The biggest takeaway regarding the most extreme park factors in baseball is that they usually seem more helpful or harmful than they really are. They become most meaningful when a player’s environment swings dramatically in light of a trade or free-agent move. In other words, going from a park that’s very bad to very good for his handedness in homers.
Handedness is key. Don’t look at parks as one thing. They are different things most often depending on the side of the plate from which you hit. For example, Reds lefties, White Sox lefties, Brewers lefties, Indian lefties — yes, it’s good to be a lefty. But all Phillies and all Yankees benefit from their parks in about the same way.
Other parks crush one side of the plate more than others. Fenway hurts lefty power immensely since 2014, but righties are unaffected. San Diego is really bad for lefties, which is bad news for Eric Hosmer, but remember: Hosmer’s park in Kansas City was not that great, so the effect is somewhat minimized.
Here are some ballpark-related recommendations with most of the data provided by Swish Analytics.
Jake Arrieta’s move to Philadelphia is very problematic. He gave up only four homers at home last year and 19 on the road. That’s not surprising because Wrigley is very forgiving for pitchers facing lefties. That changes dramatically in Philadelphia, with the swing going from minus-18 percent to plus-31 percent. Arrieta could lead the league in homers allowed, and I confidently project a spike from 23 to 30 at a minimum. That’s about 10 more runs. Please don’t draft Arrieta.
Carlos Santana is a switch hitter. But of course most of his at-bats are lefty. So most optimistically, he gets a 10 percent boost for half his games, so maybe one to three more homers. There’s not that much park factor tailwind in drafting Santana.
Jesse Winker is a player I’ve been following a long time in my dynasty formats. Injuries sapped his power in the minors, but scouts graded his power as a plus and he also fared well in some home run derbies. That raw power was on exhibit last year and this spring.
I understand there are playing time concerns, but Winker projects as an elite hitter given his ability to command the strike zone (15 walks and 24 Ks in 137 plate appearances last year; four and four in 46 this spring). While just two of his seven homers last year were at home, Winker should easily get over 20 dingers this year for the Reds, given their park inflates homers for lefties by 20 percent. Expect him to play five out of every six games while mostly hitting leadoff, and for Scott Schebler and Billy Hamilton to battle for at-bats in centerfield.
Yoan Moncada is a switch hitter, but had a superb .212 isolated slugging as a left-handed batter and his home park for the White Sox boosts lefty power by 31 percent. Projections for his power range from about 11 to 20 homers, but I’ll take the over and call it 24 bombs for Moncada because of his very accommodating park.
Christian Yelich is clearly the big park-factor beneficiary in the NL this year. It’s unfortunate he’s set to bat leadoff because the homers will have much less run-producing impact. He’s going from minus-10 percent to plus-20 percent. But depending on the methodology used, the boost in Milwaukee for lefties can top 30 percent. Since Yelich hit 11 road homers last year, let’s give him those plus 15 at home for 26. As a leadoff hitter, he should also steal about 25 bags. Yes, Yelich is going to win people some championships.
Yonder Alonso is viewed as a fluke despite being a very highly drafted player (seventh overall as a first baseman, a position that is generally devalued). But even when you combine Oakland and Seattle, Alonso at best had a neutral homer environment but Cleveland is plus-24 percent for lefties. Yet Alonso’s composite projection is for eight less homers. I understand he slowed down in the second-half, but it was really just a bad August. I’m giving Alonso 25 to 30 homers in his new home. Remember, scouts always expected Alonso to hit homers.
Unless you’re Ted Williams, you’re going to struggle to hit homers as a lefty in Fenway. The park crushes lefty power by 22 percent. Some projections give Andrew Benintendi 20-plus homers and the high is 26. But power is Benintendi’s weakest hitting tool and he’s in the wrong park for it. So where most see a 20-20 season for Benintendi, I see teen-teen.
One of my most strongly felt takes this year is to load up on Astros pitching. Their park is so underrated for crushing runs because the Astros’ offense is so good it masks it. Runs there are depressed by 7 percent, 19 percent and 17 percent the last three seasons. And no one is going to fight you for any of their hurlers. The bullpen is top notch to hold leads and the offense clearly is capable of extending them. Starting pitchers since 2012 have lost about 100 wins league-wide. The average now is about 54 starting pitching wins per MLB team. The Astros last year had 71, behind only the Indians (81), Dodgers (72) and Nationals (72). Yes, take pitchers on teams you expect to win a lot of games. You get three Astros starters and that’s probably six wins ahead of projections, easily three or four standings points.
Quickly a word about the humidor effect in Arizona. After consulting with physicists at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico (this sounds like a joke but it isn’t) and the University of Colorado, and folding their data into home run distance data, my best estimate is a homer decline of 20 to 24 percent in Arizona. This is less than the market projection but obviously still significant.
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