Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

cubs azl spring training logoIt’s become commonplace to discuss and identify the varying offensive environments created by unique park and city characteristics among the Major League teams. Coors Field, where the Cubs just played their last series, for example, is a notably rich offensive environment. Park dimensions, foul territory, park shape, weather and altitude are just some of the things that can vary stadium to stadium and influence the average offensive production there across all teams.

Indeed, minor league parks share the same kind variance between stadiums – which can cause problems for us “prospectors.” Given that the majority of prospect evaluation for the layman (like me) comes from scouting stat lines, it’s especially important to keep park conditions and characteristics in mind.

Baseball America thought so too, and decided to collect all of the information in one place. Overall, it’s a very useful piece that I plan on revisiting throughout the year, so give it a read and acquaint yourself with the offensive environments of the various full-season minor league stadiums.

If you’re worried about not being familiar with the stats below, the article graphs each MLB Park (which we are inherently more familiar with) by total Runs and Home Runs per game to provide some context. Unsurprisingly, the Rockies’ Coors Field comes out with the most runs and home runs per game (11.65 and 2.58); while the Padres’ PetCo Park (6.21 and 1.25) is at the other end of the spectrum. Wrigley Field comes in at just under 8 runs per game and about 1.5 home runs, putting it around the middle of the pack.

For the purposes of looking at the Cubs’ affiliates’ minor league stadiums, we will use just one stat, Park Factor (PF) for runs. PF takes the ratio of runs scored and allowed at a given park and compares it against the same numbers on the road – creating an index where 100 is exactly average (same amount of runs scored on the road and at home), and any number above or below is the percentage difference compared to the rest of the league. The article also looks at the Park Factor for Home Runs and BABIP, so take a look if you’re interested. There’s even an percentile marker for all parks relative to all other parks in every league if you want a really deep dive.

For now, we’ll keep it simple.

Principal Park – AAA Iowa (Pacific Coast League)

  • PF: 101
  • Notes: The Pacific Coast League is commonly referred to as a very offense-friendly league, but, as we can see, that doesn’t mean that all parks in the PCL are, individually, friendly to the bats. With a Park Factor of just 101, the Iowa Cubs’ Principal Park is just 1% “more friendly” to hitters than the average park in the PCL. It’s a change of thinking for many of us who lumped Principal Park in with the rest of the Pacific Coast, but one we must keep in mind.

Smokies Park – AA Tennessee (Southern League)

  • PF: 97
  • Notes: A Park Factor of 97 mirrors what we believed to be true: Smokies Park is not hitter-friendly, relatively. Knowing about this disadvantage should make what Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell all the more special. More importantly, it’s something to keep in mind when watching and evaluating the offensive performances of guys like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora and eventually Billy McKinney. Ditto the pitchers. Field at Pelicans Ballpark – High-A Myrtle Beach (Carolina League)

  • PF: 91
  • Notes: That’s some stadium name, isn’t it? A Park factor of 91 is pretty significantly worse than average. Player performances at this level should only be taken with so much weight, but perhaps we should be especially impressed with anyone who breaks out offensively here this year, and similarly be a little dubious of surprise pitching performances. However, the Cubs just moved here from their previous home in Daytona – a stadium that holds a fairly similar 93 PF – so your expectations from prospects at this level last year should be about the same. That’s not the story with the South Bend Cubs, though. 

Four Winds Field at Coveleski Stadium – Low-A South Bend (Midwest League)

  • PF: 100
  • Notes: The South Bend Cubs stadium is the proud owner of a boring 100 PF, meaning that teams score as many runs here, on average, as they do on the road. If you recall, though, the Cubs recently made a change at this level, switching from the Kane County Cougars to the South Bend Cubs. The Cougars’ Stadium, Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, boasts a huge 123 PF for runs. Teams, then, scored 23% more runs at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark than they did at Four Winds Field last year. Keep this in mind, because offense from some of the low levels of the minors may not be as inflated as it was in years past, but that may not mean it’s any less impressive.

Personally, I enjoy the uniqueness of each park (despite the different offensive conditions) and believe it is one of baseball’s many strengths (over other professional sports). That said, it’s important to keep the stadium and city conditions in the back of your mind when evaluating player performances from those locations, because the many differences can unfairly impact your impression of a player (for better or for worse).

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