During the 2017 All-Star game day, Brandon Quaranta stepped out during the home run derby, took a deep breath, turned to the sidelines, and said, “Man, I wish we were in Strasburg right now.”
Of course, Brandon went on to win the derby rather easily, but he made an astute observation. Home runs are easier to hit in Strasburg than in Harrisonburg. Why? That’s hard to pinpoint. It could be because of the dimensions of the park. Or maybe even where the park is located- this year, someone mentioned to me that maybe Covington has high park factors because of the elevation (but according to google, Harrisonburg’s elevation is higher than Covington…). Some people believe that it’s difficult to hit home runs in Woodstock because the field is located in a “bowl,” with high banks behind the outfield fence. Charlottesville’s park is similar.
For whatever the reason, it makes sense that different parks play differently with offensive output. This isn’t basketball, after all.
But what are Park Factors? The easy explanation is that Park Factors compare what happens in each park to what happens in other parks. So the Strasburg Express hitters’ statistics, and their opponent’s statistics at home, for example, are compared to what they did on the road. Eventually, after very much calculating (and a huge amount of time), the outcome shows us which Valley League parks, for example, have more runs scored, or home runs hit, than the other parks. A final number of 100 means a neutral park. Numbers higher than 100, like 132, for example, means that 32% more of that stat happened at this park over the given time period. Numbers less, like a 68, means that 32% less of that stat occurred. Does any of this make sense? To see more of an explanation, click here to read Fangraph’s “Beginner’s Guide” to park factors.
One common question posed to me is, “But what if a team has really good pitchers? That would suppress what happens in their home park, right?” Sure, it would. But those good pitchers also pitch on the road, which means that offense would be suppressed on the road as well. And those numbers are used together.
With all this said, though, we need to remember that the sample size for this exercise is pretty small. Each Valley League teams only plays a little over 20 games a year at home, and the same amount on the road. Major league teams play four times that in just one season. So the sample size is small, which means that the numbers are not as stable. The three-year averages are a little better, but even stats over three Valley League seasons do not equal a full major league season. Keep that in mind.
Ok, are we ready? Let’s first look at the park factors for 2017. Remember, 100 is average.
- Six parks play over 100 for runs scored, and five play under. Interesting that New Market is the lowest, at 74.40, even though they had a dynamite offense in 2017. I wonder what numbers those players would have put up if they played in Purcellville’s home park, which is the highest, at 118.28.
- Waynesboro’s and Charlottesville’s home parks are the lowest in home runs, while Covington and Strasburg are the highest. Covington’s 217.37 means 117.37% more home runs are hit in that park! 61.67% less home runs than average are hit in Waynesboro.
- Also interesting to see how few triples are hit in Front Royal and Strasburg. There was one triple hit in Front Royal in 2017 in 1465 at-bats (by both teams), while the Cardinals and opponents hit 13 triples in 1427 at-bats elsewhere! (That triple was hit on June 15th, by Dylan Hardy, if you’re interested.)
Now let’s take a look at the three year averages. (Purcellville has been in Fireman’s Park for only two years, so their average is just from 2016 and 2017.)
These numbers are over a 60+ game sample.
- Interesting that Winchester is above average in every single category, while Charlottesville and Front Royal are the opposite.
- Look at the triples in Harrisonburg! And the home runs in Strasburg!
It would be fascinating if any of the teams used this data to build a team. Strasburg- big, powerful sluggers to play to their strength. Charlottesville and Front Royal- gappers, speedy guys… but it could play the other way, too. Strasburg should build their staff with ground ball pitchers, Front Royal could get extreme fly ball guys and populate their outfield with good defenders….
Of course, summer league GMs would probably be best served to get the best players they can, whether they fit into the park or not. One way or the other, this exercise gives us food for thought!