Buy your power now

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.

Fantasy application

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.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Concluding thoughts

As always, feel free to comment or e-mail me if you have any questions.

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13 years ago

In light of this, I was offered a trade of Burrel/Fielder/Kuo for Beltran in an ops league.  Burrell seems like a prime candidate for a boost in hrs that takes him from just above avg to very good (since going from 30 to 35 make him look more Adam Dunn and less Nick Swisher).  Also, he’s already more valuable than normal cause of his ops.  Thoughts?

13 years ago

What about the opposite? What if quality pitching is going to be more valuable this year because the ERAs of your average pitchers are going up?

I might have the chance to deal Brandon Inge for Josh Beckett this week. If Inge is a top 5 catcher this year and hits extra HRs based on the above theory, it might make more sense for me to hold onto Inge. But if it will be harder to find quality pitchers, then maybe I should snatch up Beckett.

I have one of the top hitting lineups in the league with Sandoval currently platooning with Inge. My staff already includes Haren, Shields, Joba, Slowey, and Vazquez, but the lack of upside among free agent SPs makes me fear an injury.

Alex Zelvin
13 years ago

Agreed with the comments.  If anything, this makes each incremental home run worth slightly less.  Seems like the most significant difference would be increasing the value of groundball pitchers relative to flyball pitchers.

Mike Podhorzer
13 years ago

Hmm, if the ball is “juiced” and home runs will be up across the board, I’m not sure why we should be valuing power more highly now. Doesn’t that also increase replacement level as well, keeping the number of marginal or useful home runs the same?

13 years ago

Indeed, this seems a little silly.  If you trade for Carlos Gomez because home runs are on average flying 5 feet further, you’re just adding risk to your roster.  It’s illogical to think that an increase in league total home runs would be evenly distributed, and if anything, players who hit fewer home runs previously will benefit less.

I agree with Alex, this just makes me want to pick up Brandon Webb on the cheap.

13 years ago

Oh, and can someone tell Matt Holliday about this?  smile

13 years ago

If the idea of adding 5 feet to every long batted ball is what is being presented, it would make sense that the players who tend to hit HRs that just barely clear the fence would see the most benefit.  The Adam Dunns who hit everything 400+ feet will perhaps see less benefit overall, and will certainly see a lower percentage gain due to their already-strong totals.

The Gomez example is a good illustration of this, and so is Rollins (another cited prospect in the tHR list).  When Rollins hits 20 HRs he is perceived as a viable 5-category guy whereas last year’s power showing threw him into a much more speed-only category.  The difference in perceived value is massive.

Having said all that, I agree that the best advantage would be in chasing heavy ground ball pitchers.

Nick J
13 years ago

Yeah, I’m not sure I understand the logic here.  If everyone’s HR are up by say, 10%, that just moves up the league average.  But everyone’s relative value to each other would remain the same I would think.  Unless the juiced ball is going to effect different types of players in different ways (which is entirely possible I guess).

Theoretically, I think pitching would be the same.  But if we look back at the late 90s/early 00s when you had Pedro and Unit in their heyday, their value was exaggerated because they were still awesome in an inflated hitting environment.  So maybe pitchers (and hitters?) at the extreme are effected differently by a change in league context?  The more I think about it I really have no idea.

Derek Carty
13 years ago

Hey guys,
Sorry I’m jumping in late here.  I’ll give a few thoughts and come back later with some more as I’ve got a very busy day ahead…

This is true, Mike.  Let me clarify what I’m trying to say, though.

Let’s assume that right now nobody in your league knows what’s going on.  Adam Dunn’s owner values him very highly.  In a month, when everyone discovers this effect, he will still value him very highly and you’ll probably have to pay the exact same price as before.  He was a top home run hitter then and is a top home run hitter now.  That is his owner’s mindset.

But if we look at the owner of a mediocre HR hitter, he is going to view him differently in a month when he discovers this effect.  If a hitter can hit over 20 HRs, it’s my belief that there is a psychological difference to that owner, and once he realizes that this player is now a 20 HR hitter (even if he doesn’t realize the full effect, maybe he just notices that his player is hitting for more power than he previously did) he will expect more in return for him.  This effect could also occur because the jump from, say, 15 to 20 HR is a larger percentage leap than from 40 to 45, which also will affect the owner’s thinking.

Let’s say, for argument’s (and simplicity’s) sake, that 2 SB is equal to 1 HR.  To get this hitter in a month will cost you 40 SB of value (20 HR x 2).  By trading now, however, it might only cost you 30 SB (15 HR x 2) of value.

So while it’s not a matter of what value over replacement the player will actually produce, it’s a matter of the price that production will cost.  In season, the perceptions of the other owners are much more important than before your draft because now you must trade to acquire players, and doing so efficiently is the primary goal.

You guys are right about pitching being affected too, though.  I actually mentioned this briefly on Jeff Erickon’s radio show yesterday, that high K and high GB pitchers will get an added boost in comparison to pitchers who succeed with low BB.  While everyone will see a jump in their HR/FB, the guys with fewer balls in play (K) and fewer balls in the air (GB) will allow fewer total HRs.  Felix Hernandez makes a good target using this logic, although many believe he may be due for an injury this year.