Thursday, August 07, 2014

Truisms: Is the Eastern League A Pitcher's League?

One of the truisms I've come across in following the Giants is that the Eastern League is a pitcher's league.   The reasoning I've seen before is that with the California League a hitter's league and the PCL another hitter's league, seeing how poorly our hitters do in the EL makes that league a pitcher's league.  Given some discussions I have had in the ether, I thought I would examine that truism.


ogc thoughts

I totally agree that an age appropriate hitter in the EL has a tougher time getting to the next level. By then, the talent level has been rising higher and higher with each level, making it that much harder for the dwindling pool of top prospects to keep rising, that's something we all know. Unlike what others have claimed, I have never said anywhere that the EL was not a hard environment for hitters to make it out of there, all I ever said was that we should question whether it is truly a pitcher's league.

Here's the data that got me pondering whether the EL should really be labeled a pitchers league, which from my reasoning of why most Giants fans think this, was because of how good the PCL and CAL is. The Southern League AA average OPS the last four seasons was .714, for the Texas League it was .723, and for the EL it was .723, the same, but in three of the past four seasons, the EL had a higher OPS than the Texas League (the TL had a huge 2011 season). The EL for three of the past four seasons, in fact, had a higher OPS than the SL or TL, and so far this season has a higher OPS as well (.724 vs. .712 vs. .695). Thus, I find it hard to say that the EL is a pitcher's league, relative to the other AA leagues.  And it is hard to say that even relative to AAA or Advanced A, as then you would have to call all three AA leagues pitcher's leagues, as that would not make too much sense to me

Then this other angle to the data really opened my eyes.  From 2010 to 2014, the EL ranked 4th, 6th, 3rd, 3rd, and 4th out of the 10 full season leagues.  In other words, it has been one of the top offensive leagues in four out of the last five seasons.  I do not see how you can label one of the top offensive full season leagues as a "pitcher's league."  The Texas League, which was in the bottom half in four of the last five seasons should be labeled that, and the Southern League three of five, plus 4th and 5th, could be labeled that, but the EL very clearly is a hitter's league among all the leagues, hitter's league compared to the other AA leagues.

And the EL was mostly at least 1% above the 6th place league.  So far in 2014, 3rd is .726 OPS, EL .724, 5th .714 (SALLY FYI), 6th is .712;  .014 from being in the bottom half, which would be pitcher's leagues.  In 2013, EL 3rd with .717, 4th and 5th are .712, 6th is .708;  .009 from being in bottom half.  In 2012, EL is 3rd with .723 OPS, 4th and 5th are .718, 6th is .717;  .006 from being in bottom half.  In 2011, 3rd is .747, 4th is .739, 5th is .729, and EL is 6th with .724, tied.  In 2010, 3rd is .740, EL is 4th with .729, 5th is .727, 6th is .721;  .008 from being in bottom half.

I would agree that players aren't as developed in the lower levels yet, physically. I never argued that they were, though, as someone claimed I did in a prior discussion.   I simply stated that the EL should not be labeled a pitchers league, a conclusion I came to when I examined the OPS by league across all of the minors, and verified with the above statistics.  I have no idea why people throw these false claims on me, they need to improve their reading comprehension and not read things into what I write. 

And presumably the players in the other AA leagues should be on the same relative age and developmental path as the players in the EL, which leaves comparing the equivalent level leagues respective OPS averages.  A pitcher's league, in my mind, has to be relative to the the other teams in that level, not just relative to the leagues above and below.  Clearly, the EL is the offensive league compared to all full-season league and compared to the other AA leagues, so there is no perspective where the EL makes sense as a "pitcher's league" that I can see.

I've always wondered about why we moved from the Texas League to the EL, since the EL clearly appears to be a pitcher's league compared to Fresno and San Jose (both have been first or second from 2010 to 2014), but now it's clear to me:  the EL has been the hitter's league among the AA leagues.  The Giants did not want that huge a drop in overall hitting talent, presumably, as our prospects moved up our farm system.  The EL has a huge drop, but not as much as either the SL or TL.

