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December 7, 2012
Resident Fantasy Genius
Valuing Offensive Players in New Homes
On Wednesday, I obliged a reader request to go over the various factors that impact the value of a player who is changing teams. We’re currently in the thick of the free-agent signing period, so this couldn’t have been a more topical request. After receiving a lot of positive feedback on my look at the things that affect a pitcher’s value, I decided to look today at the things that can affect a hitter’s value.
For example, HitTracker’s Greg Rybarczyk showed in an old THT Annual that high-power hitters tend to be affected less by Dodger Stadium than low-power hitters. While the fences are deep all around, its center-field fence is actually relatively shallow compared to other parks, and high-power hitters (who generally hit a bunch of their homers to center) will continue to succeed in that regard while their low-power counterparts see more of their balls die on the left- and right-field warning tracks.
We also need to take into consideration hitter handedness and the park’s platoon splits. Petco, for instance, absolutely destroys lefty power and is merely bad for righty power.
Essentially, every hitter has their own pattern for where they hit home runs in terms of height, distance, and field (not to mention potential mentality and approach changes when facing a daunting field). Because every park has its own unique arrangements and quirks, some will be more suitable for a particular hitter than another. For a good example of this, check out what I said about Ryan Ludwick before last season.
In general terms, an extreme park will make a 20-to-30 percent dent in a hitter’s home-run rate. For an average hitter, that’s works out to four or five extra (or fewer) homers per 650 PA. Of course, as I said, that number can be much higher or much lower depending on exact circumstances.
Of a more qualitative nature, be a little wary of players with injury issues (particularly leg and back) who move to Toronto or Tampa Bay, where home games are played on artificial turf, which is said to aggravate such injuries.
Lineup position is a topic that may deserve a series of articles unto itself, but we can work with some generalities for now. High in order: good. Low in order: bad. The table at right shows MLB average stats, by batting order spot, for the 2012 season (except for the ninth spot, which is American League only). This kind of analysis is a bit simplistic and invokes some selection bias, but it still presents some general guidelines we can follow. The most striking (and probably obvious) observation is that the higher in the order you bat, the more at-bats you’ll accrue. The first two spots in the order score plenty of runs, but they lack in the RBI department because 1) they have poor hitters ahead of them, and 2) those poor hitters don’t come to the plate very often. Once you reach the third-through fifth spot, most of those runs stay intact while RBI skyrocket. After that, it all falls off pretty steadily.
Some implications: The difference between batting first and ninth is over 100 at-bats and 25 runs. This is hugely important for speedsters who, if they’re not batting first or second, generally get plopped into the nine-hole to be a “second leadoff hitter.”
In the National League, that speedster is even worse off, since he’ll bat eighth in front of the pitcher. Most managers are reluctant to let the speedster loose for fear of a making an out (or the last out) with the pitcher up, which can destroy their value. Alcides Escobar, for instance, stole just 10 bases in Milwaukee in 2010 before nabbing 26 and 35 in 2011 and 2012.
Also be sure to keep an eye on middle-of-the-order hitters who aren’t quite good enough to bat cleanup. The fall-off from fifth to sixth is the biggest of all (sequentially), and it’s a very common batting order shift for a batter to make.
Manager Stolen Base Aggressiveness
If we’re trying to put these factors in a loose order, we might come up with something like 1) role, 2) lineup position, 3) manager stolen base aggressiveness, 4) ballpark, 5) position, 6) league. Like I said with pitchers, though, this can change from player to player depending on the circumstances. Also, be sure to pay just as much attention to where the player is coming from as you do to where he’s going. It’s the change that’s really important. It’s great if a hitter is entering Great American Ballpark, but if he’s coming from the Rogers Centre, it may not make much difference.