Wednesday, February 25, 2015

HarbourCat player updates - Alphabet soup edition

More week two updates on our future HarbourCats, this time from the ACC, MW, WCC, and CCAA. Updates from the west, south and east in this one…

If the University of New Mexico Lobos baseball program is familiar to you, it’s because you’re remembering familiar names from the 2014 HarbourCats roster. Outfielder Danny Collier, and pitchers Carson Schneider and Preston Ryan were members of last year’s ‘Cats. Both Schneider and Ryan are returning this season.

Carl "Stud-uhar" off to a great start
Schneider, who set a freshman record last year by appearing in 24 games for the Lobos, is already working on besting that as a sophomore, taking the mound in 3 of UMN’s first 7 games. His numbers are slightly better than they were last year at this point, he holds a 3.00 ERA in 6 innings of work. Sadly, he’s already walked a batter this year – he went the first 18 trips to the mound last year before giving up his first free pass.

Ryan, who took a while to warm up last year for UNM has had only one appearance so far this season, going 2/3 of an inning, giving up 1 run on three hits.

Joining Schneider and Ryan on the cats this year, is freshman Lobo and 3B/1B Carl Stajduhar. He’s quickly earning the nickname of “Stud-uhar” here on the blog. He’s had a great start to the season, including going 5-9 in the opening 2-game set against OSU. He cooled off a bit this past weekend, but sits at a respectable .267 with 2HR and 9 RBI for the Lobos. He’s started all 7 games at the corners, and has a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage on 77 opportunities. What – a 3B with hands? Could the Hot Corner become the “Not” Corner for opposing hitters this season? Lets wait and see…

Over on the west coast, another school returning players to the Cats this year is Pepperdine University. The waves – home of blog-favourite Aaron Barnett are sending us two players this year – infield freshman Chase Lambert, and early-season pitching star Ryan Wilson. 

While Lambert is still looking for his first hit of the season (0-7 in a limited pinch-hitter role), Wilson is working some early-season mound magic giving up only a single earner run on 11 hits over 2 starts and 13 innings of work. An interesting-stat kind of guy, he’s K’ed 11 batters, but thrown 4 wild pitches. Maybe it’s too early to be dishing out this many nicknames, but “Wild Thing Wilson” has a certain ring to it…

St. Mary’s College in Moraga California is sending us a complete battery this year – Pitcher Sean O’Toole and catcher Jackson Thoreson. 

O’Toole has come off the bench twice to pitch an inning, each time giving up a run, a walk, and a hit while registering a strike out. Thoreson is a second-string catcher at this point, starting two games and coming in defensively in the late innings in another two. He’s hitting 2-7 with an RBI. A freshman playing behind a 3rd year starting catcher, he may have to settle for minimal plate appearances until he can prove himself. The two have yet to work together in a game.

Across the country, Freshman lefty Josh Mitchell of the University of Pittsburgh made his collegiate debut earlier this month, pitching a scoreless 9th inning for the Panthers. 

And it’s not all about Div 1. Checking in on Chico State’s Cameron Santos (NCAA D2), he’s yet to get into a game for the 4-2 Wildcats. More on him as the season progresses.

Don't forget that many of the colleges and universities sending us players have live broadcasts of every game available on the web. If you're looking to watch some early baseball, it's great entertainment!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

HarbourCats player updates - Pac-12 edition

Michael Gretler
Week Two of the NCAA baseball season is in the books, so it’s time for another update on a few of the players who’ll be suiting for the Victoria HarbourCats in 2015. In this edition, we’ll take a look at our guys in the Pac-12 Conference.

The mighty Oregon State University baseball program took a big hit last summer when seven of its players signed with MLB clubs, but the Beavers are blessed with an outstanding crop of freshmen players and are reloading in 2015 instead of rebuilding. OSU was ranked 26th in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll at the beginning of this season, and they look to have a good shot at qualifying for their seventh consecutive NCAA tournament.

One of those impressive Oregon State freshmen, Michael Gretler, is a future HarbourCat. Gretler got his collegiate career off to a great start by getting a base hit in his first plate appearance, a single against the tough University of New Mexico Lobos on February 15th. He has started three of the Beaver’s first eight games at third base, going 4-for-10 at the dish with two RBI, a walk and three runs scored. Gretler should put up some very nice offensive numbers for the HarbourCats this summer.

Zach Bonneau
After missing the first five games of the season, Gabe Clark has picked up right where he left off last summer. In three games this weekend, Clark went 4-for-14 (.286) with a homer and five RBI as the team’s Designated Hitter. While this kind of production from the big slugger is pretty much what we’ve come to expect, his first at-bat of the year was a bit of a surprise -- a triple into right-centre field. Of course, we shouldn’t be too shocked that he legged out a triple, because the “sneaky-quick” Clark did go five-for-five in the stolen base department with the HarbourCats this past summer.

The University of Washington Huskies, a team with a pair of future HarbourCats, were ranked 44th in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. Catcher Zach Bonneau sat out the first six UW games, but the sophomore from Spokane, Washington was a late-inning replacement at catcher in each of the last two days. Bonneau walked in his only plate appearance on Saturday and then stroked a single in his sole at-bat on Sunday for the first NCAA hit of his career.

Sophomore Henry Baker has only made one appearance on the mound for the Huskies so far this season, a start that lasted only ⅓ of an inning on February 16th. Baker started the game by hitting a batter, inducing a flyball out and then issuing a pair of walks to load the bases, which led to a quick hook from UW head coach Lindsay Meggs. Thankfully all three inherited runners were stranded, so Baker still holds a 0.00 ERA. Hopefully the 6-2, 234 lb. southpaw sees some game action in the upcoming week.