And, FYI, since I'm at it, while the Sally has bounced up and down, it has been in the middle three of the five seasons (5th in 2014, 4th in 2012, and 6th in 2011;  9th in 2010 and 2013).  And compared to the other A-Leagues, the Sally is the hitter's league, relatively to them, as it had the highest OPS in three of the five seasons and second highest in a fourth.  The Midwest and Florida State Leagues has mostly 8th, 9th or 10th, together they were that rank in 9 of the 10 League-seasons (and 7th in the remaining season), so those two has been truly pitcher's leagues.

So, from what the data shows, the Giants farm teams has mostly been the hitter's league in their respective leagues.  And clearly so for Fresno and San Jose, both have been first or second in every season.  Richmond has also surprisingly been clearly a hitter's league as well, from any perspective, and Augusta is clearly a hitter's league compared to the other A-level and been generally in the middle among all the full season leagues, and so, at minimum, can't be labeled a pitcher's league.  None of the Giants full-season minor league teams look like they can be labeled a pitcher's league.

Baseball America Minor League Park Study

As sometimes happens in life, in a big co-inky dink, Baseball America recently published some data regarding how each team's minor league parks shifts from one level to another, read the article here and that article is associated with another article about how minor league parks drive performance.  Perhaps this explains the dichotomy regarding the EL that is out there.

First off, from 2010-2012, the CAL was first in R/G, PCL second, SAL third, and EL was sixth out of the ten full season leagues.  So relatively to our other leagues, the EL is the pitcher's league, but in terms of overall, it is right in the middle region, it is a neutral league.  And again, this label should not be comparing our team's, but rather where each LEAGUE is ranked vs. the other full season leagues.

All the parks are poor run environments in their leagues.  Fresno is the best, basically neutral, as they are 9th in their 16 team league at 9.89 R/G.  Augusta was 13th of 14 teams at 7.92, and both SJ and Richmond were last in their leagues, SJ 10th of 10 at 9.28, Richmond 12th of 12 at 7.87.  Again, per the above, Richmond is the worse team run environment at 7.87, though only slightly behind Augusta's 7.92, and thus I can see why some would label Richmond as being in a pitcher's league, their R/G is relatively low for our affiliates.  However, a pitcher's league should not be defined by the park, I feel, it should be defined by the league (hence the term, pitcher's league).

But what if you want to define by the park?  Now look at the Park Factor for each park, relative to parks within their own league.  SJ, while it is in a hitters league, clearly (1st among all leagues), they are one of the more severe pitcher's league in the CAL.  In fact, they were 10th out of the 10 teams, with a 0.922 park factor.  Their R/G qualified it to be named a pitcher's park for their league.  Similarly for Fresno, while in the 2nd highest run environment, Fresno has an 0.965 park factor, again, a pitcher's park in a hitter's league.  Augusta, again similar, the SAL is the 3rd highest run environment, but Augusta's park factor there is 0.932, almost last in the league like SJ, ending up 13th of 14 teams.  Those three teams, while being in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd highest run environments, are all among the lowest in park factors, qualifying as  pitching oriented parks in their respective leagues.

Richmond, however, has a park factor of 1.000, making their park an average park within their league, even though their R/G is the lowest in the league, which earned it the title of pitcher's park for the EL, although the park factor is puzzlingly 1.000 (it appears that their pitching was similarly as good on the road and their hitting was similarly as bad on the road as at home).  So relative to our other park's park factor, Richmond is more of a hitter's park than Augusta, SJ, or Fresno because those park environments are pitching oriented relative to the other teams in those leagues.

Not True:  EL NOT a Pitcher's League

While the EL looks and feels like a pitcher's league compared to PCL and CAL, when you look at the data, it is clearly not a pitcher's league.  And some argument could be made that it is a hitter's league.    In addition, none of the leagues the Giants have farm teams in can be labeled "pitcher's leagues", as overall, their OPS has been among the top half for the most part, and each is a hitter's park compared to the other leagues in their level.

Thus, it is a misnomer to label the Eastern League a pitcher's league, it only appears that way compared to the Pacific Coast League and the California League, but when you look at their rankings, the EL is at worse neutral, but mostly been a hitter's league as well, compared to its fellow AA leagues.

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