Thursday, August 06, 2009

Why the Giants Need to Fix Up Their Minor League Parks

I ran across an interesting article from the LiveScience website on how we learn more from success than failure. Some scientists studied monkeys and monitored neurons in the monkey's prefrontal cortex and the basal ganglia - two areas of the brain thought to be involved in learning. "What surprised the researchers was that these neurons actually became more 'finely tuned' after a correct response than after an incorrect response, meaning that the neurons were able to better distinguish between the two different associations that the monkey was learning."

The researcher noted, "The neurons in these areas improve their tuning, they learn better when the animal had a recent success, versus when the animal had a failure. When the animal had a failure, there was virtually no change in neural processing, the neurons didn't improve at all." In other words, "after a success the monkeys were more likely to get an answer correct on the next trial, indicating a link between the improved neuron activity and the animal's behavior."

This seems to contradict the results of previous studies that suggest that we do learn from mistakes. But the researcher notes that "there's lots of different type of learning, and when you say learning from mistakes, the question is what is the nature of the mistake. In our study, the situation was a reward versus no reward, success versus the absense of success ... but there's some cases where mistakes can actually lead to very bad consequences, like a loss of money, or loss of scholoarship. When the failure actually leads to a negative consequence rather than just the absence of a positive, that might engage learning mechanisms that rely on feedback from that negative consequence, so maybe it's a different situation."

Giants Thoughts

I think both types of failures is at play with minor leaguers. On an AB by AB basis, the players are mostly in a reward versus no reward situation. There is subtle career pressures, but over a whole season, each AB is mostly a reward versus no reward situation.

But over a whole season, then that's when the failures lead to very bad negative consequences: no promotion to the next level, drop in prospect status. The Giants, having pitcher's parks up and down the system, is making it easier for their pitchers to learn but harder for their position prospects.

Here are the park factors for the Giants minor league affiliate parks (from 2009 Baseball Prospectus; 1000 is neutral):

Team - 2006 - 2007 - 2008
Fresno - 970 - 971 - 984
Conn. - 884 - 878 - 888
San Jose - 879 - 873 - 874
Augusta - 958 - 970 - 968
Salem-K - 1000 - 1021 - 1047

Clearly, the Giants have two particularly pitching-oriented parks in AA Connecticut and Advanced A San Jose, and that is a double punch into the gut for our hitting prospects, while boosting our pitching prospects.

This ties in with what I've been saying about Dodd Stadium, in which our AA team plays in, that playing there hurts our hitting prospects who play there. What this research suggests is that our hitting prospects are not learning as much as they can when they are playing in our farm system because of all the pitcher's parks, and particularly in San Jose and then Connecticut.

As I've noted in previous posts, Jonathan Mayo did a study of minor league parks and found that the strikeout rate was the highest in the minors at San Jose, and it was noted by John Bowker in the article that the background makes it hard for hitters to see the ball. That affects our young hitting prospects as well.

With one park or the other, perhaps it wouldn't have as strong an effect on our young hitters, but combining the two together, since most prospects have to go through San Jose and Connecticut, creates a learning deficit for our hitters that makes it that much harder for them to advance higher in the system. And those are critical levels for development and advancement.

Fortunately, Connecticut is moving to Richmond for 2010, which has been a neutral park for prior teams playing there, so that should improve things for the Giants farm system going forward. But the rumor is that the new owners of Richmond want to affiliate with a local MLB team, such as the Washington Nationals, and that would force the Giants to find a new team/park again for AA.

In any case, the Giants have a system full of pitcher's parks, and in two cases, extreme pitcher's parks where the hitters clearly have a mountain to climb over, rather than a pitcher's mound. Learning, as this study sugggests, can only be attained when one experiences successful, but if it's a pitcher's park, the hitters are learning less than prospects playing in a park that is better suited for hitters because they are struggling upstream with less probability of success when hitting in a pitcher's park. Which is basically what I've been saying for a number of years about Dodd Stadium, and now I should probably beat the drum regarding San Jose Municipal Stadium too, now that Dodd is soon to be seen in our rear view mirror.


  1. Hopefully writing smart articles like this will make you smarter, no?

  2. wouldn't it make more sense to have the AA squad closer to the bay area? It seems unnecessary to have your orginizations players on the other side of the country.

