Whether you play fantasy baseball religiously or are simply a generic fan of baseball, you probably understand the effect of ballpark factors to some extent. Ballpark is the sole reason why Nolan Arenado, who has been a consistent first-round pick for years, has fallen outside of the top 30 in many leagues. One of my favorite parts about baseball is how each ballpark is unique in its own way. Some parks allow for more home runs. Others generate more base hits. Certain parks can even be more favorable for walks or strikeouts. This lack of uniformity among venues is something we don’t see in other popular sports.
It’s hard to argue that any team in Major League Baseball dealt with more chaos as a result of 2020’s COVID-shortened season than the Toronto Blue Jays. Due to Canada’s strict travel guidelines, they were unable to play any of their games in Toronto. After starting out the season playing as the home team in their opponent’s ballpark, they eventually reached a deal to play their home games in Buffalo, the site of their AAA affiliate. With Canada’s COVID travel rules still in place, the Blue Jays have announced they will begin the 2021 season playing their home games in Dunedin, FL, their Spring Training site.
As of now, the Blue Jays are only officially playing their first two homestands in Dunedin. However, we have no idea how long Canada’s protocols will stay in place, and consequently how many games they will play in Dunedin. There’s also a decent chance they end up playing some games in Buffalo again. Uncertainty is always annoying to deal with as we draft our fantasy teams, but it would be naïve to draft Blue Jays players as if they will be playing the entire season in Rogers Centre.
Where Do We Start?
When working with park factors, barring the introduction of a new stadium, we have plenty of data to work with. We can typically look at multiple years’ worth of results to give us a strong estimate of how a given ballpark affects players’ production. Obviously, that is not the case here. TD Ballpark has never hosted a major league regular-season game, so it will be much harder to predict how the ballpark will fare. Spring Training data is difficult to find and already has too much noise to begin with, so it’s hard to make any determinations from it. Luckily, we do have some minor league data to use as a tool.
There are multiple flaws here. For one, these park factors are relative to the average High-A ballpark, rather than a major league ballpark. Additionally, the two leagues have drastically different run-scoring environments.
|Stat||Florida State League (A+)||American League (MLB)|
The average American League game in 2019 contained significantly more offense than the average Florida State League game. Obviously, we need to take these minor league factors with a grain of salt when trying to project how they will translate to MLB, but it gives us an idea that TD Ballpark may be favorable for hitters.
Intuitively, the dimensions of the ballpark will have a pretty strong effect on its run-scoring environment. It also gives us an angle we can use to compare to other Major League ballparks. Like many other Spring Training sites, TD Ballpark has essentially the same dimensions as its major league counterpart, Rogers Centre. Here is how Rogers Centre stacks up against the rest of the Major Leagues.
Rogers Centre/TD Ballpark Dimensions
|Dimension||Distance||MLB Rank (Shortest to Farthest)|
|Left Field||328 ft||8|
|Center Field||400 ft||13|
|Right Field||328 ft||16|
|Average Fence Height||8 ft||15|
As you can see, the Blue Jays play in a fairly average ballpark from a dimensions standpoint. Now obviously, dimensions aren’t everything. If they were, this exercise would be pointless because we would be able to assume TD Ballpark would perform exactly the same as Rogers Centre.
What is the difference between Rogers Centre and TD Ballpark? Well, for starters, one is a turf stadium in Canada with a retractable roof while the other is an open stadium down in Florida played on grass. While the physical dimensions might be the same, the environments could not be more different. One of the most underrated parts of ballpark evaluation is the weather.
We are much more likely to see a high-scoring game on a hot, sunny day in Florida than a cold night in Toronto or Buffalo. This is even more important to factor in considering the likelihood of the Blue Jays playing their only games in Dunedin during April, one of the coldest months of the baseball year. Derek Carty, who does fantastic work with park factors for his player projection model, has considered this change of scenery for the Blue Jays as well. Here is Derek’s projected Park Factors for the Blue Jays’ three possible venues for 2021, which can be found on Fangraphs or EV Analytics.
|TD Ballpark (Dunedin)||1.01||1.00||1.12||1.03||1.00||1.00|
|Sahlen Field (Buffalo)||1.01||1.01||1.05||1.04||1.00||1.02|
|Rogers Centre (Toronto)||1.00||0.99||1.09||1.00||1.00||0.97|
Fortunately, these three parks seem to fare pretty similarly, but as I discussed earlier, it is safe to assume a slight increase in offense, especially home runs, for games played at TD Ballpark.
Now that we know TD Ballpark will be slightly more prone to induce home runs, let’s take a look at which players that may benefit. Rowdy Tellez is the first player that comes to mind for me. Tellez displayed a good amount of power over his short career, with a barrel rate of 11.9%. He also ranked 11th in MLB with a 106.5 mph exit velocity, good for a 90th percentile exit velocity (read more about 90th percentile exit velocity here!). With an ADP of below 300, he is basically free. With the Blue Jays beginning the season in Dunedin, Tellez may be a guy to look at in later rounds, even if you have to drop him in May. If he performs well, he could even earn more playing time and move up in the lineup. This new ballpark may additionally provide a boost to Vlad Guerrero Jr., Randal Grichuk, and Teoscar Hernández, all of whom performed well in 90th percentile exit velocity.
On the other hand, I probably don’t have to give you a reason to stay away from Blue Jays pitchers, but here it is. Hyun-Jin Ryu is an ace and Nate Pearson has some upside. Aside from those two and possibly Kirby Yates, I am not touching any pitcher, starter or reliever, from this roster.
A lot of fantasy managers like to utilize the late rounds to grab players they can hope to get good production early in the season, based on strength of schedule. The Blue Jays aforementioned weak pitching staff will be favorable to their early-season opponents to begin with, but playing in a hitters’ ballpark will add more of an effect. Let’s take a look at their home schedule in April
|April 8-11||LA Angels|
|April 12-14||NY Yankees|
|April 30-May 2||Atlanta|
Do you believe in a Justin Upton bounceback? Now might be a time to buy low. Do you think Carter Kieboom is going to break out? Take a flyer. In general, right-handed hitters are going to be great streaming options against the Blue Jays’ left-handed heavy pitching staff. Maybe TD Ballpark can be the deciding factor to sway you towards benching one of your back-end starting pitchers against a strong Blue Jays lineup.
For the second consecutive season, the Blue Jays will have a good amount of uncertainty regarding the venue of their home games. We are likely to see some combination of Sahlen Field and TD Ballpark as the home stadium to start the season. Hopefully (for the sake of Blue Jays’ fans), we will see a return to Toronto at some point this summer. However, it is important to factor in how each ballpark differs from one another in our fantasy analysis, especially during the season if there is less uncertainty.
Photos by Rich Graessle & Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire | Design by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter)
It is not simply Canada’s travel protocols. The two countries have put a travel ban in place (except for essential trips) until mid-June. Canada refused to allow the Blue Jays to skip the two seek isolation rule as it was both impractical and would have been political suicide. It will take a change of circumstances in both countries before the Jays can go back to their regular venue.
Well written. You have a nice style. You don’t talk down to the less knowledgeable reader. Temp vs runs scored : I always thought there was a correlation , but your graphic made it so clear that even a non-aficionado like me got it.