By the Numbers: Hitters impacted by park factors
Owners would be foolish to not consider the ballparks that their Fantasy players hit in when setting lineups. Al Melchior examines the best and worst hitting environments and who is impacted the most.
With opening day disappearing in the rear view mirror, the focus for Fantasy owners has shifted from roster construction to roster management. While there are still deals and waiver claims to be made, attention has to be paid to those pesky start-or-sit decisions. One variable that should impact those dilemmas is park factors, as your players' productivity can be impacted by the venues in which they will play in any given week
Park factors are measured according to an index in which a score of 100 represents a neutral park favoring neither hitters nor pitchers. When a stadium's park factor equals 100, the frequency of a particular statistic (e.g., runs, batting average, home runs, doubles) is the same for a team and its opponents at home as it is on the road. The proportion by which a stadium decreases or increases output as compared to what is generated in away games is reflected in the park factor.
Though park factors are measured for all types of outcomes, they are especially pronounced for home runs and triples. Home runs are typically more relevant for Fantasy, and in any event, they are far more common, so the discussion of park factors in this column will focus on the long ball. Whether a player's home field is a homer-friendly park or a homer-squelching park can have a substantial impact on his value for the season, and where a player's games are scheduled in a given week can make a difference as to whether to start or sit him.
Given that park factors have an impact on Fantasy production, which stadiums should owners be aware of as they pop up on their players' schedules? While there is no clear delineation between a hitter's park, a neutral park and a pitcher's park, there are some stadiums that fall pretty clearly into the extremes. Using the three-year park factors published in the 2013 Bill James Handbook and the 2012 park factors published on StatCorner.com, we can cull a list of the most- and least-desirable venues for home run hitters. The best parks for homers are those that score an index of at least 120 in either publication. I will include not only those stadiums which have garnered a 120-plus index for all hitters, but also those in that range for just left-handed and right-handed hitters, in comprising a list of hitter-friendly venues. For our pitcher-friendly parks list, I will include all of those with an index of 80 or lower, either for hitters as a whole or for lefties and righties separately.
To illustrate how much park factors can impact a hitter's power production, let's look at the team with the most notorious home run park -- the Rockies. We see that their hitting environment has had an enormous influence. Last season, Colorado hitters collectively ranked ninth in the majors in homers in home games with 100, but away from Coors Field, they ranked just 28th with a total of 66, losing more than a third of their home field homer production.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards is decidedly a home run park as well, but not nearly to the extent that Coors Field is, yet even there, hitters experience a dramatic effect on power. Last season, the Orioles hit 127 homers in their own park, ranking second in home game home runs, but that total dropped to 87 on the road, ranking them just 11th in away games.
Below are all of the teams that have stadiums that qualify as home run parks based on the criteria described above. When you have fringy hitters visiting these venues in a given week, they may be worth an extra look for your active roster. Many of the hitters who play their home games in these stadiums are impacted throughout the season, but which ones are affected the most? Some players hit for enough power so that they don't need the aid of a hitter-friendly park, and others are so prone to hitting grounders or line drives that they don't get much of a benefit. Here are those who are likely enough to get a boost from their home venue that they deserve extra consideration during homestands and less when they are on road trips.
And don't worry ... I didn't forget the pitchers. I will address the impact of park factors on them next week.
White Sox (U.S. Cellular Field): Flyball hitters Gordon Beckham (30 of 49 career homers at home) and Tyler Flowers (10 of 14 career home runs at home) probably get the most benefit from their park. Paul Konerko is close enough to being a borderline start that you might think you should sit him in away games, but he's not the flyball hitter he once was. If he's good enough in your format to start at home, you might as well keep him active in other parks, too. The same goes for Adam Dunn, who was an equal-opportunity crusher last season (23 of 41 homers on the road).
Orioles (Oriole Park at Camden Yards): Manny Machado hasn't profiled as an extreme flyball hitter in his professional career, but he hit all seven of his home runs at home last year. At the very least, owners should monitor his splits this year. Chris Davis (22 of 33 home runs at home in 2012) and J.J. Hardy (15 of 22 home runs at home in 2012) are more flyball-prone, and were much better power producers in home games.
Rockies (Coors Field): Dexter Fowler already has a couple of road homers this year, but with 22 of his 32 career home runs coming at Coors Field, he should have far more value in the weeks where he plays mostly or exclusively at home. Perhaps Josh Rutledge is in the same category, but he has not played enough games with the Rockies for us to get a good sense of how lopsided his splits might be.
Reds (Great American Ball Park): With a lineup loaded with flyball hitters, you might think that several Reds would make for difficult lineup decisions week-by-week. While Todd Frazier, Zack Cozart, Chris Heisey and the injured Ryan Ludwick (shoulder) don't have a history of lopsided splits, ground ball-hitting Brandon Phillips does. Over the last two seasons, only seven of his 36 home runs have come on the road. With so little power away from Cincinnati, owners can consider sitting Phillips when he's on the road.
