Nolan Arenado didn’t have many flaws in 2015. He played in 157 games, hit 42 home runs, struck out just 16.5 percent of his plate appearances, and carried a .287 batting average that was supported by a sustainable .284 BABIP. But this season, Arenado still found a way to make a major improvement. He nearly doubled his walk rate from 5.1 percent to 9.8 percent, which increased his on-base percentage by 41 points and runs total by 19 without making much of an impact on any of the rest of his statistics. He was the No. 1 fantasy third baseman this year, and we project him to be the No. 2 fantasy third baseman next season.
When a player is that productive, there typically isn’t much else that needs to be said for fantasy purposes. Still, I’m always fascinated by the elite Rockies players because of their extreme ballpark, and Arenado has followed the same path that players like Larry Walker and Troy Tulowitzki blazed before him.
In 2016, Arenado had a .422 wOBA at home and a .349 wOBA on the road. For his career, he has a .397 wOBA at home and a .327 wOBA on the road. That 70-point disparity is the 9th-highest among hitters with at least 400 plate appearances both at home and on the road for the same team since 2013, when Arenado first reached the big leagues. Meanwhile, Rockies hitters have 6 of the top 10 spots in biggest home vs. road wOBA disparity over that time, with Corey Dickerson easily setting the pace with a .158 wOBA advantage at Coors Field.
Arenado is going to be on the Rockies next season and probably at least two more years after that, so maybe it’s not that important. However, while Arenado’s .397 home wOBA is 14th best among players with at least 400 plate appearances on a team since 2013, his .327 road wOBA is tied for just 134th best and is comparable to many useful-but-not-exceptional offensive players like C.J. Cron and James Loney.
In a traditional fantasy league, Arenado is still good enough on the road to keep in your lineup, but that’s as much about roster restrictions as it is about his production. Meanwhile, you really can’t use him in daily fantasy away from Coors.
It’s not entirely fair to pick on Arenado this way because every Rockies hitter suffers from this split. Of the seven Rockies who had 400 home and road plate appearances with the team since 2013, Arenado’s 70-point discrepancy is actually the second lowest, trailing only Charlie Blackmon at 64 points. More than just boosting offensive production in the park, I suspect that Coors Field makes it more difficult for Rockies hitters to perform on the road, perhaps by changing the way pitchers break relative to lower altitudes. That supposition is supported by the fact that while the Rockies hitters who have left Colorado have seen a 36-point decline in their home wOBA on average, they have seen their road wOBA improve by 24 points.
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All told, I support having Arenado as the No. 2 third baseman and as a top 10 overall player in 2017, and I also think he is one of the best dynasty players to own whether he remains in Coors for his entire career or not. The only caveat is that Arenado remains home-only play in daily formats.
Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt