The Baseballist: Most Extreme Ballparks In The Minors

No two ballparks play exactly alike, and that absence of uniformity from site to site is one of baseball’s great charms. Context is everything.

A struck baseball travels farther in high elevation and thin air, meaning that some huge ballparks—especially those in California and Pacific Coast leagues—might actually favor hitters. Some smaller parks on the East Coast—such as those in the Carolina or Southern leagues—favor pitchers because they’re closer to sea level with high average humidity readings.

We dived deep into ballpark factors right before the 2013 season, and now we have updated the data based on 2014 results to find the most extreme ballpark contexts in the full-season minor leagues.

A key to the abbreviations: R Home and R Road are runs scored and allowed (per game) by a team’s batters/pitchers in home games (Home) and in road games (Road). HR Home and HR Road applies the same concept to home runs.

The PF columns are park factors, or the ratio of home to road output, expressed as an index where 100 is average. The Mult columns are park-factor multipliers, which one can apply to run or home run output (by means of division) to estimate how players or teams would perform if their home games took place in the same distribution of road parks (which are presumed to be neutral) they visited in 2014.


1. High Class A High Desert (California)

R Home
R Road
R PF
R Mult HR Home
HR Road
HR PF
HR Mult
13.97 10.47 133 1.167 2.94 1.96 150 1.252

 

Mavericks Field
Heritage Field at Stater Bros. Stadium

Situated in the Mojave Desert and with an elevation pushing 3,000 feet above sea level, High Desert annually ranks as the most most hitter-friendly venue in the minors. No full-season ballpark featured more total runs per game (13.97) or home runs per game (2.94) in 2014, and that’s not an isolated incident. For the 2010-12 seasons, teams at the Mavericks’ home park in Adelanto, Calif., combined to feature 14.65 runs and 3.10 home runs per game.

High Desert’s park factors for runs (133) and home runs (150) rank just third and ninth in the full-season minors, respectively, because the Mavericks spend plenty of time in hitter’s parks while on the road. This is particularly true when they visit division foe Lancaster, which featured 12.53 runs per game in 2014, about 25 percent more than in JetHawks road games.


2. High Class A Wilmington (Carolina)

R Home
R Road
R PF
R Mult HR Home
HR Road
HR PF
HR Mult
6.23 7.56 82 0.912 0.61 1.09 56 0.780

 

Frawley Stadium
Frawley Stadium

Wilmington righthander Glenn Sparkman (1.56) and lefties Jonathan Dziedzic (2.52) and Sean Manaea (3.11) ranked first, second and fourth in the Carolina League ERA race in 2014. Making half their starts at Frawley Stadium, the best pitcher’s park in the full-season minors, certainly didn’t hurt. The Blue Rocks and their opponents combined to tally a full-season leagues low 6.23 runs per game, which is roughly equivalent to San Diego’s Petco Park (6.21) last season. However, the Padres and their opponents hit twice as many home runs (1.25) as the Blue Rocks and theirs (0.61).

Wilmington, Del., being the northernmost destination in the Carolina League and being located at sea level, results in the double whammy of comparatively colder spring weather and humid summer conditions. Those factors convene to suppress flyball distance and encourage pitchers to attack the strike zone.


3. Low Class A Asheville (South Atlantic)

R Home
R Road
R PF
R Mult HR Home
HR Road
HR PF
HR Mult
12.03 8.45 142 1.212 2.00 1.19 168 1.341

 

McCormick Field
McCormick Field

Asheville featured the highest park factor for runs scored (142) in the minors last season despite ranking just fourth in terms of runs per game (12.03). This is because the Tourists, even with a hitter-happy home venue, play in a division that also features extreme pitchers’ parks in Savannah, Augusta and Charleston, which are three of the four lowest-scoring parks in the South Atlantic League. This disparity in venues creates a situation in which games at McCormick Field in Asheville, N.C., at nearly 2,200 feet above sea level, feature about 42 percent more runs than Tourists road games.


4. Triple-A Charlotte (International)

R Home
R Road
R PF
R Mult HR Home
HR Road
HR PF
HR Mult
11.08 9.28 119 1.097 2.65 1.60 166 1.330

 

BB&T Ballpark
BB&T Ballpark

Only High Desert fans witnessed more home runs per game in 2014 than Charlotte in its brand-new BB&T Park. The Knights and their opponents averaged 2.65 bombs per game in a cozy downtown ballpark that has a restricted footprint based on a limited lot size. Pull hitters appreciate the short foul poles in left (325 feet) and right (315) field. Charlotte led the International League in runs scored (699), home runs (176) and runs allowed (767). They finished a close second in home runs allowed (130).

Only one other International League park saw more than two home runs per game last year: Columbus at 2.07.


5. High Class A Bakersfield (California)

R Home
R Road
R PF
R Mult HR Home
HR Road
HR PF
HR Mult
11.34 10.97 103 1.017 2.61 1.71 153 1.263

 

Blaze Ballpark
Lynn Ballpark

Lynn Ballpark in Bakersfield, Calif., is notorious for its outfield dimensions, particularly a center-field fence that stands 354 feet from home plate, which is easily the shortest distance in the minors. As a result, teams combined to hit 2.61 home runs per game in 2014, which is the third-highest rate in the full-season minors after High Desert and Charlotte. Despite favorable home run conditions, Bakersfield does not feature an abnormal number of runs or hits on balls in play—at least compared with the high thresholds of the California League.


