Notable Team Changes (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
As in any sport, a baseball player’s worth in fantasy is highly dependent on several factors outside of his control. How does his supporting cast look? How does his home park play? For a hitter, where will he bat in the lineup? For a pitcher, what do the opposing offenses in his division look like?
When projecting a player’s statistics, these and other factors need to be taken into account. Thus, when a player switches teams, fantasy baseball owners should make sure to closely examine his new situation and determine the impact of any move. Here, we’ll examine some players who have moved teams this offseason, and consider whether it has a positive, negative, or neutral effect on their 2020 outlook.
Starling Marte (OF – ARI)
Marte is coming off one of his best seasons, setting career-highs in home runs, runs scored, RBI, and slugging percentage. He now gets the added benefit of leaving the Pirates and PNC Park and moving to the Diamondbacks and Chase Field.
Two factors move the needle up for Marte with this change. The first is an improved supporting cast. Although the Pirates had some intriguing offensive pieces last year, Josh Bell among them, they ranked 20th in the league in runs scored. The Diamondbacks, on the other hand, ranked 11th, and boast a much deeper lineup with Ketel Marte, Eduardo Escobar, David Peralta, and others.
The second is the home park. Although Chase Field is no longer the power haven it once was after the Diamondbacks installed the humidor, it is essentially a neutral park for right-handed hitters. PNC Park, on the other hand, is one of the worst parks for righty hitters and saw the second-fewest homers by righties last year.
Marte is 31 years old, so expecting him to build on his 2019 season might be a bit optimistic. But his change in teams certainly won’t hurt his cause.
Marcell Ozuna (OF – ATL)
Ozuna was going to see a rebound in 2020 anyway, given that his oddly-low .241 batting average in 2019 was largely the product of bad luck. Ozuna had just a .259 BABIP despite increasing both his hard-hit rate and line-drive rate. For many reasons, Ozuna’s 2020 season was going to be prettier than 2019.
But with the move to Atlanta, Ozuna’s stock should only rise further. Not only will he slide into Josh Donaldson’s cleanup spot batting in the middle of a strong order behind Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Freddie Freeman, but he’ll also move to a home stadium (Truist Park) that is far more favorable to hitters than his previous one (Busch Stadium).
And don’t forget that Ozuna accepted a one-year deal in an effort to rebuild his value. Upgrade in lineup + upgrade in home park + motivated player = upgraded fantasy value. #math
Nick Castellanos (OF – CIN)
The impact of Castellanos signing with the Reds depends on whether you view it from his time with the Tigers or his brief stint with the Cubs. If it’s the former, then perhaps no player saw quite as big of an upgrade from his offseason move as did Castellanos.
Even the most casual fantasy owner knows that Great American Ball Park is one of the most hitter-friendly environments in the game. Most notably for Castellanos’ outlook, it’s the fourth most favorable home run park for hitters. And Castellanos should bat in front of Mike Moustakas and (still) on-base machine Joey Votto.
In other words, the move for Castellanos should be an upgrade for the slugger from almost any origin point. But if you’re comparing it to his time with the Tigers, then it’s a massive upgrade.
Comerica Park is notoriously hard on hitters and depressed Castellanos’ home run totals for years. Indeed, Castellanos has hit about a third of his career home runs at Comerica Park, despite playing nearly half his games there. Add to that the weakness of the Detroit lineup throughout the years and nearly any other team would represent an upgrade. The move to a favorable situation in Cincinnati only makes that upgrade more significant.
But if you compare the move to Castellanos’ stint with the Cubs last year, then it’s a less important move, though still one with a positive impact. Castellanos slashed .321/.356/.646 with Chicago and was essentially on pace for a 50-homer season. Expecting growth from that would be silly.
Nevertheless, Castellanos’ time with the Cubs shows his potential in a favorable environment. And all things being equal, Cincinnati should be more favorable to Castellanos’ outlook than Chicago.
Josh Donaldson (3B – MIN)
After rebuilding his value in Atlanta with a one-year contract, Donaldson signed a four-year deal with the Twins this offseason. Although Truist Park is generally thought of as a hitter-friendly environment, the same is true of Target Field, particularly for right-handed hitters. Indeed, park factors actually favor Target Field for home runs and doubles, Donaldson’s specialty.
In the end, Donaldson sees a relatively neutral change in home venue and will continue to bat in the middle of an extremely strong lineup. Feel free to worry about his advancing age. There’s little else to be concerned about.
Anthony Rendon (3B – LAA)
Rendon parlayed the best season of his career into a seven-year, $245 million deal with the Angels. Rendon, who had always been an underrated fantasy asset, took things to another level in 2019, setting career-highs in batting average (.319), home runs (34), runs scored (117), and RBI (126). He hit the ball harder, struck out less, and walked more.
So can fantasy owners expect Rendon to somehow improve upon those numbers? Probably not. But it’s not because of his move to the Angels which, as a whole, is relatively neutral.
Angel Stadium of Anaheim is generally a pitcher-friendly environment, though it plays fairly neutral for home runs for right-handed hitters. Nationals Park, however, is far more giving to hitters, including right-handers, and particularly with home runs.
But with no offense meant to the World Series champions, Rendon will not be batting somewhere in the middle of a lineup between Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, and Justin Upton. Rendon’s RBI and runs scored potential has never been higher than it will be in 2020.
Add it all up and the move for Rendon is neutral overall. He was an elite fantasy option before the move. He’ll continue to be one now.
