We’ve all understood for a while that the ballpark you play in can alter the kinds of numbers that a player puts up. That works for both hitters and pitchers. We usually call those park factors, and in the minor leagues, I’ve written up all of those for the past season. I’ve broken them down for how they altered batting average and power, as well as broken down how left, center and right field plays for each park since the handedness of a hitter really comes into play there. We aren’t going to get into that today, but if you’re interested in it, you can check all of that out here.
One thing that comes into play in the minor leagues is the differences in levels. The entire level of competition changes to go along with the playing environment. That’s what I wanted to look at today, specifically for the 2016 season. For this, what I’ve done is looked at hitters only (the reason for this is it’s much easier to get the full hitting lines for hitters than it is to find the full hitting lines against for pitchers) who played at multiple levels for the Reds farm system in 2016. Then I simply added up how they hit at each level and compared that to the next level up.
Moving from the Billings Mustangs to the Dayton Dragons
The Mustangs play in what’s well known as a hitter friendly league, while Dayton plays in a relatively neutral league as far as hitting goes (though it plays tougher in the first month as it’s cold and the ball simply doesn’t carry nearly as well). Here’s how the group of guys who played in both Dayton and Billings performed at each level:
This only includes players who were at both levels in 2016. The jump to Dayton was massive as the group as a whole struck out 50% more often and OPS’d 181 points lower. There are park factors at play, but the competition level is also quite a big jump.
Moving from the Dayton Dragons to the Daytona Tortugas
The Tortugas play in the most pitcher friendly league in minor league baseball. With that said, Daytona is the most hitter friendly park within that league. This was a tough one for the numbers as there simply wasn’t enough data to work with. Only two players had more than 30 plate appearances at both levels, Shed Long and Reydel Medina.
As noted above, there’s simply not enough information here to take much away from things. It was two players and they combined for just 285 plate appearances in Daytona. Both hit well there late in the season.
Moving from the Daytona Tortugas to Pensacola Blue Wahoos
The jump up to Double-A is considered the biggest jump in minor league baseball from one level to the next. In the past, Pensacola played out as rather hitter friendly (left field played as a launching pad, while right field was like playing in Petco – but since a majority of hitters are right handed, it’s played very hitter friendly). They moved the fence back in left field to accomodate a local college football team that also uses the stadium and it changed the dynamics of how the field played in 2016. Power was much tougher to come by.
We were dealing with a smaller sample size, but four players saw time at both levels. The group hit significantly better in Daytona. They showed more power and saw their strikeout rate skyrocket as a whole. There is a smaller sample size to deal with here, both in terms of players and the overall number of plate appearances.
Moving from the Pensacola Blue Wahoos to Louisville Bats
There was a bit of player movement between these two levels, showing the second largest set of plate appearances of any group. Louisville generally plays neutral, but has seen some swings in the last few years in both directions.
There wasn’t much change in the walk or strikeout rates with this group of players. Where the big differences came was the power output, which dropped off significantly, and the average which dropped off a decent amount. Combined it led to an OPS drop over 117 points with this group of players.
With the exception of the two players who jumped from Dayton to Daytona, each jump proved to be a significant downgrade for offensive output. Strikeout rates jumped, except for that Dayton to Daytona group of two at each jump. What you would expect to happen, happened. Guys performed worse as they moved up to higher levels of competition.
One thing worth noting here is that outside of Shed Long, no player that made any of the jumps was a Top 25 prospect (Chris Okey and Nick Senzel jumped from Billings to Dayton, but they had very minimal time in Billings).