June 20, 2016
The Buyer's Guide
Fantasy owners are used to playing matchups, whether they be based on platoon numbers or individual pitcher-types. It’s all about lineup optimization and accumulating every little advantage that’s possible. However, it’s also about recognizing which “matchups” are actually noteworthy enough to factor into fantasy decisions.
To the best of my knowledge, it’s not commonplace to sit and start offensive players based on home/road games. That is to say, some players benefit from a hitter-friendly ballpark, but it’s rarely a strong enough advantage to make someone a fantasy starter on its own.
Coors Field is different. Of course, Coors Field is different. Using our park factors, Coors Field regularly ranks atop the “Runs Factor” for both right-handers and left-handers, regularly being 15-plus percent higher than the league-average ballpark. It’s what helped make Corey Dickerson more than just a low-average slugger and Nick Hundley fantasy relevant. It’s what helped make DJ LeMahieu the fourth-ranked fantasy second baseman a year ago.
Funny thing: DJ LeMahieu would probably be in Triple-A if he were not in the Rockies organization. This isn’t suggesting that the Rockies retooled his swing or presented him an opportunity when no one else would. Instead, I literally mean that he’s been below replacement level everywhere else, other than Coors Field.
LeMahieu has been absolutely dreadful away from Coors Field. It’s not new, either. He posted a .694 OPS away from Coors in 2015, a .536 OPS away from Coors in 2014, and a .567 OPS away from Coors in 2013. His entire fantasy relevance, not to say anything about his real-life relevance, has been dependent upon his production at home. He’s produced an OPS around .780-.800 in the past few years and is up to an incredible (and, yes, unsustainable) 1.074 OPS this season.
And this isn’t something restricted to LeMahieu. The aforementioned Nick Hundley hit .355/.393/.563 at home last year and a paltry .237/.275/.355 elsewhere. Corey Dickerson hit .395/.446/.697 at home and .257/.272/.453 in away games. If we fast forward to this year, the newly acquired Gerardo Parra is hitting .310/.325/.513 at Coors and .223/.229/.346 in all the other major-league ballparks.
I’m not pretending that I have answers as to why this is the case. It’s obviously altitude-related, but why is Gerardo Parra—a guy who has clearly found offensive success elsewhere in the past—suddenly inept on the road in 2016? Is it just luck? Is this somehow mental, in that guys get so used to the video-game atmosphere in Denver that they press too hard elsewhere? Does this get magnified when the player isn’t otherwise very good?
The above questions are interesting, no doubt, and deserve further exploration. For fantasy owners, though, it appears that we should be asking another question: Is it time to sit mid-tier Rockies players when they’re playing on the road, regardless of the opponent? For guys like DJ LeMahieu, the evidence seems to suggest that it’s overwhelmingly worth it.
Coors Field can’t help but continue to be one of the most gimmicky ballparks in Major League Baseball. It is what it is. For the baseball fan who wants to see home runs and runs scored, it’s a dream. For fringe major leaguers who are hoping to carve out a big-league role of some kind, like LeMahieu, it’s also a dream.
Fantasy owners just need to know what they’re doing.
BUYER’S ADVICE: HOLD
Selling LeMahieu isn’t the answer to this home-road riddle. He offers top-five production at second base when he’s playing at Coors Field. That should absolutely be exploited; however, what this does tell us is that LeMahieu owners need to invest in a quality reserve second baseman, one who can competently be employed when the Rockies are on the road. It doesn’t matter where they’re going on the road, either, I’m fully advocating a true road-home split for LeMahieu owners. I’m also not too fussy who the replacement is, either, as it’s almost assuredly better than what the 27-year-old does away from the altitude.