Las Vegas 51s: 2017 Season In Review | Astromets Mind

Monday, February 12, 2018

Las Vegas 51s: 2017 Season In Review

Taking a closer look at how the 51s finished the season with the worst record in the PCL

What’s in this post:
       -       Season Summary
 -       Astro's Awards
       -       Coaches
       -       Team Stats
       -       51s on the PCL Leaderboards
       -       Promotions
       -       Links to Astromets GIF Recaps (56)

What Happened

            Last year was the 35th season for Las Vegas baseball in the PCL and the 5th season that the 51s were affiliated with the Mets. The Las Vegas Stars/51s have been affiliated with four Major League teams in their history, and even though this was a second straight losing season, the 51s still have a winning record overall with the Mets (365-353). In fact, the Mets are the only team with a winning record while affiliated with Las Vegas, as the previous tenants (Toronto) finished at 287-288.
            But the 2017 season was definitely a tough one for the Las Vegas 51s, as they eventually lost nearly all of their top players in promotions to the Mets, while getting almost no reinforcements sent from lower minor league affiliates. The season ended with a 56-86 record and several St. Lucie regulars filling out the lineup, because the Mets apparently did not want to mess with the Rumble Ponies playoff roster (which is fine). But even when the 51s had top prospects Dominic Smith and Amed Rosario going strong in the heart of the lineup, they were losing games more often than anyone in the PCL, so what happened?

            To start, let’s look at the starters. The 51s used 17 different starting pitchers in 2017, including three rehabbing major leagues (Steven Matz, Josh Smoker, and Robert Gsellman) and four bullpen guys making spot starts (Logan Taylor, Luis Mateo, Kevin McGowan, and Beck Wheeler). Of the other 10 starters, only three posted an ERA better than the PCL average (4.73 ERA), and they combined for just 26 starts: Rafael Montero (2.48 ERA) made 5 starts before a promotion; Tyler Pill (3.47 ERA) made 13 starts and got an MLB look, but his season ended on the DL; and Jonathan Albaladejo (4.50 ERA) made 8 starts after the Mets needed Triple-A depth and found him on the scrap heap. The Mets also signed Mitch Atkins (5.65 ERA overall) midway through the season and he had a very rough start (11.20 ERA through 6 starts), but was the 51s top starter over the final 5 weeks (2.66 ERA over an 8-start stretch).
            Most of the guys expected to be in the 51s rotation from the start of 2017 didn’t last very long: Sean Gilmartin (7.05 ERA) had a forgettable two months before the Mets released him; Adam Wilk (5.91 ERA) had a decent month, was called into a tough spot to start for the Mets, and then took the high road with a classy sendoff after his release; Donovan Hand (7.60 ERA) was demoted and had to re-prove himself at Double-A; and Blake Beavan (7.45 ERA) was demoted and then apparently injured for the rest of 2017.
Two guys did make 20+ starts for Las Vegas though, but they weren’t exactly consistent from start-to-start, or even from inning-to-inning. Despite battling knee injuries early in the season, Wilfredo Boscan (5.44 ERA) led the staff with 26 starts, and plenty of them were good (2 ER or less in half of those starts), but there were also several stinkers. Ricky Knapp led the staff with 144.2 IP, but his outings were often derailed by one bad inning, and he was sent to Binghamton to finish the season (seemed like an odd decision since Knapp was finally showing more consistency in Vegas, but the Ponies needed starting depth).

