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Hitters Who Changed Scenes - Preseason Risers and Fallers


The constant and inevitable churn of players and teams continued this offseason, as it does being "constant" and all. A change of scenery having an effect in and of itself is a bit cliche and probably inaccurate, but changing parks and changing teammates will certainly have its effect on a player's stat line.

One player for whom the cliche may apply this year is Yasiel Puig, who never quite fit in with the Dodgers. But even for him, the ballpark matters a great deal; as fellow writer David Emerick states in his outlook for Puig, "trade to Cincinnati was probably a best-case scenario for both Puig and his fantasy value."

Below are three other hitters whose new teams are bound to change their fantasy value one way or the other.

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Daniel Murphy (1B/2B, COL)

Old Team: Washington Nationals, New Team: Colorado Rockies

The run the Phillies made to acquire J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, and Bryce Harper makes all of them better assets because they will feed off each other for runs and RBI, plus all of them, but Realmuto especially, have made it to a better home ballpark than they spent most of their careers in to this point. (Which is not to mention the effect a majorly upgraded lineup could have on the win counts for Aaron Nola and the rest of the Philadelphia rotation.) So that's too easy.

Instead, let's look at Daniel Murphy as an example of a player going to a hitter's park. Some players, like Ian Desmond, go to Colorado and it makes little difference.

Murphy, however, seems like almost a perfect fit for Coors. He rarely strikes out, with an 11.4% clip last season, 10.3% since 2015, and 11.9% for his career. And when he does hit the ball, he hits it high, with a 16.3 average launch angle last season. Not to pick on Desmond, but he's quite the opposite, with a 23.6 K% and literally 0.0 average launch angle last season. Being former Nationals middle infielders now in Colorado is about the end of these two players' similarities. Murphy hits the ball often and high, giving him more opportunities to take advantage of Coors than many players in today's MLB would get.

It should be noted that Murphy, who turns 34 on April 1, has been gradually losing exit velocity, from an average of 90.6 mph in 2016 to 89.6 in 2017 to 87.6 mph last season. But he hasn't lost his knack for making contact, giving him more chances for ball-in-play success now that he is at baseball's best hitters' park. If he looks anything like his self from the 2015 playoffs through 2017, he could be in for a huge season. Coors also helps protect his floor (as does the Rockies' penchant for letting their veterans, such as Desmond or Carlos Gonzalez, play through struggles). Overall, Steamer's projection of a .307 average with 22 home runs is very fair.

 

Manny Machado (3B/SS, SD)

Old Team: Los Angeles Dodgers, New Team: San Diego Padres

Petco is not Coors, although neither park is quite as extreme as it used to be. The prize of San Diego's offseason also spent the back end of last season with the Dodgers. Los Angeles provided him with a better lineup but worse ballpark than Baltimore in 2018. Last year, based on ESPN's park effects, Camden Yards was a top-10 home run park, but only ranked 18th as a run environment. That still out-rated Dodger Stadium, which ranked 26th for scoring runs. Petco Park, oddly, was better than either for scoring runs, but worse for home runs. Ultimately, Machado's move to San Diego may have less of an impact on his offense than expected, but that depends on Petco continuing to overcome its pitchers' park reputation. In 2017, only Minute Maid Park repressed runs more than Petco. A return to that environment could be a problem for Machado, but the projections don't see an issue, with ZiPS, for example, going for a .281 average with 32 home runs, 97 RBI, and 12 steals.

In terms of the surrounding talent factor, Baltimore was obviously a cesspool last year, while the Dodgers won a second consecutive pennant. San Diego is somewhere in between, but closer to the Dodgers. With Wil Myers, odd-year Eric Hosmer, and Franmil Reyes and Hunter Renfroe taking turns in the top half of the order, and Fernando Tatis Jr. coming at some point, not to mention Luis Urias and Franchy Cordero, the talent there is intriguing. That not only helps Machado, but also Myers and gang. For instance, Reyes, who may bat cleanup, gets more RBI opportunities with Machado than with whomever else the Padres might have put there.

 

Wilson Ramos (C, NYM)

Old Team: Philadelphia Phillies, New Team: New York Mets

Machado may have gone to a worse park (or may not), but Ramos definitely did. Citi Field ranked dead last in 2018 in runs, slightly behind Marlins Park. They were by far the worst parks, too, with 28th-ranked Oakland getting a 0.84 runs factor, compared to 0.747 for Miami and 0.731 for Flushing. Other than an exception in 2016, Citi Field is perennially unfair to hitters. As an example of what the Mets' home park can do to a hitter, Brandon Nimmo finished with a higher wRC+ on a lower wOBA (149 and .385) than Paul Goldschmidt (145 and .390), Nolan Arenado (132 and .391), and Jose Ramirez (146 and .391).

Even Tropicana Field, where Ramos spent roughly 1-1/2 seasons, is significantly kinder to hitters, to say nothing about Citizens Bank where Ramos spent his final months in 2018. He only got 56 plate appearances at Citizens Bank in that stint with the Phillies but hit .380/.446/.500 in those 56 PA.

Catcher is such a barren wasteland that Ramos is still very valuable. Another .300 batting average may be pushing expectations a little too far, however. The projections, which take into account Ramos' .260 average in 2017 but not the fact that he was recovering from an ACL injury, see closer to the .260 range. Splitting the difference at .280 is probably closer to the reality, but he could still have a strong year and not make even that park given the park in Queens. Meanwhile, his home run projections of 14-17 depending on which system you use is probably what you are looking at, although the same ballpark caveats apply and he "only" hit 15 home runs in 111 games last year.

 

Conclusion

Park effects and teammates should be the first things you look at when trying to decide what it will mean for their production. It helps too if a player's new teammates aren't so much better than his old ones that he ends up batting too low in the order. Every player listed above should be a top- or middle-of-the-order hitter, and that will obviously be a better situation than a lesser player who might hit 7th.

Of course, several other players found new teams for the 2019 season. Watching where they hit in the lineup, as well as knowing their team and park well, should be your guide in translating their past value to project their future value.

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