Nolan Arenado Is a Homebody

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.

Biggest Home vs. Road wOBA split, 2013-16
Batter Team Home Road Diff
Corey Dickerson Rockies .459 .301 .158
Wilin Rosario Rockies .371 .281 .090
DJ LeMahieu Rockies .375 .287 .088
Yasmani Grandal Dodgers .390 .306 .084
Troy Tulowitzki Rockies .438 .359 .079
Carlos Gonzalez Rockies .407 .332 .075
Wil Myers Padres .380 .307 .073
Aaron Hicks Twins .331 .259 .072
Nolan Arenado Rockies .397 .327 .070
Matt Duffy Giants .355 .287 .068

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.

Nolan Arenado’s Road wOBA neighbors, 2013-16
Batter Team PA wOBA
Cesar Hernandez Phillies 641 .328
Justin Bour Marlins 436 .328
Denard Span Nationals 800 .328
Jason Heyward Braves 518 .328
Lorenzo Cain Royals 1046 .327
C.J. Cron Angels 545 .327
Luis Valbuena Astros 426 .327
Randal Grichuk Cardinals 488 .327
Matt Kemp Padres 548 .327
James Loney Rays 853 .327
Nolan Arenado Rockies 1149 .327
Jason Kipnis Indians 1291 .326
Francisco Cervelli Pirates 457 .326
Jake Lamb Diamondbacks 573 .326
Luis Valbuena Cubs 485 .326

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.

Home and Road wOBA changes for Rockies who changed teams
Batter Seasons Home Change Road Change
Todd Hollandsworth 2002-2003 -.163 .063
Todd Zeile 2002-2003 -.110 .003
Gary Bennett 2002-2003 -.060 .003
Juan Pierre 2002-2003 .004 .046
Jay Payton 2003-2004 -.119 -.013
Ronnie Belliard 2003-2004 -.066 .058
Jose Hernandez 2003-2004 .037 .138
Juan Uribe 2003-2004 .068 .015
Mark Sweeney 2004-2005 -.105 .085
Jeromy Burnitz 2004-2005 -.101 -.019
Vinny Castilla 2004-2005 -.073 -.033
Royce Clayton 2004-2005 -.057 .002
Preston Wilson 2004-2006 -.011 .023
Aaron Miles 2005-2006 -.056 .062
Kaz Matsui 2007-2008 -.016 .044
Jamey Carroll 2007-2008 .132 -.065
Jeff Baker 2008-2009 -.035 .081
Willy Taveras 2008-2009 -.002 -.044
Matt Holliday 2008-2010 -.022 .001
Yorvit Torrealba 2009-2010 .046 -.034
Miguel Olivo 2010-2011 -.103 .006
Clint Barmes 2010-2011 .003 .044
Chris Iannetta 2011-2012 -.140 .102
Ty Wigginton 2011-2012 -.055 .022
Seth Smith 2011-2012 -.032 -.024
Mark Ellis 2011-2012 .009 -.004
Marco Scutaro 2012-2013 -.015 .057
Dexter Fowler 2013-2014 -.018 .018
Troy Tulowitzki 2015-2016 -.016 -.025
Jose Reyes 2015-2016 -.014 .100

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.

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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

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Mark Davidson
Member

I do not disagree that Arenado is more valuable at home, but I think the idea that he’s not usable in daily formats when the Rockies are on the road is overblown. I think maybe the cost to acquire him when he’s away from Coors restricts his ownership some, but (from a fantasy-centric pov) this is a guy who’s hit 38 HR and driven in 104 runs over his last 672 PA while hitting .267. To your point, maybe there’s similar and cheaper production to be found in Lamb (though i haven’t looked at Lamb’s splits). If anything, Arenado’s increased walk rate could compress his Home/Road wOBA splits.