Yesterday, I posted about the top-12 pivotal Yankee prospects for 2014. One of my observations was that a lot of Yankee hitting prospects are underrated due to the harsh hitting environments that they play in. This prompted Norm to comment,
I've read this several times here, that many of the ballparks the farm teams play in are "bad hitting environments". Charleston has been mentioned several times. Can someone explain what that means, and why these parks aren't conducive to hitting?
The difficulty of Yankee minor league hitting environments is something that I've been asserting for awhile, but without a whole lot of perspective. It may be bad, but how bad? I didn't really know the answer. So, I decided to find out.
Using Statcorner's minor league park factors for left and right-handed batters and Baseball Reference's data for runs allowed per game in each 2013 full-season minor league, I created an index. Half of the index is weight based on home ballpark factors, the other half is weighted for average number of runs scored in each league, compared with the other leagues at the same minor league level. So, the formula is [[AAA League Factor] + [AAA Park Factor] + [AA League Factor Index] [...] + [Low-A Park Factor] / 8]]. Pretty simple, but I've never seen the calculation done before. 100 is average.
The result? The Yankees are dead last for 2013. For both right-handed and left-handed batters, their organization is the worst place to be a hitter, and the best to be a pitcher. Full rankings are below.
I think there are three important takeaways for Yankee prospects. First, we really need to stop looking at the raw statistics, like triple-slash lines and ERA. I'm trying to be disciplined and stick to wOBA+ for hitters. Did you know that Cito Culver was an above-average hitter in the South Atlantic League this year? His .233/.313/.348 line translates to a 102 wOBA+.
Second, I wouldn't be surprised if this kind of imbalance turns out to actually hurt hitter's development, instead of just making their stats look bad to outsiders, for a few reasons. First off, because confidence and coaching probably don't automatically adjust for park factors. A player who is hitting .233 with no power (Cito Culver) probably feels like crap at the plate. But, really, he's an average hitter for his level. Put the same guy in the Carolina League or Pacific Coast League, and the confidence comes back. Ditto for coaching / promotion. Similarly, I bet this helps pitching prospects.
Finally, this probably contributes to systemic underrating of Yankee hitters and overrating of Yankee pitchers. At some point, I'm probably going to go back through historic prospect rankings, and see who flamed out more. Or, if I'm really ambitious, I'll go back and see if any clubs are systemically over or under represented in Baseball America's rankings.
Update: To answer Jason's comment: Why are the Yankees last? Its a pretty boring explanation. The East Coast leagues tend to have cooler temperatures, more humidity, and lower elevations. The Yankee affiliates are entirely on the East Coast. That's a big piece of what's going on--the Yankees have no exposure to the California League or Pacific Coast League. Another thing is that the Yankee ballparks all almost universally kill home runs.
2013 Comprehensive Organizational Hitting Environment Rankings
|Club||System LHB||Club||System RHB|
|New York AL||95||New York AL||94|
|Chicago NL||97||Chicago NL||97|
|Tampa Bay||99||Kansas City||98|
|Chicago AL||99||Tampa Bay||98|
|San Francisco||99||St. Louis||99|
|Boston||101||Los Angeles AL||101|
|New York NL||101||San Diego||101|
|Seattle||102||New York NL||102|
|Los Angeles AL||103||Toronto||103|
|Arizona||106||Los Angeles NL||105|
|Los Angeles NL||106||Houston||106|