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Fantasy: Park Context Can Drive Perception Of Prospects

Fantasy players are well attuned to differences in run environment between major leagues ballparks.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the National League West, where Rockies hitters and Giants pitchers are targeted in fantasy leagues because of the extreme nature of those teams’ home parks.

The Rockies scored and allowed 31 percent more runs at Coors Field last season than they did in road games. The home run rate and batting average on balls in play (BABIP) at Coors were roughly 20 percent higher. Thus, Rockies hitters receive a superficial boost to their fantasy-relevant statistics.

The Giants, on the other hand, scored and allowed 20 percent fewer runs—and hit nearly 30 percent fewer home runs—at Oracle Park than they did in road games. Thus Giants pitchers benefit from a home park where all hit types are less common, which is reflected in shinier ratios.

The same run environment principles also apply to the minors. The savvy dynasty player can use this information to his advantage to set expectations for prospect performance and to assess trade value. While a prospect’s overall value does not change by moving to a different minor league run environment, the perception of his value might change based on superficial results.

That’s where one’s intuition comes into play, because a key part of success in dynasty leagues is knowing when prospects have reached peak trade value.

To illustrate dramatic changes in run environment between minor league affiliates, I identified a dozen of the most extreme swings between successive levels of an organization, for example from high Class A to Double-A in the Padres’ system.

The rate of runs scored and allowed at each park is used to determine run environments. Those R/G rates are then assigned a percentile rank (%tile) among all 120 full-season minor league parks. PF below stands for park factor.

See also: Minor League Park Factors 2019

Biggest Upticks In Run Environment Between Affiliates

1. Padres

Affiliate (League)LvlPFHR/GBABIPR/G%tile
Lake Elsinore (CAL)HiA791.1.3007.68
Amarillo (TL)AA1422.9.34111.593

Padres minor leaguers advancing from high Class A to Double-A go from the least offensive park in the California League to the most offensive in the Texas League—each by a wide margin. Amarillo sees roughly two home runs per game and four additional hits per 100 balls in play than Lake Elsinore. 

Making the move in 2020: C Luis Campusano, SS Gabriel Arias, LHP Joey Cantillo

2. Yankees

Affiliate (League)LvlPFHR/GBABIPR/G%tile
Trenton (EL)AA841.1.2957.69
Scranton/W-B (IL)AAA1082.9.32311.291

The major league ball used at Triple-A in 2019 helped turn Scranton from a pitcher-friendly venue into one of the more offensive parks in the International League. Trenton’s park plays the opposite, with a low home run rate and one of the 20 lowest BABIPs in the full-season minors.

Making the move in 2020: RHP Clarke Schmidt, RHP Albert Abreu, RHP Miguel Yajure

3. Mariners

Affiliate (League)LvlPFHR/GBABIPR/G%tile
Arkansas (TL)AA650.8.3026.10
Tacoma (PCL)AAA852.4.31210.382

Mariners minor leaguers were subject to extreme conditions in the Texas League. Arkansas saw fewer runs scored per game last year than any park in the full-season minors—and the fewest home runs of any park above Class A. Players moving to Tacoma were in for a rude awakening, even though the Rainiers play in one of the least offensive parks in the Pacific Coast League.

Making the move in 2020: OF Jarred Kelenic, RHP Logan Gilbert, C Cal Raleigh

4. Braves

Affiliate (League)LvlPFHR/GBABIPR/G%tile
Mississippi (SL)AA830.8.2966.73
Gwinnett (IL)AAA1032.1.33110.382

Only Jacksonville was less offensive than Mississippi among Southern League parks, which makes the move to Gwinnett a bit jarring, even though Gwinnett is middle of the road in the International League in terms of run scoring.

Making the move in 2020: LHP Kyle Muller, C William Contreras, SS Braden Shewmake

5. Indians

Affiliate (League)LvlPFHR/GBABIPR/G%tile
Akron (EL)AA851.3.2897.56
Columbus (IL)AAA1043.2.30510.484

Columbus has played in one of the most homer-friendly venues in the International League ever since the Clippers moved into Huntington Park in 2009. Players advancing there from Akron must get used to about two additional home runs per game and a 16-point jump in BABIP.