HarbourCatNip
  • Victoria native Chris Fougner is starting to heat up at the plate for Salt Lake Community College. Fougner, who is the Bruins’ starting right fielder, went four-for-eight with a walk, four RBI and a pair of steals in the last three games with available box scores (February 14-16). He is now hitting .320 with four RBI in 25 at-bats this season. Fougner also made the first mound appearance of his collegiate career on February 16th against Utah State University Eastern, throwing a scoreless inning of relief and surrendering only a single hit.
  • Nanaimo’s Alex Rogers made his third start of the season for Trinidad State Junior College on Thursday. Unfortunately, it was the second consecutive poor start for Rogers, as he gave up four hits and three earned runs in two innings against Luna Community College. He now has a 5.25 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 12 innings pitched this season.
  • Griffin Andreychuk went three-for-five with a run scored and a stolen base on Sunday, but it wasn’t enough to snap Seattle U’s lengthy losing streak. Andreychuk, who has been moved from leadoff to the number two spot in the order, is hitting .250 with three RBI in 32 at-bats this season. The 1-8 Redhawks have only scored six runs in their last five games and sport an unsightly .212 team batting average. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

College baseballs modified to boost offense

Last year's NCAA ball (L) vs this year's (R)
Baseball fans of a certain age will remember NCAA baseball back in the 80’s and 90’s, when it seemed that just about any hitter could crush a mammoth home run using a super-charged aluminum bat. In 2011, the NCAA moved to a composite bat that greatly reduced the exit speed of a batted ball and offensive numbers fell off a cliff. For instance, homers dropped from 0.94 per NCAA game in 2010 to an all-time low of 0.39 per game last season. In the 2010 College World Series, 32 home runs were hit, but that figure dropped to a paltry three round-trippers in the entire eight-team tournament in each of the last two years. To help restore the delicate balance between offense and defense, the NCAA, NAIA and Northwest Athletic Conference have made a slight change to the baseball for the 2015 season, and other junior and community colleges will follow suit in 2016.

To an outsider, the change to the baseball doesn't sound all that significant. The seams on the ball have been lowered from 0.048 to 0.031 inches and they are now consistent with those used in the minor leagues. However, the core of the NCAA baseballs will remain the same, meaning that they'll still be less lively than minor league balls (which in turn are less lively than big league baseballs). Tests have shown that the new NCAA baseballs travel 20 feet further than the old ones when launched from a pitching machine, thanks to less air resistance from the lower seams. The change is expected to not only boost home runs, but also increase the number of batted balls that fall beyond retreating outfielders.

While the change is being welcomed by hitters throughout the collegiate ranks, the same can’t be said for the pitchers. Not only will fly balls carry further, but the reduction in drag lessens the break of a curve ball. The news is not all bad on the pitching side, because two-seam / sinking fastballs have greater sinking action with the lower seams and sliders have a slight increase in velocity. Pitchers should also suffer from fewer blisters than was the case with the high-seamed balls.

The 2014 WCL baseball
Some observers have speculated that since the new baseballs are more difficult to grip (especially in cold weather) that we might see more foreign substances used by pitchers. It remains to be seen if this will be the case, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a few pine tar incidents at the college level like last spring’s Michael Pineda drama.
 
So far, the results of the change have been encouraging. In the first weekend of the NCAA Division I season, scoring was up by over a run per game compared to last year. According to D1Baseball.com, the average number of runs scored in a game went from 10.40 to 11.52 (it was 13.82 runs per game in the last season with aluminum bats). While that’s not a massive jump, it’s a nice step towards correcting the imbalance.

The West Coast League continues to use the Baden baseball, which is produced according to NCAA specifications. This means that we should see an increase in offense this summer and a few more balls landing on Pembroke Street than in the last two seasons. That extra 10 to 20 feet of carry can only help sluggers like Gabe Clark and Carl Stajduhar, so don’t be surprised to see the modest WCL single-season home run record fall in 2015.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

HarbourCats player updates - Big West / WAC edition

Griffin Andreychuk
The NCAA Division I baseball season got underway on Friday and a number of players on this summer’s HarbourCats roster were in the thick of the action. In this player update, we’ll get you up to speed on the 2015 HarbourCats who play in the Big West and Western Athletic Conference (WAC).

Seattle University’s Griffin Andreychuk batted leadoff and played shortstop in all four games against St. Mary’s College this weekend. The Nanaimo native went 4-for-16 (.250) with two runs scored and a pair of RBI, but Seattle U dropped three of four to the Gaels. As was the case last season, Andreychuk has struggled with his defense out of the gate; he committed three errors in the Saturday doubleheader and currently sports an .833 fielding percentage. It’s still early, so Andreychuk has plenty of time to turn things around in the field.

The Sacramento State Hornets are hosting the Utah Utes in a four-game set that wraps up on Monday. Although Dane Fujinaka was the starting catcher last season for the Hornets, former HarbourCat Gunner Pollman started behind the plate in the first three games against the Utes. It’s expected that Fujinaka will get the start tomorrow, but it’s clear that he has a battle on his hands to reclaim his starting job. The 5-foot-8-inch Hawaiian is solid offensively, but our sources tell us that Pollman has the edge defensively, especially when it comes to throwing out baserunners. This will be an interesting situation to watch. The other current HarbourCat who plays for Sacramento State, freshman PJ Floyd, only saw action as a pinch runner on Sunday.

AJ Alcantara
Sophomore Adam (AJ) Alcantara started two of the three opening games in right field for the UC Irvine Anteaters. Alcantara went one-for-seven at the plate and scored a run after being hit by a pitch on Saturday. The Anteaters, who were ranked 33rd by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, will likely drop out of the rankings after losing all three games to the unranked Fresno State Bulldogs this weekend.

Freshman Ryan Anderson of UC Davis registered his first collegiate hit on Friday night with a pinch-hit single against Texas State. Although he is normally a shortstop, Anderson got the start at DH on Sunday and went 0-for-2 with a run scored and a stolen base. Freshman Matt Blais did not make an appearance on the mound for the Aggies this weekend. In an odd twist, UC Davis and Texas State played to a rare 7-7 tie on Sunday, as the game was called after ten innings due to a travel curfew.

HarbourCatNip
  • Former Victoria Mariner Chris Fougner continues to get plenty of playing time for Salt Lake Community College. Fougner has started five of the Bruins’ first six games in right field and he has gone 4-for-15 (.267) with four runs scored. As of Friday, he was still waiting to make his collegiate debut on the mound (the box scores from this weekend’s action are not yet available).
  • Nanaimo’s Alex Rogers got knocked around on Friday by Nick Pivetta’s old school, New Mexico Junior College. Rogers gave up six runs (four earned) on nine hits and no walks in five innings pitched. He is now 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA and 1.40 WHIP after his first two starts of the 2015 season.
  • Alex Fagalde pitched a perfect two-thirds of an inning in relief for Cuesta College on Tuesday, but his start on Saturday didn’t go quite so well. Fagalde held Saddleback College to an unearned run through the first five innings and then yielded three hits and walk to start the sixth frame. As was the case in his Opening Day start, Fagalde was pulled with the bases loaded and all three inherited runners came around to score. He now has an 0-3 record with a 7.53 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in four appearances -- very surprising numbers for the ace of the Cuesta pitching staff.

Monday, February 9, 2015

HarbourCats take to the field in early-season collegiate action

Bad weather has forced the cancellation of a significant number of early-season junior college and community college baseball games, but a number of HarbourCats have managed to see action over the last week.

