If you’re a fan of major league baseball, you understand the major differences between some of the major league parks. You know that Petco Park in San Diego is a massive pitcher’s park, while Coors Field in Denver is a great park for hitters. Differences in park factors contribute greatly to every players numbers, considering that they are compiled in different environments. A hitter that puts up a great season in Denver just isn’t quite as good as a great season in San Diego. I think we’ve reached the point where we accept that, as park factors on the major league level have been studied in depth. However, what’s not talked about nearly as much are minor league park factors. Earlier this week, milb.com ran a really good piece on the minor league park factors, which need more attention. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d encourage you to read the whole thing if you’re interested in minor league baseball or prospects.
There are many reasons why parks play differently. It could be as simple as smaller or larger dimensions, the ball traveling better in that climate, the amount of foul territory, or maybe a park has a poor hitter’s background. What I wanted to do was to see how each of the Orioles minor league parks played. Hopefully, this will give us another resource to interpret minor league data. There are a multitude of factors to consider when looking at minor league stats such as: the age of the player versus the league, the player’s raw tools, what the player is working on while developing, if he’s improving as he advances through the system, and park factors. This data in no way should be our only resource, but I think it adds an interesting slant to the raw numbers that are compiled at each level.
In the minor leagues, there are wildly different scoring environments between the different leagues and even between the individual parks in each league. Some leagues such as the Pacific Coast League are known for having extreme hitters parks, while leagues such as the Florida State League are known for being heavily slanted towards pitchers. But even within each league, the parks can vary greatly. For example, in the PCL, the Albaquerque Isotopes home park has a home run park factor of 1.552 while the Portland Beavers park has a home run park factor of only .678. A park factor of 1.0 would be considered neutral so 1.552 is tilted pretty heavily in the hitter’s favor. The data used to compile each of these park factors is from the last three minor league seasons.
To get a general feel for the different run scoring environments in each league, lets look at a chart showing the average number of runs per game in each league over the last 5 years.
You can see each of the various leagues containing Orioles affiliates towards the middle or right side of the chart. The South Atlantic League in which the Delmarva Shorebirds play, more commonly referred to as the Sally League is the most hitter friendly league an Orioles affiliate plays in. The Orioles affiliates all play in leagues not known for putting up inflated offensive numbers like the California League or the PCL. Most of the really offensive friendly environments are on the west coast, where the ball seems to travel better.
Let’s take a look at each of the four major levels in the Orioles system and see what we can find out, shall we.
AAA Norfolk Tides (International League) – Harbor Park
Dimensions: Left Field: 333 ft. Center Field: 410 ft. Right Field: 318 ft.
Park Factors: Runs (.977) Home Runs (.796) Hits (1.003)
Harbor Park plays fairly neutral in terms of runs scored and the number of base hits it allows. However, with the deepest left and center field in the Orioles minor league system, the park is a difficult one in which to hit home runs. I also pulled data from the website statcorner.com, which gives park factors broken down by handedness. I wanted to see if each park was especially easy or difficult on left and right handed batters. For Harbor Park, the home run park factor for left handed batters is 83, and 70 for right handed hitters. Statcorner’s park factors are centered around 100, with 100 being neutral. Above 100 favors the hitter and below 100 favors the pitcher.
The Tides home stadium makes it substantially tougher for right handed hitters to hit a home run. This is just speculation, but it could be because of the breeze off of the water knocking down balls towards left field. The runs park factor is exactly neutral for left handed hitters but is 94 for right handed hitters. This is largely because of the difficulty right handed hitters have hitting home runs in the stadium.
AA Bowie Baysox (Eastern League) – Prince George’s Stadium
Dimensions: Left Field: 309 ft. Center Field: 405 ft. Right Field: 309 ft.
Park Factors: Runs (.962) Home Runs (1.125) Hits (.955)
Prince George’s Stadium plays as more of a pitcher’s park except for it’s slight tendency to give up more home runs than you’d expect. The dimensions at the stadium could be the cause of this tendency. It’s 309 feet down the left and right field lines, which is fairly close to home plate. I would imagine this leads to a lot of homers directly down the line. However, the field juts out quickly towards center field. One contact called center field in Bowie “no man’s land.” He also said that there are typically strong winds blowing in from center field in Bowie, which along with the deep fences keeps balls in play that may have otherwise gone out.
The numbers from Statcorner on Bowie’s stadium are interesting. They list a home run park factor of 126 for left handed batters and 105 for righties. It appears that left handed hitters have a much easier time hitting home runs in Bowie than right handed hitters. Their park factors for runs are about even and right in line with the milb.com data. Finally, according to my trusty source wikipedia, in 2004, the stadium served as the home of the D.C. Forward, the city’s Pro Cricket team. Who knew D.C. had a pro cricket team?
Frederick Keys (Carolina League) – Harry Grove Stadium
Dimensions: Left Field: 325 ft. Center Field: 400 ft. Right Field: 325 ft.
Park Factors: Runs (1.002) Home Runs (1.689) Hits (.967)
Now here are some interesting park factors. Harry Grove Stadium has a 1.689 home run park factor, but that doesn’t increase run scoring in the stadium at all. Run scoring in the park is just about exactly the same as it is on the road. There is a lot of open air around the stadium which may lead to strong winds helping balls carry over the fence. One contact said that the ball carries especially well towards right and right center field. That would be towards the major highway that is beyond the right field wall. Maybe the highway influences the way balls carry, I’m not sure.
The data from statcorner is very similar. There isn’t a big advantage for either left or right handed hitters either. The home run park factor is 175 for lefties and 172 for righties. The basic runs park factors are 101 and 103 respectively. So the stadium in Frederick, which sits just off of a major highway (Route 70) is an easy place to hit home runs, but not an especially easy place to score runs.
Delmarva Shorebirds (South Atlantic League) – Arthur W. Perdue Stadium
Dimensions: Left Field: 309 ft. Center Field: 402 ft. Right Field: 309 ft.
Park Factors: Runs (.920) Home Runs (.784) Hits (.963)
Even though the park is relatively short down the left and right field lines, the park is a difficult one in which to hit a home run. Delmarva’s stadium is in Salisbury, MD which is pretty close to the ocean. Speculation again, but the heavy air from being close to the ocean could make the ball not travel well at the stadium. Run scoring is held down slightly but not enough to force us to do any major adjustments. The data from statcorner is similar and doesn’t tell us much about how left or right handed hitters should fare. The home runs park factors are 82 for lefties and 86 for righties. Runs have a park factor of 97 and 90 respectively.
What Did We Learn?
All 4 Orioles minor league parks (I didn’t have data on Aberdeen) are relatively neutral or slightly favor pitchers on an overall run scoring level. However, it’s extremely difficult to hit home runs at Norfolk and Delmarva. If we see an Orioles minor league hitter who is age appropriate for his level hit a bunch of home runs in one of these parks, we should give him a little extra credit. On the other hand, Bowie and Frederick are much easier places to hit home runs. Bowie’s advantage is mainly restricted to left handed hitters, while Frederick has been an easy park to hit a home run in for hitters from both sides of the plate. We should keep this in mind if we see surprising results from either Bowie or Frederick. On the other hand, if we see a pitcher such as Parker Bridwell or Eduardo Rodriguez give up a bunch of home runs in Frederick next season, the park could be the reason why.