Toolshed: Sugar Land, Somerset park factors
Two weeks ago, change came to Minor League Baseball in many forms with the new 120-team structure. Last week, another piece of the puzzle fell into place with the 2021 schedules. The view of the Minor Leagues' return feels like it's getting clearer and clearer -- pandemic-pending, of course --
Two weeks ago, change came to Minor League Baseball in many forms with the new 120-team structure. Last week, another piece of the puzzle fell into place with the 2021 schedules. The view of the Minor Leagues' return feels like it's getting clearer and clearer -- pandemic-pending, of course -- as the days get closer to April 6 (the return of Triple-A) and May 4 (the return of Double-A, High-A and Low-A).
But some questions still need answers, like, how will the new ballparks play?
The Minors are welcoming three formerly independent-league squads to their ranks -- the Sugar Land Skeeters, Somerset Patriots and St. Paul Saints. Those first two come from the Atlantic League, making for an easier comparison and analysis of their park factors, and will be the focus of this Toolshed.
First, let's lay the groundwork on how park factors work, since the last time Toolshed tackled those types of numbers was in fall 2019. Park factors for a specific stadium are determined by comparing the amount of runs, homers and hits in one ballpark as compared to those that occur when its home team plays on the road. The formula for runs looks as follows:
Park factor = 100 * [(Runs scored at home + runs allowed at home)/Amount of home games] / [(Runs scored on the road + runs allowed on the road)/Amount of road games]
We've put the factor on a scale in which 100 is considered perfectly fair. If the factor is 100, the park favors neither hitters nor pitchers. If it is above 100, the park favors hitters. Anything below is more beneficial for pitchers. It's even easier to understand when you see the numbers.
Before we get too deep into the factors, let's provide some additional context. The factors only compare parks within leagues. So, for example, what might have been pitcher-friendly in the old California League might be hitter-friendly by Midwest League standards. League factors are something we have to take into account. Sugar Land will head from the Atlantic League to Triple-A West, made up entirely of former Pacific Coast League clubs. Somerset, on the other hand, goes to Double-A Northeast with teams formerly of the Eastern League. This is how the Atlantic League compared to those other circuits (and a few others) back in 2019, the last time Minor League Baseball was played:
The Skeeters and Patriots are headed in very opposite directions.
Even after the restructure, Triple-A West retains some of the former PCL's most hitter-friendly parks in Albuquerque, El Paso, Reno and Salt Lake and loses some of the pitcher-friendly spots in Nashville, New Orleans, Memphis and Fresno. Basically, there's a chance that with the losses and those sticking around, offense could go up in the West Coast Triple-A league. This is barring another change to the ball after the move to the Major League baseball caused Triple-A offense to jump across the board in 2019.
On the other side, Somerset moves into a much more pitcher-friendly former Eastern League as a direct swap for Trenton, which will be in the MLB Draft League for 2021. Only the Florida State League had fewer runs per game among affiliated circuits in 2019.
By comparison, the former circuit home of these two clubs acted closer to the Texas and California Leagues in 2019. That is, the Atlantic League was closer to neutral, but still generally favored hitters overall. Something to consider when diving into the park factors below. We have divided these into two tables -- one showing the most recent factors and another with the three-year average -- to highlight how the parks acted most recently and over a longer term.
2019 Atlantic League park factors
|Team||R factor||HR factor||H factor|
|Long Island Ducks||112||102||106|
|Southern Maryland Blue Crabs||107||96||102|
|New Britain Bees||101||103||98|
|Sugar Land Skeeters||98||76||93|
2017-19 Atlantic League park factors
|Team||R factor||HR factor||H factor|
|Long Island Ducks||114||119||107|
|New Britain Bees||103||94||98|
|Sugar Land Skeeters||95||71||95|
|Southern Maryland Blue Crabs||93||90||98|
No other way to slice it. By Atlantic League standards, Sugar Land's Constellation Field and Somerset's TD Bank Ballpark are pitchers' parks. They did come from a league featuring stadiums with short porches in York and Lancaster, but for the most part, it is pretty clear why these reputations should carry from indy ball to the Minors. Let's get into the individual reasons:
Abandon all hope those that hit the ball to right field.
The diamond at Constellation Field -- like any properly designed stadium -- faces east. Southeast of the park's spot in Sugar Land is the Gulf of Mexico and the Texas coast. Because of that configuration, many Skeeters games will feature a wind blowing in from the Gulf through right-center and into hitters' faces. As if that wasn't hard enough, the foul line extends 348 feet to the pole in right, only 5 feet shorter than the length of Wrigley Field's extended right field in the Majors. For example, this batter probably wouldn't have been robbed of a homer in most other Major, Minor or indy ballparks.
Siri, could you please queue up “I Believe I Can Fly”?— Sugar Land Skeeters (@SL_Skeeters) August 18, 2020
Feast your eyes on this absolutely incredible home run robbery by @Indians Top-30 prospect Will Benson from Sunday! pic.twitter.com/MzzXkPo7Wc
"I could probably count on two hands the number of home runs I've seen to right field since I've been here in 2018," Sugar Land broadcaster Ryan Posner said in an email this week.
Left field is much closer at 325 feet to the pole and doesn't deal with the wind as much. However, the wall from left to left-center checks in at 10.8 feet tall, adding a degree of difficulty for anyone trying to yank the ball out of the yard in that direction. For another quirk, the walls bubble inward in right- and left-center at 378 and 354 feet from home respectively.
There is some good news coming for Triple-A West batters. Well, moderate good news anyway. As part of their ongoing 2021 renovation plans, the Skeeters are changing the position of their bullpens. Instead of the 'pen running parallel to the deep fence in right, they will now be stacked, almost like steps on a staircase, in right field. The setup will be similar to that of the bullpens at San Diego's Petco Park in center with one bullpen raised about 7 feet higher than the other. The effect will be a moving in of that daunted right-field fence to a much more manageable 323 feet.
However, barring a massive wind-screen installation in the next decade, there still needs to be an accounting for the wind coming from right-center, and that area of Constellation Field could be a graveyard for the home-run hopes of left-handed sluggers, especially compared to the Triple-A West hitters havens in Albuquerque, El Paso and other places.
Dimensions and wind again come into play in New Jersey, and the news doesn't get any better for batters who like to take aim in right.
The measurements at TD Bank Ballpark's corners are fairly ordinary -- 317 in left, 315 in right. Left-center is spacious at 375, extending out to 402 in dead center. And then there's the gap in right-center field. At its deepest, the Patriots' right-center gap extends to 415 feet. That's 5 feet shorter than Fenway Park's famed 420-foot marker, but unlike the Fens', TD Bank Ballpark doesn't come with a triangle. Instead, it's what must feel like acres of grass for hitters, center fielders and right fielders alike.
These two blasts to center from 2001 show just how much sluggers have had to clobber balls to get them out of TD Bank Ballpark:
#OTD Game 4 of the 2001 @AtlanticLg Championship Series— Somerset Patriots (@SOMPatriots) October 2, 2020
Glavine & Blosser 💣s pic.twitter.com/y8rJ8OIvsK
Unlike Sugar Land, there isn't a perfect geographical explanation for the wind. However, a large open space beyond the outfield walls -- taken up in part by the NJ Transit rail line -- allows wind to flow freely and without obstruction onto the field and toward home plate.
Because of those factors, Somerset batters hit only 29 homers over 69 games at TD Bank Ballpark during the 2019 season. Compare that to the 59 they crushed over the same sample size on the road in the same campaign. Somerset will be closer to average in the new-look Double-A Northeast, but it still will favor pitchers much more than the parks in Reading, Hartford and Erie, for three examples.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.