It’s a rough time to be a fantasy baseball player, given all the uncertainty surrounding the season. I mean, will we even have a season? And if we do, how long will said season last? And perhaps the most pressing question of all...where would these hypothetical games be played?
The last question is the impetus for this short series. Here is the news that has brought us to this hopeful place:
NEWS: Major League Baseball and the MLBPA are focusing on a plan backed by federal health officials that could have players in training camps by May and games soon thereafter.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) April 7, 2020
Details at ESPN on how MLB may return -- and the difficulty in doing so: https://t.co/zDoNa3k4pm
So what does this mean for fantasy baseball? Honestly, I don’t know. And it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway...there are a host of issues with this scenario. I would never root for baseball just to selfishly have baseball—not if the players were unsafe. I’ll leave the details to people who are (hopefully) smarter than I am. Personally, I think it makes sense to consider June instead of May, given what I’ve seen about when the peak might happen in Arizona. But I’m no scientist, and those projections are ever-changing, anyway.
All that said, if we DO somehow get 2020 baseball games in Arizona, I’d like to be prepared. It seems safe to assume that triple-digit desert heat would be a dramatic upgrade with regard to hitting for many MLB teams. So I figured I would spend some time with the players who call the worst hitting parks home, to see if there are any gems we might unearth in this hypothetical desert landscape of 2020.
Specifically, I’m targeting the parks where it is the hardest to hit a home run, per ESPN’s home run park factor. I’ve scoured the last three years and have a few teams to work through. And if these desert games don’t come to fruition in 2020, at worst I’ll be walking away with a better understanding of home/road splits, which is what I’ll lean on plenty in this space. Maybe it will aid in building some daily fantasy lineups, if we ever get back to that.
As we move forward, bear in mind that a home run park factor of 1.000 is considered average. Anything above is favorable for the hitter, anything below (and the farther below you move) is unfavorable.
The range in 2019 was from 1.317 (TOR) to 0.691 (SF). For reference, 15 of 30 MLB teams were above average, with the 16th-ranked Citi Field coming in right at 1.000. Which makes Oracle Park truly, truly atrocious.
Oracle Park (SFG): 0.615 (30th), 0.752 (29th), 0.691 (30th)
The home of the San Francisco Giants is like the One Ring of terrible parks to hit. It isn’t just bad, it’s an abomination. Major shouts to the Marlins for finishing 30th in 2018—otherwise Oracle would just be the stone cold worst in all three years. Yikes. The Marlins will need to be Part 2 of this series for that last place finish, I think.
Anyway, here are the sad souls who call this place home, along with their ADPs per recent NFBC data:
C Buster Posey, 249
OF Mike Yastrzemski, 321
2B Mauricio Dubon, 413
3B Evan Longoria, 572
1B Brandon Belt, 601
So that gets us through 600 picks. I think it’s a fair stopping point and enough to cover in one sitting. I suppose we’ll start at the top and work our way down...
Buster Posey is pretty much free, based off of an anemic past two years I assume. He’s averaging 110 games and a whopping six home runs over the last two seasons, so it’s tough to argue against his ADP. The case for him begins and ends with health, I think. He enters his age-33 season after a healthy offseason and spring. Given that last year’s concussion and hamstring injuries are behind him, I think last year’s .257 batting average rebounds. And let’s face it, that’s not a bad mark for a catcher, anyway. Last year was his worst offensive MLB season, but Posey’s batting average still ranked 12th among the 30 backstops who saw at least 300 plate appearances last year.
Add in some desert heat with a chance for the ball to fly out of the yard a bit easier, and I’m fine with Posey as a “floor” option for your second catcher spot in 2020. I’d take Danny Jansen (ADP 247) ahead of him given Jansen’s power potential, but Posey makes for a stabilizing sort of play with a little batting average boost if you require two catchers in your format. I’ll bite if the price is right.
Mike Yastrzemski has a nice baseball name, given that his grandpa is Hall-of-Famer Carl Yastrzemski. The younger Yaz could have a nice 2020 as well, possibly batting leadoff for this Giants team. Assuming we enter the desert for 2020, Yastrzemski’s 107-game sample from last year is enticing given the splits:
Home: .238/.306/.452, .214 ISO, .317 wOBA, 8 HR (168 AB)
Away: .300/.357/.571, .271 ISO, .382 wOBA, 13 HR (203 AB)
Yaz silently carried the Giants “offense” in 2019, and he did so pretty steadily. He had one forgettable month of June, but every other month saw him post solid marks across the board. His 7.8% walk rate was a hair below average, but it was also his first MLB stint and he posted double-digit walk rates in his previous two stints at the Triple-A level. He’s never been a prolific basethief, but he does have a sprint speed score in the 65th percentile. So he could possibly chase double-digit swipes (on a full season’s pace) along with showing solid power.