6. Triple-A New Orleans (Pacific Coast)

R Home
R Road
R PF
R Mult HR Home
HR Road
HR PF
HR Mult
8.04 11.29 71 0.856 1.97 1.89 104 1.022

 

Zephyr Field
Zephyr Field

Games at Zephyr Park in 2014 featured 8.04 runs per game, which was the lowest rate in the Pacific Coast League and would have ranked New Orleans 13th in the International League had they belonged to the other Triple-A league. This creates a situation where the Zephyrs, by definition, play all their games in better hitter’s parks. Thus they scored about 70 percent fewer runs at home and their resulting park factor (71) ranked dead last in the full-season minors last year. Note that home runs were not a particularly rare outcome in New Orleans last year.

Three other clubs also scored about 70 percent as many runs at home as they did on the road last year: Sacramento (Pacific Coast), Arkansas (Texas) and Inland Empire (California). Note than Arkansas and Inland Empire are both Angels affiliates.


7. Double-A Arkansas (Texas)

R Home
R Road
R PF
R Mult HR Home
HR Road
HR PF
HR Mult
6.49 8.90 73 0.864 0.79 1.41 56 0.778

 

Dickey-Stephens-Park
Dickey-Stephens Park

The Texas League has an undeserved reputation as the most hitter-friendly of the Double-A circuits—the Eastern and Southern leagues featured more offense last year—but even if you accept the conventional wisdom, then don’t paint all TL clubs with the same brush. Only Wilmington featured fewer runs per game than Arkansas last season (6.49), as Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock, Ark., finished a full two standard deviations below the TL average for runs scored. Deep power alleys and heavy air conspire to hold down offense in Travelers home games.

Fellow TL club San Antonio also suppresses offense dramatically with 7.59 runs per game and a park factor of 90.


8. Double-A Mississippi (Southern)

R Home
R Road
R PF
R Mult HR Home
HR Road
HR PF
HR Mult
7.34 8.81 83 0.917 0.57 1.35 42 0.712

 

Trustmark Park
Trustmark Park

Batters at Double-A and Triple-A have more power than those in Class A, but you wouldn’t know it if you only watched games at Mississippi’s Trustmark Park in Pearl. The M-Braves and their opponents combined to hit a minor league-low 0.57 home runs per game at Mississippi in 2014, a rate just 42 percent as good as the road output for the same group. That’s the lowest park factor for home runs (42) in the full-season minors.

The only other parks at the Double-A or Triple-A level to feature fewer than one home run per game in 2014 were Arkansas (0.79) and Richmond (0.92).


9. The three big home run parks of South Atlantic League

L.P. Frans Stadium in Hickory.
Frans Stadium in Hickory

Three of the four North Carolina-based South Atlantic League teams play in home ballparks that favor the longball. Hickory (192), Greensboro (174) and Asheville (168) have three of the four highest park factors for home runs in the full-season minors, and it’s easy to see why when those teams hit and allow 92 percent, 74 percent and 68 percent more home runs at home than they do on the road. Hickory saw the more home runs than any SAL park last year, with an average of 2.14 per game.

The recent SAL home runs leaders illustrate the effect of ballpark context. Hickory second baseman Travis Demeritte led the league with 25 last year, with Asheville’s Correlle Prime (21) and Hickory’s Nomar Mazara (19) occupying third and fifth place. In 2014, Hickory prospects Joey Gallo (38), Ryan Rua (29) and Lewis Brinson (21) ranked first, second and fourth—with Greensboro’s Viosergy Rosa (23) in third place. Back in 2011, Asheville’s Corey Dickerson (32) and the Greensboro duo of Mark Canha (25) and Marcell Ozuna (23) claimed three of the top four spots on the home run board.


10. Half the parks of the Pacific Coast League

Salt Lake City
Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City

People view the Pacific Coast League as a hitter’s paradise, and with good reason. Triple-A Las Vegas (172) and Albuquerque (169) out-homered all but three major league teams in 2014—the Orioles, Rockies and Blue Jays—despite playing a shorter, 144-game schedule. In fact, more home runs were hit per 100 plate appearances in the PCL last year (2.46) than in the big leagues (2.28), and the league’s isolated slugging percentage (.152) was higher than any league at the Double-A, Triple-A or big league level.

However, the unique conditions of the PCL—high altitude, low humidity, fast infields, spacious outfields—make it just as conducive for base hits as home runs. (The same is true of the California and Pioneer leagues.) Balls hit in the field of play—so that excludes home runs—fell in for hits for a .331 average* in the PCL last year, the  highest rate in full-season ball.

The PCL ballparks that most drove that BABIP northward were Salt Lake (.357), Colorado Springs (.355), Reno (.352), Albuquerque (.351), Las Vegas (.351), El Paso (.349), Oklahoma City (.333) and Round Rock (.330). Those averages count home games only, and those eight teams all ranked inside the top 20 overall for BABIP in the full-season minors. Among big league ballparks, only Coors Field comes close to featuring as many hits on balls in play. The three-year BABIP in Denver is .336, with a single-season high of .345 in 2012.


* This excludes sacrifice flies, a standard component of BABIP, because I don’t have complete home/road splits for individual teams. Therefore, all BABIPs referenced here do not include sacrifice flies. The overall PCL average with sac flies is four points lower at .327.

 

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