McKechnie Park Effects — Some Context
This is a followup to Kevin Creagh’s article on the effect of McKechnie Field on the hitting stats of the Bradenton Marauders. Kevin concludes that McKechnie may inflate those stats and also that Altoona’s Blair County Ballpark may deflate them once those players reach the Curve. There are a couple aspects to this discussion that I think need to be addressed. With respect to McKechnie, one obvious question is “inflate over what?” Specifically, are the hitting stats inflated above the players’ “true ability,” or are they simply inflated over what those players would have produced had they played in a typical Florida State League park? The second question is, What about the hitters who moved up to Altoona from Bradenton last year?
First to recap, and add to, the ballpark data, starting with McKechnie. Without question, McKechnie is easier to hit the ball out of than the typical FSL ballpark. According to the Statcorner data, this is almost entirely an effect that’s felt with left-handed hitters. Right-handed hitters get only a slight boost in HRs and also doubles. McKechnie otherwise has been a mostly neutral park. Statcorner unfortunately doesn’t offer an explanation, at least not one I can find, of the years they used to calculate park effects. Data at Baseball Think Factory, however, confirms the Statcorner ratings. BBTF lacks breakdowns for left- and right-handed hitters, but the 2010 effects for McKechnie show a similar boost in HRs—1.18 for all hitters—and roughly neutral effects—1.03 for hits and 1.04 for doubles—elsewhere. This shouldn’t be surprising to anybody who’s attended a lot of spring training games at McKechnie. The winds there are erratic, but tend most often to blow out to right. Those same winds, cutting across from left to right, are apt sometimes to knock down deep flies to left. When I’ve seen seemingly routine flyballs drift over the fence, it’s almost always happened in right, while I’ve seen some balls hit to left that were held in the park by the wind.
Blair County, by contrast, depresses longballs for everybody, although apparently more so for left-handed than right-handed hitters. Apart from its effect on HRs, Blair is roughly neutral according to both the Statcorner and BBTF data. With respect to the latter, Blair’s weighted average for 2008-10 is 0.84 for HRs, but 1.01 for hits and 1.00 for doubles.
The last part of the equation here is the Florida State League. The FSL is the worst environment for offense in the minors, worse even than the low-offense New York-Penn and Gulf Coast Leagues. The GCL not only operates in the same low-altitude, high-humidity environment as the FSL, but it opens its season in mid-June, after the spring winds have died down and the air has gotten heavier still. It also is filled with teenage hitters whose power often hasn’t started developing. The NYPL is heavily populated with college hitters who are just getting acclimated to wood bats. The FSL doesn’t have these excuses. It’s just a terrible place for hitters.
Keep in mind, by the way, that park factors result from a specific park being compared to its own specific league. (Scroll down to the first two comments here.) In other words, 1.00 represents the average for the league. McKechnie does not have a park HR factor of 1.18 compared to all the minors. It has a factor of 1.18 compared to the FSL, which is a terrible hitter’s league.
So what does all this tell us about McKechnie? Well, it tells us that it’s easier for left-handed hitters to hit the ball out of there than elsewhere in the FSL . . . and that’s it. For any broader conclusions about the impact it has on Marauders’ hitters, the best we can do is look at the hitters who played in McKechnie last year and Blair this year. Of course, this presents its own problems, because these are developing players whose circumstances change from year to year. Many are going to struggle more as they move up, for one thing. Unfortunately, I don’t have 2010 home/road splits, and I don’t have 2011 H/R splits for Eric Fryer’s time in AA. So, taking them one at a time . . . .
Overall – 315/386/432
Home – 302/345/440
Road – 363/397/570
Overall – 335/373/510
Obviously, Marte has improved dramatically this year, especially his power. That probably tells us nothing about McKechnie. It’s probably more a matter of a superb athlete becoming more physically mature and, hopefully, starting to break out as a potentially outstanding major leaguer.
Overall – 314/416/454
Home – 240/306/337
Road – 238/374/297
Overall – 239/339/318
Sanchez has gone in the exact opposite direction from Marte. Other than his willingness to draw walks, the collapse has been across the board and probably tells us little about McKechnie. It’s possible that McKechnie cushioned his numbers in 2010 (I don’t have the numbers but I know he hit much better there than on the road), but the problems this year clearly go a lot deeper. Of course, as a right-handed hitter, there’s no support in the park effects data for the notion that McKechnie helped him much. There’s also a sample size problem, even beyond the normal sample size problem with one-year splits, because Sanchez missed over half the 2010 season due to injury. At this stage, we can conclude that McKechnie helped him hit better in 2010 than he would have hit had he played somewhere else in the FSL. And that’s all.
Overall – 266/323/444
Home – 235/278/393
Road – 228/303/411
Overall – 232/290/401
Latimore’s OPS is down, but it’s mainly a matter of his batting average. Given Latimore’s tendency to swing at practically everything, it’s not surprising that upper level pitchers would take greater advantage of him. His power, however, hasn’t been affected in spite of Blair County’s HR-hostile environment. His ISO (isolated power) was .178 in 2010 and it’s .170 this year. He provides some evidence that McKechnie doesn’t help right-handed hitters.
Overall – 298/369/487
Home – 258/349/352
Road – 272/352/418
Overall – 266/351/388
Farrell is a difficult player to judge because he’s been plagued by injuries every year as a pro. (His numbers have dropped significantly since he returned from his most recent injury, for example.) Obviously, he’s dropped off a lot this year. Some of it, but clearly not all, may be Blair County Ballpark. Some of it may just result from him not being such a good prospect; he was a little overage for high A last year, for one thing. On the other hand, his 2011 numbers are pretty similar to his 2009 numbers, with 2010 being the outlier, so if we ignore the park effects data for right-handed hitters in McKechnie, it seems possible that McKechnie helped him a lot.
Overall – 300/391/474
Overall – 345/427/549
Fryer hit better in his brief stay at Altoona this year. He missed half of last year with injury, though, so both sample sizes are small.
Overall – 351/410/438
Home – 285/338/379
Road – 292/372/396
Overall – 288/355/387
Holt is the lone left-handed hitter in this group. He also does not hit HRs—just one each year—which is the main impact that both ballparks have. The .351 average in 2010 plainly was not an indication of his ability and probably resulted in part from yet another small sample size, as he missed two-thirds of the season with injuries. (This year, for instance, his numbers have drifted downward during the year as Eastern League pitchers have seen more of him.) Interestingly, his ISO has improved a little with the move to Blair County, from .088 to .099.
In summary, the experiences of the players who moved from McKechnie to Blair County this year provide little indication that their stay at Bradenton meaningfully inflated their hitting stats beyond their real abilities. Marte improved dramatically, Sanchez and Farrell got significantly worse, Fryer got better, and Latimore and Holt got worse but hit for the same or better power. In every case but Sanchez it’s easy to see developmental and other factors that account for the changes. McKechnie undoubtedly helped them all hit better than they would have had they been playing in a typical, offense-killing FSL ballpark, but the evidence does not support the conclusion that it produced stats that gave a misleading impression of their abilities.