This is part one of two part series that should provide everyone with a contextual foundation for evaluating minor league players within their playing environment. I am by no means claiming to be a math major from FanGraphs or the next Bill James or even providing the statistically-based significance of each observation like Rudy would have. However, my goal is to allow one to understand why the California Class High-A League makes batters look like Babe Ruth and the Florida State Class High-A League makes pitchers look like their pitching in the Dead Ball Era. With that said, here is the article that triggered this idea from Hardball Times.

Each league is broken down by a primitive form of Park Factors, but instead of it being a strict Park Factor, they are listed in their respective order based on Run Factors found from Baseball Think Factory with the higher Run Factor listed first. (Detailed Park Factor explanation.) This doesn’t solve as many questions as it may raise, but these are three year average factors from between the years of 2006 and 2008. From the Hardball Article that this idea was inspired by, I wanted to remain consistent with their graph and starting point to limit any confusion. Although a few teams changed their minor league stadiums, the overall league doesn’t change its characteristics based upon one change. To provide even more contextual enlightenment, I will provide each team’s three year (2006 to 2008) average farm ranking from Baseball America (2009).

Furthermore, to save time, space, and obscurity for our purposes – I know that Class-A players are rather irrelevant for the majority of fantasy baseball players – there will be several levels excluded from my evaluation. Most notable the Short-Season leagues, Arizona Rookie leagues, and Foreign Summer leagues will not be mentioned. Another thing to note, if you are looking for how the dimensions of each ballpark effect the player’s results, please check out Baseball-Reference list of minor league ball parks and use this information provided to draw a few of your own conclusions. To calculate major league equivalence, check out Minor League Splits dot com for their calculator. Lastly, here are the statistical totals of each minor league level that we’re looking at today.  Here is that Excel breakdown of those Minor League Park Factors.

For more minor league information check out MiLB.com and for past minor league award winners, such as Minor League Player of the Year via Baseball America or USA Today or MiLB.  Use Baseball-Reference-Minors for all that information on one page. Without further ado, the brief breakdown of each minor league class.

Midwest League – Class Singe-A
Kane County – Oakland [# 26.6]
Cedar Rapids – Los Angeles (AL) [# 6]
Beloit – Minnesota [# 10.6]
Dayton – Cincinnati [# 15]
Fort Wayne – San Diego [# 23.3]
Lansing – Toronto [# 25]
Clinton – Seattle [# 20.6]
Burlington – Kansas City [# 19.3]
South Bend – Arizona [# 6.3]
Wisconsin – Milwaukee [# 10.3]
Peoria – Chicago (NL) [# 17.6]
Quad Cities – St. Louis [# 19]
Great Lakes – Los Angeles (NL) [# 4.6]
West Michigan – Detroit [# 18.3]

Average Slash Line – .256/.329/.373
Range of Runs Factors per team: .95 to 1.05

The Midwest League is fairly even among each team. Dayton is the easiest place to hit a homer (1.09 Home Run Factor) and West Michigan is the hardest place (.89 Home Run Factor). Burlington and Clinton are the most neutral parks in this league. This is the league in which Grant Demse caught the eye of every scout. He played in a friendly Class Single-A environment for hitters where he slashed .274/.334/.490 with 11 homers and then was moved into an even better hitters environment at High-A Stockton (as will be noted later) where he powered a .304/.365/.557 line with 20 homers. However, these numbers were slightly inflated due to his environment. On the flip side, Casey Crosby dominated at Single-A West Michigan last year posting a 2.31 ERA with 117 strikeouts in 109 1/3 innings of work. Nevertheless, West Michigan holds the pitcher friendliest parks in the Midwest League. Demse, even before he retired, was considered a top 10 prospect for the A’s because of his performance last year. However, even with 31 homers and 40 steals last, he would struggle to match those results in other leagues. This doesn’t mean he wasn’t good, it just means to take his production with a grain of salt – same with Crosby. They both are (were in Demse’s case) top prospects for their respective teams, just don’t assume dominance in one league will immediately transfer to the next.

South Atlantic (Sally) League – Class Single-A
Asheville – Colorado [#6.6]
Greensboro – Florida [# 10.6]
West Virginia – Pittsburgh [# 21.3]
Greenville – Boston [# 6.3]
Hagerstown – Washington [# 21]
Lake County – Cleveland [# 12.6]
Kannapolis – Chicago (AL) [# 22.6]
Hickory – Texas [# 16]
Lexington – Houston [# 24]
Columbus – Tampa [# 4]
Rome – Atlanta [# 10.3]
Augusta – San Francisco [# 20.3]
Lakewood – Philadelphia [# 21.6]
Savannah – New York (NL) [# 19.3]
Charleston – New York (AL) [# 9.6]
Delmarva – Baltimore [# 15]

Average Slash Line – .254/.324/.363
Range of Runs Factors per team: .91 to 1.11

Known to be a pitchers’ haven, the Sally League actually has second the largest disparities between Home Run Factors (.78 [Augusta] to 1.23[Greensboro]) in the minors). Along with Greensboro, the teams that play at Asheville, Hickory, and Greensville all have Home Run Factors over 1.10 while Delmarva, Charleston, Rome, Lakewood, and Augusta have Home Run Factors of .90 or less (see attached document for more details). Hagerstown is the most neutral park in this league. The Sally League is where Mike Stanton launched 39 homers in 2008. Guess where he called home? Greensboro. When he was moved up to start the next year (2009) at Jupiter in the Florida State League, something happened. Something like hitting fly balls in a stadium that is the second hardest to hit homers happened. On another note, some of the best places to pitch in this league happen to host the largest media market for their major league affiliate (NYY) and another team that churns out players from their farm year after year (ATL). Both teams High-A affiliates aren’t as extremely pitcher friendly and technically could be classified as slightly pitcher friendly (think the Metrodome without the added effects of the ceiling). This allows for the media hype of New York and the hype that the Braves always have great pitching prospects in their system create a new cycle of prospect hype jargon and rhetoric.

