August 20, 2003
Can Of Corn
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.