By: Jonathan Piening
Baseball is the one sport where all field dimensions are not created equal. Knowing which ballparks are better for offense (and bad for pitchers) and vice versa is a very important key to success in daily fantasy. Ballpark factors are certainly not the be all end all, but if you aren’t paying attention to where the game is being played you’re going to be at a big disadvantage. I’m not going to break it down ballpark by ballpark (that information is out there) but instead give some high level thoughts when it comes to selecting players based off of where the game is being played.
Each player is going to get about half of their at bats at their home ballpark, so wherever that may be will establish that player‘s baseline price. For example, Orlando Arcia is playing half of his games at Miller Park which is a great hitter’s park. After a home stand, Arica will generally go on the road priced up (assuming he hit a couple of HR). Corey Seager is in the opposite situation. Dodger Stadium is not a great hitters park (especially at night). After a home stand, Seager likely won’t be accumulating many power stats so you can expect him to be priced down when he goes on the road.
When players leave their home parks they’ll experience a park shift, which will either be positive or negative. In sticking with our examples, say the Brewers head to St. Louis. Arcia will experience a negative parkshift going from Miller Park to Busch Stadium. If the Dodgers head to Arizona, Seager will experience a positive park shift going from Dodger Stadium to Chase Field. These are the opportunities you want to take advantage of in the daily game. Recency bias is one of the larger drivers of ownership percentages. Assuming pitching matchups are equal, most people will see that Arcia is coming off of a nice couple of games and will use him despite him shifting to a bad ballpark for power. I’d rather side with Seager, who despite maybe not hitting a HR in his last 6 games at Dodger Stadium is experiencing a positive bump in ballpark. Long story short, target players with suppressed prices that are experiencing positive ballpark shifts while being leery of players priced up that are experiencing negative ballpark shifts.
Ballparks effect pitchers as well. Much of the same principles apply that I just mentioned. You’ll want to target pitchers in, wait for it, pitchers parks. Elite pitchers can dominate no matter where they pitch so sometimes you can gain an edge by using them in some of the better hitter’s parks. Your middle of the rotation starters are where you’ll really want to focus on the environment they are pitching in because it truly can be the deciding factor if they have a good start or not.
Power isn’t the only effect ballparks have on the game. Believe it or not, strikeouts can also be effected. For example, O.co Coliseum in Oakland is known as a pitchers park, which when it comes to power, holds true. However, due to the large amount of foul ground, it suppresses strikeouts. A foul ball that would normally land 5 rows up in other parks will be caught in Oakland for an out. While outs are certainly good, strikeouts are king when it comes to pitchers. Coors Field also suppresses strikeouts but for a different reason. Breaking balls do not have the sharpness due to the altitude so on top of it being hitter’s paradise, you can take more chances on guys who struggle with contact knowing they have a better shot of putting the ball in play.
To illustrate the effect park factors can have on the game let’s look back at last year’s A.L. MVP, Josh Donaldson. Donaldson has been one of my favorite players in baseball over the last several years. He played in Oakland 2 full seasons before heading to Toronto last year and put up some impressive numbers while in Oakland. The AL West is one of the worst divisions in baseball when it comes to hitter’s parks. Oakland, LA, and Seattle are 3 of the worst parks in the league for power while Texas and Houston are favorable. Now he goes to Toronto and plays in the best division in baseball for hitters. NY, Boston, and Baltimore are 3 of the best hitter’s parks in baseball with only Tampa Bay being a bad park for hitters. Not to mention the launching pad that is the Rogers Centre where he played half of his games. Not surprisingly, Donaldson saw a huge uptick in offensive production. Not to take anything away from his outstanding season, but the ballparks where he played in 2015 certainly played at least some factor in his uptick in production.
So who, if anybody, will be this year’s Josh Donaldson? Which players can you take advantage of their valued price tag because of where they play their home games? Corey Dickerson (when on the road in the AL East) and Jeff Samardzija (when at home) are two guys that are jumping off the page at me that I will be targeting early in the season before their prices get to where they will be come July. Finding others like them on new teams will be key to early season success. Keeping positive/negative park shifts in mind throughout the year will be a key for season long success.