Scene Change: Four Hitters on New Teams

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No team stays the same from one season to the next. Injuries and retirements, trades and free agency, promotions and demotions. Whatever the reason, scores of players' situations have changed from when we last saw them.

Today, we'll take a look at four hitters who will be donning new uniforms this season - and what that means for their outlook for the 2017 fantasy baseball season.

Editor's note: Be sure to also check out our 2017 fantasy baseball rankings dashboard. It's already loaded up with tons of great rankings articles and draft analysis. Aside from our tiered staff rankings for every position, we also go deep on MLB prospect rankings, impact rookies for 2017, and dynasty/keeper rankings as well. Bookmark the page, and win your drafts.

 

New Year, New Squad, New Men?

Dexter Fowler, St. Louis Cardinals

Fresh off helping the Cubs win a title, Fowler signed with the division rival Cardinals. While he is moving to a more pitcher-friendly park as a result, Fowler actually hit significantly better away from the friendly confines of Wrigley Field last year, posting a .915 OPS on the road. All caveats about the usefulness of home/road splits aside, it’s hard to look at that and consider Fowler to be a product of his environment. He remains a solid bet for 10 – 15 homers, to go along with 15 – 20 stolen bases.

The Cardinals’ lineup is likely to be less productive as a whole than the Cubs’, but Fowler’s on-base skills (and Matt Carpenter hitting behind him) should help him score plenty of runs from the leadoff spot anyway. His excellent plate discipline makes him more attractive in OBP leagues, but even in standard formats, the .268 career hitter won’t kill you in batting average.

 

Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland Indians

Encarnacion was a beast as usual last season, tying his career high with 42 home runs, scoring 99 runs and driving in 127. Given their respective reputations, we might expect E5 moving from Rogers Centre to Progressive Field would be a concern. However, Progressive has actually played friendlier overall than the Blue Jays’ home field the last couple of years, and for right-handed power in particular. How about team context? The Indians also scored more runs than the Jays did last season, without Encarnacion. No worries there, either.

What is a potential red flag, though, is batted ball data. Encarnacion maintained his usual elite exit velocity, but the launch angle on his fly balls increased substantially. This could indicate a loss of bat speed, and given that he just turned 34, that wouldn’t be a shock. Nitpicky? Perhaps, but launch angles tend to remain static year to year, so a change like this is notable. Encarnacion did also run the worst strikeout rate of his career and his pitch values declined on every offspeed pitch.

That said, we are talking about a guy who’s averaged .272-90-39-100-5 over the last five seasons. Even some age-related regression isn’t likely to keep him from being one of the best first base options in fantasy baseball again.

 

Kendrys Morales, Toronto Blue Jays

Morales will replace Encarnacion in the middle of the Jays’ lineup. The veteran rebounded from a terrible 2014 to turn in a couple of useful seasons with the Royals, averaging a .277-73-26-100-0 line. While his production didn’t seem to suffer from it, Kauffamn Stadium has been one of the worst parks for home runs in the last several seasons.

Morales could certainly benefit from Rogers Centre. He also ranked among the league leaders in exit velocity in 2016, suggesting that his surge back to 30 HR territory wasn’t necessarily fluky. The Jays were a significantly better offensive team than the Royals a year ago, and figure to remain so, particularly if Jose Bautista rebounds. Morales only qualifies at first base in Yahoo leagues currently, but has reportedly worked on his defense in preparation for a possible platoon at the cold corner. He’s an afterthought in drafts (174 ADP), but perhaps he shouldn’t be.

 

Logan Forsythe, Los Angeles Dodgers

When the Twins refused to accept Jose De Leon as the sole piece in the return on a Brian Dozier, the Dodgers sent DeLeon to Tampa Bay instead. Minnesota’s loss is Forsythe’s (and his fantasy owners’) gain. While he obviously hasn’t posted the raw numbers that Dozier has, they’re quite similar in many ways. Now, Forsythe will get the chance to show what he can do in a much better lineup. And even though Dodger Stadium isn’t a hitter haven, it’ll probably seem like it to Forsythe after plying his trade in Petco Park and Tropicana Field.

Forsythe also made some encouraging adjustments last season that didn’t immediately translate to his surface stats. Formerly a dead pull hitter, Forsythe hit balls to the opposite field both better and more often. He also hit more home runs than in 2015, despite fewer plate appearances. A 25/10 season with plenty of runs and a passable average seems doable. That’s not Dozier level, but Forsythe is available 200 (!) picks later on average. Take a page from the Dodgers’ playbook and get the discount version.

 

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