The movie Trading Places tells the story of a Wall Street mogul and a homeless grifter who unwittingly swap lives as the result of a devious and elaborate wager. At the heart of the bet is whether nature or nurture play a bigger role in determining an individual's success.
In baseball, it's a question that has been asked as many times as there have been players, perhaps plays. Are a player's raw talents really the determining factor in making him a success or can environmental factors (park factors, lineup, etc.) offer further insight into what makes a player produce at the highest level?
In some cases, it should be clear that a player's surroundings can, in fact, play a significant role in making him better or worse, while in some cases, as a player's skill set begins to erode (through nature), things can and do take a turn for the worse.
Lance Berkman, 1B, New York Yankees. After not connecting on more than three home runs in any month, Berkman regained his power stroke in June, connecting on six long balls. Perhaps this is positive sign for the remainder of 2010. You see, when a career .296 hitter is limping around, carting the burdensome weight of a .242 batting average at age 34, thoughts of retirement begin to enter into the equation. That was the case for Berkman, a player who either needed a change of scenery or, in true Texas form, a sunset into which he could ride off. He received the former, being traded to the Yankees for spare parts. While he's not going to start every day (he'll likely sit versus lefties), Berkman has the opportunity to shine in new Yankee Stadium. Playing almost exclusively as a left-handed batter in an accommodating ballpark in that regard should do wonders to help Berkman regain his All-Star form of seasons past.
Ted Lilly, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers.Cliff Lee was the first pitcher of note to be traded, and Roy Oswalt to the Phillies gained more notoriety. Lilly has the chance to gain the most with his West Coast relocation. The Cubs, as most are aware, were not, and are not, a strong ball club. Despite pitching to a 3.69 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, Lilly somehow only has three wins on the season. That lack of victories is a disturbing fact that exasperated fantasy owners know well. While wins are not the best indication of pitching prowess, they remain one if the scoring staples in the fantasy game. The Dodgers, playing north of .500, should give Lilly a chance to improve on his 2010 win totals while offering the former Cubs lefty some breathing room by allowing him to regularly pitch in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium.
Jorge Cantu, 1B/3B, Texas Rangers. The Cantu of April (.311, 5 HR, 23 RBI) was looking a lot like the player that hit 28 home runs and drove in 117 runs in 2005. Things trended downward for Cantu thereafter, with his stats looking worse from one month to the next. One reason could be his distaste for hitting at his home ballpark in Florida. Cantu hit only .257 at home, while he carried a .270 mark on the road. Additionally, his slugging percentage and OPS were both noticeably better away from Florida. Voila! He's now away from Florida, landing in one of the best hitting ballparks in all of baseball, with the kind of lineup that can offer both table-setters and sluggers. The early returns, including a .333 batting average, suggest that Cantu might find the hot Arlington summers to his liking -- something his fantasy owners are sure to appreciate.
Ryan Ludwick, OF, San Diego Padres. This is less a condemnation of Ludwick himself than it is an endorsement of Cardinals outfielder John Jay. While Ludwick was hitting .281 with 11 HR and 43 RBI at the time of the trade, he's already 32 years old and isn't likely to get much better. His unexpected 37 HR, 113 RBI season in 2008 most likely represents the best that fantasy owners will ever see from Ludwick. He's clearly not been that hitter in 2010, especially away from Busch Stadium. Away from St. Louis, Ludwick is hitting just .253 with a .736 OPS. While he is a .299 hitter in 47 career at bats in Petco Park, the ballpark isn't exactly offensively forgiving, and any power Ludwick may have possessed is likely to be noticeably suppressed. Jay, on the other hand, will now carry his near-.400 batting average on to the field in an every day capacity.
Miguel Tejada, 3B/SS, San Diego Padres. Tejada's appearance on the "For Worse" list has less to do with the Petco factor than it does with what are clearly a set of diminished skills. The power that Tejada once possessed has eroded to the point where he can hardly be considered a "threat". A four-time 30-HR bat, Tejada has limped to totals of 18, 13, and 14 the past three seasons, and with just seven in 2010, he may not reach double figures for the first (and only) time since he became a Major League regular. More to the point, Tejada hasn't carried an OPS above .799 since 2006, and his .269 batting average at the time of the trade was .019 below his career average. Tejada owners expecting a return to his former-MVP form are only setting themselves up for disappointment.
Jon Rauch, RP, Minnesota Twins. Rauch, to his credit, pitched rather well for the Twins, especially in the wake of Joe Nathan's season-ending injury. Rauch has pitched to a 2.97 ERA with 21 saves for a team in desperate need of bullpen fortification. He became one of the true fantasy finds of 2010. Matt Capps was doing a fine job in his own right. He regained his pre-2009 form, successfully saving 26-of-30 games for the Nationals, en route to earning an All-Star berth. The Twins thought highly enough of him to make him their lone deadline acquisition, and immediately inserting him into the closer's role. The bad news for Rauch owners is that their fantasy find has now found himself without a job, and nary a save to be had going forward.
Damian Schaab is a senior writer for SportsGrumblings.com, and member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Visit SportsGrumblings.com today to ensure total fantasy sports dominance.