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Eliminating Park Factors: Which Hitters Will Benefit Most

As Major League Baseball seeks a way to open the season in early July, one proposal has teams starting or playing the entire season in warm-weather locations (Arizona and Florida) or hub cities. That leaves fantasy managers to re-evaluate hitters whose parks impact their performance and value.

For hitters, it’s primarily a matter of considering which parks impact hitters most significantly. Park factors tend to have an uneven impact on hitters based on handedness, so it’s worth differentiating parks on that basis.

We've already looked at pitchers who may benefit and pitchers who may suffer with home park factors out of the equation. Let's jump into the hitters now.

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Negative Park Factors for Hitters

Below are the three-year averages for those stadiums which hurt hitters the most (100 is a normalized score representing the average ballpark).

TEAM SIDE 2017-2019 HR 2017-2019 R 3 Year Composite HR Weighted Composite
Giants LHB 81.0 91.3 86.2 84.4
Giants RHB 87.3 94.7 91.0 89.8
Marlins RHB 87.3 95.3 91.3 90.0
Pirates RHB 89.0 96.3 92.7 91.4
Marlins LHB 90.7 93.7 92.2 91.7
Cardinals RHB 90.7 95.7 93.2 92.3
Padres LHB 91.3 94.3 92.8 92.3
Athletics LHB 92.7 93.7 93.2 93.0
Royals RHB 90.3 99.7 95.0 93.4
Red Sox LHB 90.7 101.7 96.2 94.3

For fantasy managers familiar with park factors, it’s not a surprise to see Miami and San Francisco at the top of that list. And depending on league size and format, some players like Jose Peraza, Harrison Bader, and Alex Dickerson might become more interesting. That’s particularly true for Dickerson in a universal-DH system.

Park factors might be a reason to bump marginal players deeper in the draft, but which early and mid-round players would benefit the most from a change of scenery?

 

Jorge Soler (OF, KC)

Jorge Soler’s 2019 breakout was the long-expected emergence of a toolsy player who has had fantasy managers drooling for years. Soler improved his plate discipline and took advantage of being on the field for 162 games. However, Kaufman Stadium is one of the most challenging environments for right-handed hitters, and it's worth wondering what Soler would have done if he hadn't been forced to play half his games in Kansas City.

2019 R HR RBI AVG. OBP wOBA
Home 44 21 44 .265 .358 .376
Away 51 27 51 .264 .359 .381

Soler's HR totals clearly reflect the challenge of playing in Kauffman. While Soler leveraged his power by pulling the ball, he suffered from the stadium's deep fence in left-center. The left-center power alley, where Soler hit most of his home runs is 387, 12 feet deeper than the more neutral Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago.

It would be too ambitious to predict a simple 100/54/100 pace from Soler in a neutral environment, but it would make him far more likely to outperform his projections.

 

Adalberto Mondesi (SS, KC)

Like Soler, Mondesi would be freed from the Kaufman’s spacious fences. Mondesi actually pushes most of his home runs to the opposite field, but those still end up between the left-center to right-center. In the last two seasons, 10 of Mondesi’s 23 home runs have been to the deepest parts of Kaufman field, and his spray charts suggest that deep drives are falling to doubles and flyouts on the Kaufman warning track.

Mondesi’s value also benefits from the extra time for his shoulder to heal, and a neutral site would help mitigate concerns about a loss of power after his shoulder surgery. In the preseason, I was particularly concerned that any loss of power would hurt Mondesi’s overall value, but the additional time and a more neutral site would basically guarantee that the mercurial shortstop would provide positive value to owners who drafted him aggressively this season.

 

Mike Yastrzemski (OF, SF)

If I were recommending one hitter on this list, it would be Yastrzemski. Before the season, ATC projected him for 22 HR while playing half his games at Oracle Park. Depending on your methods, the Giants' home stadium suppresses left-handed HR by up to 33%. Take Yastrzemski, give him a neutral park as well as the universal DH, and we might expect more at-bats and a more productive context.

2019 R HR RBI AVG. OBP wOBA
Home 25 8 25 .238 .306 .317
Away 39 13 39 .300 .357 .382

Of all the hitters on this list, the difference in these numbers might be the most representative of the actual difference for the player. That’s because Oracle Park hurts both right-handers and left-handers alike. I

t’s not likely the Giants offense would suddenly rival the Dodgers output, but they would likely jump from being the 28th ranked offense last year to league average. That shift would make Yastrzemski one of the most undervalued assets in fantasy baseball.

 

Matt Olson (1B, OAK)

Olson’s power hasn’t suffered in the last two seasons, but like Soler, he is a power hitter who would be more prodigious in a friendlier ballpark. The low-altitude of the Oakland Coliseum is basically a built-in humidor, and the expansive foul territory turns fly balls into outs.

As a hitter with a 44.6% fly ball rate (13th highest among qualified hitters), Olson is exactly the type of player who would be hurt by the foul territory at the Coliseum. A neutral environment would give him back some of those outs.

2019 R HR RBI AVG. OBP wOBA
Home 31 13 38 .236 .325 .325
Away 42 23 53 .300 .379 .414

The splits here are extreme, and Olson's career numbers indicate that the difference is substantive and enduring: he owns a career .800 OPS at home and .911 away. His ADP at 51 is a little concerning to me, but a better park would move him towards top-40 production.

 

Josh Bell (1B, PIT)

As a righty with a 42.5% pull rate, Josh Bell may have been hurt by PNC park more than any other Pirate. Despite hitting the ball harder and more effectively when he pulled the ball, Bell’s home runs are almost equally distributed around the field. That’s because PNC Park has a cutout that makes part of left-center deeper than straightaway center.

While the rest of the park is relatively small, the left-center power alley is almost designed to suppress right-handed sluggers.

2019 PA R HR RBI AVG. OBP wOBA
Home 291 44 17 52 .254 .361 .369
Away 322 50 20 64 .297 .373 .387

Remember that Bell missed time last season, so the difference in his counting stats is somewhat less pronounced than what the chart above indicates. However, the wOBA difference should suggest the type of improvement we might expect from Bell, and that number would push him up towards Jose Abreu territory of a mid-70s ADP rather than Bell’s current position at 90.

 

Other Notable Players

Peter Alonso (1B) Mets; Alex Verdugo (OF) Red Sox; Trent Grisham (OF) Padres; Ke'Bryan Hayes (3B) Pirates; Bryan Reynolds (LF) Pirates; Buster Posey (C) Giants; Mauricio Dubon (2B) Giants; Hunter Dozier (3B) Royals; Whit Merrifield (2B/OF) Royals

Jonathan Villar and the Miami Marlins: I opted not to include any Marlins on the list above because they are more likely to remain in their home stadium. However, if we knew that the Marlins would be moving out to a park in Arizona, their offensive value would increase dramatically. In particular, Villar, like Mondesi, would jump to near Starling Marte-type value.

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