            Clearly, the starters were not giving the 51s quality innings, but to make matters worse, they weren’t even offering length. On average, the starters went less than 5.1 IP per start, which left 508.1 IP (!) for the 51s bullpen (and that doesn’t include spot starter innings). Fortunately, the 51s pen was one of its strengths, as 5 of the most frequently used relievers posted better than league average ERA’s: lefty Kyle Regnault (3.28 ERA) earned a post-season AFL opportunity; Chase Bradford (4.04 ERA) earned a promotion to the Mets; Kevin McGowan (4.15 ERA) earned a promotion to the Mets; side-arming Ben Rowen (4.41 ERA) was honored as the top pitcher on the staff; and Logan Taylor (4.57 ERA) was having a nice season through mid-June (3.25 ERA through 36 IP), but his second-half was ruined by a few bad appearances and one homeless guy.
The 51s pen also got a boost from a few guys down the stretch: Jamie Callahan (1.80 ERA) and Jacob Rhame (1.50 ERA) combined for 12 strong appearances after the Mets traded for them; Neil Wagner (RHP, mid-90’s, 0.00 ERA) signed on and added 8 scoreless appearances; Tom Gorzelanny (0.00 ERA) finally came back from injury and appeared in 4 scoreless outings; and Kelly Secrest (2.57 ERA) made his Triple-A debut with 5 appearances to finish the year.
            Not everyone excelled out of the 51s pen however, and a few of those guys were around for awhile: Beck Wheeler (8.18 ERA) battled control problems over 41 appearances, which was third most on the team; Alberto Baldonado (6.65 ERA) also struggled with control problems, although he showed signs of improvement down the stretch (3.86 ERA, .619 OPS allowed over his final 16 appearances); Hansel Robles (5.79 ERA) worked through some issues for 18 appearances before rejoining the Mets pen; and David Roseboom (8.31 ERA) didn’t have time to adjust to the league before a broken foot cut his season short.

            About the only thing the 51s pitchers were good at last year was not walking batters, as they combined for the fifth fewest walks in a 16-team league. They did allow the fourth most homerun’s of any PCL staff, but given they finished with the fewest strikeouts in the league, it’s safe to say there were a lot of balls in play. Unfortunately, the 51s were not great in the field, at least by the traditional fielding stats. Las Vegas led the league with 122 errors made and they were the worst team at controlling the run game (see Table 3).
            The 51s infield most often featured Dominic Smith at first base (107 G), Gavin Cecchini at second base (80 G), Amed Rosario at shortstop (88 G), and Phillip Evans at third base (66 G), and that group was generally solid. Not a great fielding percentage from that group in 2017, but they made plenty of highlight reel quality plays throughout the year. However, if one of those middle infielders or Phillip Evans were out, Josh Rodriguez and Jiovanni Mier entered the infield picture, most often at third base. Neither was great at third last year, and the left side was really left open if Rosario wasn’t at shortstop. Evans and Cecchini are similar quality fielders – although Evans doesn’t have the ball transfer/throwing problems like Cecchini – and both were stretched at shortstop last year.
            The Las Vegas outfield had a little more turnover and a little less quality. They rarely had a true center fielder: Victor Cruzado (61 G) was stretched in center field; Desmond Jennings (35 G) was a little better before his release; and while Brandon Nimmo (31 G) was solid, he was only there for 20% of the season. From what I can tell, #MetsTwitter and the SNY booth quickly declared Travis Taijeron to be a poor outfielder, yet he was in RF for 105 starts, LF for 15, and even played CF for 3 games. As for the 51s LF spot, it was generally a spot for former infielders to rotate through: Jayce Boyd led the way with 38 starts; J Rod made 32; Evans got out there for 17; Matt Reynolds made 11 appearances in left field and 11 in center field; and both T.J. Rivera and Jhoan Urena were sent out to left field for one game.

