Blue Jays Return Home: Adjusting Game Total and Player Projections with Toronto Back at Rogers Centre
Michael Reaves/Getty Images. Pictured: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
- The Toronto Blue Jays play their first home game since 2019 tonight against the Royals.
- Toronto had been playing its home games in Buffalo and Florida during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Sean Zerillo updates his projections for the roster going forward given the change in home ballpark for the final two months.
The Toronto Blue Jays will return to their home at Rogers Centre for the first time in nearly two years tonight, where they will begin a 10-game homestand and play their remaining 35 scheduled home games in front of their Canadian faithful.
The Jays weren’t necessarily disadvantaged by playing their home games in Dunedin, Florida and Buffalo, New York the past two seasons, where they have gone a combined 39-30 with a +66 run differential (Pythagorean record of 40-29), but I’m sure that their players will be happy to avoid their barnstorming ways and remain in the same city for an extended period of time.
Whether you’re a bettor or play fantasy baseball, the park change should have an effect on how you approach Blue Jays home games or value their players for the rest of the season.
Below, I’ll compare the Park Factors between Buffalo and Toronto, explain how that will change the game to game totals for Over/Under purposes, and evaluate how the change impacts Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s pursuit of the Triple Crown.
Park Factor Adjustment
The Jays have accumulated roughly the same number of plate appearances at Sahlen Field in Buffalo over the past two seasons (2252 PA in 2020, 2254 in 2021).
We can take the average of their two years’ worth of Park Factor data in Buffalo and compare it to the rolling three-year sample from their home games at Rogers Centre in Toronto from 2017-2019.
Here’s how the two parks stack up, per Statcast Park Factors, with a figure of 100 representing league-average production:
Statcast considers the run-scoring environment at both parks to be roughly the same. However, the two parks still play a bit differently.
Most notably, Rogers Centre has a home run factor 7% higher than the MLB average, while Sahlen Field plays about 7% below average for homers. This likely is connected to the fact that Toronto has a convertible roof and is mostly protected from the wind. At the same time, Buffalo deals with a significant amount of wind in either direction depending upon the day.
You can see a similar differential concerning the number of singles in Buffalo vs. Toronto, which I assumed was related to the respective playing surfaces, but Rogers Centre installed an all-dirt infield in 2016.
The relative walk and strikeout factors are also flipped, which might be related to pitchers trying to nibble in an enhanced offensive environment in Buffalo, or it could merely be the result of a small sample size.
Adjusting Game Totals
I have found that the betting markets have generally set the totals for Sahlen Field 10% above league average (110 Park Factor), making it the second-highest park factor in my projections. Typically, the adjustment is due to strong winds which influence the action in the smaller Triple-A venue.
Rogers Centre ranks 18th according to my model-projected park adjustment rankings. Based on the long-term history at that park, I have the run-scoring environment rated two percent below average:
As a result, let’s investigate how a projected game total might compare for a matchup in Toronto instead of Buffalo, using Tuesday’s matchup between the Red Sox and Blue Jays, with Garrett Richards set to face Thomas Hatch, as an example.
I projected this game total at 11.12 runs, using the 110 Park Factor adjustment I listed, above. The total opened at 11 and has been bet up to 11.5 with a relatively neutral umpire (68-66 to the Over), swirling winds, and rain.
Furthermore, I set the first five innings (F5) total at 6.41 runs, and that number has stayed at 6.5 since open.
How would I adjust the total for a game at Rogers Centre, as compared to Sahlen Field?
I would downgrade the F5 and full game totals by roughly 11% in both halves, taking 0.73 runs away from the first five innings total and 1.2 runs away from the full game total.
That’s a pretty substantial adjustment, and I expect Rogers Centre to play closer to Miller Park or Target Field than Fenway Park in terms of the overall run-scoring environment.
Player Projection Adjustments, and Vlad’s Quest for the Triple Crown
One player who the park switch may help, at least in the short term, is Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who currently ranks second in batting average (.328), second in home runs (31), and first in RBIs (78) in the American League, as he tries to become the first player since Miguel Cabrera (2012) to win the Triple Crown.
On the season, Vlad Jr. has hit one home run for every 12.55 plate appearances, which ranks fourth amongst qualified hitters behind Shohei Ohtani (10.65), Fernando Tatis Jr. (11.71), and Kyle Schwarber (12.12).
According to THE BAT projections, Vlad Jr. ranks seventh in projected home runs per plate appearance (14.95), over the remainder of the season.
He’s projected to play 68 of the Jays’ 71 remaining games, with 35 of those 71 games coming at Rogers Centre.
Assuming an average park environment in his remaining road games, here’s how Vlad Jr.’s projected batting line would compare while playing those final 35 home games at Sahlen Field as opposed to Rogers Centre:
Playing games at Sahlen Field would increase his likelihood of leading the AL in batting average. Still, the move to Rogers Centre bumps Vlad’s overall batting line by 14 points in terms of OPS due to the increase in power from the additional doubles and homers he’ll gain at Rogers Centre.
While it’s only a difference of 1.6 home runs over the course of a 35-game sample, that’s enough to move the needle, representing more than 3% of his full-season home run total.
As a result, while the average run-scoring environment is lower at Rogers Centre, compared to Sahlen Field, I think the park change actually enhances Vlad’s chances of securing the triple crown, since he has the most ground to make up in the home run category.
That said, I’m a bit concerned about my RBI leader ticket (+5000) from the preseason since Rogers Centre will reduce the overall run-scoring environment for his teammates.
It would be tough to deny Vlad Jr. the MVP award if he does secure the Triple Crown, but it has happened before (Chuck Klein in 1933, Lou Gehrig in 1934, and Ted Williams in 1942 and 1947).
Guerrero is still listed as high as +250 (DraftKings) to win the American League MVP. His only path to winning the award is to secure the Triple Crown since Shohei Ohtani (projected 8.8 WAR, combined) is still projected to clear Vlad Jr. (projected 7 WAR) and the rest of the AL crop by a significant margin.
Even still, winning the Triple Crown may not be enough to overcome Ohtani in the AL MVP race.