Chris Fougner
Alex Rogers, a sophomore at Trinidad State (Colorado) Junior College, got the Opening Day start for the Trojans against Colorado State University (CSU) this weekend. The Nanaimo product picked up the win by pitching a five-inning complete game in Saturday’s double header. Rogers limited CSU to only one unearned run on three hits and two walks, while striking out four batters. The Trojans play a four-game series this weekend against Nick Pivetta’s alma mater, New Mexico Junior College.

Former Victoria Mariners star Chris Fougner made his collegiate debut for Salt Lake Community College, which has one of the premier junior college baseball programs in the United States. The freshman obviously impressed head coach David Nelson during the fall, because the Victoria native was penciled in as the Bruins’ Opening Day right fielder and cleanup hitter. Fougner has played three of the first four games in right field, going 2-for-10 with a run scored. He’s not the only hitter to get off to a slow start though, as Yavapai College limited the Bruins to a .241 batting average in their four-game set. Fougner, who is expected to be primarily used by the HarbourCats as a pitcher this summer, has yet to make an appearance on the mound for Salt Lake CC.

On Thursday, Alex Fagalde made his second start of the season for Cuesta College. The big right-hander had a shorter outing than his arduous 113-pitch Opening Day start, but unfortunately it was a little too short this time, as Fagalde was knocked out after only an inning and two-thirds. He gave up three earned runs on five hits and a walk to bring his record to 0-2 on the season with an 8.31 ERA. I expect Fagalde to return to his usual form in his start this week. 

HarbourCatNip
  • Mikey Wright has transferred from San Jose State to Cosumnes River (Community) College in Sacramento. Wright has not made any appearances for his new team in their first four games.
  • The regular season starts on Friday for all NCAA Division I baseball teams. We’ll be posting regular updates on HarbourCat players between now and the start of the WCL season, so stay tuned to the blog.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

'Cats sign seven NCAA freshmen

The HarbourCats announced today that they have signed seven more collegians for the 2015 season, bringing the roster up to a total of 30 players. The new 'Cats are all freshmen, with six of the seven coming from NCAA Division I schools. In addition to inking a pair of players from Pepperdine, UC Davis and St. Mary’s College, the HarbourCat also signed a Division II player from (head coach) Graig Merritt and (pitching coach) Alec Adame’s alma mater, Chico State.
Ryan Wilson. Photo by Don Boomer.

One of our favourite signings in the new crop of players is Ryan Wilson, a left-handed starting pitcher who’ll be throwing to ex-HarbourCat Aaron Barnett at Pepperdine University this spring. Wilson was named to USA Baseball’s U17 National Team Development Program in 2013 and he graduated from Carlsbad High School in Carlsbad, California last year. In March of 2014, Wilson tossed a perfect game, needing only 73 pitches to complete his 7-inning gem against Del Norte High School. Not only did he strike out nine batters on the day, but he only issued three balls to a batter on one occasion.

In his senior year of high school, Wilson posted an impressive 1.51 ERA and 0.97 WHIP as a starter, while limiting opponents to a feeble .182 batting average. He also notched a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (75 strikeouts and 25 walks) in 74 innings on the hill.

Wilson will be joined in Victoria this summer by his Pepperdine teammate, Chase Lambert. Lambert is a slightly built third baseman with a surprising amount of pop in his bat given his size. He put up a gaudy .444 / .511 / .641 slash line in his senior year at Malibu High School, a short 12 kilometre drive down the Pacific Coast Highway from Pepperdine University. Lambert is clearly an excellent base runner, as he stole 26 bases in 23 games last season and was thrown out only once in his entire high school career. He also has a knack for controlling the strike zone -- in fact, he walked more often than he struck out in each of his last three high school seasons.
Chase Lambert.
Photo by Dick Dornan.

In his sophomore year of high school, Lambert played shortstop and was dominant as the team’s closer. In 26 ⅔ innings pitched that season, Lambert struck out an incredible 50 batters -- a ridiculous average of 16.9 K’s per nine innings. Unfortunately, Lambert blew out his arm that spring and underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on July 3, 2013. This young man obviously has a lot of determination, because he returned in time for the 2014 season and repeated as the MVP of the Frontier League in his senior year. To help reduce the strain on his surgically repaired elbow, Lambert moved over to second base and gave up pitching last season.

Matt Blais and his
unorthodox delivery.
As we enter year three for HarbourCats baseball, we're starting to notice some interesting patterns in our recruits. One such insight is that Serra High School in San Mateo, California is turning out to be a factory for Victoria HarbourCat players. Not only did it produce former HarbourCat standouts Chris Lewis (2013) and Sean Watkins (2014), but now Victoria has signed Serra product Matt Blais, a right-handed pitcher who is currently a freshman at UC Davis. Blais and Watkins obviously know each other well, because the two Padres both graduated from Serra High School in 2014 (let's hope that Blais has the same fire that Watkins displayed so often last summer). In his senior year, Blais posted a miserly 1.25 ERA and 0.86 WHIP as a starting pitcher. His underlying numbers are equally impressive, as he struck out 9.8 batters per nine innings and only walked 2.1 batters per nine.

Blais played summer ball in 2014 for the Menlo Park Legends of the California Collegiate League (CCL), where he notched a 1.93 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 46 ⅔ innings pitched. He continued to show good control (2.5 BB/9) and an ability to strike out more than a batter per inning (10.2 K/9). Blais also pitched a hitless inning of relief in the CCL All-Star Game.

The second UC Davis player signed is Ryan Anderson, a 6-1, 195 lb. shortstop from Pleasanton, California. The right-handed slugger recorded an excellent .386 / .436 / .659 slash line in his senior year at Foothill High School, and he only struck out four times in 101 plate appearances. Anderson played for the Danville (California) Hoots last summer, a team comprised of the best U18 players from the eastern region of the San Francisco Bay Area. Not only did the Hoots qualify for the Connie Mack World Series this past August, but Anderson helped the team advance to the semi-finals of this prestigious tournament.
Cameron Santos

Cameron Santos is a freshman second baseman from California State University, Chico. Santos swings a powerful bat for an undersized player; he registered a robust .412 / .500 / .611 slash line in his senior year at (the unimaginatively named) California High School in San Ramon. The former shortstop displays excellent strike zone judgement, as he drew 14 walks and only went down on strikes 12 times in 85 at-bats. Santos, who went 15-for-16 in stolen base attempts in his senior year, is also a capable basestealer. Based on his high school numbers, it would appear that one of the factors that kept him from playing Division I baseball is that he is only 5-9 and 160 lbs. Thankfully the HarbourCats (and Chico State) are looking for ballplayers, not Fabio.

