You know you are a huge baseball nerd when one of your favorite, and heavily-anticipated, annual topics is a dig into minor league park factors!
Thanks to Ashley Marshall at MiLB.com, we get a peak at how each of the Low-A, High-A, AA, and AAA leagues shake out – are they pitching-friendly? homer-prone? etc. – as well as each team’s individual ballpark. You are encouraged to dig into each piece, and see what’s what.
Among the highlights:
- The Pacific Coast League – where the Iowa Cubs play – remains the most offensively-inclined league above A-Ball, and is second only to the California League (Low-A) in runs scored per game (well, above the rookie leagues, which vary wildly). Thing is, the PCL is skewed by the western ballparks that are far, far more offense-friendly than the parks in the Midwest. Principal Park, where the Iowa Cubs play, is actually among the least homer-friendly parks, and is 13th (out of 18) in the league with a 0.862 park factor for runs (1.000 is neutral, above means offense-friendly, below means pitching-friendly) since 2010. So, when evaluating Cubs positional prospects, don’t automatically say “but PCL” when a Cubs prospect has a great year at AAA. (But, on the flip side, keep it in mind with pitchers who surprise.)
- The Southern League – where the Tennessee Smokies play – is one of the most pitching-friendly leagues in baseball, averaging just 4.4 runs per game (10th out of 13 leagues above rookie ball). In a reverse of the PCL/Iowa Cubs situation, the Smokies play in the most offensively-inclined park in the league, however (1.123 park factor for runs). Balancing it out, I suspect that offensive and pitching performances on the Smokies can be judged largely on their face, with perhaps a touch of eyebrow raising for eye-popping offensive performances (and/or surprisingly poor pitching performances).
- The Florida State League is the single most pitching-friendly league in baseball at just 4.2 runs per game. Jackie Robinson Ballpark – where the Daytona Cubs play – is pretty much neutral for the league, so you can regard Daytona Cubs stats while keeping in mind that it’s an offensively-challenged league.
- The Midwest League is yet another pitching-friendly league, at just 4.5 runs per game. Fifth Third Bank Ballpark – where the Kane County Cougars play – skews slightly pitcher-friendly, so you can factor that into your thoughts when evaluating the performances of prospects there.
- An interesting trend for Cubs prospects as they climb the ladder? Things likely get more and more hitter-friendly as players climb the ladder, with a pretty clear difference between the Cubs’ ballpark in the FSL and the Smokies’ ballpark in the Southern League.
- Keep in mind that none of these distinctions are extreme. The Cubs don’t play in any ballparks that dramatically skew numbers, and the league differences are generally subtle. Great years are great years, and dog-crap years are dog-crap. But, at the margins, understanding the leagues and the park factors can provide something of a tie-breaker in your personal analysis.