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Isotopes will use humidor

Dodgers hope it normalizes game

Don’t be surprised if Isotopes Park isn’t its usual home run-launching pad self this season.

In fact, be surprised if it is.

That’s not an indication of leaner talent on the ‘Topes’ roster this season. It’s an indication of beefing up something else.

The baseballs.

“We’re bringing in a humidor for the first time,” says Isotopes general manager John Traub. “It’s something the (parent Los Angeles) Dodgers wanted us to do, so we will have it in place by the start of the season.”

The humidor will be a climate-controlled steel box that will store baseballs, with the hope of keeping them from drying up and shrinking during the season. Traub describes it as similar to a walk-in refrigerator at a restaurant “or a routine beer cooler.”

He said it is still being built.

Traub said it will help keep the baseballs closer to their original form — softer and bigger — as the season progresses, which should lead to fewer home runs.

“I think what (the Dodgers) are hoping for, is that it kind of normalizes the baseball and normalizes the game,” Traub says. “What happens at elevation, is that the weather dries out, and it makes the balls harder. The ball’s already going to fly at elevation, because the air is lighter. Plus we have wind here. But if the ball is at least kept at regulation weight and size, theoretically, it’s going to play the same as it would at other ballparks that don’t have the effects of elevation.”

The concept of a humidor isn’t new in baseball. The Colorado Rockies have used one since 2002. Last year, the Denver Post reported that the Rockies team earned run average at Coors Field from 1995-2001 — the pre-humidor era — was 6.14. But from 2002-11, it dropped to 4.92.

Traub says the Colorado Sky Sox, who, like the Isotopes, are a Triple-A team in the Pacific Coast League, used a humidor for the first time last season.

Was there a difference?

“In a one-year statistical analysis, it definitely made an impact,” Traub said. “You’re not going to have a true picture until you look at it over multiple years. But if you look at 2012 compared to the previous seven seasons in games at Colorado Springs, it basically reduced the team’s ERA about a run. And the number of runs scored by the Sky Sox was almost one less per game.”

De Jon Watson, the Los Angeles Dodgers vice president for player development, says less scoring means a more realistic evaluation of minor leaguers.

“We’re just trying to make the ballpark a little bit more fair,” Watson told the Journal, “so when pitchers make a mistake, it’s not going 600 feet. The elements are going to be completely different, obviously, in Albuquerque, but we are hoping to somehow level the playing field and give our pitchers a chance at having some better success.

“It took almost a full run off the team ERA in Colorado Springs. Could it have been better pitchers? Or could it have been the use of the humidor? It will be interesting to see how this thing plays out for us.”

Watson and Traub said there have been times when the Dodgers were reluctant to send a minor league prospect to Albuquerque because his numbers could get skewed.

“Albuquerque is known as being a stadium where it’s not uncommon to have 17-15 ballgames,” Traub says. “From a player-development standpoint, that’s not always the most productive.

“But we’ve been told that some of the top young guys who are ready to make the jump to Triple-A will most likely make that jump this year, rather than being held back in Double-A.”

Anyone who has ever been to an Isotopes’ slugfest can attest to some balls that are seemingly still flying by the time the batter rounds first. Traub says there will still be tape-measure shots, but the small pokes over the wall will be fewer.

“The ball’s still going to fly,” Traub said. “You still have elevation; you still have wind. But what it’s going to eliminate, hopefully, are some of those cheap home runs — the ball off the end of the bat that is a routine fly ball, but goes over the outfield wall.

“There have been balls I’ve seen in the past that you think were going to be pop-ups to short, and the next thing you know they are in the picnic area. This should eliminate that.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal