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Pitchers Who Changed Scenes - Preseason Risers and Fallers


Several impact hitters switched teams for 2019, but other than Patrick Corbin, not so many pitchers, especially as we await the fates of Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel. And, if Milwaukee signs Kimbrel in light of Corey Knebel's elbow, it shouldn't be that different an experience for his shareholders than Boston was last season given that both teams are contenders in hitters' parks.

Park and run support matter, but there is at least one factor that matters a lot more for pitchers changing teams than for hitters: defense, specifically the one that lines up behind them. It's a bit more complicated adjusting a pitcher's value for a new team than it is a hitter, but you can do it.

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

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Cody Allen (RP, LAA)

Moved from: Cleveland Indians to Los Angeles Angels

Had Allen been a free agent after 2017 instead of '18, he might have been that offseason's Kimbrel. However, Allen lost his closing job in a very frustrating 2018 campaign that still saw him save 27 games despite a 4.70 ERA. Oddly enough, this probably helped him sign quicker than Kimbrel by keeping his price down. The erstwhile Red Sox fireman seems to be taking a stand against the price he's being offered in this MLB job market. Allen, however, was probably happy to go to a team that would still let him close games at a decent salary.

Were Allen still in Cleveland, he would likely be facing matchups or a setup role for Brad Hand. Instead, he's got the closer role out of the gate, and it's his to lose, but if 2018 turns out to be a blip, he should be productive. Unfortunately, the Angels aren't the best team in the league, so it's not the perfect place for saves, but then again, a better team would be more likely to have a settled bullpen that did not necessarily need a guy like Allen.

Allen is one example of a change of scene where the effect is fairly obvious: after only posting two saves in his last September with Cleveland, he is already a closer again. For some other pitchers, it's a little more complicated.

 

Blake Parker (RP, MIN)

Moved from: Los Angeles Angels to Minnesota Twins

Parker, of course, used to have Allen's job of closer for the Angels. With less of a track record than Allen, Parker ended up unable to find a closing job this offseason. However, Minnesota is a pretty good place for him to get a shot at some saves. The team isn't very good while reliever Trevor May is, but Parker has more value than he might for a real contender. He's still pretty much a waiver wire option, but he'd have essentially no value if he were still on an Angels team that signed Allen anyway, so his change of scene mattered in that way.

Another problem for Parker, however, is that Minnesota's defense last year was subpar, with a -21.3 Def on FanGraphs, compared to the Angels' third-ranked 30.6 mark. But for a relief pitcher whose sample size is unlikely to exceed 50 innings, that matters a little less than for starting pitchers.

That's enough about relievers.

 

Dallas Keuchel (SP, FA)

Moved from: Houston Astros to who-knows-where

No, we don't even know where he's signing yet! However, Houston would be a solid place to stay. It's somewhat friendly to pitchers, and that lineup should produce wins for an inning eater like Keuchel. Although he only went 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA last year, Lance McCullers was 10-6 with a 3.86 ERA in 76 fewer innings; you're always playing the odds with the pitcher wins stat, and Houston pitchers have good chances of winning each game. Several contenders--New York (AL), Milwaukee, Philadelphia--could offer similar lineup support to Houston, but in worse parks. He might not want to go to Philadelphia in particular, which not only plays in a bandbox but also had the fifth-worst defense last year per FanGraphs, and since added Bryce Harper's -14.4 UZR.

Keuchel may even not end up with a change of scenery at all, but if he does, it will be difficult for him to find a better combination of team and park for his fantasy value than Houston. Consider any move a slight hit to his value. And, of course, the longer he goes unsigned, the less time he will have to prove valuable as well.

 

Charlie Morton (SP, TB)

Moved from: Houston Astros to Tampa Bay Rays

Let's end with a starter who does have a new team already. Morton will be one of Tampa Bay's three starting pitchers along with Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow, with two out of five games featuring their now-infamous "opener" strategy.

Tropicana Field always leans towards pitchers and should continue to do so, which is good news for Morton. Less good, of course, is losing Bregman, Altuve, Springer, Correa, etc. for run support. Other than Tommy Pham, the Rays offense mostly consists of the unspectacular or the unproven. And, of course, he goes from a division with few contenders to one with perhaps the two best teams in baseball, albeit also the worst. In terms of defense, Tampa Bay in 2018 was slightly but not significantly worse (-24.4 in FanGraphs Def vs. -14.5 for Houston, which amounts to a run every 16 games, or two runs over 32 starts).

So while Tampa Bay may hit Morton a bit in the wins column, he should be pretty close to the same pitcher otherwise, and can be valued as a solid starter as his Steamer-projected 3.58 FIP would attest.

 

Conclusion

As with hitters, a pitcher's team's quality and ballpark will affect output. Pitchers have the additional factor of the defense behind them. There's also the defense in front of them; one factor not touched on above is pitch framing, so if you want to get really deep in the weeds, make sure a pitcher's new catcher(s) do or don't have extreme framing skills that could affect the numbers. Also, how teams utilize their bullpen matters for relievers; Allen, for example, gets to enjoy a pen with a clear closer role.

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