Jackson Thoreson
St. Mary’s College is a Division I school that plays in the West Coast Conference (WCC) along with Pepperdine and the University of San Diego. One of the two players signed from the St. Mary’s Gaels is Jackson Thoreson, a freshman catcher from San Jose. The left-handed hitting Thoreson hit a combined .290 in his high school career with three homers and 47 RBI. He appears to be a good defensive catcher and in 2014 he earned Bellarmine College Prep’s Billy Schmidt Award for positive attitude. Thoreson plans to study Kinesiology at Saint Mary's.

The HarbourCats also signed Thoreson’s new teammate at St. Mary’s, right-handed pitcher Sean O'Toole. At first glance, O'Toole put up good numbers in his senior year at Huntington Beach High School: a 4-0 record with a 2.40 ERA. However, a closer look at the underlying numbers is cause for a bit of concern, as O'Toole also posted a 1.40 WHIP, 3.9 walks per nine innings and only 6.4 strikeouts per nine.

The HarbourCats will be announcing roughly 10 more player signings, so stay tuned to the blog for further updates.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The 2015 college baseball season is here!

Spring can’t be far off, because the college baseball season is officially underway. Although NCAA Division I teams don’t begin play until February 13th, many junior / community colleges have already kicked off their seasons. As we have done for the last couple of years, we’ll be providing regular updates on the progress of HarbourCat players leading up to the beginning of the West Coast League season.

Alex Fagalde
The first HarbourCat to see game action in 2015 was Alex Fagalde, as he drew the opening day start on Thursday for the Cuesta College Cougars. Fagalde, one of seven returning HarbourCats from last summer’s squad, was one of the most effective pitchers for Victoria in 2014 and he could be the staff ace this summer. Based on the 1.85 ERA and 1.18 WHIP that he posted in 34 innings on the hill, our bloggers had him ranked fifth in team MVP voting, although he would have surely finished higher had he been given a more prominent role in the first half of the year.

On Thursday afternoon, Fagalde gave up only one earned run on four hits and two walks through his first seven innings on the mound, although Cuesta College was unable to score any runs for him and they trailed 1-0 after seven-and-a-half innings. Even though Fagalde was approaching 100 pitches and it was his first start of the year, Cuesta's current (and Victoria’s former) head coach Bob Miller chose to send him back out there for the bottom of the eighth inning. Fagalde faced four batters in the eighth -- all four reached base -- and he was finally pulled after throwing 113 pitches. Although the deficit was only 2-0 at the time, Fagalde left with the bases loaded and all three inherited runners would come around to score later in the inning. The Cougars would eventually lose 6-1, with Fagalde's line looking a lot worse than it should have:
7 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 3 K

This isn't the first time that Fagalde has been left in a game too long by coach Miller (or former HarbourCat pitching coach Ben Jackson for that matter). Although he only made three starts for the HarbourCats last summer, Fagalde threw more than 100 pitches on two of those occasions, including a prolonged 126-pitch outing against Wenatchee on July 30th. For the sake of the long-term health of his pitching arm, let’s hope that Fagalde doesn't have to deal with too many more of those marathon outings moving forward.

In their inaugural season in 2013, HarbourCats threw more than 100 pitches on 26 occasions -- a remarkable stat considering that the West Coast League regular season has only 54 games. Last summer, Victoria hurlers "only" broke the 100-pitch barrier ten times, although in a perfect world young pitchers would rarely go over that threshold. Now that the HarbourCats have a new coaching staff in place, we’re expecting that these lengthy outings will become the exception and not the rule.

Stay tuned to the blog for more updates on HarbourCat players throughout the college baseball season. Only 125 more days until opening day...

HarbourCatNip
  • Alex Rogers was expected to start a game for Trinidad State (Colorado) Junior College this weekend, but all games have been cancelled due to bad weather. Rogers posted a solid 3.09 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 10 appearances (9 starts) for the HarbourCats last summer, and the Nanaimo native will be returning to the ‘Cats in 2015. 
  • Victoria native Chris Fougner is scheduled to begin his college baseball career this weekend with Salt Lake City Community College.  However, Friday's games were cancelled and it is unclear if Saturday's games will be played.
  • The HarbourCats who play in the Northwest Athletic Conference (Curtis Bafus, Zander Clouse, Matt Fish, Kyle Francis, John Naff and Jamie Umbinetti) don’t start their regular-season games until February 28th.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Pythagoras and the HarbourCats' playoff chances

Many years ago, Bill James created the Pythagorean Theorem of Baseball in an attempt to calculate a team’s expected winning percentage based on the number of runs scored and allowed during the season. He used the term Pythagorean Theorem because of its resemblance to the famous mathematical equation created by Pythagoras:
This equation has a variety of uses, although my favourite is to use the expected winning percentage in the middle of an MLB season to anticipate a jump (or drop) in the standings for a team that is winning fewer (or more) games than it really should. Teams may deviate from their expected winning percentage for a variety of reasons, although random chance is the most likely cause. Over a 162-game season, the average difference between actual and expected wins for a major league team is roughly three games.

After further study, statisticians found that the difference between expected and actual winning percentage could be further reduced by using an exponent of 1.83 (or 1.81) in the equation instead of two. However, many baseball web sites, including ESPN, still use James’ original equation. Using the improved version of baseball’s Pythagorean Theorem gives us the following numbers for the 2014 West Coast League regular season (teams sorted by actual wins):

                             Run        Exp. Win
Team           G   RS   RA   Diff. Wins Wins Diff.
Bellingham     54  276  195   81    37   35    2
Yakima Valley  54  326  236   90    35   35    0
Corvallis      54  319  230   89    35   35    0
Bend           54  316  274   42    31   31    0
Wenatchee      54  324  298   26    30   29    1
Walla Walla    54  350  357   -7    28   27    1
Medford        54  301  272   29    26   29   -3
Victoria       54  296  296    0    25   27   -2
Cowlitz        54  237  234    3    24   27   -3
Kitsap         53  266  319  -53    23   22    1
Klamath Falls  54  280  457 -177    15   16   -1
Kelowna        53  239  362 -123    14   17   -3

Baseball didn't exist in his time, but we're pretty
sure Pythagoras would have been a fan if it did.
As you can see from the last column in the table above, Bellingham had some luck on their side in compiling a 37-17 record, especially since their run differential trailed both Yakima Valley and Corvallis. The unluckiest teams in the league were Medford, Cowlitz and Kelowna, as all three teams won three fewer games than expected mathematically. Victoria scored exactly the same number of runs as they allowed, so their 25-29 record came in at two games below their expected mark.

