2018 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Arizona adopting a humidor, and all Diamondbacks hitters are doomed
The Diamondbacks will store their baseballs in a humidor this season, following in the Rockies' footsteps, but what does it mean for Fantasy Baseball? Scott White says the impact could be significant.
This humidor is nothing to mess around with.
It's a big, crazy deal, and I mean that with complete sincerity. I'm not being sarcastic or ironic or pendantic or caustic. Baseball in Arizona is about to fundamentally change -- and in a way most of us will find none too appealing.
The Diamondbacks have flirted with this idea for a while. They've known they play in an unusually dry environment. They've heard pitchers say it makes the balls harder to grip. They've seen the way the humidor impacts baseball in Colorado, home to what's still considered the best hitter's park. They've run their own numbers, installed their own unit, made their own calibrations and passed MLB inspection. And they're all-in for 2018, the second big-league club to store their baseballs in a different environment than the one they play in, even as CEO Derrick Hall maintains that they're not looking to reduce offense.
"I don't think it really did diminish the offense at Coors Field," he told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM last April.
That was my reaction, too, upon first hearing of these plans last summer. We still view the Rockies' home as a hitter's paradise, and it typically ranks at the top in offensive output. It stands to reason, then, that the humidor didn't have a substantial effect.
But then I read this.
The author, Alan Nathan, is a physics professor at the University of Illinois who has studied the effect of the humidor on home run production since 2011. He knows a heck of a lot more about it than I do and I dare say you do, so check your preconceptions at the door and just read what he has to say.
My takeaway: This humidor is nothing to mess around with.
Basically, home run production has dropped about 25 percent at Coors Field in 16 years with the humidor. We're just forgetting what a complete circus that park was in its first seven years of existence.
Chase Field isn't like that. Hitter-friendly, sure, but not in a different stratosphere from everywhere else, and not even definitively the most hitter-friendly venue. Seeing as starting pitching was the Diamondbacks' strength last season, with Zack Greinke bouncing back and Robbie Ray and Zack Godley breaking out, it's not skewed to the point of being insurmountable, and again, the Diamondbacks' stated intention isn't to change the way the ball plays anyway. They just want a more comfortable grip for their pitchers.
But the unintended consequences of this decision are overwhelming.
The 25 percent decrease we saw at Coors Field is only a starting point, according to Nathan. The air is drier at Chase Field -- about 20 percent humidity vs. the 30 percent at Coors -- which means balls will have to absorb more water to reach the 50 percent humidity prescribed by MLB.
But the environment where they're being used won't have actually changed. The humidor doesn't directly address the issue of dry air. It provides a workaround: If balls travel farther on hard contact, soften the contact. Really, it's the contrast between the ball and the environment that matters most. Introducing humidified baseballs to an arid environment is sort of like introducing waterlogged baseballs to a temperate one. And we've all tried playing with waterlogged baseballs, right? They die on contact.
Fittingly, Nathan estimates that the decrease in home runs at Chase Field might be as much as 50 percent. That could be enough to make it the most pitcher-friendly environment in baseball, beyond even what Giants hitters have had to endure, especially when you consider that Nathan's estimate only takes into account the home runs and not other forms of contact. If exit velocity is dropping, it's dropping across the board. Every sort of hit may be harder to come by.
Why do I say "may?" Well, Chris Towers would like me to point out that other types of hits have actually increased at post-humidor Coors Field. The Rockies have an expansive outfield, so a fly ball that doesn't sail over the fence still has a better-than-average chance of falling for a hit. And it's true to some extent at Chase Field. But with contact being deadened all the more, I'm not confident it'll play out the same way.
I'm not confident in anything except that an honest-to-goodness physicist is telling me baseball in Arizona is about to be turned upside-down. If that's the most reliable information I have to go on, I want no part of it.
So I'm proposing a moratorium on drafting Diamondbacks hitters this year, at least for myself and everyone within earshot. Hopefully it's just for one year. Hopefully the estimates are overblown, we all have a good laugh about it, Diamondbacks pitchers say it's like gripping a hairbrush (or whatever else you'd consider easy to grip), and everything's back to normal next draft season. But the evidence to me is damning, and I don't see the upside to refuting it. This humidor is nothing to mess around with.
The one exception I'll make is Paul Goldschmidt, who has been as studly on the road and makes such high-quality contact that I don't think he'll suffer the full home run deduction at home, whatever percentage it ends up being. But even he's dropping from third to 11th in my rankings, which means if as few people heed the warnings as a suspect will, I'm not getting him.
And A.J. Pollock? Maybe in a situation where I really need another 30 stolen bases, I'll hold my breath and take him -- guys who can provide that are few and far between, after all -- but again, I suspect he'll be long gone before I get to that point.
Really, for any Diamondbacks hitter, there's a point when I'd be willing to take the plunge, but I get the sense from some of the reactions I've gotten on Twitter and elsewhere that I'm coming off as an extremist on this matter. Here's a slightly milder take from Derek Carty of ESPN:
So assuming no one is downgrading these players like I am, the worst-case scenario for my moratorium is that I bypass a few hitters who are more or less as good as the ones being drafted around them. Oh noes!
Staying the course on Diamondbacks hitters a high-risk, low-reward move, in my mind. This humidor is nothing to mess around with.
Now, there is another side to this coin -- one Heath Cummings would like me to point out. If Chase Field is about to become an unbearable environment for hitters, it's about to become a dream come true for pitchers. Greinke is suddenly a pillar of safety and security. Ray's hard-contact concerns are effectively neutered, leaving just piles of strikeouts in their wake. Godley may well be ... well, godly.
Personally, I was among the highest in the industry on all three, so moving them up in my rankings may not be possible. But they all certainly feel less risky than they did.
So there's your silver lining. Baseball in Arizona may be reduced to lazy fly balls and tappers back to the mound, your favorite stars sapped of what once made them great. But hey, what do you know? Greinke and Ray really are good!
I just wish the Diamondbacks had kept things the way they were. This humidor is nothing to mess around with.
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