ROTISSERIE: Home parks may not be a fantasy factor in 2020

This article appeared in the April 29 issue of USA TODAY Sports Weekly.

A month into what would have been the 2020 regular season, we’re no closer to knowing when we’ll have meaningful baseball games this year – if at all.

If we do have games, they will most likely be played in centralized locations. That could create a strange situation for fantasy owners by forcing them to eliminate a variable that’s always been a big part of the decision-making process: park factors.

There are any number of metrics that adjust for the differences in park factors, but for this exercise let’s use wRC+ -- weighted runs created plus. It’s a good proxy for fantasy value because it combines a hitter’s offensive contributions, including stolen bases, to come up with a single number. That adjusted value gives us a player’s approximate worth in a neutral environment, with 100 being the league average.

The one thing wRC+ does that runs counter to fantasy value is that it scales everything on a per plate appearance basis. So players who are in the lineup every day – the high-volume producers – get dinged a bit because they’re not as efficient in their contributions. However, if we don’t play a full 162-game regular season (which also seems likely), those high-volume hitters will have less of an advantage anyway.

Here are the top players at each position from last season and how they stack up in both fantasy value and wRC+. (We’ll only include players at their primary position, and we’ll relax our filters to include everyone with at least 300 plate appearances to see if we can catch some potential sleepers.)

CATCHER

Fantasy value 2019

1. J. T. Realmuto $16
2. Yasmani Grandal $10
3. Mitch Garver $8
4. Christian Vazquez $8
5. Gary Sanchez $7

wRC+ 2019

1. Mitch Garver 155
2. Willson Contreras 127
3. Yasmani Grandal 121
4. Omar Narvaez 119
5. Gary Sanchez 116

Garver hit 31 home runs in just 311 at-bats, so it’s no surprise to find him at the top of the he’sap in wRC+. That incredible efficiency that probably can’t be duplicated, but he’s still a catcher worth targeting. Contreras and Narvaez also deserve to be pushed higher in a neutral environment.

Realmuto comes in eighth in wRC+ and Vazquez 12th. Both have home parks that rank in the top 10 for overall offense.

FIRST BASE

Fantasy value

1. Freddie Freeman $33
2. Pete Alonso $31
3. Jose Abreu $25
4. Josh Bell $25
5. Trey Mancini $24

wRC+

1. Howie Kendrick 146
2. Pete Alonso 143
3. Anthony Rizzo 141
4. Freddie Freeman 138
5. Josh Bell/Carlos Santana 135

The relaxed playing time requirement puts Kendrick (370 plate appearances) on top in wRC+. After posting career highs in all three slash categories (.344/.395/.572), he could see everyday at-bats with Anthony Rendon no longer in Washington.

Matt Olson (134 wRC+) isn’t among the fantasy leaders because he missed six weeks with a broken bone in his hand. Not playing half his games in the Oakland Coliseum (27th for scoring, 26th for home runs) would boost his fantasy value considerably.

SECOND BASE

Fantasy value

1. Jonathan Villar $28
2. Ketel Marte $28
3. DJ LeMahieu $28
4. Eduardo Escobar $25
5. Ozzie Albies $23

wRC+

1. Ketel Marte 150
2. Keston Hiura 139
3. Jose Altuve 138
4. DJ LeMahieu 136
5. Max Muncy 134

Villar’s fantasy value is weighted heavily toward stolen bases so wRC+ may not accurately reflect the impact he and other high-volume speedsters have. Marte’s breakout season looks legitimate on all fronts, as does LeMahieu’s.

Conspicuous by his absence is the consensus No. 1 player at the position for 2020, Gleyber Torres. He just missed the top five last year in fantasy value ($22) and wRC+ (125). However, Brandon Lowe of the Rays and Luis Arraez of the Twins also posted a 125 wRC+ in just over 300 PAs. Arraez doesn’t have anywhere close to the power Torres and Lowe do but his contact rate and full-time role make him a great late value pick.

SHORTSTOP

Fantasy value

1. Xander Bogaerts $31
2. Trevor Story $31
3. Marcus Semien $27
4. Francisco Lindor $24
5. Trea Turner $21

wRC+

1. Fernando Tatis Jr. 168
2. Carlos Correa 143
3. Xander Bogaerts 141
4. Marcus Semien 137
5. Tim Anderson 130

Bogaerts and Semien remain elite, but Story (121 wRC+) is no longer a first-round pick without the Coors Field advantage. Interestingly, Lindor (114 wRC+) and Turner (117) – the top two at the position in average draft position – barely crack the top 10 with the adjusted numbers. The ability to steal bases keeps them in the first-round discussion, but Tatis deserves consideration without the constraints of pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

Anderson has plenty of skeptics because of last year’s ridiculous .399 average on balls in play, but remember his mediocre $16 Roto value was due in part to missing a month with a sprained ankle. Even if his batting average regresses, his counting numbers will make him more valuable.

THIRD BASE

Fantasy value

1. Anthony Rendon $35
2. Rafael Devers $35
3. Alex Bregman $34
4. Nolan Arenado $34
5. Eugenio Suarez $26

wRC+

1. Alex Bregman 168
2. Anthony Rendon 154
3. Yoan Moncada 141
4. Miguel Sano 137
5. J.D. Davis 136

The hot corner is such a stacked position in fantasy, with Rendon and Bregman as the safest selections. Devers gets a slight downgrade in the adjusted rankings (132 wRC+), dropping him behind Suarez and Kris Bryant.

No Coors Field docks Arenado as well. His 128 wRC+ has him behind a group that includes Josh Donaldson, Justin Turner and Gio Urshela – and slightly above Matt Chapman, Hunter Dozier and Tommy Edman.

OUTFIELD

Fantasy value

1. Ronald Acuña $42
2. Cody Bellinger $41
3. Christian Yelich $41
4. Mike Trout $33
5. Juan Soto $30
6. Jorge Soler $29
7. Mookie Betts $28
8. Bryce Harper $28
9. J.D. Martinez $27
10. George Springer $25

wRC+

1. Mike Trout 180
2. Christian Yelich 174
3. Cody Bellinger 162
4. George Springer 156
5. Mark Canha 146
6. Jeff McNeil 143
7. Austin Meadows 142
8. Juan Soto 142
9. Aaron Judge 141
10. J.D. Martinez 139

We’re familiar with last year’s top fantasy outfielders, but Acuña (126 wRC+) goes from first to 21st among outfielders in the adjusted rankings. A warning sign? Perhaps, but more likely an indication of just how valuable his 39 stolen bases are to fantasy owners.

Canha and McNeil are probably the two biggest surprises in the adjusted rankings. Getting regular playing time in Oakland should boost Canha’s stock after a breakout 2019. (Though he was a much better hitter at home.) McNeil earned only $15 due to a pair of stints on the injured list, but he showed improved power to go along with a proven ability to hit for average.

One final note: Don’t worry about tying up that utility spot with Yordan Alvarez or Nelson Cruz. Though they qualify only as designated hitters, they’re both among the top five players at any position in wRC+. Alvarez (178) is second behind only Trout, while Cruz (163) continues to mash as he defies Father Time.

Of course, everything we think we know today about the 2020 season could change tomorrow. But as long as we have reason to believe we’ll eventually have games, we’ll keep using the information we have to prepare for them.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.