The magic number of wins to get into the WCL playoffs is generally believed to be 32. So by how much do the HarbourCats have to improve in 2015 to become a playoff team? Yes, wise guy, seven wins is the obvious answer, but the Pythagorean Theorem of Baseball gives us a more granular look at the level of improvement required to get into the post-season.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mariners Caravan pays a visit to Victoria

James Paxton and one
of his biggest fans, Alex
The Seattle Mariners Caravan made a pit stop at the Empress Hotel on Wednesday night and local fans came out in droves for a chance to meet some of their baseball heroes. Current Mariners James Paxton and Charlie Furbush, along with broadcaster Dave Sims and former big-league pitcher Steve Sinclair were there to sign autographs and press the flesh. The night was highlighted by a lively Q&A session in which fans had a chance to pose questions to each of the four special guests. Ah, there's nothing like a good old "Hot Stove" session on a cold January night.

The popularity of the Mariners players shouldn't really come as a surprise. They're clearly a team on the upswing -- right now they are the class of the American League West. In my estimation, the only thing that can keep them out of the playoffs this year is a slew of injuries. The Angels may be the favourite in some quarters, but Mike Scioscia's squad has one of the weakest pitching staffs in the majors and the M's have one of the best. Two members of that pitching staff who were in Victoria, Paxton and Furbush, are expected to play a big role in getting Seattle back into the post-season for the first time since 2001. In a mere 30 days, they'll be reporting for work in Peoria, Arizona along with the rest of the pitchers and catchers. Suddenly that chilly January evening doesn't feel quite so cold anymore.

Thanks to the Seattle Mariners and the Victoria HarbourCats for a great night!

Monday, January 12, 2015

H-Cats sign five from Pacific Northwest colleges

Matt Fish
The HarbourCats have signed five more players for the 2015 season and all are from community colleges in the Northwest Athletic Conference (NWAC). In previous years, the ‘Cats have made minimal use of NWAC players, although both Dylan LaVelle and Clark McKitrick did appear in a HarbourCats uniform in 2013. I would expect the ‘Cats roster to include more NWAC players in the future, because the conference features a quality brand of baseball and players are typically quite enthusiastic to show what they can do when given a chance in the tough West Coast League.

Perhaps the biggest fish landed by the HarbourCats in this group of five newcomers is sophomore left-handed reliever Matt Fish of Pierce Community College in Lakewood, Washington. The Michigan native was outstanding in limited action as a freshman, posting a 2.95 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 21 ⅓ innings on the hill. Not only did opponents hit a paltry .195 off of him, but Fish also struck out a whopping 13.1 batters per nine innings. That performance was good enough to attract the attention of the Utah Valley Wolverines, who signed Fish to pitch for the NCAA Division I team beginning in the fall of 2015. Incidentally, Fish’s older brother Zach, a former star outfielder with the Oklahoma State Cowboys, won the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year award in 2014.

John Naff
Three of the players signed are from Everett Community College, including sophomore outfielder John Naff. The Marysville, Washington native hit .311 with no homers and 21 RBI in 122 at-bats in his freshman year with the Trojans. Although he’ll see action as a corner outfielder with the HarbourCats, Naff can also play first base. The left-handed contact hitter spent last summer with the Everett Merchants of Pacific International League (PIL), posting a .324 / .360 / .390 slash line. Naff has committed to play for the University of Washington Huskies starting in the 2015-16 season.

The second Everett CC Trojan inked by the 'Cats is RHP Kyle Francis. The 6-3, 205 lb. freshman had a big season in his senior year at Redmond High School and was named to the All-State First Team (Class 4A) by the Washington State Baseball Coaches Association. In addition to playing in the outfield, Francis posted a 6-1 record on the mound, thanks to a 1.37 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 51 innings pitched. Although he only gave up 36 hits all season and struck out close to a batter an inning, Francis did walk a generous 4.1 batters per nine innings. The big righty can both start and work out of the pen.
Jamie Umbinetti

Sophomore Jamie Umbinetti from Edmonds Community College will also be donning a HarbourCats uniform this summer. Although he played third base and DH in his freshman season, Umbinetti is expected to back up All-Star Gabe Clark at first base for the ‘Cats. The left-handed slugger not only helped lead Edmonds CC to last season's NWAACC Baseball Championship, but he was also named to the All-Tournament Team. In 92 at-bats last season, Umbinetti hit .250 with three homers and 18 RBI. He is a graduate of Mariner High School in Everett, Washington.
Curtis Bafus

The third player signed from Everett Community College, Curtis Bafus, is a 6-7, 225 lb. freshman from Woodinville, Washington. The imposing right-handed starting pitcher put up solid numbers in his senior year at Inglemoor High School (Kenmore, WA), posting a 2-3 record with a 2.80 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. Not only did Bafus strike out close to a batter per inning last year, but he showed very good control, walking only 2.3 batters per nine innings. His 3.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio hints at a very promising future -- of course, being six-foot-seven doesn't hurt either.

The signings bring the HarbourCats roster up to a total of 23 players. With roughly 40 players committed to suiting up for the ‘Cats this summer, you can expect more announcements like this over the coming weeks.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

'Cats All-Star slugger Gabe Clark ready for more

Gabe Clark
Photo by Brian Hayes
If there was any doubt, let's clear the air. Gabe Clark was the backbone of the Victoria HarbourCats at the plate last season. The Oregon State University recruit smashed a team-leading eight home runs along with 31 RBI's, with an honest .291 batting average to keep Clark in the running for the 2014 WCL home run title last season. Despite his success at the dish this past season, Clark is putting all those bombs behind him, as he looks to improve as a veteran presence on the team next season.

"I don't really know how it happened, I was just seeing the ball well," Clark stated about his eight homer performance last season, "I just tried to put the ball in play and hit for contact, and it just worked out for me." As much as Clark's power is front and centre for his skill-set, the returning slugger looks forward to being a key asset on the team once again, and taking on a leadership role in the organization. "It's always fun to be in the middle of the line-up and to try to hit with power," Clark added, "it's nice to be a team leader and to be assumed as one of the team leaders once again this season."

Clark will be joined by fellow OSU recruit third baseman Michael Gretler on the HarbourCats roster this season, and Clark is extremely excited to have a fellow teammate on his college team join him for a season in the West Coast league. "I didn't know him until he got here," Clark stated, "but now that he's here, he's a great guy. I like playing with him, talking to him, he's a really good ballplayer and I'm excited; this is the first time that someone from Oregon State has actually gone to summer ball with me so it's going to be fun having someone up there that's from the same school and knows what it's like to play Oregon State baseball, and hopefully he can carry that to the summer."