Yastrzemski’s .271 ISO was impressive. For reference, Nolan Arenado’s .269 ISO ranked 15th in the majors last season. It’s tough for me to believe since I didn’t have any shares last year, but Yastrzemski was a legitimate power threat in 2019. He was arguably the best hitter for San Francisco, and I don’t see a roster swimming in talent that will allow the Giants to ignore that fact. If Yaz secures the leadoff spot and is playing in some desert heat, this could be the start of something beautiful. It helps that he can man all three outfield spots and that the rest of the Giants outfield is pretty darn uninspiring. I was already sold on him at his ADP of 320. This hypothetical heat just ups the proverbial ante. And spoiler...Yaz is the real gem on this team. But please, continue reading...what else do you have to do?!?
Mauricio Dubon could play second base. He could play in the outfield. He could spell Brandon Crawford at shortstop. Heck, he even saw time at third base this spring. The Giants can literally play him almost anywhere. And across two levels last season, he managed 24 homers and 13 steals, so there’s some category juice in this guy. It’s possible there’s more than just double-digit steals in him, too. Dubon tore his ACL in 2018, only appearing in 27 games. But prior to that injury, he swiped 38 bags in 2017, 30 in 2016, and 30 in 2015. That’s a whole lot of steals! He’s now another year removed from that ACL, he’s toolsy, he has multiple ways to crack the lineup...what’s not to love? Add in some hypothetical desert heat and you’ve got a smokin’ hot recipe for fantasy baseball success.
Evan Longoria has endured two forgettable seasons as a member of the San Francisco Giants. But there’s some hope. In 2018, he hit .229 with a .107 ISO at home. Yikes. On the road, though, it was a .256 BA and a healthy .218 ISO. Put differently, he had four homers in 214 home at-bats, compared to 12 homers in 266 road at-bats. Longoria’s 6.5% HR/FB rate at home more than doubled on the road, up to 13.6%.
In 2019 it was more of the same. Six home runs at Oracle Park in 234 at-bats, compared to 14 road homers in only 219 at-bats. A .231 BA and .141 ISO at home, compared to a .279 BA and .228 ISO on the road. And overall, Longoria’s hard hit rates are pretty solid. Longoria was in the 63rd percentile for exit velocity and the 62nd for hard hit rate a year ago. This certainly jives with his home/away splits. For instance, in 2019 he basically had the same batted ball profile at home as on the road, with roughly the same amount of fly balls—but the home HR/FB rate was 9.2%, while the road mark was 21.9%. I think if you give this man some desert heat to play in, his power potential could surprise a few people.
Ah, Brandon Belt. The golden boy for the “if he can just get out of San Francisco” argument. So let’s check the career splits, since he’s endured an entire career at Oracle Park.
Belt home: .270/.364/.446, .177 ISO, .351 wOBA, 47 HR (1756 AB)
Belt away: .253/.343/.449, .195 ISO, .341 wOBA, 82 HR (1906 AB)
For his career, Belt has an 8.2% HR/FB rate at home, compared to a 13.9% rate on the road. That was the difference between Adam Eaton (126th) and Yasiel Puig (94th) among 135 qualified hitters in 2019, for reference. And if we just consider isolated power, last year’s examples are Jason Heyward (.177 ISO, 95th of 135) and Jackie Bradley (.196 ISO, 79th of 135). Not super sexy with the Bradley thing, but you get the idea. Belt is definitely showing more power on the road, which should surprise no one given his home environs.
Maybe he’s not going to morph into peak David Ortiz, but first base IS a cesspool. It’s not insane to think a player of Belt’s caliber could make waves in this hypothetical desert of 2020. He has above average contact rates and his eye is very good—he doesn’t chase out of the strike zone and he has above average swing rates inside the zone. He’s not just a passive hitter, either—his 46.0% swing rate is right at last year’s league average mark of 47.0%. So he swings at a normal rate, but he swung 6.5% more in the zone than the MLB average last year (75.0% for Belt compared to 68.5% MLB average).
It’s no surprise that Belt’s 13.5% walk rate ranked inside the top 8% of the MLB last year. And in fact, he hasn’t been below a double-digit walk rate since all the way back in 2014. The man can get on base.
Laslty, I’d love to see more hard contact from Belt, but at least his barrel rates have been in double-digits in every year of the Statcast record—with the lone exception being last year’s 8.7% rate (which was still above average). Look, beggars can’t be choosers at his ADP of frigging 600, okay? And the hard contact bit just depends on where you look. Per Statcast, Belt was 15th percentile in exit velocity and 33rd percentile in hard hit rate last year. But per Fangraphs, I’m looking at a line drive hitter (career 24.9%) who has set career marks in hard contact over the last two years, at 41.5% and 40.9%, respectively. Also, The batted ball breakdown is gorgeous if we are considering the heat—healthy line drive rates accompanied by lots of fly balls (48.7% last year) means not a lot of grounders. If those fly balls are leaving the yard a lot more than they would be in Oracle Park (likely) then Belt could also be a guy who surprises us all.
Conclusion (me ranking these guys arbitrarily based on who I like)
In order of excitement, I’ll rank them Yaz, Dubon, Belt, Longoria, and Posey. It’s tough for me to get all worked up about a catcher. But I love Yaz potentially leading off and I like Dubon’s ability to make his way into the lineup given his defensive versatility. What say you guys? If the MLB is played in the desert in 2020, is there any value to be found here?