Dominic Smith and the offensive numbers at Binghamton

Dominic SmithSo much is made of the offensive environment at Las Vegas – and rightfully so. It’s so well-ingrained in us now about the offensive inflation there that we know that a, say, .300/.348/.484 line is nothing special. In just about any other league, an .832 OPS would be something to sit up and take notice. But in Las Vegas, it’s barely above the .817 team average – and that includes pitchers.

What’s not so well-known is that Double-A Binghamton has seen some pretty good offensive numbers, too. It doesn’t get nearly the fanfare for this that the club’s top affiliate in Las Vegas gets, but there’s no doubt that the organization’s hitters who make it through the pitcher-friendly lower levels breathe a sigh of relief when they get into the hitter-friendly upper levels, starting in Binghamton.

Let’s check on the club’s top prospects that played in Double-A last year and see how they did and compare it to how they did the year before in St. Lucie. The ranking in parentheses is where our David Groveman had them ranked in his top 50.

Amed Rosario (1) – Went from a .642 OPS in SLU in 2015 to an .874 OPS in BNG
Dominic Smith (2) – Went from a .771 OPS to an .824 mark
Matt Oberste (19) – Went from a .789 OPS to a .749 mark
Phillip Evans (31) – Went from a .613 OPS to an .859 mark
Champ Stuart (34) – Went from a .513 OPS to a .525 mark

That’s five guys and four of them saw an increase in OPS, despite moving up to a higher level of competition. Furthermore, two of the four – Rosario and Evans – saw a significant increase in their OPS. Most prospects see their OPS go up and down as they progress through the system. But you may not be impressed about top prospects performing better. That’s why they get the ranking, after all. So let’s look at the group of people who have put up monster seasons at Binghamton, with an OPS of .900 or higher with a minimum of 100 PA.

Age Year PA OPS
Sean Ratliff 23 2010 311 .933
Brahiam Maldonado 24 2010 279 .908
Lucas Duda 24 2010 197 .914
Josh Satin 26 2011 404 .962
Juan Lagares 22 2011 170 .903
Matt den Dekker 24 2012 268 .960
Allan Dykstra 26 2013 489 .938
Cesar Puello 22 2013 377 .950
Dilson Herrera 20 2014 278 .967

Since 2010, nine Binghamton players have done this, three times the number who’ve done it at St. Lucie in the same time frame. Meanwhile, only Duda of our Binghamton nine has gone on to much offensive success in the majors, although there’s still plenty of time for Herrera and the door’s not completely shut on Lagares.

Let’s look at it another way. There are nine guys who played for the Mets last year at 30 or younger, who are still in the organization and who played at Binghamton. Here are their overall OPS numbers in Double-A, as well as their home/road numbers:

Year BNG Home Road
Michael Conforto 2015 .899 .955 .849
Gavin Cecchini 2015 .819 .872 .772
Kevin Plawecki 2014 .864 .959 .778
T.J. Rivera 2014 .831 .972 .723
Matt Reynolds 2014 .852 .676 1.071
Brandon Nimmo 2014 .735 .820 .654
Wilmer Flores 2012 .855 .677 1.057
Lagares 2012 .723 .801 .651
Duda 2009 .808 .817 .794

This was actually quite involved for those who did not play a full season at one level. Baseball-Reference has home/road splits for the minors but unfortunately they do not break it down by level. So, to come up with these numbers, I had to import the day-by-day history into Excel, delete the games played somewhere other than Double-A, then extract the road games from the overall list and then calculate the numbers needed for OPS.

That’s why 2012 is used for Lagares, even though his numbers in Double-A were more impressive in 2011. The latter year was only a partial year at Double-A and he spent all of 2012 at that level.

We see here that seven of our nine players performed better at home than on the road, and six of those by a significant margin. For what it’s worth, the 2016 Mets as a team had a .728 OPS at home and a .737 mark on the road. So, while we think of players performing better in their home park, it’s not necessarily written in stone.

Let’s take a look at the two who performed better on the road. Flores had a .390/.430/.627 slash line in his road games. He obviously had a nice BABIP on the road but it was also supported with a .237 ISO, which is nothing to turn up your nose at. By contrast, Reynolds was nearly all BABIP, as he slashed .468/.528/.543 in road games. That’s just a .075 ISO. His BABIP was a mind-boggling .571 in those road contests. On the flip side, Reynolds had a .265/.351/.325 line in his home games. Coming into this exercise, we knew that Reynolds’ Double-A performance was a BABIP mirage. It just turned out that his great good fortune in this stat came in road games.

