Posted by Reese Kaplan at 8:00 AM
T.J. Rivera, Brandon Nimmo, Gavin Cecchini and Kevin Plawecki all hit well over .300 while swinging the bats in the Las Vegas desert. In limited samples Rivera did so in Queens, too, with a .333 AVG over a 105 AB trial. Nimmo had just 73 ABs to show what he could do and managed a respectable .274. Cecchini got only 6 ABs for the season but managed hits in 2 of them…to put that in perspective, Logan Verrett had more than 3 times as many ABs as did Cecchini. Kevin Plawecki did get chances – 132 of them to be precise – and didn’t reach the Mendoza line.
So what does this tell us about Las Vegas as a hitter’s paradise? Want some more evidence? How about Ty Kelly who hit an impressive .328 in Las Vegas but just .241 for the Mets? Then there’s the gone but not forgotten soup man, Eric Campbell, who was a Las Vegas superstar, hitting .363 and .301 his last two stints in Sin City, but failed to crack the Mendoza line in 2015 or 2016 in the majors. Even Johnny Monell in Las Vegas hit .324 and .276 in Vegas but only managed .167 in the majors over a 48 AB trial.
Pitching is another matter entirely. Take year end wunderkind Seth Lugo. He was on the path to anonymity with a Las Vegas line of 3-4, 6.50 ERA and a ghastly 1.677 WHIP. He comes to the majors at age 27 and responds with a late season stat line of 5-2, 2.67 and a tidy 1.094 WHIP.
Robert Gsellman had a good pitching pedigree right up until Las Vegas. He finished the rookie season going 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA. In the minors he was 34-31 with a 3.11 career ERA but in Las Vegas it ballooned to 5.73.
Not too many flourish in Las Vegas. For some, it’s the end of the road. Take Darin Gorski who in 2011 pitched to a 2.08 ERA in Port St. Lucie. In 2013 after missing time due to injury he returned with a 1.83 in AA and then a 2.22. Then came the wall in Las Vegas. He gave stints of 6.59, 4.56 and 5.52 and 5.90 over parts of 4 seasons. Those are outstanding numbers prior to Vegas and then he falls apart against better competition…or do the inflated hitting stats mess with a pitcher’s head and success?
Want an even better example, think about Rafael Montero. He was on cruise control towards an All-Star career, with an 18-11 record and a 2.22 ERA over his Rookie, A and AA career. His WHIP and strikeout numbers were impressive, too. He was allowing less than a baserunner per inning pitched and fanning about 8.5 per 9 IP. Then came Vegas. It got ugly. In the majors it got worse for the most part but there were a few starts where he showed that brilliance that had him on the fast track. Last year it got so bad he got demoted to AA again where he once more flourished with a 2.20 ERA. So is it that he’s unable to handle the stiffer offensive competition in AAA or is the hitter friendly environment messing with his head?
Another good case is Sean Gilmartin, one of Terry Collins’ doghouse puppies. After staying on the roster for all of 2015 and delivering a 2.67 ERA over 50 games he didn’t even get to come north with the team. Left to rot in Las Vegas, he did just that – a 9-7 record with a 4.86 ERA – and a brief return to the majors showed what that had done to him – a 7.13 ERA over a 17 IP 2016 trial.
So why do the Mets stay in Las Vegas given the geographic issues, the hitting numbers that make Coors Field look like a pitcher’s park and the sometimes irreparable damage it does to is pitchers? Granted, there are a finite number of pre-approved cities where AAA baseball operations take place and you kind of have to wait for a stadium/team affiliation deal to expire before you could explore relocating, but the rest of the baseball world knows your hitting prospects aren’t worth much and you’re trashing otherwise valuable pitching trade chips by making their numbers tank. It’s a ponderous thing that they have not only endured this environment since moving from Buffalo for the start of the 2013 season, but also twice extended their agreement. They’re now contractually bound to their AAA hell through the end of the 2018 season. Like many things related to the Mets, you have to wonder if there is an actual plan for the future.