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Put some context into minor-league numbers with this handy guide from Baseball America
People talk about the park factors of major-league stadiums all the time in baseball analysis. It's especially unavoidable here when discussing the Red Sox, given the hitter-friendly nature of Fenway Park. What you see a lot less discussion of, though, are the park factors for minor-league stadiums. Those are also important, despite their less-heralded nature, and thankfully Baseball America has released three-year park factors for each stadium at that level.
Sadly, these are not component park factors -- they aren't broken up into hit types, or by handedness. However, any guide is better than no guide here, as knowing whether a home park is generally helpful or harmful to hitters and pitchers is, if nothing else, a start.
A park factor of "1.000" is neutral, so think of a .980 park factor as hitters seeing a two percent reduction in production, or pitchers seeing a two percent boost, while a 1.200 park factor would mean a 20 percent boost in hitters numbers, or 20 percent worse for pitchers.
Triple-A: Pawtucket Red Sox, International League
Runs per game: 8.16
Hits per game: 16.42
Home runs per game: 1.81
Park Factor: 0.957
McCoy Stadium leans pitcher-friendly these last three years, and features the second-lowest park-factor in the International League despite the fourth-loftiest homer per game rate. While those extra bombs are primarily for right-handed hitters, McCoy reduces hits of all other types, canceling out the homer advantage, while still managing to make some batters look pretty good.
Overall, the International League leans fairly neutral -- Pawtucket reduces offense by just about four percent, yet it's near the bottom of the league. On the other side, just one club's park -- Columbus -- manages a double-digit percentage boost to production, with the next-highest coming in at under three percent. This puts it at serious odds with the Pacific Coast League, which ranks second in the minors in runs per game thanks to the high-offense environment of its western clubs.
Double-A: Portland Sea Dogs, Eastern League
Runs per game: 10.00
Hits per game: 18.50
Home runs per game: 1.76
Park Factor: 1.059
Hadlock Field has the second-highest park factor in the Eastern League, and sports the loftiest runs per game rate of the last three years. However, this is all relative: the Eastern League is just sixth in offense of the 10 minor leagues, so being the most extreme of the lower portion of the average isn't, well, all that extreme. Hadlock boosts offense by just under six percent, owed almost entirely to the park's dimensions, which allow for serious doubles production from both sides of the plate, but especially the right.
As said, the Eastern League is fairly neutral overall, with the most pitcher-friendly environment reducing offense by less than four percent, and Portland at the top in the other direction, but only at a six percent clip. When projecting future Red Sox hitters slamming doubles at Portland, just remember that they might not get the same Fenway boost in that regard as players without the benefit of Hadlock's dimensions.
Xander Bogaerts saw a boost thanks to Portland, but not much of one. (Photo credit: Chung Sung-Jun)
High-A: Salem RedSox, Carolina League
Runs per game: 9.16
Hits per game: 17.27
Home runs per game: 1.19
Park Factor: 1.002
That's about as neutral as you can get, with LewisGale Field boosting offense by a negligible 0.2 percent. That isn't to say it's without its quirks: the stadium inhibits homers from both sides of the plate, but, like Hadlock, increases doubles production, making up for the lack of fence-clearing action.
Like with the Eastern League, overall things lean somewhat neutral/pitcher-oriented: the most offense you'll see in the Carolina League comes at Winston-Salem, at 1.055, while the least is courtesy Wilmington's 0.931.
Low-A: Greenville Drive, South Atlantic League
Runs per game: 9.66
Hits per game: 17.91
Home runs per game: 1.52
Park Factor: 1.012
Starting to see a pattern here? The Red Sox just don't have extreme conditions for their minor-league affiliates anymore -- gone are the days of Lars Anderson being made to look excellent because Lancaster boosted offense by more than twice as much as any of the current Boston-owned venues. They still have their notable aspects -- Fluor Field is excellent for right-handed power, hence the 1.52 homers per game rate shown above -- but overall, it just doesn't do a whole lot for hitters, or take away very much from pitchers. At least, not relative to the competition.
The South Atlantic League is one of the better hitters' leagues in the minors, coming in third out of the 10 full-season leagues Baseball America released data for. So, while Greenville is certainly boosting homers and doubles more than other Boston minor-league affiliates, within this Low-A level, it's not all that remarkable.
At this level, though, no one is (or should be) paying much attention to numbers. There are plenty of pitchers who are surviving entirely on fastballs, and hitters feasting off of them -- the real tests come at the upper levels, where Boston's farm teams are in basically neutral territory. For analysis purposes, that makes life a bit easier, and reality better-formed.
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