As for Flores, there’s no easy answer. Perhaps it’s best left as the exception that proves the rule.

Regardless, hopefully you’re ready to see Binghamton as a pretty good place to hit for multiple Mets prospects. Now, let’s look at Rosario and Smith, the two players most prospect guys have ranked as the two best in the system.

Rosario
H – .365/.427/.510 – .937 OPS
R – .318/.358/.455 – .813 OPS

Smith
H – .371/.430/.552 – .981 OPS
R – .238/.308/.369 – .677 OPS

The home numbers for Smith just jump off the page. And the thing is that his road numbers are even worse than what’s displayed at Baseball-Reference. As pointed out by commenter Chris (not Chris B. nor Chris F. – letters make a difference, you know) back in August, there was a team in the Eastern League in 2016 that played the majority of its games on the road. The Hartford Yard Goats’ new stadium was not ready. They played some “home” games in Norwich but mostly played on the road all season. Binghamton played seven “road” games against Hartford in its home park. In those seven games, Smith put up a .346/.414/.423 line.

Does it give you any pause that a top prospect puts up an OPS .300 points better in his home park?

Overall, there’s nothing that jumps out and stamps Binghamton as a great hitter’s park. Yet there’s something that some hitters have been able to exploit, more so than at St. Lucie, our stand-in for a random park. It would be nice if we could identify exactly what it was – like it favored lefty hitters or it favored sluggers who could pull the ball down the line.

Until we can identify what that is, the correct approach is to remain skeptical, to have a questioning attitude. And it’s possible to remain skeptical of there being something in Binghamton that boosts offensive production while also being skeptical of guys who’ve hit well in BNG and hardly anywhere else.

Would anyone be aggressively promoting Plawecki being an MLB-quality hitter if he had his road OPS in Double-A as his overall mark? Then we’d have a guy who was above average in A-ball, slightly above average in Double-A, below average in Triple-A and poor in the majors – a progression that makes complete sense.

There’s no doubt that Smith is one of the Mets’ best prospects. But before we anoint him as a can’t-miss guy, let’s recall that huge home/road split and remember our skepticism. It doesn’t mean he’s a bum, it doesn’t mean he won’t make the majors, it doesn’t mean he won’t be a productive player.

Why the skepticism? There were 11 guys on the 2016 Mets who had at least 100 PA at both home and on the road. Not one of them had a 200-point OPS advantage at home, much less a 300-point one. The biggest edge belonged to Conforto at 154 points. And he was sent to the minors twice last year.

Furthermore, eight of those 11 players were in the minors since 2008, when Baseball-Reference has home/road splits for minor league players. Not one of those eight guys had a 300 or 200-point OPS edge at home in either Double-A or Triple-A. Two, Flores and Rene Rivera, had that extreme edge on the road in the high minors.

Is this definitive proof? Absolutely not. That’s why we’re talking about skepticism and not dismissal.

Smith now goes to Las Vegas, a hitter’s park in a hitter’s league. We hope he tears the cover off the ball and hits well at both home and on the road. We have an idea of the air that needs to be taken out of the raw stats produced for the 51s. Let’s hope that’s the only adjustment we have to make for Smith in putting his stats into the proper context.

24 comments for “Dominic Smith and the offensive numbers at Binghamton

  1. Chris F
    February 12, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    Heroic work Brian. Thanks for doing this. Just curious, do you see any any anecdotal evidence that other players see a similar bump at Bingo, particularly a bump that exceeds what would be expected from normal growth?

    • February 12, 2017 at 4:40 pm

      Thanks Chris.

      Ratliff never had a season, before or after BNG, like what he enjoyed in 2010. Probably the best thing to do would be to check the guys who played there before Las Vegas was the next step. David Wright wasn’t in the minors long but what he did in BNG was the best of his short time. Same thing with Daniel Murphy.

      • Chris F
        February 12, 2017 at 7:42 pm

        Thanks. If I ever get the time I might dig into a number of players that both made it and didnt and see if their metric arc has 1. a different slope of progress and 2. anomalous behavior beyond projected growth. The hardest thing is dealing with 2 data points that may be anomalous next to each other, and at the end of their minor league play.