Brewers (Miller Park): Corey Hart (knee), once he returns from the 60-day disabled list, is worth sitting in shallower leagues when on the road, as 39 of his 56 homers from the last two seasons have been hit at Miller Park. Jonathan Lucroy (19 of 28 career home runs at home) should also be treated differently based on his venue.
Yankees (Yankee Stadium vs. LHB only): Injured Mark Teixeira (wrist) and Curtis Granderson (forearm) hit with enough power to be weekly starts when healthy, but Travis Hafner needs to take a seat when hitting in a neutral or pitcher-friendly stadium for lefties. Of his 38 homers over his last three seasons, just 10 came away from Progressive Field, which is another good stadium for lefty power hitters.
Rangers (Rangers Ballpark at Arlington vs. LHB only): A.J. Pierzynski has not been noted for his power for most of his career, but last season's 27-homer explosion was aided by U.S. Cellular Field, where he launched two-thirds of his long balls. He could get a similar boost in Texas, making him worthy of a start at home, but not on the road.
Indians (Progressive Field vs. LHB only): None of the Indians' current left-handed or switch hitters has shown evidence of being significantly aided by their home park. Perhaps Lonnie Chisenhall will prove to be the exception, so his splits should be watched as the season progresses.
Blue Jays (Rogers Centre vs. RHB only): One would think flyball-happy J.P. Arencibia might be a liability in away games, but he can be started on the road with regularity. Though only 19 of his 46 career homers have come away from Toronto, that still leaves him with a strong enough road résumé to be left active regardless of venue. The rest of the Jays' lineup can be ignored as far as the potential impact of park factors is concerned.
Phillies (Citizens Bank Park vs. LHB only): Domonic Brown's splits may wind up being a non-issue as he settles into a regular role. However, owners should take note that he has hit 10 of his 13 career home runs at home. If that's a pattern that persists, he may need a bench spot when the Phillies take to the road.
While the hitters noted above enjoy greater power when they're in their home parks, there are those who can't wait to get away from home. Their teams play in extreme pitcher's parks that often penalize hitters to a great extent. Here are some of the more notable examples.
Angels (Angel Stadium of Anaheim): Though Mark Trumbo has hit 10 fewer homers at home than on the road over his career, he has enough power to be started every week. On the other hand, Chris Iannetta's power -- whether as a Rockie or as an Angel -- seems to be largely dependent on his hitting environment, so owners need to look at other alternatives when the Angels are at home.
Giants (AT&T Park): Brandon Belt has only 16 home runs in his big league career, so it's premature to make assumptions about his power splits. It's worth noting, though, that in 2011, seven of his nine homers came on the road. If he struggles to hit for power at AT&T Park this season, he may not be an automatic start during homestands.
Marlins (Marlins Park): Unless your name is Giancarlo Stanton, you would expect that Marlins Park is going to have an notable Fantasy impact on any Marlin who is worth rostering. That basically leaves Justin Ruggiano and injured Logan Morrison (knee), both of whom had lopsided power splits in Marlins' Park in its first year.
Athletics (O.co Coliseum vs. LHB only): Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss are the main lefty power threats in the A's lineup, but both put up good power numbers at home last season. O.co Coliseum may only be an issue for visiting players.
Twins (Target Field vs. LHB only): Chris Parmelee has enough power to make him useful in deeper mixed leagues, but he may need to sit in those formats when he plays at home. Only three of his 10 career homers have been hit at Target Field, and given Parmelee's flyball tendencies, that may not be a coincidence.
Red Sox (Fenway Park vs. LHB only): Owners shouldn't be worried about whether or not to start Jacoby Ellsbury, but for what it's worth, he has proven that he can hit for power at Fenway Park. The same is true for switch-hitting Jarrod Saltalamacchia, so he doesn't need to sit when he has a heavy home schedule.
Indians (Progressive Field vs. RHB only): Drew Stubbs has waned as a power source, but he relied heavily on Great American Ball Park for his power when he was a Red, hitting 35 of his 59 home runs at home. He could struggle even more as a home run producer now that he plays his home games at Progressive Field.
Pirates (PNC Park vs. RHB only): Yankee Stadium is a neutral park for right-handed power hitters, but Russell Martin still bashed 13 of last season's 21 homers there. He had fairly even splits in 2011, so it may be a stretch to view Martin as someone to bench when playing at PNC Park. Like others mentioned above, his splits do bear watching this season.
Cardinals (Busch Stadium vs. RHB only): Yadier Molina's 22-homer breakout last year was largely fueled by his road splits, but he still managed to hit nine home runs at Busch Stadium. As you were probably assuming, Molina is safe to start every week, as are the Cardinals' other right-handed power hitters.
Note: The Padres' PETCO Park and the Mariners' Safeco Field would have been included on this list had their dimensions not been changed in the offseason. The right field fences have been brought in 10 feet at PETCO Park, so that may eliminate some of the park's prior lefty-squelching tendencies. Similarly, Safeco Field may now be more inviting to righties with the fences being brought in the most in left center field. Both could still play as pitcher's parks, but it will take time before we know exactly how the changes will impact hitters.
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