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August 20, 2003

Can Of Corn

Park Factors

by Dayn Perry

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Among contenders this season, it was the Dodgers who most resembled Sisqo. That is, they were fleeting, not possessed of the skills necessary to persist, and ultimately inconsequential. And no hit single to make the ladies squeal and shake it either.

Not so long ago, Joe Sheehan did a crackin' good job of deconstructing the Dodgers' flaccid offense, so I won't belabor the point. But I will add that the Dodgers' run-scoring problems aren't a recent phenomenon.

In fact, for much of their history, they've been less offensive than a Billy Graham knock-knock joke. The Dodgers haven't finished in the top five in the NL in runs scored since 1991, and they've led the senior circuit in runs scored exactly twice since moving to Los Angeles prior to the 1958 season. Additionally, they've been one of the worst organizations in baseball in terms of identifying and developing hitters. The lineage of highly productive, homegrown Dodger hitters runs from Mike Piazza (himself a nepotistic afterthought when tapped in the 62nd round of the 1988 amateur draft) to...Pedro Guerrero? If I'm in a charitable mood I'll throw in the merely decent Raul Mondesi and the so-far-so-good Paul Lo Duca, but you get the idea.

So why is that? Part of it is the "Dodger Way"--an emphasis on pitching, often to the detriment of the offense--but part of it may be the developmental environment in which their young hitters toil. I'm talking park effects.

It's not exactly breaking news that the hitting clime at the Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate (now Las Vegas, previously Albuquerque) stands in sharp contrast to that of Dodger Stadium, arguably the toughest park for hitters in the majors. To poke a little further into this matter, I took the park factors for each organization's full-season affiliates--three-year averages when possible--and normalized them to the entire level (i.e., a PCL park factor is now reflective of all of Triple-A rather than just that particular circuit). Then, I averaged those park factors to see what kind of environment each club's hitters were being subjected to. When these results are compared to the major league park factors, some interesting things come out of the wash:

 

Team    Mi PF   MLB PF  Difference
ANA     1058    1018    -3.80%
ARZ     1128    1031    -8.60%
ATL     975     993     +1.80%
BAL     957     959     +0.21%
BOS     968     1000    +3.30%
CHC     1008    952     -5.60%
CHW     976     1041    +6.70%
CIN     995     997     +0.20%
CLE     985     1025    +4.10%
COL     1092    1141    +4.50%
DET     997     973     -2.40%
FLA     1047    960     -8.30%
HOU     960     1044    +8.80%
KAN     1003    1085    +8.20%
LOS     1033    911     -11.80%
MIL     1060    983     -7.30%
MIN     961     1032    +7.40%
MON     996     1003    +0.70%
NYM     1008    931     -7.65%
NYY     963     1002    +4.00%
OAK     1070    1013    -5.30%
PHI     961     958     -0.31%
PIT     991     1020    +2.90%
STL     986     984     -0.20%
SDG     991     914     -7.80%
SFO     1043    913     -12.50%
SEA     976     935     -4.20%
TAM     998     1001    +0.30%
TEX     970     1042    +7.40%
TOR     1013    1027    +1.40%

First a little housekeeping. "Mi PF" is the averaged full-season minor league park factor, "MLB PF" is the major league park factor (again, when possible these are three-year averages) and "Difference" is the percentage change from minors to majors. All minor league park factors include affiliates from the 2002 season. There's quite a bit of affiliate turnover from year to year (the Marlins, for instance, have new Triple-A, Double-A and low-A affiliates for 2003), so in future seasons some of these figures won't be as germane. Also, Cincinnati's MLB park figure is based on this season to date, the first year of the Great American Ballpark.

The average variance from full-season minor league affiliates to the majors, in terms of park factors, is -0.93%. As you can see, the Giants (-12.50%) and Dodgers (-11.80%) have the greatest percentage difference from minors to majors. And it's probably not a coincidence that the Giants are another organization noted for its lack of success in developing hitters.

Although the ability to select promising hitters and reinforce their skills is most important in terms of developing productive bats, the environment in which they learn can't be overlooked. The Dodgers' minor league affiliates, in terms of park factors, are the eighth-most accommodating for hitters, while Dodger Stadium is the least accommodating. Perhaps that adjustment, compounded by the task of having to face the best pitchers on the planet, is often too much for their young hitters. Again, it's probably a secondary explanation (picking better players is a more rational, if obvious, starting point), but when your offensive fecklessness is a historical imperative, it's worth looking at any and all possibilities.

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