  2. John Fox
    February 12, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    I checked the elevation of Binghamton, it’s 850 ft. The stadium itself may even be a little higher from the looks I get of the stadium and the hills. As we all know, the higher the elevation the less the air pressure and the further the ball travels. Atlanta was known as the “launching pad” and the Turner field elevation was 939 ft. Port St. Lucie would be not much above sea level, as is Citi Field. The dimensions of NSEG park in Binghamton look friendly too, 330 down the lines and 400 ft. in dead center

    • February 12, 2017 at 4:43 pm

      Thanks for the information, John.

      My guess is those dimensions are probably pretty typical. I’d be more inclined to think the elevation was a major factor if the overall park factor was better. The ones I checked were a couple of years old but nothing that jumped out and said – hitter heaven.

      • NormE
        February 12, 2017 at 6:50 pm

        We visited Binghamton years ago and took in a game. The dimensions, we were told, were supposed to replicate Shea. I think that there are some other minor league parks which were built to have similar dimensions to the
        Major League affiliate. One example is, I believe, the Red Sox team in Greenville, SC, which even has a replica of the Green Monster.

  3. Jim OMalley
    February 12, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    In the case of Smith, could baseball intelligence be a contributing factor? So, over a given amount of time visiting any ballark, could Smith be adept at exploiting a weakness?

    • February 12, 2017 at 4:47 pm

      That’s an interesting theory. And as a possible piece of supporting evidence there’s something that I found doing prep work for the piece but that didn’t make it into the article — Smith had a huge home-road split in 2015, too. He had a .911 OPS at home and a .642 mark on the road.

      In 2014, it was a more normal .703/.665 H/R split.
      In 2013, there was almost no split — .842/.833

  4. TF
    February 12, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    PCL is hitter friendly.
    EL is pitcher friendly.
    FSL is pitcher friendly and the worst hitters league in all of minor league baseball.
    SAL is neutral.
    NYPL is pitcher friendly.

    Binghamton leans pitcher friendly, you could also argue neutral if you want. The reason why you see a bump from FSL to EL is because FSL is literally the worst league to hit in. It is a notorious power-killer.

    As for the home/road splits in the EL, there are very extreme parks on both sides of the spectrum in that league. There’s 2 road parks there that have more friendly home run conditions than Vegas. And other parks (maybe about 4) that have absolutely terrible HR conditions. NYSEG is HR neutral. At least it used to be, it’s since trended pitcher friendly.

    Home/road splits are not very helpful unless the player’s home park is an extreme park relative to the rest of the league, like Coors Field.

    NYPL: MCU Park is the third worst hitters park in the league. It’s pitcher friendly across the board, from runs to HRs to hits. If they hit better at home, that’s a good thing. If not, that’s normal.

    SAL: Grayson Stadium…oh boy. It is a horrible, horrible park for hitters. It was actually considered the toughest park for hitters in all of minor league baseball. You want a home run? Forget it, the park will eat it up. The team as a whole in any given season would put up twice as many home runs on the road than at Grayson Stadium. That’s how bad the HR conditions are in that park. The Mets don’t play there anymore, but the hitters in your list did play there before they moved the team to Columbia.

    FSL: Tradition Field is usually considered the most “hitter friendly” park in the league, but it’s still pretty neutral overall. Because again, the league as a whole is very pitcher friendly.

    EL: NYSEG skews pitcher friendly, but could be called neutral. 4th worst hitters park in the league.

    PCL: The league as a whole is hitter friendly, Cashman used to be near the top of the pack, but they tend to bounce around between middle of the pack and top.

    If you really want to get meaningful information from minor league home/road splits, you have to break it down by park and know each park pretty well. Like Cashman Field for example, everyone thinks you can hit 40 home runs there without even trying. That’s not true. It is a canyon to dead center in that place. You might see, at most, one home run over the center field wall at Cashman in one season. Wind is a big factor too, it’s usually blowing out, but not always. And the wind can be extremely strong, enough to knock a ball back into the park.

    But even then, it’s probably still not that informative. There’s who knows how many more factors that can affect those stats. Temperature, humidity, luck all come into play. For the guys like Conforto and Plawecki, who only spent half a season (or less) at that level, small sample size is a big factor. With only about 100 ABs at home or on the road, turning a single into a home run can bump up their OPS by almost 30 points. Going back to the EL splits, if the player just so happened to play in those two HR friendly parks more often, then their road splits would probably be higher. Or if they happened to get stuck in those HR unfriendly parks, then their road numbers would be lower.

