Fantasy Baseball: Who gains and loses from MLB pandemic proposal to play 2020 season at spring training sites?

We still don’t know where or when, much less if, the 2020 season will begin. We just know it’ll be unlike any we’ve ever seen.

There have been a number of proposals focusing on the “where,” and it seems like those specifically have captured the imagination of Fantasy Baseballers, leading them to speculate whose value might change in different scenarios. 

The scenarios that seem the most plausible would have teams open the season at spring training sites. One would have all teams playing at Cactus League venues in Arizona. One would have teams play at their own Cactus and Grapefruit League venues in Arizona or Florida. One would also incorporate Texas somehow.

The one worthy of analysis right now, I think, is the second of those proposals — the one that would have teams play at their own spring training sites in both Arizona and Florida — for the simple reason that we would know exactly which venue each team would call home. It introduces a crucial element of certainty to an exercise that’s mostly guesswork.

Understand, though, it still isn’t much to go on. Analysis of these venues is scarce, lacking much of the data we’re accustomed to seeing in MLB parks. A little more has been done for the Grapefruit League sites since most of them double as venues for high Class A affiliates (i.e., the Florida State League), but not all of them do.

And frankly, the impact of Grapefruit League venues is easier to deduce just by looking at each one’s dimensions. It’s the drier-air, higher-elevation environment of the Cactus League that’s more difficult to sort out. It’s fair to assume hitters all gain and pitchers all suffer in such an environment, but for which teams would it be most pronounced and exactly how pronounced would it be?

Let’s look at the more straightforward one first, the Grapefruit League.

(Note: Most proposals have all teams adopting the DH for 2020, and Chris Towers has already highlighted some NL players who would benefit from such a scenario. This article specifically focuses on what impact the venues themselves would have.)

Florida (AKA the Grapefruit League)

Affected Teams:

Braves, Orioles, Red Sox, Tigers, Astros, Marlins, Twins, Mets, Yankees, Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals, Rays, Blue Jays, Nationals

Relative to the way these team’s MLB venues play …

Stock up for pitchers:

Stock up for hitters:

Again, that’s relative to the way these teams’ MLB venues play and not necessarily relative to the league as a whole.

Interestingly, the Braves, Red Sox and Yankees all designed their spring training venues to have the exact same dimensions as their MLB parks. It doesn’t mean they’ll play the exact same way — environmental factors will also have a say — but it does allow for a closer approximation.

Of course, not all players are equally impacted by their environment. Ground-ball pitchers, for example, wouldn’t be as susceptible to a hitter’s park. Here, though, are some of the players who might be impacted the most.

Five players who gain the most:

Five players who lose the most:

So how much would these players’ values actually change? Not enough to shake up my rankings, I don’t suspect. Realmuto’s best-case scenario looks worse, yes, but I’d still take his most-likely scenario over most any other catcher’s. And that’s with him being the fifth-most impacted player, in my estimation.

Overall, I was underwhelmed by the impact that moving to the Grapefruit League would have on these teams. No, the bigger changes would come in the Cactus League …

Arizona (AKA the Cactus League)

Affected Teams:

Diamondbacks, Cubs, White Sox, Reds, Indians, Rockies, Royals, Angels, Dodgers, Brewers, Athletics, Padres, Giants, Mariners, Rangers

Relative to the way these team’s MLB venues play …

Stock up for pitchers:

Stock up for hitters:

It’s not an exaggeration. While I don’t have as much data to go on, all available evidence, from spring training output to pre-humidor Chase Field to everything we already know about the way the ball travels in different atmospheric conditions, points to the Cactus League being an extremely hitter-friendly environment. The ball travels differently in the dry desert air, and even though the elevation isn’t even quite one-third what Coors Field is, it’s still enough to affect the way pitches move, as Dodgers pitchers Ross Stripling recently noted on the Fantasy Baseball Today podcast.

Fittingly, the venues in the Cactus League are all on the larger side, just as Coors Field is. It won’t prevent them from being hitter’s havens, just as Coors Field is, but it does prevent the home run rates from getting totally out of control. I worry most about the Cactus League teams whose venues are actually smaller than their MLB counterparts, which include the Royals and Padres. The Brewers and Cubs, meanwhile, have venues about the same as their MLB counterparts, which might be just as egregious.

Presumably, none of the Cactus League venues rises to the level of Coors Field in terms of elevating hitting and suppressing pitching, which is why the Rockies pitching staff may well benefit from this change. But by the same token, their hitters might actually lose some value. 

They’re the exception, though. It’s hard to see how any other pitcher would benefit or how any other hitter would suffer from playing in the Cactus League. Still, the ones who’ll be impacted most — on both the pitcher end and the hitter end — are the ones who put the ball in the air.

Since the impact would be greater here than in the Cactus League, I’ll highlight a few more players.

10 players who gain the most:  

For the hitters here, this only speaks to their relative advantage over other Cactus League hitters. All Cactus League hitters would have an advantage over Grapefruit League hitters.

And the opposite is true for pitchers.

10 players who lose the most:  

And that, my friends, is just the tip of the iceberg.

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