Every fantasy team has holes, and every fantasy team is relatively weak in at least one or two categories. Usually, when we decide to fill those holes depends on how our team is playing, what the standings look like, how close we are to the trading deadline, how close we are to the end of the season, how desperate the other teams are, and other things of that nature. This year, however, there appears to be one more consideration, at least when it comes to acquiring power.
I’ve been talking with HitTracker’s Greg Rybarczyk for a week or two now, and I believe it was first brought up publicly at THT Live with discussion continuing at The Book Blog through this weekend. To recap, Greg has discovered that the baseball appears to be “juiced” this year. Balls are being hit farther than in past years (even after neutralizing the impacts of weather), and some balls that aren’t even hit particularly well are clearing the fence. Several announcers have commented on this during games and our own Eriq Gardner made note of it at his personal blog the other day, but Greg has run some very interesting tests on this effect.
It’s still early in the season, and there are some possible biases (i.e. selection bias in which parks have been played in most), but Greg’s tests show that the likelihood of this being random is quite low and that home runs are going at least an extra five feet farther than they would have last season. If you’re interested in the details, check out that Book Blog link, but be warned: It can get a little hairy.
What does this mean for fantasy owners? Well, it means that owners who went hitter-heavy in their drafts and auctions should expect an extra boost. It also means that now is an excellent time to buy on power hitters before more people start realizing what’s happening.
If a hitter who used to be a true 16 HR hitter is now a true 20 HR hitter in the 2009 playing environment, it makes far more sense to buy him now while everyone else is valuing him as a 16 HR hitter. In addition, bringing in a concept from last week’s FAAB article, by acquiring him now (as opposed to in a couple months) you’ll reap more of the benefits.
In my e-mail conversations with Greg, he proposed that it would be most efficient to acquire 15-20 home run hitters as opposed to the big boppers:
It’s primarily a cost per HR thing—the super sluggers are very expensive, and the middle guys are more common, and thus cheaper. Not playing fantasy baseball myself, I can’t say for sure, but it seems likely that you could grab an extra five homers more cheaply by upgrading a small to a medium than by upgrading a medium to a large.
As I am a fantasy player, I think Greg is pretty spot on. What’s the difference to Adam Dunn‘s owner if he hits 40 home runs or 45? Not much, but the difference between 15 and 20 for Johnny Damon or Billy Butler would be more significant (not in terms of actual value, note, but rather in terms of perceived value).
So you know who some of my favorite targets are right now? The unlucky tHR hitters I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. The same caveats still apply, but if people view Carlos Gomez as a 7 HR hitter, yet it turns out that he’s actually the 13 HR hitter that tHR thought he was last year, and now we tack on another three or four homers, you’ve suddenly found yourself a legitimate power source for a bargain basement price.
Greg also brought up another compelling reason to buy these moderate power hitters:
One other thing that is little more than conjecture on my part, but I think a lot of hitters who know they are not sluggers try to keep the ball down somewhat, knowing that they usually can’t get the ball out. Once they figure out the ball is hot (and the players will know this very soon, and I’ll bet some suspect it already), those guys will be more willing to hit for the fences, and their HR production will rise proportionally more (who knows what it might do to their OBP, though). Sluggers already just swing for the fences, so they can’t make any behavioral change like this. But of course, I’m stepping away from cold analysis into subjective guessing here, so feel free to disregard.
This will be very interesting to track throughout the year to see if any players seem to be changing their approach once they realize what’s going on.
New Yankee Stadium
While we’re on the subject of power, the current happenings at New Yankee Stadium must also be brought up. Accuweather posted a very informative article on Monday that talks about how the new stadium’s wind patterns might be increasing home runs. Definitely check out the article because it’s short and there are a couple of pictures that illustrate what’s going on. The article went on to say:
If the stadium seating tier shape is indeed the issue, games will only be affected during times when the winds are from a westerly direction and above 10 mph. This typically occurs during the spring and the middle to late fall. The calmer weather during the summer should lead to a smaller number of home runs. In the meantime, the home run derby may continue.
Greg said that it’s possible we might also see the effects on warm night games in July and August, so I guess we’ll have to see what happens. It’ll be very interesting, in the short term, to see if these effects continue. (For those in daily leagues, this is especially noteworthy—Alex Zelvin, you better add this to your spreadsheet!)
So, if after a few more games this looks like it might be a legitimate trend, think about buying some Yankees.
As always, feel free to comment or e-mail me if you have any questions.