    And what about fatigue? The road trips in the minor leagues are not comfortable. Minor leaguers constantly talk about how awful the bus rides are. They can often end up with only a couple hours of sleep after a bus ride before they have to play a game. Plawecki in double A had an 11 BB/12 K ratio at home and a 5 BB/15 K ratio on the road. What, did something in the road park deteriorate his eye at the plate? Or was he tired because he’s a catcher who had to sit on a bus all night for a road series the next day?

    I’ve never found home/road splits in the minors to be useful. I’d recommend just watching the player to know how well they’re doing at the plate. Or if you really want to use numbers, I usually just look at what they did in double A vs. triple A. Usually the guys who don’t succeed in the majors did only average in double A (about a 100 wRC+), but really well in triple A. But you’d have to make sure to take BABIP and age into account. Like in your list of .900 OPS players in Binghamton, 5 of those 9 I would consider to be too old for that level.

    By the way, this slashline in your intro: .300/.348/.484. Maybe you should’ve used a different one, because there was a .297 BABIP behind that slash. I know you chose to leave the BABIP out on purpose, but it’s really not a normal slashline. I only recognized it because of how unusual his numbers were. He was literally the only hitter in the entire PCL last season who had a BABIP lower than his BA (min 200 PAs). The only one out of 187 players. Someone’s BABIP being lower than their BA is unusual in and of itself, but in the PCL, where BABIP is always inflated, that’s unheard of. Especially with that many PAs. He had to have experienced some extreme bad luck for that to happen.

    • February 12, 2017 at 6:09 pm

      Mets don’t play in Grayson Stadium.

      If you’ve never found H/R splits in the minors useful, there’s no point in having a conversation.

      • TF
        February 13, 2017 at 2:45 am

        The hitters that you talked about who played in the SAL played at Grayson. That’s why I used that park. I said that in my comment.

        So you’re telling me there’s no point in having a conversation with someone who has a different opinion than you? I gave you my perspective on home/road splits and why you probably shouldn’t be using them for meaningful information. There are way too many factors to take into account and too much potential variation. If you don’t agree with me, that’s fine. Go ahead and tell me why what I said was wrong, I’m happy to listen.

        I brought up a possible explanation for the home/road split (fatigue due to travel), but you dismissed my entire comment, so I’ll try again.

        The Eastern League is considered one of the worst leagues for traveling in the minors (SAL and Texas being the other two). The furthest parks are Maine to Ohio, and they have to travel by bus.

        Difference in BB/K ratio from home to road –
        Conforto: +0.10
        Cecchini: +0.02
        Plawecki: -0.59
        Rivera: -0.39
        Reynolds: +0.02
        Nimmo: -0.77
        Flores: -0.23
        Lagares: -0.19
        Duda: +0.40

        That’s four players who had better plate discipline on the road and five players who had worse discipline on the road. Five saw a significant drop, one saw a significant increase, and three didn’t see a significant difference in either direction.

        Plawecki, Rivera, Nimmo, and Lagares have data that makes sense. If you have worse plate discipline on the road, you’re probably gonna have worse numbers on the road. But the other guys don’t match. Like Flores, who had worse discipline but a way higher OPS. Duda’s OPS on the road was carried by his OBP. He had a .257 BA and .397 SLG on the road. So he had a better eye on the road, but he didn’t hit better.

        How do you explain this? Why would some have better plate discipline on the road, and why would others have worse discipline? Plawecki and Nimmo especially had much worse discipline on the road. Can a road park affect your eye at the plate by that much?

        Maybe some of these guys had a day off on the day of their bus trip, so they were well rested when they got to their destination. Maybe some of them have motion sickness and feel worse after a bus ride. Maybe some of them are light sleepers and can’t sleep during an overnight bus ride and are therefore tired during every first game in a road series. And do you take position into account? Catcher is the most physically demanding position. How much does that impact their offense?

        Or maybe we need a bigger sample size.

        I looked at 16 hitters on the 2014 B-Mets (at least 100 ABs), and 9 of them had a higher OPS on the road.

        2015 B-Mets: 8 out of 18 had a higher OPS on the road.

        2016 B-Mets: 9 out of 15 had a higher OPS on the road.

        49 player sample size (which, in my opinion, is still not big enough, but I was too lazy to go through more seasons) and 53% had a higher road OPS. So about half do better on the road, and half do better at home.