The HarbourCats had the luxury of zero rain-delays or post-poned games due to the weather, as the Victoria skies cleared up for the 2014 WCL season, and it left a lasting impression on the 'Cats slugger, who looks forward to returning to his second home. "I thought it was really nice," Clark admitted, "the downtown life is really sweet and the field's really nice, my favourite part was the batter's box and it was just comfortable, everything about it. I had a great host family, it was unreal being there and I can't wait to get back."

Although there's still six months before the 2015 WCL campaign gets into full swing, Clark already has his eyes set on the post-season. "It's always good to make post-season baseball and it's always our goal at the start of the season."

Gabe Clark
Photo by Brian Hayes
Following the HarbourCats leaked news that the ownership had been dealt to a group in Delaware, Clark was unsure of the situation at first, and grieved he might not be back in Victoria in June. "I did see some of the things on Facebook, I do keep kind of updated," Clark stated, "I just try not to focus on that too much, right now I'm just focused on my collegiate season." Clark said he was shocked when he first received the news. "Originally I was just like, wow, maybe I'm not going up there, but then I read more into it and I saw that it's for sure happening for this season. But originally I didn't think I was going to be in Victoria again."

When asked if he had any personal goals for the upcoming season, Clark shrugged it off and gave an honest answer. "My goal is to every at-bat to hit a ball hard, put a ball in play, make solid contact and if a ball happens to go over the fence, that's pretty cool, if not then hopefully I had a good AB and hopefully I helped out the team to the best of my ability."

While we still have a ways to go before HarbourCats baseball takes to the field at Royal Athletic Park, Gabe Clark looks forward to coming back to Victoria and contributing for the third-year WCL franchise. It's been an offseason of controversy and rocky roads, but Clark and the HarbourCats believe they're back in clear skies and are now preparing for another exciting season of baseball in the Capital City.

Youth movement at the HarbourCats blog

Bennett (L), Mike Walker (centre)
and Jeff King (R)
The Victoria HarbourCats (née Seals) Baseball Blog has been a labour of love for Gus, Darth and Bubba since 2009. These three baseball fanatics have produced a vast array of blog content over the years, although guest bloggers have contributed posts from time to time. One of the benefits of having guest bloggers is that it allows for a more diverse set of opinions to be aired and we think that variety is a good thing. With that in mind, we are pleased to introduce you to our latest blog contributor, Tyler Bennett.

Unlike the crusty triumvirate of regular HarbourCats bloggers, Tyler wasn't born in the 1960’s. He’s a broadcast journalism student who was born and raised in Victoria and he’s a huge HarbourCats and Blue Jays fan. Tyler is a former broadcaster with the Victoria Grizzlies and Westshore Wolves and he is currently a part-time employee in the CHEK sports department. In addition to his fondness for baseball, this all-around sports nut loves to keep close tabs on the NBA, the NHL and, of course, his Vancouver Canucks. One of his greatest sporting regrets is that Ken Griffey Jr. played his entire MLB career without ever suiting up for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Stay tuned for Tyler’s inaugural HarbourCats blog post, an entertaining interview with HarbourCats slugger Gabe Clark. Welcome to the blog, Tyler!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

HarbourCats release 2015 schedule

"Play Ball!"
The Victoria HarbourCats will definitely be playing baseball in 2015. In spite of repeated pronouncements to that effect from GM Jim Swanson and WCL President Dennis Coho, the significant delay in the release of the 2015 schedule was still a source of concern given the team’s recent ownership issues. Now that the schedule has been made public, the marketing staff of each WCL club can do their work free from any impediments and HarbourCats fans can look forward to summer baseball at Royal Athletic Park without any worries.

Local baseball fans will actually have more opportunities to see the ‘Cats in action this season than ever before. After not playing a single exhibition game in their inaugural campaign, the HarbourCats played one pre-season game and two mid-season exhibition contests in 2014, but this year could see the club play a total of six exhibition games on top of their 54-game regular season. The HarbourCats have tentatively scheduled three pre-season home dates (May 31st and June 2nd-3rd) leading up to the season opener, which is set for Friday June 5th at Royal Athletic Park against the Kelowna Falcons. The trio of “spring training” games will give the new coaching staff a bit more time to evaluate their players, especially those signed to 10-day contracts.

The HarbourCats have a four-day break in their league schedule from June 29th until July 2nd, so the team has planned exhibition games for June 30th and Canada Day. This will be a great way to keep the team sharp and focused on baseball activities during the interlude. The June 30th exhibition game will likely be a Fireworks Night, a promotion that is always popular with the fans. It will be interesting to see what kind of turnout there is for those two games, considering that the two exhibition games at RAP only drew an average of 904 fans per game last season (the third non-league game was held in Duncan). Given the fireworks promotion and the Canada Day matinée, I’d expect those numbers to rise significantly.

The sixth and final exhibition game is pencilled in for July 19th, an unconventional time considering that the two-day All-Star break is July 19-20. This will be a great opportunity for the less frequently used players to get some much-needed playing time and once again keep the team focused on the job at hand -- getting into the WCL playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

The regular season begins in only 150 days
The HarbourCats have smartly moved up the start time of night games at Royal Athletic Park from 7:11 to 6:35 p.m. Not only will this allow more youngsters (and old-timers) to stick around until the last out of the ballgame, but it gives fans another 36 minutes to bask in the sunshine. Veteran Victoria baseball fans are all too aware of how quickly the temperature plummets when the sun goes down, so the change should help keep fans more comfortable, especially in June (or should I say “June-uary”?).

Thursday June 11th will feature the first weekday afternoon game in team history, with the HarbourCats taking on the Kitsap BlueJackets in a 1:05 p.m. start. I'm sure that a few people will be calling in sick that day, but we at the blog would never officially endorse such behaviour (cough, cough).

The regular season ends on August 9th with the HarbourCats wrapping up a three-game set on the road against the defending champion Bellingham Bells. The playoffs, which will once again feature the three division winners and a wild-card team, begin on Tuesday August 11th.

