Las Vegas: Impacts, Run Environment and Development

The Mets have a new AAA affiliate in Las Vegas rather than Buffalo. Does this matter?

Logistics
Sure, on the logistics front, this is a nuisance. Players promoted to the big leagues will have more travel in front to them. Flights from Las Vegas to New York are longer than from Buffalo to New York. Likewise, flights from Pacific Coast League road destinations like Fresno and Tacoma are further from New York than Gwinnett and Charlotte and Lehigh Valley. Of course, the Mets do not play all of their games in New York. The average trip will be longer, but considering players were flying from one place to another, it will just take a little more planning, and yes more money to move guys to the big leagues.

However, now the Mets’ double-A and triple-A teams are more geographically separate. Again, this matters less than one might reasonable expect. Sure, it will be harder to shuffle players between the two levels. The “guys,” the prospects, will (ideally) move once from AA to AAA on their way to the big leagues in 2012 this group included Matt den Dekker, Collin McHugh, Zack Wheeler. However, the Mets will lose considerable flexibility that they have enjoyed in the last four years to easily shuffle organization-level guys between AA and AAA. For example, Raul Reyes for example had two different tenures in AAA this year. SS Sean Kazmar played for the Bisons for a month from the end of May through June. Utility infielder Michael Fisher made a couple of trips from Buffalo to Binghamton this year. On the pitching side, Gonzalez Germen, Armando Rodriguez, Mark Cohoon, Brad Holt and Edgar Ramirez both made brief cameos in AAA to fill short-term roster needs. Dustin Martin signed with the Mets, spent two months in AAA and then was sent down to AA.  Edgar Ramirez spent a few days on the Bisons’ roster in June. Keeping both the AA and AAA rosters full, and close to fully functional will become more difficult. I suspect that the Mets will use more phantom disabled list trips and other roster paper moves to avoid having the affiliates playing shorthanded too often.

 

Environment
Las Vegas is a good hitters’ park in a great hitters’ league.

PCL teams scored 5.1 runs per game on a line of .278/.345/.430 this year. For comparison, the International League hit .257/.328/.389 and scored 4.3 runs per game. That’s a big difference.

This year, the 51s hit .298/.370/.455 in 143 games. Jeff Sackman/Dan Szymborski at Baseball Think Factory determined that Las Vegas was 1.04 for runs over both a three-year weighted park factor and one-year estimator for 2011, which is to say that Cashman Field in Vegas allowed 4% more runs to score than the PCL average.  Minor League Central, on a one-year factor in 2011, determined that Las Vegas was 1.06 overall. In particular, Minor League Central found that Vegas was very doubles friendly, with 1.11 rate on doubles, a number echoed by BBTF’s 1.09 on doubles.

Buffalo’s park factor on runs was 0.95 over three years. Thus, the average team in an average game in Vegas could expect to score 5.3 runs per game while the same team in Buffalo would expect to score 4.085 runs per game.

The real monsters for scoring, using the three-year weighted averages on run-scoring are Albuquerque (1.24), Colorado Springs (1.16) and Reno (1.12). Vegas is in a group with Round Rock (1.04) and Salt Lake (1.03) as hitter friendly (by PCL standards), but not overwhelmingly so.

 

Developmental Impact
Almos none. Seriously. Just normalize the numbers, hard.

I made this point on the Mostly Mets Podcast last week. Las Vegas will be a difficult place to pitch. The big leagues are also a difficult place to pitch. Pitching prospects will still need to see the minors, best, most selective and powerful hitters before graduating to see the world’s best, most patient and powerful hitters in the big leagues.

The numbers will often not be pretty for pitchers, and be bloated for position players. For the Mets, this presents a coaching and developmental challenge of really explaining development through process and secondary skills. Pitchers should still aspire to a K/BB above three. They should still be working towards walk rates under the MLB average of 8.5%. Hits and homers are going to happen. Hitters should still be working on using the whole field, using the right situational strategies and taking their walks.

Ted examined both the Blue Jays and Dodgers decisions with respect to their pitching prospects here, noting that the Jays “haven’t let many of their pitching prospects spend much time there – pretty much just Brett Cecil.” The Dodgers let most of their big minor league arms (Clayton Kershaw aside) skip Vegas.

As far as the potential psychological damage for a pitcher working in Vegas, that has been raised here and elsewhere, I am just not interested. If a player is done with AA, but not MLB ready, he needs to go to AAA. The results there might not be dominant early, or ever, but that’s partly what the minor leagues are for. For a recent example, think back to Matt Harvey’s April in cold Buffalo or Jeurys Familia’s first half of 2012.

 

So, the deal with Vegas: the numbers will need to be run through the blender to be sort of meaningful, the logistics will be a pain in the rear for the Mets, and it will make for a better, if longer road trip for New York fans than Buffalo.

Photo of Cashman Field from the official Las Vegas 51s site

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