Let’s play fantasy baseball.
For the sake of conversation we’ll pretend that the Cardinals can sign right fielder Bryce Harper or shortstop/third baseman Manny Machado. The money and length of contract would be the same. Both players are willing to sign here.
The Cardinals, however, can choose only one.
So who should it be? Some of you would say that the Cardinals need a left-side infielder more than a corner outfielder. Sure, there’s a case to be made for going with Machado, who can play third or short. And some of you would say Machado is a better overall hitter than Harper.
On the flip side, the Cardinals have Paul DeJong at shortstop — he packs plenty of power and is an above-average defender — with multiple third-base prospects on the way. And while the Cardinals have a surplus of corner outfielders …. do they have a surplus of premium corner outfielders? Heck, no. Harper would fill the void in right field and give the Cardinals the best player they’ve had there in a long time. (Maybe since Carlos Beltran in 2012 and 2013?)
And the Cardinals certainly need a left-handed bat to install in an important lineup spot.
Harper hits from the left side.
Machado swings from the right side.
This is where Busch Stadium becomes a factor.
Left-handed hitters have more success at Busch than right-handed batters.
That’s a fact. It’s true during the stadium’s entire existence (2006-present.)
It’s true since Albert Pujols — a fearsome RH bat — left St. Louis as a free agent to sign with the Angels at the start of the 2012 season.
And it’s been true over the past two seasons, a time frame that offers the most relevant look.
In 2017-2018, here’s how all MLB hitters (including those employed by Cardinals) fared at Busch Stadium based on their choice of batter’s box.
RIGHT-HANDED BATTERS AT BUSCH STADIUM, 2017-2018
.309 onbase percentage
.387 slugging percentage
HR ratio of one every 33.7 at-bats
Park adjusted runs created (wRC+): 20 percent below league average offensively.
LEFT-HANDED BATTERS AT BUSCH STADIUM, 2017-2018
.338 onbase percentage
.407 slugging percentage
HR ratio of one every 31 at-bats
Park adjusted runs created: five percent below the league average offensively.
But wait …
There’s more …
There’s another distinct difference between Harper and Machado.
Harper did not get a boost, offensively when playing in his home ballpark in Washington.
Machado, however, got a huge lift offensively at Camden Yards in Baltimore — his home yard until being traded to the Dodgers at the 2018 All-Star break.
Harper had only slightly better numbers at home compared to his road splits. But Machado’s home/road splits were more extreme.
Let’s have a look:
MACHADO, HOME/ROAD (as an Oriole)
Home: 1,851 plate appearances, .299 average, .357 OBP, .536 slug, .894 OPS, HR ratio one every 17 at-bats, and park adjusted runs created of 37 percent above the league average.
Road: 1,972 plate appearances, .271 average, .318 OBP, .441 slug, .760 OPS, HR ratio of one every 28 at-bats, park adjusted runs created of four percent above league average.
That’s a significant gap. During his Orioles career, in comparison to his batting profile at Camden Yards, Machado’s slugging percentage was 95 points lower on the road. His OPS was 134 points lower on the road. There was a 33 percent drop offensively in park adjusted runs created on the road.
HARPER, HOME/ROAD (as a National)
Home: 1,994 plate appearances, .284 average, .394 OBP, .518 slug, .912 OPS, HR ratio of one every 17.5 at-bats, and 42 percent above the league average offensively in park adjusted runs created.
Road: 1,963 plate appearances, .274 average, .380 OBP, .506 slug, .887 OPS, HR ratio of one every 17.8 at-bats, and 38 percent above league average offensively in park adjusted runs created.
As you can see, there isn’t much of a disparity in Harper’s home/road hitting. His home-run power was virtually the same. There’s only a 12-point difference in the slugging percentage. And only a four percent difference in park adjusted runs created.
Keep this in mind if the Cardinals make a run at a trade for Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. But that wouldn’t raise any flags in terms of venue. True, Goldschmidt bats from the right side, so his power would probably lose some horsepower at Busch Stadium. But even though Arizona plays home games in a hitter-friendly park, Goldschmidt actually has better power numbers on the road during his career. He has slugged .529 at home, and .535 on the road. And Goldschmidt is 48 percent above league average offensively on the road — compared to 41 percent above the league average at home.
It isn’t that the Cardinals should shy away from signing or acquiring right-handed hitters. They just have to make sure it’s a RH hitter who doesn’t have inflated power figures because of a significantly favorable home-ballpark setting. Machado does; Goldschmidt doesn’t. And the Cardinals need to remember that Busch is kinder to left-handed hitters … and not as friendly to those who swing from the right side.
Thanks for reading …