This past weekend was a lot of fun. It was the first time I’d experienced the trade deadline while on Twitter and it was about as addicting as your favourite text-sim baseball game (yeah, I’m a huge geek, what?) mixed with crack-cocaine and cans of Coke. Throw in that I was asked to cover the trade for Getting Blanked and I don’t think I left my computer for more than an hour the entire weekend. No, you don’t have a life.
This week for ‘What’s Your Fantasy’ I want to talk about two starting pitchers who were traded this weekend and ask whether or not these pitchers will see a drastic change in their performance based on their new surroundings.
Fister is probably the most unlucky pitcher in baseball. He has been putting up solid numbers all year to the tune of a 3.33 ERA and 3.24 FIP over 21 starts with the Mariners, yet has only three wins and only Baltimore’s Jeremy Guthrie has more losses in the AL than his 12. From a fantasy perspective, his lack of wins along with his inability to put up good strike out numbers makes him pretty much useless unless injuries have ravaged your pitching staff.
Trying to determine if his fantasy value will increase now that he’s a member of the Tigers is difficult. On one hand, he will now be playing for a better team with a much better offense. Fister has received the worst run support in baseball by far as Seattle scored just 3.02 runs per game for him. By comparison, the next closest to him on the list is John Danks in Chicago who has received 3.74 runs per game of support. Improved run support and a better team overall should improve Fister’s win total which does give him more value, but not so fast…
What Fister will gain in the win category, he might lose everywhere else. Safeco Field in Seattle is one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the game; so far in 2011, only AT&T Park, Tropicana Field and Angel Stadium rank as more pitcher-friendly. Fister has pitched decently on the road this year, but has still been much better at home.
Here’s a quick look at some of his home/road splits:
As you can see, the splits aren’t drastic, but they are just enough to cause some concern. It’s clear that Fister does receive some boost from his home park, even if he’s still a decent pitcher on the road. Another factor is his 6.3% HR/FB rate on the road this season, which is probably indicative of luck considering his career road HR/FB rate is 7.7%.
Another major factor is defense. While the Mariners are considered at least an average defensive team, the Tigers are well-below-average by just about every measure.
Overall, the increase in run support, and therefore wins, could be enough to offset the regression he should see by not pitching half of his games in Seattle with a better park and defense, but his career 5.19 K/9 rate and overall lack of dominance probably won’t make him all that valuable. Things may be different in a more SABR-friendly format since he does typically have low walk rates and home run rates, but in a standard league there are plenty of better options out there.
Jimenez’s fantasy value has taken a big hit over the past year or so since his awesome start in 2010, but he’s still a good pitcher. This season with the Rockies he’s posted an unimpressive 4.46 ERA, but does have a 3.55 FIP and a more-than-adequate 2.31 K/BB ratio. But instead of moving into a more hitter-friendly park with a more offensive team like Fister, Jimenez is moving to a more pitcher-friendly park with a more offensively challenged team.
Denver’s Coors Field has the second-highest park factor in baseball behind only Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, while Jacobs Progressive Field in Cleveland is pretty close to neutral so far this year. Jimenez has been much better on the road this season than he has been at home, which would indicate that he’s been knocked down by the Coors Field effect.
But there are three reasons that this could be considered luck. First, the splits are huge. No park factor can explain such a disparity in all of those numbers. Even his strikeout and walk rates are worse at home and it wouldn’t appear that has much to do with the park. Second, his batted-ball average (often an indicator of luck for pitchers) is .358 at home, while just .255 on the road. Not only does Jimenez appear to be terribly unlucky at home, he seems to be very lucky on the road. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Jimenez’s career splits reveal a much different story than his 2011 splits. Here are his career numbers in those same categories:
His career home road splits are very similar indicating once again that he’s been more effected by luck this year than park factors.
The other factor that will most likely effect Jimenez’s performance is his move to the much tougher American League. In Baseball Prospectus’ landmark book Baseball Between the Numbers, the experts used statistical information to estimate the difference in overall skill between the AL and the NL. At the time, they estimated that the AL was significantly better than the NL and had been for years. In the five years since the writing of that book, the gap has tightened a little, but there is still a clear difference. How much of Jimenez’s success is derived from facing anemic offenses like the Giants, Padres, Dodgers, Astros, and Pirates? Even the best offenses in the NL can’t compare to the nightmare that is having to face the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rangers more often, and even the Tigers and White Sox can hit better than most NL teams.
With luck evening out and the change of leagues, we probably shouldn’t expect much of a change in Jimenez’s performance going forward, which means he’s probably not going to magically turn into the stud he was in early 2010, but he’ll give you a decent third or fourth pitcher in deep fantasy leagues.
Overall, I wouldn’t expect either pitcher’s value to change much in the grand scheme of things. Jimenez has a ton more value than Fister just based on his strikeouts and generally higher talent level, but he’s also going to be overvalued overall, whereas Fister may be a tad undervalued. Discuss.