A 2016 paper titled “Turning up by Turning Over” published in the Journal of Business Psychology studied 712 major league players who changed teams from 2004 to 2015. The study concluded there are benefits for certain players in changing teams, particularly players that had been in decline. The study asserted there is a real change-of-scenery effect.
We should expect there can be some benefits in changing workplace environments, whether that’s related to opportunity, home-field environment or the relationships with coaches and teammates. Working under the belief there can be power in changing addresses, let’s evaluate what 10 players will profit most from their new team and/or location in 2018.
Cole looked like he was on his way to longtime ace-hood in 2015 when the former No. 1 overall pick finished fifth in National League Cy Young voting. But injury and inconsistent performance have since followed. Rather than watch his trade value potentially further erode, the Pirates dealt Cole to Houston in January, and the Astros took a flier on a potential under-30, upside target without surrendering any of the jewels of their farm system.
Cole could not have landed in a better spot. Not only are the defending World Series champs projected to win 101 games according to FanGraphs — and, remember, projection systems are conservative — but Cole could not have been traded to a better club in an effort to maximize his gifts.
For evidence, Cole does not have to look further than his former Pirates teammate and current Astros clubhouse neighbor, Charlie Morton. In Houston, Morton changed his approach. After working within the pitch-to-contact philosophy in Pittsburgh, he tried to miss more bats in Houston. He threw his curveball at a career-high rate and shelved his two-seam fastball. The results? When healthy he pitched as well as he ever has, culminating by winning Game 7 of the World Series. Fellow Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. also reached a career high in breaking-ball usage. Only the Rangers (29.4 percent) threw a lower percentage of fastballs than the Astros (29.8 percent) last season.
The problem for Cole is that despite one of the top average fastball velocities in the game, hitters have had more and more success in hunting the 96 mph pitch. Last season Cole allowed 18 home runs on his four- and two-seamers, compared to 12 the previous two years combined. Batters pulled 91 batted balls in the air against Cole last year, posting an .852 wOBA to the pull field, each career-worst numbers.
Said Cubs pitching guru Jim Benedict — whom Cole worked with in Pittsburgh — to The Athletic of Cole:
“It’s unusual today for a starting pitcher to be primarily a fastball pitcher. Realize, today, the way kids grow up hitting in showcases where velocity is what is considered the measuring stick for pitchers, hitters grow up hitting fastballs. Big league hitters can hunt fastballs, and they can hit them. Hitters have learned to hunt Gerrit’s fastball. He’s now making adjustments and learning.”
Cole might already be adapting as he doubled his changeup rate last year and his curveball usage increased by three percentage points. The Astros could accelerate his return to ace-hood and he could be further motivated in playing for a top contender.
Dee Gordon, Seattle Mariners
While Gordon was an above-average defensive second baseman in Miami, it’s a position — particularly in the age of infield shifts — where his speed cannot be maximized. Gordon’s speed was by far the top among second basemen last season, a top mark of 29.7 feet per second according to Statcast data via Baseball Savant. Only three major league players had superior speed than Gordon last season: Byron Buxton (30.2 feet per second), Billy Hamilton (30.1 ft/second) and Bradley Zimmer (29.9 ft/sec). They are all center fielders and strong- to elite-level defenders.
Moreover, the Mariners ranked 28th in center field wRC (75) last season where Gordon’s career mark of 93 should provide for an offensive upgrade.
Yonder Alonso, Cleveland Indians
Alonso was one of the players to join the fly ball revolution last year, and despite fading in the second half, he enjoyed career bests in home runs (28) and OPS (.866). He did so spending most of the season in Oakland, where the Pacific’s marine layer and stadium’s foul territory make the Coliseum a favorable pitcher’s park. According to Baseball Prospectus’ ballpark factor split, Oakland ranked 34th out of 60 ballpark splits in run factor for left-handed batters at 98 last season –where 100 represents league average — and 34th in home runs factor for lefties (100).
His new home, Progressive Field, ranked as the fourth-most-favorable park for lefties, and seventh overall out of 60 park factor splits, according to Baseball Prospectus’ run factor (107) split. Progressive Field also was above average in HR factor (106), ranking out 15th out of 60 park splits. Alonso ranked 104th out of 317 qualified batters in air-ball pull percentage at 31.8 percent last season. Put all of that together, and Alonso might be able to top last season’s career-best marks.
