Today could be the day the Dodgers formally switch Triple-A affiliates from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City. The Oklahoman reported the move in August. Yesterday, BaseballAmerica.com reported that 23 minor-league teams have a two-week window to secure new affiliations beginning today, and that Albuquerque and Oklahoma City are two of those teams.
When the move was first reported, I mentioned that former Albuquerque Isotopes manager Lorenzo Bundy (now the Dodgers’ third base coach) offered his scouting report on exactly what playing at 5,200 feet does to a developing baseball player.
Here is that scouting report. This isn’t to presume that elevation was the primary reason for the Dodgers moving their Triple-A affiliate — far from it. Rather, Bundy’s experience adds some nuance to our understanding of why playing at elevation might be more or less desirable from a player development standpoint. This might be a business move first and foremost; here’s the baseball end of it:
You managed at Albuquerque pre- and post-humidor, correct?
Yes. My first year, they did not have the humidor. The second year, they brought in the humidor.
What impact did that have?
I think it had a little effect especially early in the year. Albuquerque, as far as when it warms up, and the weather gets warm and the wind blows — when the wind’s blowing out, it doesn’t matter if you have a humidor, AC or anything else. The ball’s going to carry. I think there was some difference the first six weeks of the season, two months. I really think it helped some. To what degree? I think the numbers showed a little bit. The team we had last year, we didn’t really have a power club. We didn’t hit a bunch of home runs. So obviously the numbers were down as far as home run, but then you look at the type of team we had, they were more of a home run. (You wouldn’t expect them to hit a lot of home runs?) Exactly. I think it’s something that you probably have to look at over a period of four or five years before you can really get a good feel. Either way, it’s a tough place to pitch.
Could the players notice a different feel to the baseball?
They could feel a difference in the ball, because of it being stored in that room. It feels a little bit more damp, per se. But it’s definitely something to think about. You’ve seen Colorado, it’s had some effect with the hitters there. Colorado Springs is using it. Reno has talked about using it. I’ve heard Arizona may use it in Chase (Field). Give it three years.
Even after some of the ballpark factors were neutralized at home, did you still face similar challenges on the road?
Obviously you look at the league itself. There are some good hitting ballparks in the PCL. I’d say the top four, not necessarily in any order, are Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Salt Lake, Reno — right offhand, those jump out right away. Most of those are on this side of the country. Some of the other teams, when you go back further east — humid places like Nashville, Memphis, Round Rock, New Orleans — those are the toughest places to hit.
How is Oklahoma City?
Oklahoma City is probably right in the middle. I remember one year Nelson Cruz had 38 one year and he didn’t even play the whole year. Good home run hitter. When Tucson was in the league, it was a good hitter’s park.
From a player development standpoint, is the neutral park more desirable?
In a number-oriented game, which we’re in, if you’re looking at numbers, to a certain degree. You can see where there might be a discrepancy. Maybe you should pay more attention to home and away numbers. I don’t know. If you’re going on stats (when evaluating) there’s other things you need to go on: The manager’s report, the pitching coach’s report, as far as how these guys are doing. A lot of times if you’re pitching in Albuquerque, you give up four or five runs and that might be a good start. Realistically, you know? Then again, it might not be if you’re not throwing strikes, you’ll be walking people, pitching away from contact.
Do you think pitchers pitch away from contact more in Albuquerque because of the nature of the park?
Well I think it depends on the pitcher and what type of stuff he has. Speaking to Dana Eveland — he’s not a power guy — two of the best pitchers I ever had in Albuquerque were Dana Eveland and John Ely. But they knew how to pitch. Both were fierce competitors.
So from a standpoint of evaluating players …
It might be a little easier. Take it back 30, 35 years, when all the Dodgers prospects came through Albuquerque way back when. The pitching prospects — Bob Welch, all those guys — they pitched in Albuquerque. They turned out all right. It can be done. You just have to grind through it. That given day, your job is to pitch better than the guy in the other dugout. That’s the way I look at it, whether you’re pitching in Albuquerque or in L.A. Look at Clayton. A guy’s coming at Clayton, these guys step up their game when they go against Clayton Kershaw because they know there’s not a whole lot coming on offense. They know they have to pitch like that. So those are things, x factors, that you can’t put a finger on.
So is the more averse effect, from a development standpoint, on a hitter?
More than likely, yeah. I would say so. I know when guys come into Albuquerque, hitters want to hit there; pitchers don’t want to pitch there. There’s that mental challenge right then and there for the pitcher. For the hitter, all of a sudden the confidence is there. ‘We’re in Albuquerque for four, all of a sudden it’s a chance to jump my average 8 to 10 points.’