Examining New York-Penn, Northwest League environments
Zach Green hit 13 homers and recorded 34 extra-base hits in 71 games. (Carl Kline/MiLB.com)
By Ashley Marshall / MiLB.com | February 7, 2014 10:00 AM ET
In X-Factors, MiLB.com's Ashley Marshall offers a class-by-class examination of how Minor League venues affect the play on the field. Have something to say about how your favorite Minor League park plays? Tweet @MiLB and @AshMarshallMLB with your thoughts.
At the lowest rungs of the Minor League Baseball ladder, development is often considered as important, maybe more so, than competition.
Instilling fundamentals, establishing a strong work ethic and introducing teens to the daily grind of playing every day are on a par with batting averages, wins and losses.
Class A Short-Season contains two leagues: the 14-team New York-Penn League (actually based across New York, Maryland, Connecticut, Vermont, Pennsylvania and Ohio) and the eight-team Northwest League.
The Northwest League typically has slightly higher batting averages, home runs rates and walk rates, and while the differences in the two league's averages are not considerable, there are marginally more runs per game in the Northwest.
With around half as many games as full-season leagues, the samples in these two leagues are smaller, which means the data is likely more variable. As we conclude our discussion of how ballparks affect how games are played across the Minor Leagues, we consider the two Class A Short-Season circuits.
Offensive stats by league, 2008-2013
Class A Adv
Class A Adv
Class A Adv
Here's an in-depth look at the park factors for each of the Class A Short-Season stadiums since 2010. Where a club has relocated or changed leagues, two parks between the four years were listed. The table looked at three counting stats -- runs, home runs and hits -- and used a formula to help compare one park with another.
((Runs scored at home + runs allowed at home)/(Home games)) / ((Runs scored on the road + runs allowed on the road)/(Road games))
Note: A park factor of 1.000 is considered neutral and represented an equal number of runs/homers/hits at home as on the road. A factor over 1.000 favors hitters, while a factor under 1.000 favors pitchers. A weighted average was added into the calculation to place a greater emphasis on more recent data to be more reflective of the most current makeup of each team and league and to ensure the statistics were not disproportionately skewed by extremes.
New York-Penn League: At a Glance
Joseph L. Bruno Stadium
Russell Diethrick Park
State College Spikes
State College Spikes
Hudson Valley Renegades
Mahoning Valley Scrappers
Richmond County Bank Ballpark
Staten Island Yankees
Edward A. LeLacheur Park
Vermont Lake Monsters
Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium
Within a league of extremes are three divisions with their own distinct characteristics. The Stedler Division (four teams in four states) boasts both the most hitter-friendly (Tri-City) and pitcher-friendly (Connecticut) ballparks in the league. The Pinckney Division, the largest of the trio, has three of the six most hitter-friendly parks in the league. The predominantly New York-based McNamara Division is generally hitter-friendly outside of Brooklyn's MCU Park, located on the edge of the ocean at Coney Island.
A Green light to swing for the fences
Selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the third round of the 2012 Draft out of Jesuit High School in California, Zach Green showed early glimpses of his potential in 2013.
The 19-year-old third base prospect led the New York-Penn League with 13 homers, 34 extra-base hits and 52 runs scored, and he shared the league lead with 20 doubles.
His .478 slugging percentage was second only to Aberdeen's Conor Bierfeldt (.511), while his 41 RBIs in 74 contests ranked fourth.
"I really liked Williamsport. The ball seemed to travel pretty well there," Green said, "I think it's about 400, maybe a little more, to center and I want to say it was 340 or 350 down the lines, but the fences are pretty tall, probably 15 feet high. I was told it was a pitcher-friendly park, but the way our team hit there and the way visiting teams hit here, I wasn't surprised if a team came in here and hit three home runs.
"When you catch the wind, it usually blows out ot left field or left-center. I'm a righty, so my power is that way, and then the wind tends to blow out to left-center, so if I pull the ball I definitely have a better chance than if I went the other way."
There are certainly parts of his game he'll look to improve in 2014 -- his 91 punchouts were the second most in the league while his 17 errors were the second-most among third basemen -- but his power projects to be a plus tool.
What makes Green's season more impressive is that even though he batted .252 at home and on the road, nine of his 13 homers came at his own yard.
Williamsport's Bowman Field is considered a pitchers' park, but the Crosscutters actually led the league in homers (50), tied for third for the most runs scored (324) and had the fourth-best team batting average (.247).
On the other hand, the pitching staff ranked 13th among 14 teams with a 3.50 ERA (the league average was 3.18), and only three teams allowed more homers.
"I really liked State College and Mahoning Valley and Aberdeen," Green said. "I probably like Aberdeen's stadium the best -- it definitely had a good hitters' eye. For some reason, the ball seemed to look so much bigger there. The dimensions weren't as long as other ballparks, too. Left-center there is pretty deep, but down the lines it's definitely shorter than most.
"In Tri-City the wind definitely blows out to straight left, which is good for me, and I think that park was a little short. And in Jamestown the ball really seemed to travel even though the dimensions are not hitter-friendly."
