The only thing constant is change. Change itself can be positive or negative, but in the case of a starting pitcher, especially one switching leagues, we need to delve deeper to understand what to expect.
New ballclub, new stadium, new expectations - all can affect a pitcher's value from one season to the next. Let's examine four pitchers who will be switching teams in 2017.
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Four Pitchers on New Teams
Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
The biggest move that came out of the winter meetings involved the Red Sox snagging another left-handed ace. Sale had spent his entire seven-year career with the pale-hosed Sox, finishing in the top six in Cy Young voting for five consecutive years. While that's pretty damn impressive, a change of scenery might actually be a good thing. The south siders were bad enough before they went into full-blown fire sale mode this offseason. Now, Sale joins a championship contender that gave Rick Porcello enough run support (7.6/game) to earn him a Cy Young award and provided 6.6 runs per game to David Price as well.
Although wins are too hard to reliably predict, there is a really good chance Sale maintains his 17-win level from last season, with a 20-win season on the radar. In terms of ballparks, he is leaving a rather pitcher-friendly environment. That doesn't mean we should anticipate big increases in his ratios though. Fenway does allow its share of extra-base hits to right-handed hitters, courtesy of the Green Monster, and ranked fourth in Park Factor for 2016. Much of that damage came from Boston's offense, so don't overreact to that figure. Sale has only made three starts at Fenway in his career, posting a 3.63 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. Those numbers aren't too far ahead of the 3.34 ERA and 1.03 WHIP from last season. Sale is currently the fifth SP being drafted, according to NFBC data. Expectations are as high as ever for Sale and rightfully so.
Jason Hammel, Kansas City Royals
Hammel joins his sixth organization, going from the 2016 World Champs to the 2015 World Champs. Hammel was extremely solid last year, posting a 3.83 ERA en route to winning 15 games. The reality is that he took a small step back from the previous season, especially in the control department. His 4.30 K/BB in 2015 dropped to 2.72. His 2.9 BB/9 mirrored his career average, so don't expect that number to improve by moving back to the American League.
While Hammel has far more experience pitching in the AL, a move to the junior circuit is never good for a pitcher's value. Worse news is that Kauffman Stadium ranked fifth in Ballpark Factor last year - a far cry from the confines of 25th-ranked Wrigley. Hammel's career 5.40 ERA at Kauffman is also one of the worst among all ballparks. He may have taken a later path to developing as a starter, but it appears Hammel's fantasy relevancy may be confined to AL-only leagues for the coming season.
Jaime Garcia, Atlanta Braves
After eight seasons with the Cardinals, Garcia joins the sudden infusion of veterans in Atlanta's starting rotation. He is the type of pitcher who does a lot with a little. Garcia has never surpassed eight K/9 and needs to limit baserunners to be successful. The main issue with him lately has been health. Garcia started 30 games last season, but was limited to 36 Major League starts between 2013-2015.
He isn't switching leagues, but he appears to be heading to a noticeably worse team. The Braves are seemingly all in on making a playoff run as they enter their new ballpark, but they have yet to prove that the blend of young prospects and aging veterans will work. If they still resemble the same team they were in the first half of 2016, the youth movement could take over permanently, making Garcia a possible trade chip. Initially, expect much of the same from Garcia that he's displayed in his career - an ERA just under 4.00 with less appealing control ratios and a ceiling of 13 wins.
Taijuan Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks
Going to Arizona hasn't been the best career move for starting pitchers lately. The D-backs hope that Walker isn't another Shelby Miller, but that remains to be seen. He is going from a pitcher-friendly park in Seattle to the second-best hitter's park in the league. In fact, Chase Field has an even higher HR factor than Coors Field, but is still second to Yankee Stadium in that respect. The long ball has becoming a bigger problem for Walker, as his HR/9 jumped to 1.8 last season. The prospect of seeing him serve up 30+ gopher balls shouldn't inspire fantasy owners.
Ironically, the trade to bring him over also weakened his offensive support. Jean Segura was one of the few bright spots for the Diamondbacks, but he will be in Seattle this season. Walker is being drafted just inside the top 250 overall right now, so he won't cost you much if you think his talent is worth a late round flier. The change of scenery doesn't figure to do him many favors, however, so tread carefully.