  3. Yes it would make more sense. Unfortunately, the closest AA league is the Texas League, where we used to have our Shreveport AA affiliate at.

    I'm not sure why they moved from there to Norwich (which eventually changed their name to Connecticut) but all those places are pretty hot in the summer and fall, and as you can see with the Texas Rangers, heat takes a lot out of your players.

    Now the Cards have their team in Missouri, perhaps the Giants can find a locale near to there if the weather is not as bad there as in Texas and its neighboring states along the coast.

    The only other AA league, besides the Eastern League we are currently in, is the Southern League, which really is more like the South-East league, as it stretches across the Southern coastline from Mississippi to Tennessee.

    That league might be good to join, as it would bring our prospects up against LA's and AZ's. The Texas League has Colorado, San Diego, and Oakland. The Eastern League has mostly AL teams there and no NL West teams there. Only the Mets, Phillies, Nats, and Pirates are NL affiliated, making it five NL teams out of 12 league teams.

    And if you didn't know, Augusta is pretty far away too, in the South Atlantic League. There is the Midwest League, which is closer, plus LA, AZ, and Oakland are there. I don't recall which league the Giants had been in long-term, but has been in the Sally League for a number of years now.

  4. Off-topic here but the Blue Jays put Rios on waivers and one team claimed him... Let's all pray it wasn't the Giants. I would hope that the team is shying away from albatross contracts and underperforming players.

  5. Anything about the Giants is alway on-topic to me. :^)

    Yeah, I hope it's not the Giants too. I don't think that it is. I've been meaning to write about this after the whole Halladay Trade non-event/screw-up.

    The whole Rios-Lincecum thing was driven by JP Riccardi. He leaked it and Sabean, as he always does, gave an unscrutable answer: he would not acknowledge the specifics of the rumor but addressed it by saying the Giants were in no position to ignore any potential deal offered.

    To me, he basically used the situation that was forced on him by Riccardi's loose lips to tell the rest of the Majors: "if you want my good pitchers, give me a good offer now, there's an offer on the table, but I will expect to get value back." When either nothing materialized or nothing of equal (or better) value was offered, then he told everyone to basically stop bothering him, they are off the table (not that they were ever on the table in the first place, remember, it was Riccardi who leaked his OWN offer). I doubt Sabean thought that Rios was worth trading Lincecum for, it was Riccardi who made that offer. Sabean just decided to let Riccardi tangle in the wind for a while and use him to see what else other teams would be willing to offer for Lincecum before shutting the door on any deals.

    The whole Halladay fiasco (and Peavy and Johan before them) shows how bad it can get when you make things like this public. That is probably why Sabean likes to operate under the radar. Now they got a pitcher who is mad at management and not as devoted to the team. He's also distracted going forward because he won't know when his GM will try to sell him off again.

    That's why I don't see the Giants picking up Rios. They don't need another OF. They have a number of options already plus Garko can play in LF. Getting a LF would shut that down for Garko, and would basically mean that Ishikawa would not get into many games going forward, so they may as well trade him off. They did not indicate such disdain for his talents when they acquired Garko, they made a point of saying that Ishikawa has a place with the Giants going forward.

    But I will cross my fingers along with you and hope that my reasoning is right: I don't want to be stuck with Rios contract either.

  6. Not sure where to ask this but what are you Hearing about Brandon Belt? I am surprise that the has not signed.

  7. The Giants usually wait until closer to the deadline to announce the over-slot bonuses... I'd chalk it up to that.

  8. It is not the Giants who delay the over slot bonuses, of which they have done a number of them, it is the MLB offices that forces teams to wait.

    Here is a nice article about how the commissioner's office delayed the Braves signing because of over-slot considerations. Apparently they had an agreement long ago, back when the draft happened, but delayed to now because of the Reds, apparently.

    I have not heard anything about Brandon Belt. I would not worry about not signing him.

    The Giants have not been cheap about slot or slightly over slot (up to 10% over) so as long as he's being reasonable in his demands, he should be signed. The Giants typically end up signing most of their picks up to the 10th round, and usually able to sign all the ones up to the 5th round. So signs are the Giants think that they can sign him where they drafted him.

  9. What an epic meltdown...



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