays close to fair for singles and doubles, but the Bill James Handbook notes that it has been the toughest home run park in the majors since 2010. Only 84 were hit there last year, 25 fewer than even PETCO Park.
While AT&T Park only measures 309 feet down the right field line, that's balanced out by a 24-foot high wall. Right-center field quickly extends out to 421 feet, so it's a particularly tough venue for left-handed batters. Throw in the cool temperatures and unpredictable winds and it's just not the ideal place for offense. Those expecting a sudden power breakout from Brandon Belt might be disappointed, but Tim Lincecum makes sense as a potential bounce-back candidate.
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