Josh Bell Heads to Nation’s Capital

In 2019, former Pirates first baseman Josh Bell enjoyed a breakout season. His wOBA spiked from the high .330 range to .378, while his ISO settled just below .300, thanks to a HR/FB rate that surged above 20% for the first time. Unfortunately, he failed to effectively follow up that performance during this year’s shortened season, as his overall power plummeted (even though his HR/FB rate held onto the majority of its 2019 gains), while his strikeout rate skyrocketed well above 20% for the first time. Given his poor defense, all it took was a poor 223 plate appearances at the plate for the Pirates to jettison him, as he now lands in Washington to take over first base duties for the Nationals. Let’s check the park factors to see how the park switch might affect his results.

Park Factor Comparison
Park AVG 1B 2B 3B HR SLG wOBAcon RBIcon
PNC Park (Pirates) 100 97 109 102 94 100 100 98
Nationals Park (Nationals) 101 102 100 83 100 100 101 101
To reflect Bell’s switch-hitting, park factors were calculated as follows based on career splits:
RHB Park Factors multiplied by 75%
LHB Park Factors multiplied by 25%

To begin, the batting average park factors are nearly identical, with Nationals slightly inflating it, while PNC has been neutral. While we don’t know how much each park impacts strikeout rate or BABIP (two primary drivers of the AVG park factor), the overall effect appear negligible. Through his three full seasons from 207-2019, Bell’s strikeout rate remained quite consistent, ranging between 17.8% and 19.2%. In this year’s short season, that mark rose to 26.5%, as his SwStk% continued its ascent.

On the other hand, Bell’s BABIP has been a bit more consistent, nearly always falling below the league average and only once settling in above .300. This year was a career low, but not by as significant a margin as his strikeout rate was a career high. All else being equal, the move to Nationals Park should be a minor positive for his batting average. However, odds are his strikeout rate will be the biggest factor on where his batting average lands, so it’s going to be near impossible to tease out the effects of the park switch.

There’s been a wider gap in singles factors between the two parks, which is the most common hit type. Nationals has inflated singles by about 2%, while PNC has suppressed them by about 3%. That’s a meaningful swing and should help Bell rebound, at least a bit. His biggest issue is that he has been grounding into the shift more and more each season, and that’s killing his BABIP. It’s not going to matter which park he’s in, as he simply needs to focus on cutting down on those easy ground outs hit right to where all the fielders are located.

While Nationals is neutral for doubles, PNC has been quite favorable in recent years. Bell has actually been a pretty good doubles hitter, as he knocked 37 of them in 2019 and 31 in 2018. Perhaps he loses a double or two due to the park switch, which might have more of an effect on his SLG than AVG, which fantasy owners typically don’t care about. Moving on, Nationals is one of the more unfavorable parks for triples, while PNC has been slightly favorable. That’s an enormous swing, but we probably shouldn’t care all that much. Surprisingly, you would think a large man like Bell would rarely hit a triple, but he’s actually knocked 13 over his career. He hit zero this season though and had his worst season of three before that in 2019, so you probably wouldn’t expect him to keep his historical triples rate up anyway.

Finally, we finish our hit type factors with home runs. We have always known PNC to be one of the more pitcher friendly home parks for home runs, and we see that because of the unfavorable environment, Bell should get a nice boost from this move. If you look at his career splits, you see how much he may have been affected by his home park. Typically hitters hit better at home, but Bell posted just a 15.5% HR/FB rate there, versus a significantly better 19.6% mark in away parks. At the very least, the move should give him a better chance of maintaining a 20%+ HR/FB rate.

Because Nationals Park has been better for home runs, while PNC better for doubles and triples, the two end up exactly equal in SLG and completely neutral. Unless you play in a league that specifically counts SLG, then this is more interesting information rather than useful, since the components of SLG are more insightful.

We now move along to the final two factors that represent aggregates of offense. First, Nationals slightly boosts wOBAcon, or wOBA on contact, while PNC has been neutral. Next, Nationals keeps that same boost rate on RBIcon, or the estimate of runs scored on contact. That means that overall, National is more hitter friendly than PNC, which has been neutral on wOBAcon and slightly reduces RBIcon.

On the whole, this is clearly a good move for Bell’s future fantasy value. He gets out of a home run suppressing park and moves into a neutral one, while there’s a chance of some marginal batting average boost. Coming off a majorly disappointing season, his perceived value has likely plummeted from where it say heading into 2020. Combine the cheap cost with the move to a better offense and park, and you get a guy who might provide serious profit potential.

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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1 year ago

the biggest change is leaving a toxic organization for a well run one and chance of WS contention

1 year ago
Reply to  OTMHeartBBC

Have you ever seen his attempts at defense ? When you have two left feet, can’t use your glove and absolutely can not make a throw anywhere in the infield, you better be hitting…consistently. Bell has had three good months in MLB. Period.