In addition to our weekly Toolshed column, every Tuesday during the first half of the offseason our new Toolshed Stats series will use advanced statistics such as ISO, FIP, Spd and park factors to better understand prospect performance during the 2016 Minor League season.
A park can help make a hitter look a lot better, sure, but can the opposite happen as well? That may have been the case in 2016 with Double-A Reading.
Picking up from last week's Toolshed Stats series opener on Triple-A ballpark effects, the focus shifts to the Double-A level this week, specifically Reading, which has proven to be one of the most homer-friendly parks in the Minor Leagues.
Quick reminder: in this series, a perfect 1.000 in a run, homer or hit factor is considered neutral. Anything below favors pitchers; above favors hitters. FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Fightin Phils, had a 1.526 home run factor during the 2016 season and 1.427 over the past three campaigns. Only Springfield in the Texas League (1.606, 1.445) posted higher homer factors in both the one- and three-year models.
There are a lot of factors that go into the numbers, starting with FirstEnergy's dimensions as the walls are 330 feet down both lines, 370 feet in both alleys and 400 feet to dead center.
"It's not a huge park," said Dusty Wathan, Reading's manager in 2016 who will take over as Triple-A Lehigh Valley's skipper next season. "But when the weather gets warmer and the wind blows out a bit, that's where you start to see it become a really great place for hitters. Also, the hitter's background is one of the best you'll see. Guys always talk about how much easier it is to see there. There's always a crowd too that helps get up some adrenaline, which never hurts."
All of those factors affect almost every part of the game, Wathan added.
"Obviously it's a fun place for a hitter, but because of that, you ask pitchers and they'll tell you they never feel comfortable," he said. "You've got to get the ball down, and it teaches you how to locate to get groundballs. From the managing side, it's a lot different than most places. There are all the unwritten rules to follow usually, like not running when you're up six in the seventh. But there, it's different. I've seen so many things happen and leads disappear that you can never get to a place where you say, 'OK, this is comfortable.'"
Enter Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins, the two darlings of the Fightin Phils' 2016 season. Ranked by MLB.com as the No. 6 and 12 prospects in the Phillies' system, respectively, the duo traded the Minor League lead in homers all year. Cozens eventually took the Joe Bauman Award with 40 long balls as Hoskins finished second. Given Reading's reputation, it's important to check the splits on both players, and those were quite revealing, as seen below.
Cozen's slugging percentage dropped 300 points going from home to the road. Hoskins saw 71.4 percent of his extra-base hits fly over the fence in Reading, compared to 43.3 percent on the road. (It's reminiscent of Darin Ruf's 2012 season in Reading, when he hit 38 home runs -- 24 of which came at home vs. 14 on the road, while his slugging dropped from .718 to .524.) These splits alone would indicate that the stats for the pair should come with a healthy dose of skepticism, but Wathan has a response for those who doubt his players' production.
"This is what I say to everyone who asks about that -- if you want to take away four or five home runs from Dylan or Rhys, you better add a couple of doubles," he said. "You can't take some of those because of the park alone. Those guys were hitting them way over guys' heads, and at the very least, they're still extra bases. But the player development guys know what they're doing, and I'm seeing them every day. You pay attention to how they progress."
To the manager's point, evaluation doesn't end with splits. Yes, both players took advantage, but there's statistical evidence that they would've been impressive power hitters regardless of the park. For one, Reading hitters combined for 116 homers in 71 home games this season, beating out their 2015 (55) and 2014 (66) homer totals rather easily. In fact, no other club in Double-A hit more homers at home in the past three seasons than Reading in 2016; Corpus Christi was second over than span with 80 this season. Of those 116, Cozens and Hoskins accounted for 54 (or 46.6 percent).
But even on the road, the Fightin Phils were pretty impressive. Their 69 homers away from FirstEnergy Stadium were second-most among all Double-A clubs behind only Akron (75), and Cozens and Hoskins chipped in 24 of those (or 34.8 percent).
Though a particular park might be better suited for long balls, you still need hitters with the ability to take advantage of those environments. FirstEnergy wasn't enough to get Phillies No. 7 prospect Roman Quinn and his 30-grade power into double digits for homers for the first time. In fact, the 23-year-old center fielder went deep more on the road (four homers in 37 games) than he did at home (two in 34 games). Indeed, Cozens has above-average power, and Hoskins has played into that evaluation with his 2016. So while they may have needed the park to put up their numbers, the homers didn't hit themselves.
"Having good players helps," said Wathan.
Here are the one- and three-year park factors for each Double-A club. Biloxi was kept out of the Southern League 2014-16 table as it's only had its park operational for 1 1/2 seasons. Also, Hartford was not included as it did not play a single "home game" this season.
|League||R/9 (rank)||HR/9 (rank)||H/9 (rank)|
|Eastern||4.5 (seventh)||0.7 (fifth)||8.9 (fifth)|
|Southern||4.2 (10th)||0.6 (10th)||8.5 (13th)|
|Texas||4.2 (ninth)||0.8 (fourth)||8.5 (11th)|
Eastern League 2016
Southern League 2016
Texas League 2016
Eastern League 2014-16
Southern League 2014-16
Texas League 2014-16