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Sunday, April 19, 2009

New York, New York

Buster Olney's blog on this morning feature a discussion of the early returns from Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. Granted, we shouldn't be quick to judge a park on two weeks in April, but 17 HR and 49 R in three games is enough to make even the most disciplined statistician whistle through his gap teeth. It's even more remarkable when you consider that one of those games started as a pitcher's duel between C. C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee that was locked in a 1-1 tie through six innings.

Sure part of the Indians 22-run explosion on Saturday can be attributed to the struggles of Chien-Ming Wang (6 IP, 34.50 ERA), who's looked like a batting practice pitcher in each of his last three starts. He got equally pummeled in Tampa Bay, which isn't exactly a hitter's haven, and Baltimore last week.

In the long run, if Yankee Stadium continues to play like Coor's Field (or worse!?!), it will have major fantasy repercussions. The stock of Yankee's hitters - already pretty high - goes up, while the stock of Yankee's pitchers goes down. Besides Wang, who shouldn't be starting in any leagues until he proves himself capable of getting past the second inning, I am particularly worried about A. J. Burnett. While Sabathia's flyball rate has been consistently declining in recent years, from 41.0% in 2004 to 31.7% last season, Burnett's is headed in the other direction, from an exceptional 22.3% in 2005 to 32.0% in '08, which may be why he averaged 21 HR allowed in his last two seasons with the Blue Jays. The good news for the Yankees is that both Sabathia and Burnett, as well as Joba Chamberlain, have exceptional strikeout rates, something which should be immune to park factors.

The immediate impact for fantasy owners is that you should consider benching mid-tier starters when they visit the Yankees, something you might have been tempted to do regardless. And while most of the Yankee regulars are already owned in most leagues, you may consider picking up a guy like Melky Cabrera, or trading for guys like Robinson Cano, Johnny Damon, and Derek Jeter, all of whom may be on the verge of an unexpected power spike. Also, visiting players could be good waiver wire acquisitions. For instance, Asdrubel Cabrera, probably unowned in most shallow leagues, went 5-for-8 in two games in New York this week, with a homer, four runs, and five RBI.

Across town, the early observers of Citi Field are predicting it to be considerably advantageous to pitchers. Things may change as the weather warms up, but that could be great news for Oliver Perez. Perez has surrendered 20+ HR in every season since 2003, which is part of the reason we remain skeptical about him in spite of his obvious talent. A subtle decrease in his homer rate could make a big difference in his ERA and win totals. To a lesser extent, the same may be said of Mike Pelfrey and John Maine.

While the dimensions of their ballpark will have little to no impact on the value of Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran, none of whom rely heavily on the homer, it may be the right time to unload Carlos Delgado and Ryan Church. They are both off to hot starts, but Citi may be particularly hard on left-handed power hitters both offer other risks as well. Delgado is, of course, aging, though showing no major indications of decline yet, at 37. Church is an injury risk and in danger of losing at-bats to Gary Sheffield, who is determined to make the Tigers pay for releasing him and is, more importantly, a right-handed power threat, something that the Mets are missing (outside of David Wright). Sheff will almost certainly start against lefties so long as he is healthy and effective, and if he proves he's still the same player he was two years ago, it is only a matter of time before he "demands" full-time player status. In deep leagues, I recommend picking him up RIGHT NOW.

As I said earlier, we should be cautious in making too much of a week's worth of games. However, fantasy leagues are won by being aware of factors that others may not pay attention to.

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