Florida St. League – Class High-A
Daytona – Chicago (NL) [# 17.6]
Charlotte/Vero Beach – Tampa Bay [# 4]
Dunedin – Toronto [# 25]
Lakeland – Detroit [# 18.3]
St. Lucie – New York (NL) [# 19.3]
Tampa – New York (AL) [# 9.6]
Sarasota – Cincinnati [# 15]
Brevard County – Milwaukee [# 10.3]
Clearwater – Philadelphia [# 21.6]
Fort Myers – Minnesota [# 10.6]
Jupiter – Florida [# 10.6]
Palm Beach – St. Louis [# 19]

Average Slash Line – .252/.322/.363
Range of Runs Factors per team: .93 to 1.06

Ironically, the Florida State League is considered another pitching haven, although they have the highest disparity between Homer Factor (.82 to 1.32). However, this is due to Tampa Bay’s Vero Beach/Charlotte playing like the 90’s Coors Field. If you play for Tampa Bay and you’re a hitter, jump for joy. With a Homer Factor of 1.3, your pitchers are crying an extra moat around the warning track hoping to blow back a few fly balls into the field of play. After Vero Beach/Charlotte, Dayton and Dunedin come in with a Homer Factor of 1.1 and are the only other teams above 1.10 Homer Factor. Pitching for Sarasota, Fort Myers, Jupiter and Palm Beach sure make the Reds, Twins, Marlins and Cardinal young pitching prospects look like studs – I am looking at you, Homer Bailey. Jupiter and Palm Beach have a Homer Factor of .82 and .83 respectively while Fort Myers and Sarasota each are sitting at .91 and .93 respectively. The most neutral ballpark is actually shared by the two New York team’s affiliates – Tampa and St. Lucie.

Carolina League – Class High-A
Frederick – Baltimore [# 15]
Winston-Salem – Chicago (AL) [# 22.6]
Lynchburg – Pittsburgh [# 21.3]
Kinston – Cleveland [# 12.6]
Potomac – Washington [# 21]
Myrtle Beach – Atlanta [# 10.3]
Salem – Boston [# 6.3]
Wilmington – Kansas City [# 19.3]

Average Slash Line – .256/.329/.383
Range of Runs Factors per team: .94 to 1.05

Wilmington and Salem (Homer Factors of .84 and .89 respectively) are easily the best pitcher parks and Frederick is by far and large the best hitters park (1.28 Homer Factor) with Kinston the next closest (1.10 Homer Factor). The most neutral site is probably Potomac and Myrtle Beach. I would submit that this league is more pitcher friendly on a whole than any other High-A league; I may even stretch it far enough to say over the Sally League. Remember how a lot of people were writing off Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas of the Kansas City Royals after their poor performances at High-A? I do, especially more so in Moustakas case. An interesting splits on Moustakas should be noted. Home slash line: .208/.269/.381; Away slash line: .292/.331/.473 – hmm, looks like hitting at Wilmington blows and vice versa.

California League – Class High-A
Lancaster – Houston [# 24]
High Desert – Seattle [# 20.6]
Visalia – Arizona [# 6.3]
Stockton – Oakland [# 26.6]
Bakersfield – Texas [# 16]
Modesto – Colorado [# 6.6]
Rancho Cucamonga – Los Angeles (AL) [# 6]
Lake Elsinore – San Diego [# 23.3]
Inland Empire – Los Angeles (NL) [# 4.6]
San Jose – San Francisco [# 20.3]

Average Slash Line – .270/.341/.417
Range of Runs Factors per team: .89 to 1.14

Ah, the Pacific Coast League of the low minors. Hitting at High Desert, Stockton, Lancaster, and Visalia puts your Homer Factor at 1.19 or better while hitting at Inland Empire, Modesto, Lake Elsinore or San Jose places your Homer Factor below .90 with Inland Empire posting a .78 Homer Factor. There really isn’t a neutral site, but Bakersfield and Rancho Cucamonga are the least extreme of any ballpark with Bakersfield a slight hitters’ park and Rancho Cucamonga being a slight pitchers’ park. I can think of several hitters that looked great at this level last year that now raise a bit of concern: Koby Clemens (HOU), Jon Gaston (HOU), Michael Bianucci (TEX), Alex Liddi (SEA), Tyson Gillies (SEA – PHI), and Carlos Peguero (SEA). (Marc Hulet recently posted that Clemens and Peguero are hitting well at Double-A this year.) Pitchers that may have benefited from playing in this league: Christian Friedrich (COL), Simon Castro (SDP), Chris Withrow (LAD), and Trevor Reckling (LAA).