Making the move in 2020: 3B Nolan Jones, LHP Scott Moss, LHP Sam Hentges

6. Cardinals

Affiliate (League)LvlPFHR/GBABIPR/G%tile
Palm Beach (FSL)HiA881.0.3057.57
Springfield (TL)AA1122.7.3179.975

Palm Beach plays at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., a notorious pitcher’s park in a notorious pitcher’s league. Cardinals minor leaguers jump from the Florida State League to Springfield and its elevated home run rate, which formerly topped the Texas League before Amarillo came on board in 2019.

Making the move in 2020: 3B Nolan Gorman, C Ivan Herrera, LHP Zack Thompson

Jordan Walker (Photo By Stacy Revere Getty Images) (1) (1)

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Largest Downturns In Run Environment Between Affiliates

1. Padres

Affiliate (League)LvlPFHR/GBABIPR/G%tile
Fort Wayne (MWL)LoA1111.2.3239.772
Lake Elsinore (CAL)HiA791.1.3007.68

Fort Wayne plays as one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League, owing mostly to a high BABIP. Padres minor leaguers head from there to the most pitcher-friendly park in the hitter-friendly California League.

Making the move in 2020: SS CJ Abrams, LHP Ryan Weathers, 3B Tucupita Marcano

2. Cardinals

Affiliate (League)LvlPFHR/GBABIPR/G%tile
Peoria (MWL)LoA1041.2.3219.570
Palm Beach (FSL)HiA881.0.3057.57

Offense flowed more freely in Peoria last season compared with other seasons, which helped amplify the difference between the Midwest League affiliate and the offense-suppressing Palm Beach of the Florida State League.

Making the move in 2020: OF Jhon Torres, 3B Malcom Nuñez, RHP Tony Locey

3. Rangers

Affiliate (League)LvlPFHR/GBABIPR/G%tile
Hickory (SAL)LoA1132.1.3019.366
Down East (CAR)HiA991.3.3017.711

Hickory played as the most homer happy park at low Class A last season, and the South Atlantic League affiliate typically ranks among the leaders. Down East plays as one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the low-offense Carolina League.

Making the move in 2020: 3B Josh Jung, RHP Hans Crouse, RHP Ronny Henriquez

4. Rockies

Affiliate (League)LvlPFHR/GBABIPR/G%tile
Lancaster (CAL)HiA1412.8.36512.996
Hartford (EL)AA1242.1.3148.745

Renowned hitter’s haven Lancaster features the highest home run rate and the highest BABIP at either Class A level. Because of that, the step from the California League to the Eastern League for Rockies minor leaguers is steep—even though Hartford has one of the higher run environments in the EL.

Making the move in 2020: LHP Ryan Rolison, SS Ryan Vilade, RHP Tommy Doyle

5. Giants

Affiliate (League)LvlPFHR/GBABIPR/G%tile
San Jose (CAL)HiA1001.5.3168.951
Richmond (EL)AA940.9.2897.68

Most of the Giants’ key upper-level talent, including Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos and Sean Hjelle, made this jump late last season. San Jose plays as middle of the road for the California League, but Richmond is the toughest offensive environment in the Eastern League.

Making the move in 2020: RHP Tristan Beck, RHP Jake Wong, RHP Jose Marte

6. Royals

Affiliate (League)LvlPFHR/GBABIPR/G%tile
Lexington (SAL)LoA981.6.3128.745
Wilmington (CAR)HiA820.7.2936.72

Wilmington saw the lowest home run rate in the full-season minors last season—which is nothing unusual for the venue—and the third fewest runs among the 120 teams. That tends to amplify the differences between it and Lexington, which plays as fairly neutral in the South Atlantic League.

Making the move in 2020: SS Jeison Guzman, RHP Carlos Hernandez, RHP Zach Haake

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