Itty bitty Citi?

It’s quite rare for a ball club to make a decision that nearly unanimously pleases its fans, but my beloved New York Mets came pretty darn close this week when they announced they will be reining in the dimensions of Citi Field for next season. From a pure baseball fan perspective, I’m not overly in love with bandboxes, but Citi’s dynamics were fairly extreme and I’m happy to see a bit more offensive-friendly environment.

A left-field power alley boasting a 16-foot wall 385 feet from home plate and a right center valley of 415 is a bit extreme; in fact, in Citi’s entire existence there have been only nine opposite-field home runs hit by visiting players. But, does this really impact the fantasy value of Mets players?

We might as well begin with the name on the tongues of many when this news broke—David Wright. I saw a mock-up of Wright’s spray chart overlaid against the new dimensions and the results didn’t look dramatic, but I’d like to step outside that type of analysis for a moment and offer some subjective observations.

For the last three or four seasons, I’ve been a witness to Wright’s descent from a truly elite offensive weapon. The 2008 season marked the last vintage David Wright campaign. I’m willing to view 2009 as something of an anomaly and 2011 as being influenced by mitigating injury. So, I’d actually like to focus on 2010.

On paper, at least fantasy-wise, the David Wright of 2010 was a step down from his ’06-’08 heyday but still an elite commodity. Fundamentally, Wright saw his average and contact rate dip while maintaining his longball power. But as he began to acclimate himself to Citi Field, I noticed a change in his approach.

The most drastic change occurred, as I observed, from the 2009 to 2010 season. In 2010, Wright’s line drive rate dipped to what was at the time a career low, while his flyball rate increased to a near-peak level. Watching Wright hit, he appeared to add a more deliberate torque to his swing, further opening his body throughout his swing.

In his best seasons, Wright’s power (much of which went to the opposite field) came effortlessly, or so it appeared. In 2010, Wright looked as if he was deliberately trying to hit more home runs. It appeared plausible that he was shifting his approach, sacrificing contact and base hits to maintain his homer prowess in his cavernous new confines.

As a stats-driven guy, I actually think many players are excessively reluctant to make this tradeoff (If Ichiro Suzuki, Wade Boggs and Ty Cobb were willing to sacrifice 100 points of slugging percentage for 30 points of batting average, they don’t need hitting coaches, they need math tutors.)

Regardless of my opinion on Wright’s apparent adjustments, I submit that it is possible that the new configuration at Citi Field will help him more than a spray chart overlay might predict, assuming he is able to harness his approach from his glory seasons and his underlying skill has not been eroded from injury or attrition. In a nutshell, ’10 Wright very well may have been ’06-’08 Wright had ’10 Wright played in Shea Stadium instead of Citi Field.

The next logical question to ask is how this impacts Wright’s fantasy value heading into next season. I’m not sure this is an open-and-shut case. I think it could go one of two ways, and it’s all up to the way the wind of public perception blows.

While I think Wright clearly has the potential to have a better season than a mere translation of his spray chart might suggest, it’s very possible the public may overestimate the effect of the park factor in the first place, therefore not leaving a ton of value to be cashed in. The fantasy baseball universe is like the sports betting universe; it’s filled with participants who know just enough to be formidable dangers to themselves.

I see it possible that this situation plays out as one of those instances in which the public winds up on the right side of the proposition for largely the wrong reasons. Of course, this isn’t the only possibility. There’s also a chance that the negative feelings surrounding Wright’s recent history weigh heavier than the optimism relating to his newly renovated home. In that case, there’s room for profit.

At the end of the day, Wright is still as good a bet as any third baseman not named Evan Longoria to return top 20 value. I’d rather bet on his upside than Mark Teixeira’s, and I probably wouldn’t consider more than a half dozen middle infielders ahead of Wright.

Acquiring fantasy baseball players is again like sports betting, and getting value in your bets isn’t really as much about the talent of the teams as it is about public perception. A player or team’s talent is inherent but also imprecisely known. It’s static compared to the public perception, which sways based on outcome or performance, and is much less fundamental and more fluid, always too heavily influenced by yesterday and not enough by the few days before.

It’s possible that this is the year that public perception really creates a large enough gap between it and Wright’s underlying skill that an opportunity for value emerges. It’s hard to find too many players with legitimate profit potential that early in the draft. It’s all in the hands of the mavens of perception.

To briefly address the rest of the Mets team, I believe the park alterations have the potential to help Jason Bay, but a Bay rebound, at this stage, is more likely to look like 2007 than 2006.

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Perhaps the player for whom this is the best news is Lucas Duda. Duda really got himself rolling toward the end of last season, quietly posting an .852 OPS in 100 games. He handled Citi Field fairly well, posting home SLG and OPS marks of .451 and .846, fairly similar to his road numbers of .509/.857. Duda is a breakout candidate for 2012 and the shortened fences at his home stadium remove one of the most formidable excuses not to roll the dice on him.

Similarly, Ike Davis has traditionally maintained his power stroke in Citi Field, indicating that he may feast even further with the new dimensions. Davis was off to a brilliant start before sustaining a season-ending injury in an incident that looked no more serious than any of the 30 or so times a year I fall down exiting a bar on a Friday evening. Perhaps most frustrating about Davis’ abridged season is that he had insufficient chances to clearly establish the fluke-to-breakout ratio of his stellar output.

On the pitching side of the equation, I don’t think much changes. Johan Santana continues to be somebody about whom we should monitor the news. He’ll be an interesting gamble in 2012. R.A. Dickey is borderline rosterable in certain mixed formats as a strikeout-challenged innings-eater who should post solid rate stats.

Dillon Gee and Mike Pelfrey remain virtually untouchable in any format, while Jonathon Niese is an NL-only option due to a bit of upside related to his strikeout potential.

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Nick Fleder
Nick Fleder

“The fantasy baseball universe is like the sports betting universe; it’s filled with participants who know just enough to be formidable dangers to themselves.”

So true, and so often ignored in fantasy writing. I think you’re spot on about Wright…and especially Duda, who I agree will breakout in 2012. I’m so bullish, in fact, that I think will be rosterable in all mixed leagues at one point next year (definately not in April, though).