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Oakland A’s switching Triple-A affiliates from Nashville to Las Vegas

A’s prospects will now play for the Las Vegas 51s.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s are switching Triple-A affiliates, the team announced Monday. After four seasons with the Nashville Sounds, the A’s are now partnered with the Las Vegas 51s through at least 2020. They remain in the Pacific Coast League.

The story was first reported Saturday night by Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle, who noted that several other teams will also be shuffling around their PCL affiliates. Other candidates for the A’s had been Fresno or San Antonio says Slusser, though Vegas had long been rumored as a likely destination according to Melissa Lockard of The Athletic.

When the A’s farm first moved to Nashville in 2015, the Sounds were preparing to open a new ballpark, and the same will be true in Vegas. Next summer, the 51s will move into Las Vegas Ballpark, a 10,000-seat stadium in the Downtown Summerlin area.

Don Logan, team president of the 51s, noted some of the benefits of this new partnership, via the A’s press release.

“We are excited to have the Oakland A’s as our new Major League affiliate,” said Logan. “I have known Billy Beane for a long time and consider him a friend. The relationship with the A’s goes back to the 1990’s when they played regular season games in Las Vegas (1996). The A’s have enjoyed great success at the Triple-A level with their minor league system which has been second to none. The new PDC [Player Development Contract] will provide a tremendous environment for the players with the state-of-the-art amenities that will enhance player development with the indoor hitting cages, mounds and workout areas in the Las Vegas Ballpark.

“The proximity with the Bay Area to Las Vegas will also provide the opportunity to move players much easier regarding the roster transactions from the Triple-A to the Major League level. McCarran International Airport has non-stop flights to the numerous PCL markets, as well as the big cities, that enables our team to have the best travel in the 16-team league. This will be a great situation for our fans to watch top prospects in the A’s system as well as players on Major League rehabilitation assignments showcase their talents in the Las Vegas Ballpark.”

To sum up that list:

  • The A’s have history in Vegas, having played there in the 90s when the Coliseum was getting mutilated by the construction of Mt Davis
  • Vegas is much closer to Oakland than is Nashville
  • New stadium and facilities
  • Easy travel from international hub

Las Vegas will join Double-A Midland, High-A Stockton, Single-A Beloit, and Low-A Vermont as affiliates in the A’s minor league system. Per the press release, here’s a history of Oakland’s Triple-A affiliates: Nashville (2015-18), Sacramento (2000-14), Vancouver (1999), Edmonton (1995-1998), Tacoma (1981-1994), Ogden (1979-80), Vancouver (1978), San Jose (1977), Tucson (1973-76), Iowa (1969-72) and Vancouver (1968).

4 reasons why this is good news

This isn’t a huge deal either way, but I’d classify it as good news more than bad. When the A’s got booted out of Sacramento, that was more on the negative side, but this is the opposite.

1. Proximity to Oakland

This is probably the single most important thing I look for in a Triple-A affiliate. There are lots of other factors, but at the end of the day the primary purpose of the Triple-A team is to provide players to the MLB club. The A’s in particular made extensive use of the minors this season, shuttling players (especially relievers) back and forth with what felt like daily regularity.

Between being based in Oakland for half their games, plus another handful in Anaheim, Seattle, and San Francisco, the A’s spend nearly two-thirds of their season on the West Coast. It is significantly faster and easier to get here from Vegas than it is from Nashville. It’s still not the quick drive from Sacramento, but it’s at least in the same time zone. For that reason alone, it’s nice to have the top minor league club back on the proper side of the country.

2. Park effects

If there was one notable thing about Nashville, it was its park effects. First Tennessee Park turned out to be an extreme pitcher’s park, made even more conspicuous by the fact that much of the PCL is a hitter’s league.

It’s impossible to know how much that matters, and surely the team has all sorts of proprietary metrics that take it into account, but it sure made it tough for we the fans to analyze what was going on. Just about every hitter seemed to struggle there, and sometimes they’d come up and perform better in the majors — as if MLB pitching was easier to handle than Nashville’s stadium.

There isn’t a great source for minor league park effects, but Baseball America has one that I usually reference when needed (not as gospel, but as a rough small-sample guide). It’s set up like a wRC+, so 100 is neutral and every digit higher or lower is one percent difference in that direction. Nashville graded as a 79 for overall offense, meaning there were 21% fewer runs scored in Nashville’s home games as in their road games — that’s roughly tied with several other venues for the lowest scoring environment in the 16-team league. However, in terms of homers, the grade of 64 was by far the lowest in the league (runner-up is 79), and one of the lowest in the entire minors.

It’s not hard to see those effects in action. A’s prospects routinely hit significantly better on the road than they did in Nashville, and you have to wonder if Oakland ever missed on any young hitters because of it. Would guys like Joey Wendle or Renato Nunez have gotten bigger chances if their numbers weren’t being weighted down? Perhaps not (teams look at so much more in the minors besides just common stats), and of course I’m not complaining about how things worked out — the current lineup is awesome and there aren’t any prospects I direly wish we had back (even Max Muncy would be blocked by the Matts).

And of course, Vegas has its own effects. That same Baseball America article lists them at 120 for scoring and 121 for homers, which is nearly as extreme. Granted, they’ve moving into a new stadium, but it will still be in the middle of the desert at moderate elevation with thin air and high winds and extreme heat. It’s not like they’ll be playing in a controlled laboratory now. But it might at least be less extreme than Nashville, and it will skew things in the more fun direction. Now we’ll have to take big offensive performances with a grain of salt, while the pitchers will have to do more to prove themselves.

3. Better logo

The name Las Vegas 51s is a nod to Area 51, the secret government facility in the Nevada desert. The team’s logo is an alien whose roughly circular cranium has stitches like a baseball. That’s way better than Nashville, who were basically a guitar pick with the letter N over it.

Here it is on a hat.

Between this, the Beloit Snappers’ angry turtle, and the Vermont Lake Monsters’ cartoonish Nessie-like beast, the A’s have some excellent logos in the minors.

Update: Never mind. Apparently the 51s are re-branding next year, so we won’t get to enjoy the cool alien logo. One possibility is the Las Vegas Aviators. Oh well, still better than Nashville Sounds, which I always thought was one of the dumbest names ever.

4. Symbolism

The NFL’s Raiders are also moving to Las Vegas. Now they’ll share a town with our minor league club instead of our major league club, which brings a smile to my face as someone who does not hold dual-fanship between the two teams. Symbolically speaking, a minor league city is a much more appropriate place for the Raiders. Don’t @ me.