Saturday, August 17, 2013

How PCL realignment affects the Isotopes/Dodgers



--by @Josh_Suchon

The move of the Tucson Padres to the city of El Paso prompted the Pacific Coast League to realign its four divisions for the 2014 season. The divisions will now look like this:

Pacific Northern: Fresno, Reno, Sacramento, Tacoma.
Pacific Southern: Albuquerque, El Paso, Las Vegas, Salt Lake.
American Northern: Colorado Springs, Iowa, Oklahoma City, Omaha.
American Southern: Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, Round Rock.

The biggest impact involves the Albuquerque Isotopes and Colorado Springs switching sides of the league. The Topes moved from the "American" side to the "Pacific" side of the 16-team league. 

For those not familiar with the league's format, teams play the seven teams in its conference 16 times (eight home, eight away). The eight teams on the other side of the league are played just four times (going to their city every other year).

Here's a breakdown of how the change impacts the Isotopes.

* Overall easier travel with a geographic rival in El Paso

Travel in the PCL can be brutal. It's definitely the most difficult league for traveling. Teams don't fly charter. They fly commercial, almost always the first flight in the morning, and it's rare to get a direct flight because the cities have small airports.

It's roughly 265 miles, or a three hour and 45-minute bus ride, from Isotopes Park to the new ballpark in El Paso. This affords the Topes an opportunity for a bus trip to an opponent's ballpark.  Previously, the Topes would fly to all cities to begin a road trip. (Once on a trip, there were a few bus trips between cities, such as Iowa and Omaha, or Memphis and Nashville.)

While the full schedule hasn't been released, it's likely that opponents will usually take an eight-game road trip to Albuquerque and El Paso. The ability to bus between cities is dramatically cheaper, easier and greatly preferred by players/staff. This will help out everyone. 

For the Topes, there will be a few more direct flights -- such as Vegas. Even for the connecting flights, the total distance will be shorter and more manageable. 


* More games against the Dodgers' primary rivals

The Topes will now play 16 games against the Giants (Fresno), Diamondbacks (Reno), Padres (El Paso) and Angels (Salt Lake) affiliates. Previously, they only played those teams four times. 

The large number of blue-wearing fans on the Topes' recent California road trip to Sacramento and Fresno are an illustration this is great for attendance -- and much easier for Socal-based fans to see the Dodgers' top affiliate on the road.

Albuquerque is primarily a Dodgers town. But there's also a fair number of Diamondbacks fans as well. The Topes should draw more fans eager to see a Dodgers-Giants or Dodgers-D'backs matchup.




* Dodgers get more convenience for call-ups, rehab assignments and scouting 

When a player gets called up to Los Angeles, or elsewhere in the NL West, it will be easier physically getting the player to that city. There will always be times when the major league team and the Triple-A affiliate are 2-3 time zones apart. But there's a far greater likelihood now that a player will be closer to wherever the Dodgers happen to be playing. 

The Dodgers send most of their rehabbing players, especially pitchers, to Single-A Rancho Cucamonga because it's a 90-minute drive (if there's no traffic). That will probably continue to be the trend. But the team actually prefers the better competition at Triple-A. The Dodgers are more likely to send a rehabbing player to Reno or Las Vegas, rather than Round Rock or New Orleans, if the Topes are on a road trip. 

If the Giants call up a pitcher from Fresno to make a spot start against the Dodgers, the Isotopes previously wouldn't be able to give much of a scouting report because the teams only played each other four times. Now, all the NL West teams (except Colorado) will have their Triple-A teams playing each other way more often and minor league scouting reports can be more helpful.

* It returns Albuquerque to its PCL roots.

From 1969 to 1997, three Triple-A leagues existed and the Albuquerque Dukes were long-time members of the Pacific Coast League (from 1972-2000). When the American Association folded in 1998, the eight teams from the league were distributed into the PCL and International Leagues. 

When baseball returned to Albuquerque in 2003, after a two-year hiatus, the newly-named Isotopes were placed with almost entirely old American Association teams (such as Omaha, Iowa, Oklahoma City and Nashville.)

While there's no longer than many teams truly near the Pacific Ocean, the Topes will now go back to playing more games against teams with roots in the PCL -- and in the Pacific Time Zone.  This also means the majority of the team's road games will start at 8:05 Mountain Time, instead of 6:05 pm. 

* Less glamorous cities, but two trips to Vegas

Just mention two trips to Las Vegas, and Dodgers prospects will immediately like the move. No further discussion needed. 

In truth, when you compare the cities, those on the "American" side are more glamorous. You've got New Orleans and Nashville, although the glamour is mitigated by hotels near the airport that are a long distance from the "fun" places in town -- and the ballparks aren't impressive, either. 

Des Moines and Oklahoma City are underrate towns, which players enjoy because they have good hotels that are a short walk from the ballpark, and lots of eating options nearby. The atmosphere is great at those ballparks. Memphis has a fabulous ballpark and tons to do nearby, all walkable. Those will be greatly missed.

Round Rock is a great ballpark that is usually filled, but located in the middle of nowhere. The Omaha team is actually located in Papillion, 22 miles west, and there's nothing in that city. Those won't be missed. 

* The ERA for pitchers will likely increase

The two biggest pitchers parks in the PCL, by far, are New Orleans and Memphis. Ballparks that are considered "fair" for hitters and pitchers are Iowa, Omaha, Nashville, Round Rock and Oklahoma City -- although in April, cold conditions favor the pitchers in Iowa and Omaha. All seven of those cities are where the Topes used to travel most often. None are known for extreme offense.

In exchange, the team will now play eight road games in notorious hitter-friendly ballparks in Las Vegas, Reno and Salt Lake. The conditions are considered "fair" in Sacramento, Fresno and Tacoma. It remains to be seen how El Paso will play, but considering the altitude, it will probably favor the hitters.

Even with the addition of a humidor in Albuquerque in 2013, the home-road splits were pretty dramatic. Pitchers weary of the high altitude in New Mexico could catch a breather on the road, and see a drop in their ERA. There won't be as many chances for a break anymore. 


AMERICAN CONFERENCE
Northern Division
Organization
R/G
Elevation (ft)
2013 Division
Colorado Springs
Rockies
13.45*
6,010
Pacific North
Iowa
Cubs
9.33
955
Same
Oklahoma City
Astros
9.78
1,201
American South
Omaha
Royals
10.03
1,090
Same
Southern Division
Organization
R/G
Elevation (ft)
2013 Division
Memphis
Cardinals
8.91
337
American North
Nashville
Brewers
9.02
597
American North
New Orleans
Marlins
8.35
-6.5
Same
Round Rock
Rangers
10.21
735
Same
PACIFIC CONFERENCE
Northern Division
Organization
R/G
Elevation (ft)
2013 Division
Fresno
Giants
9.89
308
Pacific South
Reno
Diamondbacks
13.32
4,505
Same
Sacramento
Athletics
9.05
30
Pacific South
Tacoma
Mariners
9.34
243
Same
Southern Division
Organization
R/G
Elevation (ft)
2013 Division
Albuquerque
Dodgers
14.17**
5,312
American South
El Paso
Padres
3,740
Same (as Tucson)
Las Vegas
Mets
12.81
2,001
Same
Salt Lake
Angels
11.77
4,226
Pacific North
* Rate has dropped to 11.77 through 132 games since introducing humidor in 2012
** Rate has dropped to 11.19 through 63 games since introducing humidor in 2013


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