The Baseballist: The Most Extreme Home Run Park In Every League
Enlightened fans know that home runs aren’t the be-all and end-all of offensive productivity--but they sure are fun. And they sure are conspicuous, sometimes by their absence.
As to the first point: Considering the 150 full-season teams in affiliated baseball--that includes the majors and minors--the parks that featured the most home runs in 2015 were correlated only moderately with the parks that saw the most overall run scoring. (Nerd alert: the R-squared value of the correlation is 0.52.)
As to the second point: As measured by standard deviations from the league mean for home-run rate, three of the five most extreme parks in 2015 were, in fact, home run-suppressing venues. That list includes No. 1 Double-A Mississippi (Southern), No. 4 Double-A Richmond (Eastern) and No. 5 Triple-A Nashville (Pacific Coast).
So as we wait for the data to stabilize at new-in-2016 Spirit Communications Park at low Class A Columbia or for Double-A Hartford’s new park to open this summer, let’s reflect on the most extreme home run parks from every full-season league in 2015, from the American League down to the South Atlantic.
For each league, the park that deviates the farthest from the league average home-run rate, either positively or negatively, is singled out with its standard deviation Z-score. For example, Baltimore’s Camden Yards had a Z-score of +1.96 in 2015, which means that the park’s home-run rate was nearly two standard deviations above the norm for American League parks.
Home runs hit and allowed at home in 2015 are included next to the HR Home header (with per-game rate* in parentheses), while HR Factor spells out the park factor for home runs in 2015 (with three-year factor in parentheses**).
A perfect storm of batter and pitcher attributes led to Camden Yards playing host to more home runs (222) and more homers per game (2.90) than any park in the land in 2015. Orioles batters ranked third in the AL in flyball rate (36.6 percent) and isolated slugging percentage (.171), while Baltimore starting pitchers ranked ninth out of 15 teams in strikeout rate (7.0 per nine innings) and groundball rate (43.4 percent). While Chris Davis (47), Manny Machado (35) and Adam Jones (27) all ranked inside the top 15 in the AL for home runs, the Orioles were one of just three teams in the majors to have four starters—Wei-Yin Chen (28), Miguel Gonzalez (24), Ubaldo Jimenez (20) and Chris Tillman (20)—allow 20 or more homers.
• Runners-up: New York Yankees (+1.43), Kansas City Royals (-1.42)
No major league park saw fewer home runs (109) than AT&T Park in 2015, though Miami (111) and Atlanta (113) were close. On the road, though, Giants batters and pitchers combined for more homers (182) than any NL club, primarily because San Francisco pitchers allowed 99 bombs away from home, which ranked second-most in the NL. However, the most remarkable feature about AT&T Park: It ranked farther below the NL average, in terms of home runs, than Denver's Coors Field ranked above average in 2015. Think about that for a second. In at least one regard, AT&T Park is more extreme than Coors Field, for while the Rockies' home park remains an outlier for overall runs scored—based on its high batting average on balls in play—it's no longer quite the homer haven of its youth.
• Runners-up: Miami Marlins (-1.42), Colorado Rockies (+1.41)
International League (AAA)
When the Knights abandoned their pitcher-friendly park in Rock Hill, S.C., for their new downtown digs in Charlotte in 2014, they stepped onto an entirely new planet, at least in terms of run-scoring environment. BB&T Ballpark, in its first two years of existence, has played as the best hitter's park in the International League, featuring about 24 percent more runs and 73 percent more home runs than in Charlotte road games. In its final season at the old park in 2013, Charlotte home games featured about 7 percent fewer runs and 13 percent fewer homers than road games.
• Runners-up: Columbus • Indians (+1.34), Indianapolis • Pirates (-1.30)
Pacific Coast League (AAA)
Tacoma home games last season featured more home runs (167) than any Triple-A park—more than Charlotte (156), Albuquerque (146) or Las Vegas (136). Rainiers players and pitchers accounted for about 30 percent more homers at home than on the road, though Cheney Stadium played fairly neutrally for longballs in both 2013 (104 factor) and 2014 (98). The low outfield walls apparently helped more flyballs find the seats in 2015.
• Runners-up: Nashville • Athletics (-2.04), Albuquerque • Rockies (+1.07)
Eastern League (AA)
Richmond's The Diamond didn't quite feature the lowest home run rate among Double-A parks in 2015—that would be Mississippi—but it did have the lowest home run factor (51) for any park at the Double-A, Triple-A or major league level. The Diamond also saw fewer runs scored per game (6.83) than any full-season park.
