So 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.
|Matt den Dekker||24||2012||268||.960|
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:
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.
H – .365/.427/.510 – .937 OPS
R – .318/.358/.455 – .813 OPS
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.