There's a whole bunch of stuff rolled into that little exchange with Josh, who's done brilliant pitch fx analysis around here, and in a number of other outlets and Jeff, who writes intelligently about prospects at Amazin' Avenue.
More on the philosophic issues raised by this conversation, affiliate relations, and the specific players after the jump.
There are a few general issues here.
1. A Slower Philosophy in 2011
For years, the criticism of the Mets was that they rushed prospects. A wildly incomplete list ranges from Fernando Martinez, Mike Pelfrey or Ruben Tejada who all survived to see the big leagues, to Juan Lagares, Greg Veloz, Francisco Pena, Wilmer Flores and Jefry Marte who are still toiling in the minors. The Mets, as I've been told in no uncertain terms, made a conscious effort to "slow down the system" this year after beginning the process a year ago. As fans or analysts (or both), you can't have it both ways, complaining in earlier years when the Mets were rushing overmatched teenagers to the South Atlantic League or through the system, and then griping in 2011, when the team makes an effort to be different and slow everyone down.
Frankly, I'd much rather see the team err on the side of too slow rather than too fast.
2. Winning = Development
Yes, I write all the time that winning games in the minor leagues is secondary. At the same time, winning is fun. Also, St. Lucie Manager Pedro Lopez made the connection between winning and development explicitly here:
"The fastest way to develop players is by winning...If you win, you'll develop a lot faster than if you're losing.Pedro and I had similar conversations last year.
"When you're winning, you're excited to come to the field. When we're winning, it's easier for me to say to (Jefry) Marte, (Wilmer) Flores or (Rylan) Sandoval, 'Hey, let's take 25 extra ground balls.' We're winning, why not? Would they do it with the same mind frame if we were 10-100? Probably not."
There are few sides to this issue, but I like Pedro's point: winning players are happier players, and happier players, by nature will work harder.
3. Confidence is Good
I now can't find the study, but I recall reading in a number of places that more confident athletes learn significantly better. This to me is the big argument against rushing players. The goal is to create big leaguers, and every player in a-ball, advanced-a, double-a or triple-a has something, or more precisely, many things, to learn before reaching the big leagues. This learning will be done better when a player is succeeding at a level.
The playoffs aren't just a bragging point for a big league team: they're also a revenue opportunity for the affiliate. Is putting a winning team on the field at each affiliate a high priority? No, but it beats the alternative. Is it even practical? Of course not. All the same, the affiliate relationships are business partnerships which work best when everyone's happy.
I do come back to the Norfolk case, where things went bad. The Tides, as the story goes, at the end of the 2006 season, were very irritated by the Mets both sending them teams that lost, and not paying enough attention to them in the form of visits from high-ranking personnel. Fair? Maybe. Petty? Probably. In any case, the Mets ended up with a goofy affiliation in New Orleans that made little long-term sense for either side. That's a bad and probably avoidable result.
On the other hand, the Gnats haven't made a roster move in a week and a half. That's a remarkable period of stability for any minor or major league team, evidence of the Mets taking really good care of the Savannah franchise. In the long run, happier partners makes for better business.
(As a Savannah Sand Gnats employee, I do have a vested interest here. I still try to be objective.)
Now to the specific:
I said in my first tweet that Peavey "was ready," and I stand by that. Dude's ninth in the SAL in ERA (3.13) and has the third-lowest walk rate among SAL starters (1.38 BB/9 IP). He's rolling through SAL lineups mostly on fastball command he's been sitting in the low 90's, mixing in some sliders, change-ups and overhand curves as well. Could he go to advanced-A tomorrow and be ok? Absolutely.
All the same, just two starts ago, on June 5, in the offense-friendly environment in Asheville, he gave up a season-high five runs and two homers. Was it a big deal in the grand scheme of things? Nope. Did he learn something? I sure think so.
I feel comfortable saying that over the course of two and half months, Greg Peavey has become a better pitcher. His fastball command is better. His slider is better. His pitch selection is better.
Would he have made better progress in St. Lucie? Actually, I doubt it. The South Atlantic League, for a guy like Peavey, can be a pretty forgiving level. He can make a mistake and then learn to work around it. He can work on throwing better strikes with all of his pitches against hitters with rudimentary approaches. Is there a specific right day to move him to advanced-a? Of course not. The key for me is that he's pitching every fifth day and learning every time out. In short order, he'll be in advanced-a, where he's now well-equipped to succeed.
Selfishly, I was pleasantly surprised when Vaughn was assigned to Savannah in the first place out of Spring Training. I thought that there was a good chance he would start his 2011 season in the advanced-A Florida State League. And for a month and a half, he looked like he was simply too good for the SAL. After a 2-4 night on May 26 with a double and a homer, he was hitting .342/.475/.503.
Since then? Vaughn has one extra-base hit in his last 16 games and is hitting .167/.255/.214 in his 11 games in June to take his overall numbers down to .302/.426/.428. What's it mean? Not much - he's had a slow two weeks. It happens. All the same, this is development in action - the South Atlantic League, or simply the game of professional baseball, is teaching Vaughn something.
Could Vaughn go to St. Lucie now? Yup. And he'd be just fine. However, there are also guys who need to play in St. Lucie - Cesar Puello, Matt den Dekker, Juan Lagares and Pedro Zapata. I expect Vaughn to be in St. Lucie shortly. My point is simply 1. that the South Atlantic League still can teach him something and 2. for the system as a whole, for the first half of 2011, it's been better for Vaughn to get his at bats in the SAL.
I don't see either player, Vaughn or Peavey, as having been hurt in any way by playing a full first half in the South Atlantic League. Rather, they've each thrived in their first exposure to full-season ball. Is the argument that a few weeks - say 20 innings for Peavey and 60 AB for Vaughn - in the South Atlantic League a big deal developmentally? I can't buy that. More specifically, in the last few weeks, each player has encountered new challenges that have created new learning opportunities.
Peavey will be 23 in July. Vaughn turned 22 in May. They're both ready for their next challenge soon.