Question: Which unsigned free agent could see his fantasy value change the most in 2016?
Zinkie: Of the many 2016 free agents, I am most closely watching the destinations of the following three starters:
Jeff Samardzija: After posting a 2.99 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and an 8.3 K/9 rate in 2014, the right-hander was drafted as a No. 2 mixed-league starter last season. His production dropped off dramatically (4.96 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 6.9 K/9 rate) in his single season with a White Sox squad that played poor defense in a hitter-friendly home park. Fantasy owners should hope that Samardzija opts for a club with a spacious venue and strong supporting cast.
Johnny Cueto: From the outset of 2011 to the moment he departed the Reds in July, the right-hander posted a 2.51 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP across 121 starts. Despite joining a Royals club with a stellar defensive unit and pitcher-friendly home park, Cueto registered a 4.76 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP across 13 stretch-run starts. Fantasy owners would feel more comfortable investing an early-round '16 pick on the 29-year-old if he finds his way back to the Senior Circuit.
Wei-Yin Chen: Chen has produced a 3.44 ERA across the past two seasons while pitching for a club with a hitter-friendly home park in the offensively potent American League East. But his 4.13 FIP from 2015 suggests that he may not retain mixed-league value if he does not move to a more forgiving destination. In a spacious home park, the 30-year-old may be able to curb his lifetime 1.2 HR/9 rate.
Question: Why do some players have more value in fantasy than in real life? Think of someone like Mark Trumbo.
Zinkie: While fantasy baseball makes its best effort to simulate real-life value, there will always be discrepancies. Because most fantasy leagues use five categories to measure hitters and five for pitchers, players who excel in certain areas tend to have fantasy value that does not line up with their actual effectiveness.
You brought up a good example with Trumbo. Because the 29-year-old can produce a lofty home run total, he can be a major fantasy asset. Trumbo's poor BB:K ratio does not matter much to most fantasy owners, even though it is a factor in the success of his actual club.
Speedsters tend to be the hitters with the greatest enhancement in fantasy value. Because stolen bases are one of the five standard categories, players who rank among the league leaders in that category will have significant value. Simply put, swipes matter much more to fantasy owners than they do to the outcome of a real game.
For starting pitchers, those who compile significant strikeout totals tend to have enhanced fantasy value. Major League clubs are content to use starters with poor strikeout rates, as long as they limit scoring. Fantasy owners have little use for starters with a low whiff rate.
Saves also have enhanced value in fantasy baseball. In most fantasy leagues, virtually any reliever who is compiling saves is worth a lineup spot. While closers are undoubtedly important to their actual clubs, advanced analytics have shown that closers are not necessarily more valuable than effective relievers who work high-leverage situations in earlier innings.
Question: When a pitcher moves from one league to another, how much does that affect his value? Same question but for hitters.
Zinkie: While studies have been run to determine the average impact switching leagues has on a pitcher, it is hard for fantasy owners to cling to one set of numbers in these cases. In general, pitchers should benefit from a switch to the National League while having their value diminished by a move to the AL. But the league switch is just one of many factors at play when a pitcher changes teams. Switching home venues can have a notable impact, as can changes in defensive support, batterymates and pitching coaches.
For hitters, a switch to the AL could result in more runs and RBIs by being part of a deeper lineup. But as with pitchers, there are many other significant factors in play when a hitter switches teams. Park effects can change a hitter's production, as can his lineup position.
Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.