Friday, May 6, 2011

Minor League Park Factors, League Run Environments, and Evaluating Giants Players' Stats Part II: Richmond and the EL

I looked at Part I last week where I looked at Fresno. This post, I'm going to look at Richmond and the Eastern League.

(For the record, I got the statistical information from Baseball Think Factory and The Hardball Times.)

Weighted Park Factors for The Diamond: 0.97 run factor, 1.00 hit factor, 0.96 doubles factor, 0.91 home run factor, 0.99 walk factor), 1.01 strikeout factor.

Run Environments for the Eastern League: 4.5 R/G, 4.5 BsR/G, 2.0 HR percentage, 8.7 walk percentage, 8.0 SBA percentage.

I only looked at one year mainly because the Giants' Double-A affiliate has only been in Richmond for one season. That being said, a lot of the same trends from Connecticut proved to be the same: the ball park favors the pitchers more so than the hitters. While Richmond is not as much as a pitcher's park as Richmond (the run factor was 0.91 in Connecticut), it's safe to say that you're going to see a regression in home run numbers for hitters who make the transition from the California League. (Though Richmond is not as bad on hitters when it comes to home runs, as Connecticut had a home run factor of 0.81).

The Diamond's dimensions are pretty normal by Minor League parks standards. It's 330 in right and left and 402 in center. Hence, while it isn't exactly too cavernous, there aren't any short porches or deep alleys that hitters can take advantage of.

In terms of the league, the Eastern League is a notorious pitcher's league. From 2007-2009, the league average batting average was .261 and the league average OPS was .727. While you could factor in the parks and environments of the teams in the Eastern League, the biggest key to the numbers favoring pitcher's is just the fact that the pitcher's are just a lot better than what you see in High Single-A or Triple-A. Most high end prospects make some kind of jump from Single A to Double A, so for the most part hitters face the best pitchers organizations have to offer and not retreads who are repeating levels (though you do see this sometimes as Osiris Matos is currently pitching in Double A).

What does this mean for Flying Squirrels Players?

I think the biggest sign of how a prospect will develop and turn out is how well they do in Double A. You see a lot hitters have great years in the California League, only to dramatically have down years in the Eastern League. Granted, you have to take their "down" years with a grain of salt. I think guys like Conor Gillaspie, Brandon Crawford and Darren Ford, players who had down seasons in Richmond in 2010 after good years in San Jose in 2009, are players who still performed well enough to maintain their status as "good" prospects. However, guys like Roger Kieschnick and Nick Noonan put their statuses in jeopardy in Richmond because they looked massively overwhelmed by the pitching (as evidenced by high strikeout rates and low walk rates and OPS numbers).

When you see hitters show power in the Eastern League, it usually turns out to be a pretty good sign. Brandon Belt for example put up incredible slugging numbers in Richmond (.623 slugging percentage in 201 plate appearances), which just goes to show you that he's a legitimate prospect with legitimate power. He wasn't benefiting from hitter's parks and he was facing the best pitchers organizations had to offer. Belt's stats in Richmond to me are confirmation that he will find success eventually at the Major League level despite his slow start with the Giants this year.

As for pitchers, the numbers are going to favor them, just because of the parks and environments. Much like any pitcher at any level, you want to see how he's walking guys and how well he's striking guys out. Furthermore, the Eastern League and Double A in general seems to be a prime point in evaluating a pitcher's development. Is he developing his secondary pitchers? Is his fastball continuing to have as much life as it did when he broke into Rookie League? How is his command faring and developing? Guys in Double A usually have one to a few years of professional experience when they arrive to the Eastern League, so it's a nice forum to see how they have improved or regressed since they first broke into the league.

To use an example, Madison Bumgarner's strikeout rates went down when he went to Connecticut, but he developed as a pitcher mainly because he minimized his walks (2.5 BB/9), hits (6.7 H/9) and took advantage of the park environments and defense around him (.236 BABIP). Tim Alderson on the other hand (the other Giants pitcher who was taken in the first round in 2007), has struggled because he has been extremely hittable (9.9 H/9 in 3 seasons in the Eastern League) and he doesn't have the stuff to blow guys away like he did in the California League (5.7 K/9 in three seasons in Double-A). It just goes to show you how the Eastern League can be a good indicator of which pitchers are ready to make the jump to the Show (e.g. Bumgarner) and ones who still have a lot more developing to do (e.g. Alderson).

Overall, you have to keep two things in mind when evaluating players in Richmond:

1.) Don't get discouraged too much if players aren't hitting well in the Eastern League (like I said, pitchers will have the advantage and the ones that do succeed are usually "elite" prospects anyways that are going to succeed at any level). They still can be good prospects and develop into good Major League players, they just need a little more time and that's okay as long as the numbers aren't too bad. That is why Crawford, Gillaspie and Ford earned promotions to Fresno even though their numbers were down in comparison to what they did in San Jose in 2009.

2.) Double A is a good indicator of which pitchers are going to develop into studs and which ones are going to struggle. And unlike hitters, multiple years in Double A for pitchers usually isn't a good thing, especially if they don't show improvement in multiple years.

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