Welcome to Factor Fiction, MiLB.com's new series that will take an in-depth statistical look at ballparks across Minor League Baseball.
Here's how it works. Each part in the series will begin with a simple query about ballparks around the Minors and how they play for hitters. Using information from the past three seasons, Factor Fiction will delve deeply into the world of ballpark factors. Where are the best places to hit among full-season stadiums? Which parks are friendlier to pitchers? Why? This is the place to check it out.
We'll look at home-road splits and other indices to determine trends across the board, focusing on the 10 full-season leagues. For this first go-round, we'll take a look at the best and worst single seasons at Minor League parks from 2005-07 with the following question:
Fact or fiction? Lancaster's Clear Channel Stadium has been the best place to hit in recent years.
Well, it is when looking at OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) at each ballpark each year. Looking at the top 10 seasons overall from 2005-07, Lancaster has three of the top four:
Now before all the statheads out there go nuts and exclaim that this is no way to determine which park is the best for hitters, relax. We're not trying to invent some new philosophy or break new ground here. Simply, we want to look at the numbers already out there and try to make some sense of them. And while a lot more number-crunching could be done to reach a final conclusion, there's little doubt that Lancaster is really cozy.
It's not just OPS, either. A total of 1,138 runs were scored in Clear Channel Stadium in 2007, also the highest number among full-season teams. To give some context, it's only 17 fewer runs than in Roger Dean Stadium in 2006 ... and two teams played in that Florida State League facility. The only season in another park that comes close to matching Lancaster's '07 campaign, where hitters batted .315 and slugged .536, is High Desert in 2006. There were actually two more extra-base hits at Maverick Stadium that year than in Lancaster this past season.
It's not too difficult to find a trend here. The California League has long had a reputation for being a hitters' haven and a great deal of that is thanks to Lancaster and High Desert, which have five of the top 10 OPS seasons. The Pacific Coast Legue isn't bad, either, with Albuquerque's Isotopes Park, Colorado Springs' Security Service Field and Las Vegas' Cashman Field all being good for overall offensive numbers. Were we to extend the list to a top 15, you'd see that Nos. 11-14 were Isotopes Park in 2005, Security Service Field in 2007, Isotopes Park again in 2006 and Cashman Field in 2007. Another PCL park, Franklin Covey Field in Salt Lake City, holds the next three spots.
And what of Ray Winder Field, the longtime home of the Texas League's Arkansas Travelers that closed its doors in 2006? That final season in the stadium certainly was a good one. But was it an aberration? Not exactly. The other season, in 2005, saw an .825 OPS was posted there, good for 24th overall. That might not sound all that impressive, but considering that it's 24th among a grand total of more than 360 seasons, it's not too shabby.
It may seem curious to see Asheville's McCormick Field among the top 10. While that 2005 season clearly was the best in the last three, Asheville's park always had a reputation of being hitter-friendly. That 2005 season saw Joe Koshansky and Matt Miller, in particular, put up huge numbers; and, obviously, which personnel plays in a park in a given year has to be considered. But every year there have been some statistical anomolies, at least within the context of the rest of the South Atlantic League. That's clearly a subject for a future Factor Fiction, but let's just say for now that Asheville plays more like a California League park.
What about the bottom 10? Are there any trends to be derived from that list? Let's take a look:
Roger Dean Stadium is really locked into that top (or is it bottom) spot when you consider that .625 OPS comes courtesy of two teams, the Jupiter Hammerheads and Palm Beach Cardinals. There were 160 games played there during the 2006 season. With .668 and .669 OPS seasons the other two years, it's pretty apparent Roger Dean is not a fun place to hit.
The Florida State League, much like the California League for hitters, has long had a reputation for being pitcher-friendly. More on that later, most likely, but it's certainly not shocking to see the worst two seasons -- in Roger Dean and Fort Myers' William H. Hammond Stadium -- coming in FSL parks.
Connecticut clearly isn't a good place to swing the stick, with both the 2006 and 2007 seasons landing in this bottom 10. It's joined in the Eastern League by Trenton's 2007 season, though that may be a very good argument for personnel affecting the numbers. Trenton had one of the best pitching staffs in the Minors in 2007. Mercer County Waterfront Park has never been a huge hitting facility, but having good pitching is always going to help keep offensive numbers even more in check, isn't it?
Lakewood's FirstEnergy Park opened in 2001. In 2005, it had a combined .713 OPS; this past year, the figure was .667. Maybe it's the sea air. Can't make that argument for Burlington's Community Field, No. 3 on this list. It wasn't much better in the Iowa-based Midwest League park in 2005 (.700 OPS) or last year (.684).
Like Ray Winder Field in the top 10 list, C.O. Brown Stadium closed up shop in affiliated baseball following the 2006 season, with the club moving to Midland, Mich., and becoming the Great Lakes Loons. The .715 OPS at C.O. Brown in 2005 wasn't all that impressive, either.
What does all of this mean? Can any conclusions be drawn? In a general sense, going to Lancaster with a bat is a good idea; heading for the Palm Beach area, not so much. But for now we'll say...
Answer: Fact. Lancaster's Clear Channel Stadium has been the best place to hit in recent years.
Keep in mind that Factor Fiction is just barely scratching the surface with this question. We'll be sure to dig deeper into the numbers as the series unfolds.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.