Why is the PCL such a hitter's league?
The PCL has been known as a hitters' league since well before I pitched in the league (in 1998-99, and again in 2003-04.) Hitters rack up big numbers—most years, there are a few guys with batting averages of over .350, and there are always a few who manage to hit more than 30 home runs even if they don't play more than 100 games in Triple-A that season. Pitchers, on the other hand, get lit up. In 1998, I had the league's best ERA at 3.07... some years, you don't see anyone with an ERA under 3.00 in this league. There are a few reasons for the hitters' league reputation-elevation, dry air, and travel.
Let's start with elevation. In thinner air, the ball just flies. Major League Baseball has just one high-elevation park—Coors Field in Denver. But the PCL has several high-elevation parks. Security Service Field in Colorado Springs is more than 1,200 feet higher than Coors. So your team rolls into places like Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City or even right here in Reno, and as a pitching staff you hope just to escape unscathed.
Dry air can hurt a pitcher's stats, too. Las Vegas isn't as elevated, but the dry air is a factor... the ball will travel further in dry air, too. Even I could hit the ball out in Vegas. If you're a starter in Las Vegas, and you leave the field giving up three runs in six innings, you're in the clubhouse drinking a beer... you're happy.
A few parks in the PCL are just hitters' parks by design. The old park in Albuquerque had deep fences, so the outfielders have two choices-either play shallow, and risk the chance that a fly ball will go over your head, or play deep, and let a lot of short pop-ups fall in for a base hit (what they call "Texas Leaguers".) When they built the new park in Albuquerque, they kept home plate in the same spot but moved the fences in. They also put a hill in center field, similar to the one at Minute Maid Park in Houston. It's still a hitters' park there. Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha is another launching pad. They moved the fences back in the power alleys about ten years ago, but some Triple-A hitters can still make it look like a small park.
There are still a few good pitchers' parks in the league. New Orleans is a great place to pitch, for one. It's a big yard, and it's right at sea level. Places like Oklahoma City and Memphis are warm and humid, and that gives pitchers a lot more movement on their pitches. It's a lot easier to get loose in that weather, too... maybe 10-15 pitches, and you're ready to go.
Portland and Tacoma are great for pitchers, too-low elevation, and humid. Tacoma is especially nice, because there's a high wall around the entire outfield.
The other factor is one that affects both hitters AND pitchers-travel. The longest road trip you can take in the International League, the other Triple-A league, is just over 1,000 miles. Some teams are separated by 2,500 miles in the PCL, and that means more travel. At the Major League level, guys are flying everywhere, and they're flying first class. At Triple-A, we're flying almost everywhere, but we're flying commercial. There's rarely a direct flight from one PCL city to another—Des Moines to Fresno, for example—so it means a lot of transfers and layovers. If you're a pitcher and you're due to start the next day in another city, the best that you can get is if your coaches and teammates can get you sitting in the exit row, so you have a few more inches of leg room.
But that doesn't mean they won't give you grief about it for the entire flight.
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