While fans of large market teams get to look forward to the Winter Meetings, us small-market fans have a different, less heralded offseason event to look forward to each year: the Mid-January Bargain Bin Shopping Spree! At this point of the offseason, players that haven’t yet signed with a team start to feel pressure to sign — Spring Training begins in around a month, after all — and there are normally some good bargains that can be found on the market. Ryan Madson appears to be this year’s first victim, although I’m sure there will be many more cheap deals signed in the coming weeks.
One of the most intriguing potential buy-low signings available in this year’s Bargain Bin is Luke Scott. After hitting 27 homeruns in 2010 and posting a .387 wOBA, Scott suffered through a number of injuries last season and eventually had season-ending shoulder surgery in July. He was non-tendered by the Orioles earlier this offseason, and due to his age (turning 34 in June) and injury history, he seems like a good candidate for a cheap one-year deal with incentives.
Dan Connolly from the Baltimore Sun has just confirmed that the Tampa Bay Rays have signed Scott to a one year deal with an option for a second (pending a physical), which would seem to confirm our brief surface analysis: he’s a good buy low candidate, and could provide some cheap power at DH. But on digging into his profile more, there is one reason we might want to temper our expectations for Luke Scott: Tropicana Field.
Camden Yards may not get much publicity as a hitter’s park, but it is a dreamhouse for left-handed hitters. Last season, Camden Yards boosted overall offensive performance for left-handed hitters by around 4%; even with its short right-field porch, Yankee Stadium only clocked in at 3%. The majority of this boost came in the power department, as Camden increased homeruns for left-handed hitters by 18%. That right field wall may be high, but that doesn’t appear to be slowing anyone down.
Meanwhile, Tropicana Field is the most difficult park in the AL East for left-handed hitters…and it’s particularly difficult for left-handed power hitters. The Trop suppresses homeruns from lefties at around an 11% clip, as the right-field wall is at a sharp angle and reaches 380-390 feet in right-center.
For a quick and dirty look at how the Trop may impact Scott’s power, here are his doubles and homeruns from Camden Yards plotted onto the Trop’s dimensions.
Click to enlarge.
Plots courtesy of Katron.org.
Remember, these batted ball locations are taken from Gameday, so they shouldn’t be assumed to be 100% accurate. But even if you assume there’s some error in those plots, it still suggests that Scott will lose some homeruns as a Ray. His drives to center field and left field may turn into doubles or outs, which could drive his overall value down lower than we’d expect.
The effect of Camden Yards might also show up in another form: Scott’s home/road splits. Ever since joining the Orioles in 2007, Scott has performed considerably better at home than on the road. For example, in 2010, he had a 188 wRC+ in Camden Yards and an 88 wRC+ playing elsewhere. I normally don’t put much stock in home/road splits, but Scott showed this tendency every year during his time in Baltimore, and the cause of the drop seemed to have to do mainly with a loss of power: .333 ISO at home, .164 ISO on the road. Then again, Scott also appears to have hit the ball less solidly on the road overall — .345 BABIP at home, .261 on the road — so it’s tough to say how much of an effect the dimensions of Camden Yards have had on his power.
Luke Scott does have tremendous power potential, and he will surely add some much needed left-handed thump to the Rays’ lineup. However, there’s a reason that he’s coming at a bargain price; there are a number of question marks surrounding him — his shoulder, his age, his power — so his transition to Tropicana Field may not be the smoothest.
But when you’re operating on a small budget, you can’t afford to be too choosy. As the Rays know all too well, mitigated risk is the name of the game.