Beating the odds
Despite playing in the most hitter-friendly ballpark in the New York-Penn League, Tri-City's Michael Feliz led the circuit with a 1.96 ERA. He yielded 53 hits and 13 walks over 69 innings (his 0.96 WHIP ranked second) and he recorded 78 strikeouts bested only by Brooklyn's duo of Miller Diaz (87) and John Gant (81).
He was 2-0 with a 1.78 ERA in six home games and 2-2 with a 2.06 mark in eight road contests.
Good luck with that
Despite being 309 feet down the lines and 401 feet to center field, fewer balls have left Connecticut's Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium (92) than any other New York-Penn League stadium since 2010.
No Connecticut Tiger has ranked inside the top five in homers, runs or RBIs in the NYPL since the Oneonta Tigers moved to Norwich in 2010, but Danry Vazquez led the league with 90 hits in 2012 and Dean Green ranked second with 84 in 2011.
No Minor League team had a lower team batting average at home than the Tigers' .212. Of the seven Tigers to hit more than one homer last year, five players hit lower than .219.
Tyler Collins holds the team's single-season record with eight in 42 games in 2011.
Northwest League: At a Glance
Everett Memorial Stadium
Yakima County Stadium (2010-2012)
Hillsboro Ballpark (2013)
Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium
Tri-City Dust Devils
The AquaSox's bandbox remains one of the most difficult places to pitch in all of baseball. Only Salem-Keizer's Volcanoes Stadium can say it has yielded 200 or more homers over the past four seasons, but it still averages 15 long balls fewer each year than Everett Memorial Stadium.
Gesa Stadium and PK Park maintained their reputations as the most pitcher-friendly parks, with only Boise's Memorial Stadium resembling anything close to neutral across the board. Last season also marked the first for Hillsboro Ballpark after the Hops' relocation from Yakima's County Stadium, which had been the Northwest League's most difficult stadium in which to hit a home run.
Fun in the sun
The ongoing joke at Everett's Memorial Stadium is that you need to keep the opponent under double-digit runs to have a shot of winning.
Extreme? A little. But the sentiment certainly has a hint of truth to it.
There were a Northwest League-high 53 homers hit in AquaSox home games in 2013, compared with just 23 hit on the road. Putting this into perspective, there were just 12 long balls hit in Vancouver and 16 in Tri-City.
It's not just 2013, either. There were 60 homers smacked out of Everett Memorial Stadium in 2012, 83 the previous year and 65 in 2011. In AquaSox road games those seasons, there were 47, 33 and 31, respectively.
"We have day games and our trainer, who has been in the league 35 leagues -- Spyder Webb -- says we have to keep them under 10 runs to have a chance," said AquaSox pitching coach Rich Dorman. "He knows day games at Everett Memorial aren't fun. That's usually where you see a lot of runs.
"In right-center field there's an old manual scoreboard. It's pretty shallow to right-center, maybe 300, 320 feet. That's the power alley to right-center -- the ball flies a little bit there. You see a lot of pop-ups go over that wall. We have 38 home games and, when we hit one of those pop-up home runs, I just look in the other team's dugout at their pitching coach's face and laugh a little bit because I know how bad it is."
Among hurlers who bucked the odds at Everett Memorial Stadium was Dutch right-hander Lars Huijer, who went 8-2 with a 3.03 ERA over 14 games in 2013. He had a 30 2/3 scoreless inning streak through July and August, but he saw his ERA more than double from 1.49 over his final four starts, in which he gave up a total of 15 runs.
"Keeping the ball down in the zone is what our goal is with all of the pitchers in our organization. We preach pitching down in the zone and he bought into it and he kept the ball down," Dorman said. "He really got inside on a lot of right-handers and his changeup had guys out in front, keeping the ball on the ground. Maybe the last two or three starts he got a little fatigued, but he still had a chance to win double-digit ball games. Finishing Short-Season with 10 wins is pretty remarkable.
"It's a mind-set of getting guys to buy into it. If you pitch to try and have something not happen, the odds are it will happen. So if you're on the mound being passive and not attacking the zone and going after hitters, you're going to give one up or two or three. I've never seen a ground ball go over the wall, so if you keep the ball on the ground, you're going to get outs."
The Hillsboro Hops are barely six months old, so there isn't too much data to utilize. That said, what did we learn about Hillsboro Ballpark from the small sample size of data so far?
There were 10 percent more hits and 4 percent more runs in Hops home games than road games, but there were 13 percent fewer homers.
Hillsboro's new yard is deeper down the lines (325 feet compared with 295 feet at the Arizona D-backs' former Short-Season affiliate in Yakima) but six feet shallower in center field (400 feet instead of 406 feet).
"The new stadium in Hillsboro is pretty fair," said Dorman. "It's maybe more of a pitchers' park because it has a huge outfield and the turf is pretty slow."
Initial impressions are that the park isn't too dissimilar from Yakima, which was also notorious for the few number of home runs it surrendered.
Ashley Marshall is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.