News out of Albuquerque: steps are finally being taken to make Isotopes Park somewhat less of a nightmare for pitchers. According to Vice President of Player Development De Jon Watson, reportedly speaking on MLB Network Radio, the Isotopes are planning to install a humidor for the 2013 season. We first heard indications of this last July, when pal Chris Jackson interviewed Watson and received this answer to the humidor question:
We’ve talked about it, John (Traub, Isotopes general manager) and myself have had extensive talks with (team president) Ken Young. We’re definitely exploring the opportunities of possibly adding a humidor into the facility here. It’s something that we’re having ongoing discussions at this time.
As I’m sure Chris would be all too eager to tell us, Albuquerque hasn’t exactly been a great place to watch up-and-coming Dodger pitching prospects over the last few years. Kenley Jansen, Javy Guerra, Paco Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, & Rubby De la Rosa (among others) all bypassed New Mexico on their way to the bigs, and it’s probably not entirely unrelated to why Chris Withrow has been at Double-A since approximately 1996. (Though clearly that’s not Withrow’s only issue, of course.) That, I suppose, is how you end up with a starting rotation of guys who are fringe prospects (John Ely, Stephen Fife) or minor league lifers (Will Savage, Michael Antonini, Fernando Nieve) — good prospects aren’t sent there, and decent Quad-A types aren’t interested in signing to pitch there.
It’s hardly any surprise why the Dodgers try to avoid sending top pitching there. On a team without any high-ceiling offensive prospects except maybe — maybe, if you squint hard enough — Jerry Sands, the Isotopes had the highest slugging (.471) and OPS (.832) in what was already a high-offense Pacific Coast League; conversely, the pitchers allowed a whopping 5.58 runs per game, worst in the PCL. That’s been the case, though not always to such extremes, in each of the four seasons since Albuquerque returned to the Dodger organization. It’s why we’ve had to continually caution against the ridiculous numbers put up by John Lindsey & Mitch Jones & Jay Gibbons.
The more astute among you are probably champing at the bit to rush down to the comments and point out that part of why the Isotope pitching line has been so poor is that they don’t have the better prospects and are instead forced to rely on the Francisco Felixes of the world, and there’s probably a little something to that. Of course, a quick look at a home/road split like Tim Federowicz’s really ought to tell you how much impact there really is, as Chris explained when I talked to him at length last April:
We’ve got that crazy little hill in center field, and the wind will whip up here, but this year, I haven’t really seen a lot of wind-aided home runs, which is crazy, because we’ve had a lot of wind. It’s a big park, it plays big, there’s a lot of wind, but you’re more apt to see a lot of hits that are going to fall here just because of how spacious it is. I don’t think it necessarily inflates home run totals as much as people try to make it out to, but certainly it helps. I think the impact is bigger on pitchers than hitters, because obviously you’ve got a pitcher who comes in here with a great curveball, and that thing isn’t going to curve as much.
So will it help? It’s not going to make the park smaller, that’s for sure. It’s worth noting that the Colorado Springs Sky Sox installed a humidor in 2012, and their team ERA dropped from 6.41 the year before to 5.06 last season. Again, changing rosters help somewhat, but each year the team had 19 starting pitchers, and the two pitchers with the most innings were the immortal Alan Johnson & Rob Scahill, so I’m not putting too much emphasis on that.
Really, it’s worth a try, because it’s not simply about bringing down the runs scored, at least in the sense that the main goal of a Triple-A team is not to win. It’s about being able to place any faith whatsoever in player stats for evaluation purposes. It’s about not completely destroying a pitcher’s confidence, since you can only tell him “well, it’s Albuquerque” for so long while he’s getting blasted around the park. It’s about making your Triple-A team a slightly more viable destination for pitching prospects with a future, rather than playing shorthanded by cramming them all in Chattanooga.
It’s about making baseball look slightly more like baseball, rather than pinball. If this helps at all, then it’s well worth doing.
(nice hat tip to ThinkBlueLA for the story.)