        There are so many different factors that could explain a significant split between home/road numbers in an individual player. That’s why I don’t think they’re useful for evaluating a minor leaguer’s performance or predicting future success. It’s even worse with small, half season samples. Maybe I would consider it if the team played in Reading, which is like the second most HR friendly park in all of the minor leagues. But Binghamton is neutral at best and none of the Mets minor league parks are that extreme in terms of hitter friendliness.

        I’d much rather watch the player’s plate appearance, or at least look at the progression of their numbers. Do they start off strong, and then slump because the league figured them out? Or do they start off slow and then figure out the league because they were capable of making proper adjustments (or do they start off strong, then slump, then make adjustments)? I’ve spent a lot of time studying the minor leagues, and in my experience, it’s the guys who make adjustments that eventually see success in the majors.

        • Jimmy P
          February 13, 2017 at 8:22 am

          I’ve enjoyed your comments, TF.

          This topic came up a couple of weeks ago, too. Like you, I don’t give much credence to home/away splits in neutral parks. I just don’t find it illuminating; no meaningful takeaway.

          In the end, I think we all desperately need real games on real grass.

  5. Mike Walczak
    February 12, 2017 at 10:42 pm

    Aha I figured it out. Before every game, an Oompa Loompa goes into the dugout and replaces the bats with corked bats. Hey, it’s only a theory.

  6. TexasGusCC
    February 12, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    Brian, as a Plawecki supporter, you will love this article. This is alot of work:
    http://www.amazinavenue.com/2017/2/9/14545694/breaking-down-kevin-plaweckis-mechanical-issues

    • February 13, 2017 at 8:21 am

      You’re right – the author put a ton of work into that piece.

      I wonder if he knows KP or someone in his family. Regardless, it was a nice use of video/GIFs.

      I’ve said before when he sets up in the box, he looks like a hitter. The results haven’t been there, though. And I don’t believe results in 27 PA should be used to indicate true talent level.

      • TexasGusCC
        February 13, 2017 at 8:53 am

        I, too, wondered who:
        would have access to so much video
        would know enough coaches and scouts
        would study catcher’s defense, but not hitting…

        I thought of someone immediately, maybe a new coach; but why would he write this in a blog? The writer joined the blog three weeks ago and it’s his first piece.

    • Jim OMalley
      February 13, 2017 at 3:49 pm

      Well that was one heck of a detailed analysis…..

  7. Eraff
    February 13, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    Is their a “Norm” for H/A Splits?…I’d always expect guys to play better at home, but maybe that’s just a guess. Also, wondering if there’s a MILB Norm for that stat—and I would expect the differential to be even more severe, given the travel details in the Minors. Again, just guessing that stats would show generally better home versus away results for the player population of any league at any level.

    • February 13, 2017 at 6:02 pm

      Neither B-R nor FG lists this by league that I’m aware of.

      Last year, the H/R OPS split for the majors was .025 points.

  8. Eraff
    February 13, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    I take that to mean “25 points”, as in .825 versus .800….. That’s significant, but not staggering.

    Maybe you’re trying to turn us into stat hounds???

    I “not so quickly” went through players with lots of ab’s at Bingo in 2016…. I haven’t ground the math, but it looks like the results are fairly close— Rosario and Smith and Cruzado killed it at Home— Cruz, Oberste and Boyd ate up the road and suffered at home.

    Did they really re-name this team The Rumble Ponies..????

    • February 13, 2017 at 7:31 pm

      Yes, that’s what the .025 points means.

      Binghamton is not what you would call a traditional hitter’s park. One of those is Lancaster in the California League. I just checked the top 7 guys in PA for the 2016 team. Not one of those 7 had a H/R split less than .060 points. Not one of them had one over .200 points.

      There are always going to be guys who perform better one way or the other – that’s normal. But when you’re significantly head and shoulders above everyone else in your home park — like Nido in St. Lucie or Smith in Binghamton — my opinion is that should be a red flag.

  9. Eraff
    February 13, 2017 at 10:14 pm

    The 2 youngest guys had the most severe difference…Smith and Rosario…. I could see this with strict Power guys…as is, it’s a glitch to me.

    You got me to look—Off Season…I’m building My stat game.

  10. Chris B
    February 19, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    Great article and thanks for the shoutout B!

    Still my favorite Mets site, can’t wait for the chatters.

    • February 19, 2017 at 7:09 pm

      Thanks!

      We’re all getting itchy for games. We’ll have to do a Spring Training chatter when SNY televises a game.

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