• Runners-up: Reading • Phillies (+1.28), Trenton • Yankees (-1.21)
Southern League (AA)
Batters in the high minors and majors have more power than batters at the Class A level or in short-season ball. That's what makes the low rate of home runs per game (0.50) at Mississippi so remarkable. Trustman Park's home-run Z-score of -2.46 is the largest outlier in full-season ball, with a longball rate nearly two and a half standard deviations below the Southern League average. Only high Class A Jupiter (22) and Palm Beach (29)—who share the same Florida State League facility—and low Class A Charleston (32) saw fewer homers in home games (33) than Mississippi.
• Runners-up: Montgomery • Rays (+1.11), Pensacola • Reds (+0.72)
Texas League (AA)
Deep, unforgiving power alleys, massive center-field territory and humid weather all conspire to keep most flyballs contained in the field of play at Dickey-Stephens Park. While the Travelers' home yard plays as pitcher-friendly, it's actually the comparative homer-friendly nature of other Texas League parks that make Arkansas (and also San Antonio) really stand out from the crowd.
• Runners-up: San Antonio • Padres (-1.42), Springfield • Cardinals (+0.97)
California League (Hi A)
If the long-rumored notion of relocating the California League franchises in Bakersfield and High Desert to the Carolina League—most likely to Fayetteville and Kinston, N.C.—comes to pass, then High Desert will no longer be the power paradigm of the minors. Last season, only Baltimore's Camden Yards (2.90) saw more home runs per game than High Desert (2.86)—but only by a hair. In fact, High Desert in 2015 saw more home runs in just 66 home games (202) than all but three major league parks did in 81 games: Baltimore (222), New York AL (219) and Toronto (203). So if High Desert does leave the affiliated minors in 2017, then fellow California League franchise Lancaster probably will assume the Mavericks' throne. Teams combined to hit 175 homers in JetHawks home games in 2015, the second-highest total in the minors.
• Runners-up: Lake Elsinore • Padres (-1.27), Lancaster • Astros (+1.13)
Carolina League (Hi A)
Frederick batters and pitchers combined for 92 home runs in 2015, which followed seasons of 99 homers in 2014 and 125 bombs in 2013, making Grove Stadium a comparatively homer-friendly venue in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League. The park's home run factor of 179 ranked fifth in full-season baseball last year, behind only low Class A Greensboro (231), low Class A Asheville (213), high Class A Stockton (212) and Triple-A Charlotte (191).
• Runners-up: Lynchburg • Indians (+1.28), Wilmington • Royals (-1.25)
Florida State League (Hi A)
The Phillies stepped up the Grapefruit League fan experience when they opened Bright House Field in 2004, and not only does the park have similar dimensions to Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park, but it has similar attributes. In both Clearwater and Philly, home runs are more common at home than on the road, while hits on balls in play are less common at home. The overall effect is favorable for home runs but fairly neutral for overall run scoring.
• Runners-up: Dunedin • Blue Jays (+1.54), Jupiter • Marlins (-1.38) and Palm Beach • Cardinals (-1.01)
Midwest League (Lo A)
Pohlman Field has the closest center-field wall in the 16-team Midwest League—380 feet from home plate—and thus has a history of playing favorably for home runs. For example, Beloit in 2015 was the only MWL park to see its home run total reach the triple digits (104).
• Runners-up: Lake County • Indians (+1.83), West Michigan • Tigers (-1.70)
South Atlantic League (Lo A)
With cozy power alleys and short pokes to each outfield corner, Greensboro's NewBridge Bank Park puts the other homer-happy South Atlantic League parks to shame in most seasons. Games in Greensboro in 2015 saw 137 home runs, compared with 120 in Lexington, 114 in Asheville and 96 in Hickory. Greensboro's home run factor of 231 in 2015 ranked as the highest in full-season baseball, accentuated by the Grasshoppers' road schedule that took them into favorable pitcher's parks in places such as Lakewood, Delmarva and Hagerstown. On the other hand, NewBridge Bank Park saw more homers (137) in 2015 than six big league parks: Kansas City (130), Pittsburgh (130), St. Louis (120), Atlanta (113), Miami (111) and San Francisco (109).
• Runners-up: Lexington • Royals (+1.39), Charleston • Yankees (-1.18)
Mike Mussina: Before He Was A Hall Of Famer
Mike Mussina shot through the minors so quickly that he ranked as a Top 10 Prospect for the Orioles only once.
* Specifically, I used home run rate per 76 plate appearances, with 76 PA being the average number of batters who bat for both sides in the average game (in most full-season leagues). The definition of "game" can be slippery, especially in the minors, where seven-inning games are played during doubleheaders. Additionally, teams that win at a high rate at home do not bat in the ninth inning as often as poor teams do, so, again, the definition of what constitutes a "game" may vary from team to team. Furthermore, a plate appearance for this exercise is defined as at-bats (plus) walks. That's because I don't have full home/road data for hit by pitches, sacrifice flies or sacrifice hits. ** The home run factor is two years for Triple-A Charlotte because BB&T Ballpark opened in 2015.