How to Handle the Tokyo Dome

It takes a special kind of overly-obsessed fantasy player to worry deeply about what to do with marginal players over two games in late March before 28 teams have even played a real game. I mean, there are 2,430 games in a season. Two early season games account for a solid 0.08% of the MLB season.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that this morning I found myself wondering, “What do I do with Mike Carp in Japan?!” And I figured if this is keeping me awake at night, I can’t be the only one.

Thanks to the well-connected Eno Sarris, I exchanged some emails with Patrick Newman, proprietor of NPB Tracker, an absolutely tremendous site dedicated to everything related to baseball in Japan (although if your primary concern is beer and baseball in Japan, I recommend Eno as your source). Patrick gave me the basics on what to expect when Oakland and Seattle make their temporary home in Tokyo next week.

Patrick kicked things off with a short history of 2000’s baseball in Tokyo: “For the last 10 years or so, it has played as a hitter’s park, I think mostly because Yomiuri [the team calling the Tokyo Dome home] used a jumpy ball there. Last year they changed the ball league-wide so the effect was a bit diminished.”

He next mentioned that if the park’s “dimensions aren’t MLB-sized, it’s close,” and the data agrees. According to Clem’s Baseball Blog, which has a great set of information on stadium dimensions, the Tokyo Dome is a perfectly symmetrical 328 down the lines, 361 to the gaps, and 400 to straight-away center. For comparison’s sake, Tropicana Field is 315 to left, 364 to left center, 404 to center, 364 to right center, and 322 to right. And the Trop is a slight pitcher’s park. Of course, hitter happy Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is a slightly larger 332-380-400-381-325, so dimensions aren’t everything.

On top of those dimensions, the Dome has a nearly 14 foot high wall around the entire OF, which will keep quite a few balls in the park. Although Patrick did comment that he has seen Barry Bonds crank one “off a pillar in the back of the outfield bleachers,” so the ball does carry. “Being a pressurized dome,” says Newman, “it’s still a hitter’s park.”

Fielders and pitchers alike will be glad to know the Tokyo Dome has artificial grass, not the old carpet-on-concrete that many domed stadiums used to have. And like many Japanese stadiums, the Tokyo Dome has a ton of foul ground, which — as any Oakland hurler can tell you — can be a pitcher’s best friend.

So without a lot of data, that leaves us with a slight hitter’s park that is a bit homer-friendly and probably creates some additional doubles thanks to that big wall, but is forgiving to pitchers on foul balls and isn’t quite the power-haven it once appeared to be.

The implications for fantasy players really revolve around marginal players — no one was going to bench Felix Hernandez, even if I told you this park was the second coming of Coors Field. But players like the aforementioned Mike Carp, Justin Smoak, Brandon Allen, or Kurt Suzuki, are all guys who you start sometimes and who you may be using (like I am with Carp) in a platoon role where your decision to sit-or-start is based on match-ups and ballparks.

For those guys, I’d say cautiously deploy your hitters, although fear King Felix just like you would in any other park. I am going to start Carp because I think his HR potential will benefit from the apparent conditions in the Tokyo Dome. Looking around the rest of the AL, these two teams will probably play most of the rest of their games in better pitcher’s parks, but trips to Texas, Chicago, Baltimore, New York, and Boston will all likely be more hitter-friendly. A hitter you expect to fill half or more of your games should probably be in the lineup, but not someone who you plan to play less than that.

As for pitchers, I would definitely start Hernandez and Brandon McCarthy on opening night. You paid good money for them, and neither of these lineups is particularly scary. On day two, I’d probably run Bartolo Colon out there, but Jason Vargas would stay on my bench. He can be a bit homer-happy and I am not taking my chances with him.

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Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

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Steve Balboni

Nice piece, Mr. Chad Young, but I disagree with one statement: And I figured if this is keeping me awake at night, I can’t be the only one.