HarbourCatNip
  • The first six games of the season are against two of the (normally) weaker teams in the league, Kelowna and Kitsap, so it is vital for the HarbourCats to get out of the gate quickly. 
  • Single-game tickets for the opening series against Kelowna will go on sale on Monday January 12th.
  • Single-game ticket prices have been increased by a modest $0.50. Premium Seats are now $15 and General Admission seats are $10. A new $2 surcharge applies to Fireworks Night tickets. For more information, go to the tickets page on the official HarbourCats website.  
  • A Fireworks Night is planned for Saturday June 6th in addition to June 30th. Other such date(s) could be added in the future.
  • The Yakima Valley Pippins will make their first-ever visit to Victoria in early August.
  • 14 of Victoria’s 27 regular-season home games are on the weekend (13 of 27 were weekend dates in 2014).
  • The breakdown of regular-season home dates by day is: Five Fridays, five Saturdays, four Sundays, two Mondays, four Tuesdays, four Wednesdays and three Thursdays.
  • The complete schedule can be found on the official HarbourCats website.  The home schedule (including exhibition games) is as follows:
Sunday May 31st vs. TBA (exhibition game)
Tuesday June 2nd to Wednesday June 3rd vs. TBA (exhibition games)
Friday June 5th to Sunday June 7th vs. Kelowna Falcons
Tuesday June 9th to Thursday June 11th vs. Kitsap BlueJackets
Friday June 19th to Sunday June 21st (Father’s Day) vs. Cowlitz Black Bears
Friday June 26th to Sunday June 28th vs. Wenatchee AppleSox
Tuesday June 30th to Wednesday July 1st (Canada Day) vs. TBA (exhibition games)
Monday July 6th to Wednesday July 8th vs. Kitsap BlueJackets
Thursday July 16th to Saturday July 18th vs. Bellingham Bells
Sunday July 19th vs. TBA (exhibition game)
Friday July 24th to Sunday July 26th vs. Walla Walla Sweets
Tuesday July 28th to Thursday July 30th vs. Cowlitz Black Bears
Monday August 3rd (BC Day) to Wednesday August 5th vs. Yakima Valley Pippins

Friday, January 2, 2015

Seattle Mariners Caravan coming to Victoria!

GM Jim Swanson (centre) and  Assistant GM
Brad Norris-Jones (R) make the announcement
This afternoon the Victoria HarbourCats announced that representatives from the resurgent Seattle Mariners organization will be swinging by the Garden City on the evening of Wednesday January 21st during their annual Winter Caravan tour. The Caravan, which will also make stops in eight communities throughout Washington state, will feature a pair of current M’s players (James Paxton and Charlie Furbush), broadcaster Dave Sims, former Mariner Steve Sinclair and Mariner Moose on the Victoria stop.

This free event will be held at the Fairmont Empress Hotel (most likely in the Ivy Room) from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on the 21st, and fans will have an opportunity to get autographs from the Mariners players, meet Dave Sims and check out the mascot antics of Mariner Moose and Harvey the HarbourCat. The HarbourCats are teaming with the Greater Victoria Baseball Association to present this portion of the Mariners Caravan and local baseball organizations will have information tables at the event.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

33 Vancouver Islanders playing U.S. college baseball

Griffin Andreychuk
A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post after stumbling upon the fact that there were 24 athletes from Greater Victoria playing collegiate baseball in the United States. Since my exposure to college baseball was fairly limited at the time, I was taken aback by the number of local players at this level. However, after watching two seasons of West Coast League baseball, I’m no longer surprised by the success of ballplayers from our neck of the woods. For instance, both Ty Russell and Daryl Blaskovich, a pair of ex-HarbourCats from the Victoria area, recently received Honourable Mentions for the All-Canadian College Baseball Team from the Canadian Baseball Network.

Bob Elliott, the driving force behind the Canadian Baseball Network, compiles an annual list of the Canadians who play collegiate baseball in the United States (or in Canada if that school competes largely against American institutions). By combining Elliott’s tentative “master” list with the docket of players who have signed a Letter of Intent, we can get a pretty good idea of the Canucks who will be playing college baseball south of the border this season. As has been the case in recent years, it looks like the total number of such Canadians will be close to 700.

As of today, there are 21 players from Greater Victoria and 33 from Vancouver Island who will likely play collegiate baseball in the 2014-15 season. In addition, a whopping 140 British Columbians are expected to suit up. Using Elliott’s lists, I have compiled the following directory of collegiate baseball players who hail from Vancouver Island. Those with an asterisk (*) beside their name have previously appeared in at least one game for the Victoria HarbourCats (a double asterisk indicates that the player was signed to a 10-day contract by the 'Cats but did not see any game action). A plus sign (+) indicates that the player has been signed by the HarbourCats for the summer of 2015. It is worth noting that college seniors are not eligible to play in the West Coast League.
NCAA Division I 
Griffin Andreychuk*+, 2B/SS, Nanaimo BC, Sophomore, Seattle University (WA)
Kelly Norris-Jones*, C, Victoria BC, Senior, University of Illinois (IL)
Ty Russell*, 1B, Victoria BC, Junior, Alabama A&M University (AL)
NCAA Division II 
Cody Andreychuk, OF, Nanaimo BC, Sophomore, Tusculum College (TN)
Brendan McCarthy, OF-1B, Nanaimo BC, Junior, Lubbock Christian University (TX)
Zane Takhar, INF, Victoria BC, Freshman, Northeastern State University (OK)
Evan Willow**, C, Victoria BC, Freshman, McPherson College (KS)
NCAA Division III
Alex Hendra-Brown, INF, Victoria BC, Freshman, Linfield College (OR)
NAIA 
Ryan Adkins*, INF, Victoria BC, Senior, Jamestown College (ND)
Kevin Biro, SS, Deep Bay BC, Senior, University of British Columbia (BC)
Daryl Blaskovich*, 2B, Brentwood Bay BC, Junior, Lindsay Wilson College (KY)
Liam Goodall, OF, Nanaimo BC, Junior, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (FL)
Darren Kolk, OF, Duncan BC, Junior, Lewis-Clark State University (ID)
Vinny Martin, INF, Pender Island BC, Sophomore, University of British Columbia (BC)
Mackenzie Parlow, C, Parksville BC, Sophomore, University of British Columbia (BC)
Bryan Pawlina**, RHP, Courtenay BC, Junior, University of British Columbia (BC)
Junior / Community Colleges - Division I
Justin Clarkson, INF, Nanaimo BC, Sophomore, Midland College (TX)
Nick Dawson, RHP, Victoria BC, Freshman, Salt Lake City Community College (UT)
Riley Edmunds*, RHP, Victoria BC, Freshman, Otero Jr. College (CO)
Brandon Feldman*, 1B-RHP, Victoria BC, Sophomore, Otero Jr. College (CO)
Chris Fougner+, OF-RHP, Victoria BC, Freshman, Salt Lake Community College (UT)
Eric Hegadoren*, RHP, Victoria BC, Freshman, Yapavai College (AZ)
Brett Hull, RHP, North Saanich BC, Freshman, Otero Jr. College (CA)
Alex Rogers*+, RHP, Nanaimo BC, Sophomore, Trinidad State Junior College (CO)
Brady Rogers, INF, Nanaimo BC, Sophomore, Trinidad State Junior College (CO)
Brendan Somers, OF, Victoria BC, Sophomore, Southwestern Oregon Community College (OR)
Sam Stevenson, C, Victoria BC, Freshman, Linn-Benton Community College (OR)
Colton Wood, RHP, Victoria BC, Freshman, Cochise College (AZ)
Junior / Community Colleges - Division II
Cody Newberry, INF, Victoria BC, Sophomore, Dakota College at Bottineau (ND)
Jesse Turner, C-1B, Victoria BC, Sophomore, Dakota College at Bottineau (ND)
Junior / Community Colleges - Division III
Will Aesoph, OF-RHP, Victoria BC, Freshman, Rainy River College (MN)
Kris Barber, LHP, North Saanich BC, Sophomore, Rainy River College (MN)
Jake Schulte, OF-RHP, Victoria BC, Sophomore, Rainy River College (MN)
One aspect of this list that jumps out at me is that 20 of the 33 Vancouver Islanders are playing either NAIA or Division I baseball at a junior / community college. This is high caliber baseball -- not quite at the NCAA Division I level, but a very impressive brand of baseball nonetheless. Vancouver Islanders who play at an NAIA school or a Division I college can be very productive players in the West Coast League when given the chance, as was shown by both Alex Rogers and Darren Kolk. Rogers posted a 3.09 ERA and 1.18 WHIP for the HarbourCats last summer, while Kolk hit .327 in 171 at-bats for the Kelowna Falcons in 2013. Both players were named to the WCL All-Star team.