Tyler Chatwood, Chicago Cubs
For his career, Chatwood has been a better road performer — as you might expect as a former Rockies pitcher. Chatwood has a career 5.25 ERA and 4.91 FIP at home versus a 3.31 ERA and 4.19 FIP on the road. Since 2015, he has the fifth-lowest road ERA in baseball (2.57). The walk rate is troublesome wherever he pitches but Chatwood’s stuff, namely his big curveball, should play up away from Coors.
Jake Odorizzi, Minnesota Twins
The Rays are among the most devout believers in throwing high-spin, four-seam fastballs up in the zone, the idea being that high-spin fastballs appear to rise — they really drop relatively less — and generate more swings and misses. According to Baseball Savant, the average height of Odorizzi’s fastball at the time it reaches home plate has increased in three straight seasons. Last season, it matched Darren O’Day for the highest average height in baseball at 3.17 feet. While throwing fastballs up in the zone can boost strikeouts for a high-spin pitcher, as it can combat some of the players who have designed their swings to hammer the low pitch, the high pitch is still the easiest offering for batters to launch for home runs. Last season, Odorizzi allowed a career-high 30 home runs in a full season career-low of 143 innings. Perhaps Odorizzi picked the wrong year, a season of an alleged juiced ball and when hitters began to try to more often drive pitches up in the air. Or perhaps he became too predictable. Whatever the reason(s), a move to the more spacious ballparks of the American League Central will help, as will having the most athletically gifted center fielder in the sport in Byron Buxton. The pitching-needy Twins made a low-risk trade and bet that Odorizzi will turn it around and he might do just that.
Jarrod Dyson, Arizona Diamondbacks
Dyson never recorded more than 390 plate appearances in a season with the Royals. He has long been viewed as a speedy, glove-first reserve outfielder. But in signing a two-year deal with Arizona, Dyson can now demonstrate what he is capable of with a larger share of playing time. While he has zero power and struggles against lefties, he’s an elite-level defender — seventh among all center fielders in defensive runs saved since 2014 with plus-38 — and he’s an elite baserunner. But he’s also a league-average hitter against right-handed pitchers with a .342 on-base mark and wRC of 100 against them for his career. He also can help the D-backs avoid playing Yasmany Tomas.
Carlos Santana, Philadelphia Phillies
It’s not as if Santana struggled in Cleveland. After all, he reached a $60 million agreement with the Phillies this offseason because he has become one of the most consistent hitters in the game and is a walk-rate god. Still, his move to Philly should have your attention, fantasy players. Santana, a switch-hitter, could be poised for a career year in Philadelphia, where Citizens Bank Park ranked second (119) and third (116) in Baseball Prospectus’ home run factor splits last season for right- and left-handed hitters, respectively. Progressive Field sapped Santana’s power against lefties with a 94 park factor for right-handed power. The Phillies might not be that far away from contention after the addition of Jake Arrieta, and Santana’s skills should play up in his new home.
Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers
While Cain is known for his defense, he also can hit. Over the past three years, Cain produced a .299/.356/.445 slash line and a 118 wRC . Last season he produced a career-best walk rate (8.4 percent) and career-low strikeout rate (15.5 percent). Like his new teammate, Christian Yelich, Cain trades one of the least favorable ballparks for right-handed hitters for one of the most favorable. Cain’s road wRC (119) was higher than his home mark (110) last season, which is unusual. While Cain already was one of the better all-around players in the game, he could put up the best offensive numbers of his career this year as a Brewer.
Randal Grichuk, Toronto Blue Jays
While he was in danger of being lost in a crowd in St. Louis, Grichuk is an upgrade in right field for Toronto. Grichuk is something of a Giancarlo Stanton-lite when it comes to exit velocity and raw power. He’s also an able defender who is above average in skill in the corners and can survive in center field. It has been a lack of bat-to-ball contact that has hurt Grichuk, but perhaps the more favorable hitting environments of the AL East — and having a fly ball revolutionary for a teammate in Josh Donaldson — can help him maximize his potential.