Wednesday, February 19, 2014
More Thoughts on Park and League Factors
Of all the discussions about park and league factors as they impact Giants minor leaguers, none have generated as much heat or as little light as the AA Eastern League and their ballpark in Richmond, VA. The official minor league baseball website recently ran a series of articles comparing park and league factors for all of the minor leagues. For people wanting a quick and dirty comp between leagues, OPS became a an easy and superficial target. When comparing league OPS numbers in a vacuum, the EL comes out somewhere in the middle, and much better than say, the Low A South Atlantic League. Hey, maybe the EL isn't so terrible for hitters after all? But, if that is the case, why to the Giants hitting prospects all go their to die?
First, lets's review a couple of other factors at work here: 1. Young hitters do not hit as many HR's in their teens as they will in their mid-20's because their bodies have not matured yet. They just don't have the strength to jack those balls out of the park yet! This can be seen in the very strong trend of lower OPS's and HR% in the lower minors. 2. Age vs League. While a 1 year difference in age between two prospects is negligible, a 3 year difference is huge due mainly to the aforementioned body maturity. Who your prospects are playing against is an extremely important factor in any analysis. Of course, they would be expected to perform better against players who are closer to their own age.
It has always been my impression that the league batting leaguers in the Eastern League in particular are historically made up mostly of older prospects who are no longer serious prospects, but are still hanging around the minors keeping the dream alive, collecting a paycheck and providing competition for the true prospects. Two examples that come immediately to mind are Javier Herrera and Mark Minicozzi from last year's Richmond Flying Squirrels team. Do you think it is an accident or chance that those two were the top hitters on their team and the #2 and 3 hitters in the league by OPS? Well, they were age 28 and 30 respectively, in the middle of what most analysts believe a ballplayer's peak years of productivity are. I decided to do a comparison of the top hitters by OPS for the AA EL and the Low A SAL to see if my theory held up. Here is what I found:
7 of the top 10 hitters by OPS in the EL last year were age 26 or over. The average age of the top 10 hitters by OPS in the league was 26.4 compared to an overall league average age of 24.4.
5 of the top 10 hitters by OPS in the SAL were age 20 or under with the average age of the top 10 hitters by OPS of 21.4. The overall league average age is just under 22, I believe it is 21.7 to be exact. The average age of the top 10 hitters by OPS in the SAL was slightly under the league average age.
What does this all mean? A superficial glance at league OPS would lead you to believe that the SAL is a tougher league for hitters, when you factor in age vs level into the equation, you can see that an age appropriate prospect is competing against players who are relatively much older in the EL as compared to the SAL. An age appropriate hitting prospect in the SAL will have an easier job than an age appropriate hitter in the Eastern League.
I believe this is the best explanation for why age appropriate Giants hitting prospect struggle so much in the AA Eastern League and why for an age appropriate hitting prospect, the EL is the toughest league to get past.