            If you’re not getting defense from your position players, you better be getting plenty of offense, but the 51s offense wasn’t quite up to recent standards, as you can see in Table 1 below. Of the 15 regulars to take at least 100 PA with the 51s last year, 6 finished with a wRC+ at 116 or above: Amed Rosario (116), Jayce Boyd (128), Kevin Plawecki (128), Matt Reynolds (132), Dominic Smith (134), and Travis Taijeron (135). Another 5 were at 90+: Xorge Carrillo (90), Cody Decker (92), Victor Cruzado (94), Evans (98), and Nimmo (98).
            Granted, not all of those players were in the same lineup everyday, but that group combined for nearly 2/3 of the 51s plate appearances in 2017, so it feels like the offense should’ve been better. Unfortunately, since Fangraphs doesn’t do minor league park factors yet, that wRC+ isn’t accounting for the fact that the PCL can be split into two groups: one with high offense environments and one with normal offense environments. And the 51s (who play in a high offense environment at Cashman Field) team production landed them squarely between those groups.
The 51s .774 OPS falls right in the middle of the pack, but the spread in the PCL is huge: Fresno led the way with an .832 OPS and New Orleans came in last with a .700 OPS. The 51s team OPS was 14 points below the next closest high environment (Salt Lake) and 17 points ahead of the closest low environment team (Nashville). Most of the teams that had an OPS below the 51s OPS had batting averages in the .260’s, whereas several of the teams with an OPS higher than the 51s OPS were around a .290 average. It’s just a different game in the high elevation ballparks throughout the PCL. As a result, if you look up wRC+ on the Fangraphs PCL leaderboards and include all 256 players with at least 100 PA, you’ll see that the 51s have no players in the top-30.

            Getting back to the initial question of what happened to the 51s in 2017, I’d answer that an under-stocked Triple-A squad was stretched too early and never replenished. The numbers suggest that the 51s had the worst defense in the league, were among the worst pitching staffs in the league (see Table 2), and were middle of the pack offensively – aka, bottom of the pack offensively for the half of the PCL that plays in the high offense environments. There was no hole more glaring than starting pitching depth, which has to be scary for a Mets team that went from "supreme" starting depth to negative starting depth in just a few months last year. Still, the biggest disappointment was probably the performance of second baseman Gavin Cecchini, who has gone from budding shortstop prospect at the end of 2015, to possible second baseman of the future at the end of 2016, to riding out Mets garbage time on the bench down the stretch in 2017.
             In spite of the losses, the errors, the bad pitching, and the disappointing Cecchini, the Triple-A Mets don’t get an F for 2017. They get an F for depth provided (which is also on the Mets front office), but there was some positive player development, and both are important measures of success at the Triple-A level. Top prospects Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith stood out wherever the team went, with Rosario get a lot of attention during All-Star weekend, and both players getting everyday action for the Mets down the stretch.
             Also, Kevin Plawecki had his best Triple season yet and found success in the majors after his recall. Kevin McGowan showed no glaring splits and had some nice stretches in his first extended look at the Triple-A level. Phillip Evans was slow to adjust in his Triple-A debut, but he posted a .901 OPS over his final 70 games (293 PA, .373 BABIP, .191 ISO, 44 K: 21 BB), which helped earn him a mid-September callup. Lastly, 2011 draftee Travis Taijeron had a third straight strong season for Las Vegas, which earned him some Major League starts.

Astro's Awards

MVP: Dominic Smith
Cy: Tyler Pill
Fireman: Kevin McGowan


Manager: Pedro Lopez
Pitching coach: Frank Viola
Hitting coach: Jack Voigt

Team Stats/Rankings

Overall:                        56-86           (.394)

Home:                           32-39          (.451)*
Road:                            24-47           (.338)
*Attendance: 359,059 total, 5,057 average

Day:                              8-13            (.381)
Night:                           48-73          (.397)

April:                            12-12          (.500)
May:                              9-20           (.310)
June:                             10-18          (.357)
July:                               9-19           (.321)
August:                         12-17          (.414)
September:                     4-0            (1.000)

One-run Games:            15-20         (.429)
Shutouts:                        5-6            (.455)
Walkoffs:                       8-11           (.421)

vs. AL:                          22-37         (.373)
vs. NL:                          34-49         (.410)


Table 1 - 16-team league, stats below per BB-Ref

Average Batter Age
Stolen Bases
Caught Stealing
On-base %
Slugging %
Sac bunts
Sac flies