Dallas Keuchel (SP – CWS)
On the surface, Keuchel’s move from the Braves to the White Sox feels like it should have a negative impact on his 2020 outlook. After all, not only does Keuchel move from the National League to the American League, but he’ll also be pitching his home games at Guaranteed Rate Field, one of the most home-run-friendly parks in baseball.
But there are a few factors that counteract the downgrade in home park and the fact that Keuchel will face a designated hitter, rather than a pitcher. Most significant is that Keuchel will be pitching to Yasmani Grandal, one of the best pitch framers in baseball. Keuchel, who relies on movement and called strikes as much as any pitcher in the game, should benefit from Grandal’s skills more than almost any other pitcher would.
In addition, the NL East wasn’t exactly a cakewalk in terms of opposing offenses, with the Nationals, Phillies, and Mets all in the top half of the league in runs scored. Although a move to the American League is rarely beneficial for a pitcher, the Tigers, and Royals ranked in the bottom seven in runs scored last year.
In other words, there are a fair amount of positives and negatives from the move. Given that Keuchel is more of a matchup-dependent fantasy starter anyway, the overall impact of the move should be negligible.
Gerrit Cole (SP – NYY)
Let’s make it clear – Cole should still be the first starting pitcher taken in fantasy drafts and he’ll still be elite after his move from the Astros to the Yankees. He has probably the best fastball and perhaps the best slider in the game, he’s grown as a pitcher, and he’s as competitive as any player in the game. He’ll have a fantastic season.
But is there a mild downgrade from his move from Houston to New York? Yes. And again, I stress the word mild.
First, with the strength of the Yankees’ bullpen, and the long-term investment they have in their ace, it seems likely that they’ll try to limit his innings somewhat from his previous years. Cole has topped 200 innings in three straight seasons and in four of the last five. With the Yankees signing him to a nine-year deal, there’s little reason to overwork him in his first year, especially given their group of relievers. Fewer innings mean slightly less of an impact and win potential.
Second, Cole will generally spend his time pitching in more hitter-friendly environments. Although Minute Maid Park is on par with Yankee Stadium in terms of fairness to pitchers, Cole will replace the pitcher-friendly environments of the Oakland Coliseum, Angel Stadium of Anaheim, and T-Mobile Park with Fenway Park, Camden Yards, and the Rogers Centre. Cole isn’t great at preventing home runs anyway, so pitching in more hitting-friendly environments could be a detriment.
Finally, Cole will no longer have the benefit of the Astros’ data-mining ways, which help nearly every pitcher who joins their team. Given Cole’s work ethic, he’ll likely be able to take any lessons he learned during his time with Houston and apply them going forward.
In the end, these are all footnotes to the deal. As said, Cole will continue to be elite and should be drafted as the top starting pitcher off the board. But, the move represents a slight downgrade for his value.
Madison Bumgarner (SP – ARI)
Bumgarner moves from the Giants and Oracle Park to the Diamondbacks and Chase Field. And although that’s not quite as big of an impact as it would have been three seasons ago, it still represents a major downgrade for the big lefty.
Bumgarner had an odd 2019. After two injury-plagued seasons, he bounced back to throw 207 2/3 innings, increasing his swinging strike rate to nearly a career-high and seeing velocity gains across the board. And yet, he finished with a 3.90 ERA, by far the highest of his career.
Most important for Bumgarner, however, were his home/away splits:
- Oracle Park: 2.93 ERA, 0.93 WHIP
- Everywhere else: 5.29 ERA, 1.41 WHIP
Bumgarner has always benefited from his home park in San Francisco, the most pitcher-friendly venue in the game. But never to this extent. And although Chase Fields plays as a neutral park overall after the introduction of the humidor, it’s light-years from Oracle Park.
In other words, Bumgarner showed some positive signs in 2019. But the move away from Oracle Park won’t help him continue to build on that.
Jonathan Villar (2B – MIA)
As with Bumgarner, Villar’s change in home park should have a fairly significant impact on his value. Last year, Villar hit 24 home runs for the Orioles, playing his home games in the third-most hitter-friendly park in the game. He’ll now move to Marlins Park, the second-least hitter-friendly park in the game.
That alone would be enough to move the needle downward for Villar. But in addition, he’ll now be batting in front of Miguel Rojas, Brian Anderson, and Corey Dickerson, hardly a murder’s row. Expecting 111 runs scored or 73 RBI again would be overly-optimistic.
Villar will likely continue to pad his stolen base total at every opportunity, particularly with the weakness of the lineup behind him. But the remainder of his counting stats should take a dip with the move to Miami, particularly after he played in all 162 games last year.
Hyun-Jin Ryu (SP – TOR)
Nearly everything that could go right did for Ryu in 2019, such that fantasy owners would have built-in some natural regression in 2020 even had he remained with the Dodgers. Now that he has moved to the Blue Jays and the AL East, however, Ryu may be the biggest loser of the offseason in terms of the impact of a change in team.
To be fair to Ryu, although his 2019 season was dominant, he has been an outstanding starting pitcher when healthy throughout his career. His career 2.98 ERA and 1.16 WHIP are near the top of the leaderboard since his MLB debut in 2013.
But the move to Toronto is unlikely to end well. As we’ve discussed, the move to the American League with its designated hitter is an obvious downgrade for any pitcher, as AL teams averaged about a tenth of a run more per game than NL teams last year. Not only does Ryu land in the American League, but he also lands in the AL East, where he’ll routinely face strong offensive teams like the Yankees and Red Sox and pitch in hitter-friendly environments.
And, of course, that includes his home stadium, the Rogers Centre, which was the most home-run-friendly venue in all of baseball in 2019.
Add it all up and the regression that was likely to come for Ryu should only be magnified with the move.