This year, the American League attracted far more new talent than the National League, going from being the equivalent of the 2011 Patriots against the 2011 Giants (slight favorites) to the 2007 Patriots against the 2007 Giants (HUGE favorites). Oh wait… maybe those weren’t the best examples… let’s move on.
One of the biggest questions in any fantasy league is always: how will a player fare with his new team? Will he flounder, a-la Jason Bay with the Mets, up his value like Josh Hamilton with the Rangers, or simply have equal value to the year before? Answering those questions can be the key to winning any league, and is especially important in AL or NL only formats.
Let’s take a look at the cross-over players to the American League this season, starting this week with the biggest name of them all: Albert Pujols.
When getting ready to research the best hitter of this generation, I just assumed that his production would drop off thanks to what I perceived to be an extremely pitcher-friendly, hitter-killing park in Anaheim. However, what I failed to take into account is one of the best-kept secrets in all of baseball: Busch Stadium is an absolutely awful place to hit, and is actually slightly worse than Angels stadium.
On top of those numbers, last season St. Louis also performed as a top 2 offense on the road in runs, had the best road batting average in MLB on the road, and was 3rd in road homers, whereas the Angels were 7th in Runs scored on the road (which, in itself, is slightly deceiving because there are 9 teams within 20 runs of the Angels, whereas the Cardinals in 2nd were more than 40 runs ahead of the Angels), 9th in road batting average, and 4th in road homers. In sum, the Cardinals finished with a worse park factor than the Angels despite the fact that their offense was actually much better.
Another thing to take away from this table is that the Angels’ park factor was significantly swayed by their incredible defense, which weighed in as the 2nd best defense in all of baseball last year – only behind that of the Tampa Bay Rays. This is all extremely in favor of Albert Pujols, as it seems that after accounting for team defense, the Angels stadium may actually be a much better place to hit than those numbers show, and Busch Stadium may be much worse.
Lastly, I analyzed a spray chart of all of Albert Pujols’ hits, outs, and errors from 2011 at home including his HR output (courtesy of foxsports.com) and placed it over his new home park in Anaheim:
The darker, white line is the stadium wall in Angels stadium of Anaheim, whereas the more translucent and curvier line is Busch Stadium. Last year, Albert managed to hit 18 home runs in his home park and 19 on the road. 16 of these home HRs would have easily cleared the fence in either park, and only one of these HRs would have been clearly taken away by the switch in stadium (the shot to deep left field) and only 1 is on the questionable side thanks to the weirdly triangular gap directly in left center field (I think that shot likely would have turned into a double). However, the shorter right-center wall with the Angels would have also led to three of Pujols’ doubles last season to turn into likely home runs, as well as one of his outs turning into at least a double and possibly even a home run. Overall, the switch from St. Louis to Anaheim, at least on the spray-chart level, should be no more than a slight gain for Pujols.
Lastly, let’s compare Pujols’ 2011 season to his outlook for 2012. People seem to gloss over the fact that Albert Pujols was supposed to miss 4-6 weeks last year due to a non-displaced fracture of the left radius bone and his arm, but he came back in 2 weeks and managed to play in 147 games last season. It is a true testament to his skill that a feat that incredible isn’t talked about continually when he’s mentioned. Despite his injury, Pujols managed a .299 average and 37 homers.
On my site RotoAnalysis.com, one of my colleagues, Charles Kurz, and myself created leader boards for a formula for Expected Batting Average on Balls in Play called xBABIP (developed by Fangraphs’ Jeff Zimmerman) and sorted through it for trends, which will go up on the site later this week. One of the most prevalent trends that we found was a correlation between Home Run per Fly Ball rate, and players outperforming their Expected Batting Average on Balls in Play. Well, this relates to Albert Pujols for a few reasons, not the least of which is that he put up a normal BABIP of 34 points below his career average and 19 points below his previous career low. So, even on a basic level, Pujols got extremely unlucky with his BABIP, and transitively his batting average.
However, when that is combined with the fact that his xBABIP was about 11 points higher than his actual BABIP (meaning he should have hit about 11 points higher in an average year), and the trend that players with high HR/FB rates consistently outperform their expected BABIP (Pujols was 19th in MLB in HR/FB among players over 300 Plate Appearances) then we can expect extreme upwards batting average regression for Albert to the tune of likely upwards of twenty points this season, meaning I’d project him for at least a .315-320 average.
Overall, the degree to which the Angels have a pitching park has been overstated, the degree to which the Cardinals have a hitters park has been vastly understated, and Albert Pujols’ combination of bad luck and playing through injury has been preposterously understated.
After doing this study, I believe I would put Albert Pujols up as the number one player on my draft board, even though he is older than Miguel Cabrera. His nickname really says it all; the guy is just a complete machine. Going by the old fantasy adage “you can’t win your league in the first round, you can only lose it,” Pujols might be the most valuable player in the game, as he disappoints as infrequently as a Martin Scorsese film (c’mon, even Hugo and The Age of Innocence were awesome movies) and provides the similar upside of being one of the best movies (or hitters) of all time. And yes, I just compared Albert Pujols’ 2008 season to Raging Bull and 2009 season to Goodfellas.
By Moe Koltun, exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com. Read more of Moe's excellent fantasy insight over at RotoAnalysis.com. Have a fantasy related question? You can follow the site on Twitter @RotoAnalysis or Moe on twitter@moeproblems.
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