Posted: 2023-08-10 08:21:39 (ET) [ 695 views ]
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by Clifton Neeley, Baseballvmi.com
Contrasting Coors Field, with the Oakland Coliseum and Kansas City’s stadium can provide a perspective that can carry us into the future while trying to determine what may be the "competitive outcome" if Oakland loses the team to Las Vegas.
Of course Oakland’s Mayor would love to keep the A’s in their city. Las Vegas’ Mayor would love to complete the move. MLB and the A’s ownership are going to track the money involved, so the A’s will probably end up in Las Vegas, but what will MLB and the Athletics have once that happens?
Before the Kansas City Athletics originally moved to Oakland they had a historical winning percentage below 45%. Upon switching to the Oakland Coliseum the team’s winning percentage increased immediately to above 50%. Why? My money is on the pitching. Why? Because in Oakland, since the air is very heavy there (cold and below sea level) the pitches move so much better than in almost any other stadium in MLB. Hitters visiting that stadium must take some time (a few games) to adjust and become a little more competitive. The Athletics in Oakland became a team who could win without top-level pitching and admitted as much publicly during the “Moneyball” era. It also makes sense that Oakland hitters would be most familiar with some of the best movement in all of MLB.
Contrasting that to Kansas City at 800 feet elevation and both hot and humid much of the baseball season, the pitches move substantially less in that stadium and keep Kansas City on their heels in terms of winning records each year, because visiting teams are used to the same or greater movement elsewhere. The 800 feet is not as much of an issue for the Royals as is the heat plus high humidity. So, the Royals would probably be a far better team if they had a "retractable dome" where top level pitchers could make a difference, as we have seen is currently helping the Texas Rangers’ pitchers. Plus, being able to control the temperature for home games, and maintain the advantage of early season cold games, at a greater air density would help the Royals to be better prepared to go on the road.
If Las Vegas builds a stadium with a retractable roof, then some games will get really out of hand for both visitors and home teams, much like Coors Field contests. If Las Vegas builds a facility that is fully enveloped with no capability to open the roof, then the air density will always be the same and the home team will need to be as talented as Tampa Bay has finally become in order to win consistently, even at its home stadium. At 2,400 feet in Las Vegas, the air will be very similar to Tucson, Arizona, Lubbock and Amarillo, Texas where some of the highest scoring baseball games in history have occurred in both College and Semi-Pro leagues. I don't believe that Las Vegas will cause difficulties for visiting hitters as much as Colorado does, because in comparison to Colorado, Las Vegas pitches will generate only half the "late movement differential" for pitchers. That amount of "lesser movement" will put the ball squarely on the bat for hitters. Then, upon leaving Las Vegas for road trips, the Athletics will become another Colorado Rockies-like club. It cannot be overcome with mere human baseball players. Neither Las Vegas nor Colorado can overcome this issue by building a closed roof over the ballpark. The Athletics only hope will be to have a pressurized baseball batting cage, such as the Colorado Rockies have refused to build, which is why the Rockies have no hope.
How do I know this? It's actually quite simple. If you are a manager, you cannot ask a baseball hitter to go on the road in MLB and compete equally with the home team if he has been in either Colorado, Kansas City, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Atlanta or Las Vegas for two or more home stands. If late movement (i.e. the last 5 feet of the pitch) on all the pitches, have had lesser bend and hop for that many games, then the human (regardless of how talented) cannot switch to being substantially productive against the home teams who rarely have been recently stuck in thin air environments. Remember, the hitter is half-way or more into his swing when those pitches get their late movement. The Colorado Rockies can't even bunt effectively for their manager early in road trips. It's no wonder that "small ball" isn't popular for them; and the other teams don't need it any longer, it appears.
Where pitching is concerned, for a manager of a Las Vegas team, he cannot ask a starting pitcher to paint the corners with each of his pitch-types when he goes on the road, if the amount of movement on all his pitches changes by several inches of late movement. This fact is exacerbated by the recovery periods adhered to for pitcher protection. If he is on a five day rotation, then his pen day, where he throws hard for, say 40 pitches, is done at his home (thinner air) stadium two days prior to his road start; then, his road start will be quite different from his expectation and muscle memory exposure. Painting the corner and winning that first game of a three game series becomes really tough for such a pitcher. It actually becomes next to impossible for a mere mortal.
Why don't the coaches and managers in MLB as well as many former college and high school baseball veterans seem to understand this?
It is because most former baseball players played only regionally, where temperatures were the main differential in parks around that region, combined with the fact that few pitchers in the lower ranks throw above 90 mph. Coaches don't want players to think about these kinds of things, because focus is more important--normally. Therefore, very few former players have experienced both extreme altitudinal and temperature changes simultaniously combined with high speed pitches. So, the bottom line is they just don't know, because it was not part of their experience in baseball. Todd Helton knows, Larry Walker knows, Dante Bichette knows, and now Charlie Blackmon knows.
A thin air environment team such as is mentioned above, must try to win the first game of such a series against the home team, because of the tendency in all of MLB for a win today to cause a loss tomorrow, but then, a loss in game two, strengthens the possiblility of a win in game three.
So the conclusion is that; if a "thin air" team has a "heavy air" or pressurized batting/pitching cage at its home stadium, the scheduled first road game pitcher can throw his pen day in the road environment and be better able to paint the corners. Plus, if he throws 40 full speed pitches, then 10 hitters can be exposed to 4 four-seamers even though their open air environment could never duplicate that look for the hitter. In such a cage, the coaches can dial up any effective pitch they want for additional exposure to the players. So, while all the "medium air" plus the "heavy air" teams are playing in those environments each day for a large percentage of their 182 games, the "thin air" players can maintain their daily exposure to "real baseball" within the cage.
I cannot emphasize "daily" exposure enough. All 28 of the "non-Coors Field" teams are playing in reasonably similar pitch-movement conditions at the same time that Colorado and the opponent are playing in extreme thin air while intently focusing on the late movement of the pitch for three or more games. Instead of trying to sweep this topic under the rug, MLB should require that teams playing in Colorado and Las Vegas have an opportunity to keep up with the rest of the league in terms of exposure to late movement. Why? Because every MLB team that has ever played in Colorado has an extremely similar record to the Rockies upon leaving Coors Field for another destination, even to their home stadium. Yes, all teams in the league average about 39% wins upon leaving thin air and traveling into more normal environments. This is not the teams' fault, nor is it a talent issue. Neither is it a management, ownership, organizational or coaching issue. It is purely a thin air exposure for three games or more causing an issue for adjustment back to the norm in late pitch movement.
So, good luck Las Vegas with your MLB hopes and dreams. You can even bring the Tampa Bay Rays, and your Las Vegas Rays will duplicate the Rockies road history almost immediately. Yet, we must remember that MLB and teams are not so much about parity for winning's sake, because if a team like the Colorado Rockies makes plenty of money from sales, parking, surrounding properties, television revenues and profit sharing, then only the scouts, players and coaches are at a disadvantage from thin air home stadiums.
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