Table 2 - 16-team league, stats below per BB-Ref

Average Pitcher Age
Batters Faced
Wild Pitches

Starters: 28-60, 5.70 ERA, 740.1 IP, 922 H, 469 ER
Relievers: 28-26, 4.96 ERA, 508.1 IP, 573 H, 280 ER, 162 IR – 62 S (62% strand rate)


Table 3 - 16-team league, stats below per BB-Ref

Fielding %
Passed balls
Stolen bases allowed
Runners caught stealing

ªHat tip to the 51s game notes for help gathering these stats

51s on the PCL Leaderboards

Top-10 among qualified hitters, per Fangraphs

Hits:                   Dominic Smith, 151, 5th

Doubles:            Dominic Smith, 34, t-2nd
  Travis Taijeron, 32, t-4th

Homeruns:        Travis Taijeron, 25, t-8th

BB%:                Travis Taijeron, 13.1%, 5th

Average:           Dominic Smith, .330, 4th
 Amed Rosario, .328, 6th

OPS:                Travis Taijeron, .907, 10th

wRC+:             Travis Taijeron, 135, 9th
                         Dominic Smith, 134, 10th

LD%:               Dominic Smith, 28.3%, 1st
                         Travis Taijeron, 26.5%, 3rd
                         Phillip Evans, 23.9%, 10th

Top-10 per Fangraphs, minimum 60 IP in the PCL

Games:            Ben Rowen, 54, 2nd
                        Kevin McGowan, 47, t-6th

IP:                   Ricky Knapp, 144.2, 3rd
(Would’ve easily led this category if he was left in the PCL)

GB%:             Ben Rowen, 52.5%, 7th

IFFB%:          Tyler Pill, 29.3%, 5th


(Initial promo date)

-       Paul Sewald (4/8)
-       Sean Gilmartin (4/14)
-       Kevin Plawecki (4/20)
-       Matt Reynolds (4/26)
-       Adam Wilk (5/7)
-       Tyler Pill (5/26)
-       Gavin Cecchini (6/15)
-       Brandon Nimmo (6/16)
-       Erik Goeddel (6/21)
-       Chase Bradford (6/22)
-       Amed Rosario (8/1)
-       Dominic Smith (8/11)
-       Kevin McGowan (8/13)
-       Travis Taijeron (8/26)
-       Jacob Rhame (9/2)
-       Jamie Callahan (9/2)
-       Phillip Evans (9/8)

Free Agents/Released

-       Jeff Glenn (Released 9/22)
-       Josh Edgin (Elected Free Agency 10/4) – Signed with Orioles (11/25)
-       Donovan Hand (Elected Free Agency on 11/6)
-       Luis Mateo (Elected Free Agency on 11/6)
-       Tyler Pill (Elected Free Agency 11/6)
-       Beck Wheeler (Elected Free Agency 11/6)
-       Neil Wagner (Elected Free Agency 11/6) – Signed to play in Japan (12/12)
-       Travis Snider (Elected Free Agency 11/6)
-       Ben Rowen (Elected Free Agency 11/6)
-       Cody Decker (Elected Free Agency 11/6)
-       Xorge Carrillo (Elected Free Agency 11/6)
-       Wilfredo Boscan (Elected Free Agency 11/6)
-       Alberto Baldonado (Elected Free Agency 11/6) – Signed with Cubs (12/11)
-       Travis Taijeron (Elected Free Agency 11/6) – Signed with Dodgers (11/20)
-       Erik Goeddel (Elected Free Agency 11/6) – Signed with Rangers (12/19)
-       Josh Rodriguez (Elected Free Agency 11/6)
-       Jio Mier (Elected Free Agency 11/6)
-       Tom Gorzelanny (Elected Free Agency 11/6)
-       Victor Cruzado (Elected Free Agency 11/6)
-       Mitch Atkins (Elected Free Agency 11/6)
-       Jonathan Albaladejo (Elected Free Agency 11/6)


(56 Games covered)

Date – Starting Pitcher



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