Leafing Through Pages: Analysis of Sports and Other Topics

03/04/2010

Fantasy Baseball and the Role of Park Factors

Many baseball fantasy leagues rely on daily roster changes (e.g. you set your roster up Monday, then Tuesday) as opposed to a weekly format (e.g. you set your roster for the week on Monday). As a result of this facet, a smart fantasy owner can easily utilize both platoons at a scarce position such as second base, or depend on a player who plays extremely well at home compared to the road or vice versa.

One great thing is that such savvy owners can also get these average players otherwise late in their drafts or off the free agent heap and ride their splits to solid totals.

Paul Konerko will be 34 years old but rides a fairly good split and could be a useful bench role player. Here are his splits over the past 3 seasons, two of which he hit for less than a .260 BA.

2007: .258/.359/.504 with 38 R, 17 HR, 43 RBI, 0 SB at home vs. .260/.343/.477 with 33 R, 14 HR, 47 RBI, 0 SB on the road
2008: .285/.403/.575 with 36 R, 15 HR, 38 RBI, 1 SB at home vs. .204/.295/.331 with 23 R, 7 HR, 24 RBI, 1 SB on the road
2009: .271/.354/.524 with 42 R, 18 HR, 50 RBI, 0 SB at home vs. .282/.352/.454 with 33 R, 10 HR, 38 RBI, 1 SB on the road

You can clearly see that he’s hit more consistently at home and has been incredibly more productive in terms of home runs and runs batted in. Combine that with a similar splits heavy hitter and you could get a 1B worth 30-40 home runs and 70-85 RBI when combined.

Anybody who plays fantasy baseball, however, has heard of the Lima Plan created by Ron Shandler primarily because of Jose Lima’s 1998 season in which he went 16-8 with a 3.70 ERA.

A smart fan will note he went 9-3 with a 3.16 ERA at home but just 7-5 with a 4.33 ERA on the road. That’s where the following players, who can all be had for very cheap, come into proverbial play.

Kevin Slowey is well known for his incredibly low walk rate and solid strikeout rate. He also has gone 22-14 the past 2 seasons, so where’s the rub? It’s all about the splits.

2008: He went 7-4 with a 3.38 ERA and 6.91 K/9 at home vs. a 5-7 record with a 4.52 ERA and 6.97 K/9 on the road.
2009: He went 8-0 with a 4.78 ERA and 6.51 K/9 at home vs. a 2-3 record with a 5.01 ERA and 9.25 K/9 on the road.

He offers a better strikeout rate in road games but at the expense of key stats for pitchers, wins and ERA. He’s 15-4 at home vs. 7-10 on the road and a smart fantasy owner will take the wins and lower ERA everytime.

The key here is to build your squad with capable hitters and then zero in on “average” or even below average starting pitchers where you can rotate based on matchup. As long as your league has no restrictions on moves, you can play mix and match to an easy run.

Other similar pitchers include guys like Paul Maholm. Sure he’s only gone 17-18 the past 2 years but let’s dig much deeper.

2008: 7-2 with a 3.36 ERA and 5.13 K/9 at home vs. 2-7 with a 4.13 ERA and 7.24 K/9 on the road
2009: 4-3 with a 3.50 ERA and 5.39 K/9 at home vs. 4-6 with a 5.54 ERA and 5.66 K/9 on the road

Now if you only started him at home the past 2 years; you’d have gotten a pitcher with 11 W, a very solid ERA, and slightly below average K rate.

Here’s a list of similar pitchers to key in on later in the draft as possible sleepers. Some of these guys struggled total wise last year but still had good splits.
Brian Bannister
2008: 5-8 with a 3.96 ERA and 5.12 K/9 at home
2009: 4-5 with a 4.22 ERA and 5.34 K/9 at home
Chad Billingsley
2008: 10-4 with a 2.95 ERA and 10.06 K/9 at home
2009: 8-6 with a 4.01 ERA and 8.71 K/9 at home
Gavin Floyd
2008: 10-3 with a 3.55 ERA and 7.37 K/9 at home
2009: 6-3 with a 2.47 ERA and 8.80 K/9 at home
Chris Young
2008: 3-3 with a 2.35 ERA and 10.17 K/9 at home
2009: 4-1 with a 2.61 ERA and 7.34 K/9 at home

While I’ve mainly focused on starting pitchers as you can win with quantity over quality, you can also do the same for relief pitchers and closers too.

Leo Nunez was much better on the road in 2009 going 2-1 with a 3.06 ERA and a K/9 of 8.41. Even top tier closers such as Jonathan Papelbon (1.38 ERA in 32.2 IP on the road in 2009) and Ryan Franklin (1.85 ERA in 34 IP at home in 2009) showed splits where they were better at home or on the road.

If you play in a league that supports holds, you can key in on guys like Joe Thatcher who put up a 2.45 ERA and a K/9 of 12.50 at home in 2009 or Tony Sipp who put up a 1.23 ERA and 12.27 K/9 at home in 2009 for Cleveland.

Whether it be a hitter like Paul Konerko, a starting pitcher like Kevin Slowey, or a reliever like Joe Thatcher, a smart fantasy owner will know the park factors that effect his players and his team. He’ll utilize those park factors to his advantage and such rotations can make winning championships much easier than trying to rely on the whole season of an average or below average player.

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