Cincinnati’s Fly-Ball Rotation

A couple weeks ago Dave C. — in the followup to his call for questions — talked the effect one teammate can have on the value or performance of another. The idea being if the skill sets of players A and B are complementary maybe the value of player A and B together could be greater than the value of player A alone plus the value of player B alone. The value of a player could be context dependent. Similarly the value of a player could change based on his home park.

Some examples: the Seattle’s big ball park and good outfield defenders make fly-ball pitchers not as much of a liability for them as they would be for the average team; Cleveland’s infield defense is even more important to them than to an average team because of their ground-ball heavy rotation; ground-ball pitchers are worth even more to the Colorado Rockies because of their home park; and, most importantly, how Carson tried to construct his Rob Neyer-league team around the peculiarities of circa-1915 Fenway (not that it has worked out for him).

In each case you have a synergy in which the value of a player is enhanced by the context (his teammates or ballpark) he plays in. What got me thinking about this was yesterday’s current talent post about the Reds, where it seems there might be a synergy in the opposite direction. They Reds play in a tiny park that inflates home run rates by 12%, one of the highest in the league. In such a context fly-ball pitchers would be even worse than in an average context. But the Reds’s rotation is stocked with such pitchers. Aaron Harang and Micah Owings are extreme fly-ball pitchers, while Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo have above-average fly-ball rates (although Arroyo was a little better last year). Homer Bailey has about average fly-ball rates. These fly-ball pitchers would be more valuable to the average team than they are to Cincinnati because of the additional HRs they should give up on their fly balls there.

Obviously you want the most talented players on your team and these synergistic concerns should be secondary, but it would be interesting to see whether one could quantify their effect. How many additional runs is each Harang fly ball worth in Cincinnati compared to if he were playing in the average ball park, or better yet in Trop in front of a Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton?

Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

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14 years ago

I asked the same thing yesterday upon reading about the Reds. It seems to me that a savvy front office can better maximize the productivity of their talent by playing to their strengths. The Reds are a great example. They’ve got pretty good defense (especially when Janish plays over Cabrera) up the middle, they have a somewhat weak offense, and they’ve got some at least intriguing pitchers who tend to give up the long ball a bit more than average. Shouldn’t the front office be doing everything they can to make that ballpark play as big as possible? The pitching staff would benefit in the form of fewer home runs allowed, and it would take better advantage of their good defensive talent. A run prevented is as good as a run scored, but when your team is more talented at preventing runs than scoring them, shouldn’t you try to put them in an environment that puts a premium on run prevention?