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August 4, 2009

Fantasy Beat

Coping with Swappery

by Marc Normandin

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The trade deadline can be an excellent or terrible day for fantasy owners, depending on how many of your players are moved and where. Maybe you get lucky and your ace pitcher with no run support is dealt to a team with an offense, or maybe a team with a terrible park for pitchers is desperate for an arm and acquires your guy. That was pretty rude of those general managers to swap your guys without your consent, but it's over now, and you need to figure out where to adjust.

Despite an early-season hiccup, Cliff Lee's quest to show the world that 2008 was not a fluke has gone pretty well. His ERA is 3.02, and thanks to solid strikeout rates, fantastic walk rates, and his ability to keep the ball in the park, Lee's adjusted ERA numbers tell us that his performance is for real. While Lee still does not keep the ball on the ground much, he's around his 2008 ground-ball rate, which is to say he's doing a lot more of that than he used to when his numbers didn't look so hot. Going to Philly has its perks-he gets out from in front of the Indians' defense, which ranked 24th in the majors in Defensive Efficiency (68.5 percent of balls in play converted into outs) and is now in front of the ninth-ranked unit on that list (69.8 percent). He also moves to the less difficult league, though into a hitter's park.

Citizen's Bank Park may not be as mean to Lee as it is to some other pitchers. Sure, he's not the ground-ball artist that Roy Halladay is-you may have heard a thing or two about Philly pursuing Halladay over the last few weeks-but he keeps the ball in the park, and that was the central idea to acquiring Toronto's ace. For Citizen's, while offense is overall reduced for right-handed hitters, homers are boosted, and for lefties overall offense is up, mostly thanks to the homers-it's easily one of the four or five homer-friendliest parks in the league for left-handers. That's why Lee is a great fit, though, as he is himself left-handed and hasn't been prone to the long ball the past two years. Lefties have hit one homer off of Lee all season, and are slugging .279; last year those numbers were two and .362. While Jacobs Field slightly reduced homers for lefties, it was neutral against them overall, so that performance is all Cliff Lee's doing. If you were worried the other shoe may drop on his early Philly performances, worry no longer.

Jake Peavy may not be so lucky when he gets back from injury. Peavy is the kind of pitcher that many people keep because he's pretty good on his own, but also has Petco Park on his side. Petco is the hardest park to hit in for both left- and right-handers-it reduces offense by four percentage points more from each side than the second most difficult stadiums in those categories, and a big part of that is homers. It's the toughest park for homers from both sides of the plate, but unlike Fenway (for example), where doubles are increased at the expense of homers, Petco just taketh without any giveth in return. Peavy's new digs are in the top five for homer-friendliest for both lefties and righties, which is a huge swing; throw in the fact he's moving to the AL, and you get the feeling Peavy isn't quite sure what he said yes to yet.

Peavy already gives up his share of homers on the road-he gave up 13 in 75 2/3 innings against four in 98 at home last year, and even when he was on, the split was apparent (eight in 98 road innings against five in 125 home in 2007). If his base rate for homers allowed is over one per nine-or well over, as his road numbers from 2008 suggest-then The Cell is going to be a nightmare for him, especially when you factor in how well lefties hit the right-handed Peavy even with Petco in play (.248/.316/.406 from 2006-2008, and .276/.355/.442 this year). If you were holding on to Peavy for a keeper league or for a boost at season's end, you may want to deal him now before less savvy owners know just how significant a problem the long ball will be.

Pac Bell is a strange park for right-handers, as it's neutral despite its propensity for triples. Homers don't happen there often, and doubles are very slightly up-there are few parks in the league that can touch its triples boost though, as even the expansive Coors is well behind it. The good news for Freddy Sanchez is that it's a better park for right-handed hitters than PNC Park in Pittsburgh was, so he may see one of his best seasons improve over these last two months. Sanchez is a line-drive hitter who doesn't walk or strike out often-his success relies on how high his batting average is, thanks to the low on-base rate. He does have some pop though (.146 ISO this year, and .120 for his career) which mostly comes from his ability to hit doubles. While PNC and Pac Bell are similar in terms of doubles, you may see Sanchez pick up a few more triples; at worst, expect him to be a similar hitter, which is still pretty good for a second baseman. It's a shame he didn't move to a team with a better offense, as some additional runs or RBI would have made him a more valuable option, but that's why the Giants had to go out and acquire him in the first place.

Scott Rolen was having himself a bit of a resurgence thanks to his liner rate this year, as it boosted his BABIP, which in turn brought up his batting average. The Jays capitalized on that value and dealt him to the Reds in exchange for the struggling (but younger) Edwin Encarnacion. Rolen isn't the source of homers he used to be, though Toronto wasn't the best place for homers from righties either. Happily for Rolen, Great American Ballpark is one of the most homer-friendly parks for right-handed hitters, so he may see a boost these last two months. Let's not forget he's also out of the American League East, which means no more Beckett, Lester, Sabathia, Garza, etc. As for Encarnacion, he was struggling in this ideal situation for Rolen, so expecting him to improve for any statistically-based reason would be odd. The change of scenery may do him some good, but that's not my game, so that's as far as I will comment on that possibility.

Victor Martinez is easily one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball, as his .293 EqA with Cleveland put him 42 points ahead of the average at the position; he's good enough that he's even a bit above the average first baseman, his second position and the most offensive-focused spot in baseball. He did this all in a park that's pretty neutral for lefties and righties (though it is little better for right-handers). He's now moved to a lineup with a better supporting cast (.268/.351/.447 team line in Boston, .264/.347/.428 in Cleveland, which included Martinez's .291/.372/.469) and to a park that will boost his offense. Fenway is good to hitters of both handedness, which is convenient for the switch-hitting V-Mart. He won't get any help on homers, and may actually lose some, but Martinez' line drives are going to turn into a lot of doubles; from both sides of the plate Fenway boosts doubles by 10 or more percentage points than the next-best park in the majors. That should help out his average and his slugging; for a guy who controls the strike zone and makes as much contact as Martinez does, playing in Fenway is a dream come true for both his numbers and his fantasy owners. With a club option for 2010 that pays just $7 million, you can expect him in a Red Sox uniform next year too; that's something to keep in mind in keeper leagues, especially after you watch him tear up Friendly Fenway.

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