Javier Baez Lands in Motown

Over a month after the announcement, we’re finally getting around to covering the fantasy impact of Javier Baez’s signing with the Detroit Tigers. If you have forgotten, Baez signed a six-year, $140 million deal with the team on Dec 1, the same day a flurry of signings were announced before we went into lockout mode. Let’s now consult the park factors to see how the change in home venue might affect Baez’s results.

Park Factor Comparison*
Team 1B as R 2B as R 3B as R HR as R SO BB GB FB LD IFFB 3yr
Cubs 100 99 113 103 99 100 100 99 102 95 98
Tigers 102 104 130 99 97 99 100 104 104 108 99
*2020 park factors

At first glance, it would appear that Comerica Park (Tigers) is a significantly friendlier environment than Wrigley Field (Cubs) because it “wins” six categories, versus just three for the latter. But when we dive into the individual components, we learn that’s not necessarily true.

Let’s begin with the hit type factors. For non-home runs, Comerica earns the sweep, flashing higher factors for singles, doubles, and triples. That’s good news for Baez’s BABIP, though he hardly needs the boost given his .335 career mark.

That said, he has posted a lower BABIP at home than in away parks (.326 vs .345), even though Wrigley is basically neutral for singles and doubles, so you wouldn’t have expected such stark home/away splits here. Baez is coming off a career best .352 BABIP, so it’s hard to imagine things getting even better solely because of the park switch.

His doubles rate did crash in 2021, so perhaps the park move will fuel a rebound there. He also still has speed and Comerica was the second best park for right-handed triples in 2020, so maybe the park itself adds an extra triple or two.

We then move along to the slightly more fantasy relevant factor, home runs. Here’s where Wrigley’s rare category win matters. The park has boosted right-handed home runs by 6% (remember the factors are already halved to reflect the schedule), while Comerica suppressed them by 2%. Baez has been a major source of power, boasting three seasons with a 24%+ HR/FB rate and a career mark of 20.9%. He’s also coming off a career high mark of 28.2%.

Oddly, despite Wrigley supposedly boosting right-handed home runs, Baez has actually posted a slightly lower mark there than in away parks, though the difference is quite small. Either way, moving to a less friendly home run park on paper doesn’t bode well for his chances of repeating close to that career high mark.

The strikeout and walk factors are pretty close, with each park taking the cake for more friendly for hitters. Baez has struggled more and more with strikeouts in recent years, and his strikeout rate has jumped each season since 2018. It finished at the highest mark of his career over a full season in 2021, as his SwStk% jumped above 20% for the first time. He also rarely walks, truly epitomizing the term “free swinger”. That Comerica reduced strikeouts a bit more than Wrigley is certainly good, but Baez’s job would be to get that strikeout rate back below 30% regardless of his home park.

Next up are the batting ball type factors. There’s no “good” or “bad” ground ball and fly ball rate, so those factors are there for curiosity sake and could explain why the shape of Baez’s performance changes, as opposed to why his performance has improved or declined. However, with ample home run power and typically low fly ball rates, a higher FB factor in Comerica is seemingly a good thing for Baez.

Furthermore, the marginally higher line drive rate factor could help his BABIP, though he’ll have to stave off the aforementioned natural regression from his career high. Lastly, we find a huge difference in IFFB (infield fly balls, or pop-ups) factors. Baez has generally posted a league average IFFB%, but since his FB% has usually been a bit below average, he hasn’t struggled with pop-ups. His home/away IFFB% splits are almost identical, but it’ll be interesting to see if the rate increases upon his move to Comerica.

Finally, I included the overall 3yr park factor, which tells us that both parks are slightly pitcher friendly, but Comerica is ever so slightly better for hitters. We don’t totally care about the overall factor as home runs play a magnified role in fantasy and the move is a negative, though not significantly so.

The big question revolves around his running game. He swiped 18 bases in 2021 but just 11 in 2019, despite similar OBP marks. The Cubs ranked sixth in baseball in stolen base attempts per opportunity (defined as singles + doubles + walks + hit by pitches), while the Tigers ranked eighth last season, so he’s not going to a team that doesn’t run, though obviously the players also affect that ratio. I don’t think the team switch will affect his willingness to run, so if his steals increase or decrease, it will likely be due to another factor.

Overall, the move might knock his fantasy value down a buck or two due to the less friendly home run factor, but the team switch is going to end up playing a minor role in driving his 2022 performance.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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