In one of the few trade deadline deals with potential fantasy ramifications, Bud Norris now finds himself surrounded by crab cakes, rather than Texas barbecue. In the last consensus rankings update, I ranked Norris 57th among all starting pitchers, which was surprisingly the most optimistic of the crew. Surprising because I thought I had been pretty pessimistic about Norris’ prospects. In my July tier rankings update, I slotted him into “The Great Disappointment” tier, which was the last group of pitchers. So does the move to a contending Baltimore team boost his fantasy stock?
Well, first things first, and that is to once again compare the respective park factors.
If you asked 100 fans whether Minute Maid Park favors hitters, pitchers or plays neutral, I bet the majority would state that it was a hitters park. This has not been the case, however, which may surprise some. Sure, it does inflate home runs, primarily for right-handed batters, but aside from that small wrinkle, it’s a neutral park in its effect on every other statistic. Camden Yards, on the other hand, is one of the best hitters parks in baseball, ranking seventh in its run scored factor last season.
Of course, the only real difference between the parks is the home run factors. Both increase long ball totals, but Camden Yards is one of the best at doing so, ranking tied for fifth in home run factor last season. Despite rating about neutral everywhere else (aside from its suppression of triples), the park inflates overall run scoring because of the home runs it allows.
This is bad news for Norris for two reasons. One, his current HR/FB ratio is just 6.9%, well below his previous career low of 10.8% and the league average. So even if he had remained in Houston, he would have likely allowed home runs on fly balls at a higher rate than he has to date. And now with the move to Baltimore, he’ll experience a second whammy of going to a worse park for home runs.
Here is another set of park factors that are relevant:
As primarily a fastball-slider pitcher, Norris has struggled mightily against left-handed batters. This season, lefties are wOBAing .372 against him for a 5.11 xFIP, and he has allowed a .349 wOBA and 4.42 xFIP to them throughout his career. As we can see from the above park factors, Camden Yards looks even scarier for Norris than when looking at the overall park factors. Minute Maid was pretty neutral in its effect on left-handed homers, but Camden Yards is even more favorable to lefties than righties. That’s more bad news for Norris, especially when facing lefty heavy lineups.
So we have established that the switch in ballparks is quite the negative. Now let’s focus on the teams. Defensively, Norris should enjoy an enormous upgrade. The Orioles rank second in the American League in UZR/150, while the Astros rank second to last. Only once has Norris posted a sub-.300 BABIP over his career and he has suffered from an inflated .316 mark this year. So better defensive support will be much appreciated.
Last are the offenses and the potential run support improvement he might see. The Astros rank last in the AL in wOBA, while the Orioles rank fourth. That’s quite a dramatic improvement, almost as significant as the one Jake Peavy will enjoy due to his move to Boston. So the run support, and potential to record a win (he currently has just six), will jump.
So does this trade increase Norris’ fantasy value? I don’t think so. While he should definitely experience better win potential, I think his ERA is at risk of spiking, though his WHIP could improve with better defensive support. More important than the team switch though is perhaps the fact that his SIERA sits at an unsightly 4.50, versus his more palatable 3.93 actual ERA. That’s due primarily to the aforementioned low HR/FB rate. I would still steer clear of him in any league shallower than an AL-Only one, especially with his strikeout percentage at a career low.
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