Banana Splits: Home a welcome place for handful of starters
There are some ballparks that play better for offense than others, and the players have come to know the ways in which to exploit these factors. Similarly, there are parks that play right into a pitcher's hands. Over time, pitchers, too, can learn to exploit the natural advantages of their home parks. Whether it be increased foul territory, low elevation, or the dimensions of the outfield (the more spacious the better, obviously), pitchers will adapt and in doing so they can capitalize on the unique characteristics of their home parks.
On the other hand, of course, some pitchers may just perform better at home because they slept in their own bed the night before. Maybe for certain pitchers it's a matter of having the home crowd on their side, cheering them to victory with every pitch. Perhaps even scarier to imagine, maybe it's all just dumb luck -- something stat-heads would prefer to explain away with some advanced metric. Whatever the case, some pitchers do pitch better at home, and for Fantasy owners, knowing those home-road splits can and will make a difference in the standings if used properly. Consider the following ...
There's nothing especially advantageous about pitching in Cleveland, at least insofar as park factors are concerned. Yet, for whatever reason, Lowe seems to find the conditions ideally suited to his way of pitching. As a road warrior, Lowe has been downright awful, pitching to a 5.73 ERA and 2:6 K: BB in 11.0 innings away from Cleveland. At home, however, he's a horse of a different color, with a 3-0 record, 1.01 ERA. Essentially, he's become the de facto ace of the Indians staff. Sure, there was the cakewalk start against the Royals that helped pad his home stats, but he's also pitched brilliantly against the Blue Jays, Angels and even the Rangers (yes, those Rangers). With Lowe, knowing that he can be a mound ace in home starts might be the missing piece of the strategy puzzle fantasy baseball owners need to sneak up on the competition.
Anyone playing fantasy baseball already knows how good Weaver can be, but not everyone knows how truly dominant he's been at home thus far. Overall, Weaver has pitched to a 1.60 ERA and cartoonish 0.79 WHIP. At home though, he's even better. In four starts in Anaheim, Weaver has gone 4-0 with a 0.83 ERA, surrendering just three earned runs in 32.2 innings. He also has a 15:1 K: BB ratio at home, making him among the most effective strikeout pitchers going. Granted, this is a pitcher that will be a staple in fantasy rotations regardless of circumstances, but it's sincerely amazing how well Weaver's pitched at home in 2012. Anyone inclined to start tallying Cy Young Award favorites in the second week of May would probably have to start that list with Weaver's name, thanks largely to how well he pitches at home.
No, the Padres aren't that great a baseball team, struggling to win games in a beautiful, albeit pitcher-friendly home ballpark. One pitcher enjoying a great deal of success at home, despite what his 1-2 overall record might indicate, is Edinson Volquez. In his lone road start, Volquez surrendered four earned runs and five walks in five innings. Yet in the six games he's pitched in Petco Park, he's been an entirely different beast, pitching to a 2.41 ERA and striking out 36 batters in 37.1 home innings. Incidentally, he leads all of baseball in home strikeouts and innings pitched. It's easy to credit Volquez' success on his home surroundings, but over the last three seasons, Volquez has been a better pitcher at home, with an ERA more than half a run lower when he's safe at home. Now, with Petco on his side, things are simply amplified, and fantasy owners should capitalize on that fact.
In six starts this season the Mets left-hander is 1-2 with a 2.61 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. Those numbers suggest he's on the right track as far as comeback seasons are concerned. In his four starts at Citi Field, Santana has pitched particularly well, leading all of baseball with an 11.03 K/9. With diminished velocity, Santana's critics were openly concerned about his ability to miss hitter's bats, something he's done with stunning effectiveness at home. Those same critics are still wrangling over Santana's supposed fragility, but so far, his health has been just fine as well. As long as Santana keeps pitching like this, and as long as he's finding comfort at Citi Field, things look pretty bright for fantasy fanatics moving forward.
If baseball was handing out a Cy Young Award for home starts, the winner might be Gonzalez off the Nationals. Sure, he's just 2-0 in his three home starts, but he's pitched to the lowest ERA (0.43) of any pitcher with at least 20 innings pitched under his belt. He's carrying a 9.43 K/9 and 7.33 K: BB, both numbers that rank in the top six overall. In 21.0 home innings, Gonzalez has allowed just eight hits and three walks -- that's 11 total base runners in three games. It's no wonder the Nationals are fighting for the best record in the National League, what with Gonzalez helping to anchor one of the game's most impressive rotations. Fantasy owners need to take note -- last season was clearly not a fluke for Gio. Rather, it seems his success in 2011 was just a preview of things to come in 2012.