Another striking feature of this list is that 24 of the 33 players are either a freshman or a sophomore, a fact that bodes well for the future. With the pipeline of local baseball talent continuing to flow freely, the HarbourCats certainly won’t have any trouble finding Vancouver Island players to feature on their roster in the coming years.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Shedding some light on the current HarbourCats owner

Matthew Stoudt
Cleve Dheensaw wrote an excellent article in Wednesday’s Times-Colonist that shed a bit of light on the current owner of the HarbourCats. Earlier in the week, we found out that the holding company Bhootan LLC had taken over the club in October as a result of a civil suit. Dheensaw reported that the key figure behind Bhooton LLC is Matthew Stoudt, although there are other minority partners involved with B.C. connections. It is unclear from Dheensaw’s piece as to whether Bhootan LLC would run the team in 2015 or sell it, but Stoudt was quoted as saying “We’re trying to figure out the best way to a successful solution.”

Stoudt grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana and earned a BA at Northwestern University with a dual degree in Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences and Economics. He then went on to get his MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Stoudt held the position of Entrepreneur-in-Residence in the New Ventures Group of McDonald’s Corporation, and he also has extensive private equity and investment banking experience.

In 2008, Bhootan LLC merged with Fuelcast, a company that had a someone familiar as its CEO: John McLean. The two organizations merged to become Outcast, with McLean taking up the post as chairman and Stoudt becoming Outcast’s CEO. In January of this year, Outcast Media was acquired by Gilbarco Veeder-Root, with Outcast operating as the media business unit of Gilbarco. Then in August of 2014, Gilbarco partnered with VeriFone Systems, resulting in the merging of Outcast with VeriFone Media to create VeriFone Digital Network (VNET). Got all that? Yikes, that’s quite the web of business dealings.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

'Cats sign UNM slugger and a pair of outfielders

The Victoria HarbourCats announced today that they have signed three more NCAA Division I athletes for the 2015 season, bringing their confirmed roster up to a total of 18 players.

Carl Stajduhar
Perhaps the biggest signing of the three was freshman third baseman Carl Stajduhar from the University of New Mexico. Stajduhar is the third UNM Lobo to be inked for next season, joining returning HarbourCat pitchers Carson Schneider and Preston Ryan. The 6-1, 210 lb. right-handed slugger was drafted by the Atlanta Braves as a first baseman in the 27th round of the 2014 draft, but he chose to join the Lobos instead of signing professionally.

Stajduhar, who can also fill in at catcher, graduated in the spring from Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins, Colorado, which has one of the top high school baseball programs in the United States. In addition to being a First Team High School All-American, he also led his team to the Class 5A state title last season. Stajduhar hit .489 with 13 homers and 51 RBI in only 88 at-bats in his senior year, and the thirteen home runs set a new school record. His power is something to behold -- Stajduhar posted a stunning 1.590 OPS (on-base plus slugging) in his final year of high school. To put that in perspective, Barry Bonds set the single-season MLB record for OPS in 2004 with a 1.422 mark. I’m expecting Pembroke Street to be littered with balls off the bat of Mr. Stajduhar next summer.

A.J. Alcantara
The HarbourCats also signed Adam (A.J.) Alcantara and Evan Cassolato, a pair of outfielders from the UC Irvine Anteaters and a couple of former Wenatchee AppleSox. Not only have these guys already made the adjustment to WCL baseball, but they also picked up a wealth of experience in the 2014 College World Series. UC Irvine squeaked into the NCAA tournament in May but then proceeded to knock off No. 1 national seed Oregon State (featuring our own Gabe Clark) and sweep a Super Regional at Oklahoma State to qualify for the College World Series. Unfortunately, the Cinderella story came to an end after three games in the double-elimination CWS tournament.

Alcantara is a sophomore outfielder from Alta Loma, California. He hit .323 (all singles) with no homers and 9 RBI in 62 at-bats with the Anteaters in his debut season, and he posted a solid .408 on-base percentage. Alcantara played in left field for all three UCI games in the College World Series, going 3-for-8 with two runs scored and an RBI (squeeze bunt) -- quite an accomplishment for a freshman. He continued that success in the summer of 2014 with the AppleSox, hitting an impressive .360 with no homers and 11 RBI in 86 at-bats. His seven doubles with Wenatchee boosted his slugging percentage to a healthy .442 mark. Alcantara graduated from Bishop Amat High School, the same school attended by ex-HarbourCat Alex Garcia.

Evan Cassolato
Cassolato is a redshirt sophomore with the Anteaters who hits from the left side of the plate. The 6-0, 190 lb. outfielder from Encinitas, California hit .238 with no homers and eight RBI in 105 at-bats in his freshman year. The AppleSox used him primarily as an outfielder last summer, but he also played eight games at second base. Cassolato posted a tidy .300 batting average with no homers and eight RBI in 90 at-bats with Wenatchee, and he notched a .375 on-base percentage. Although he is reported to have good speed, he was only 5-for-9 in stolen base attempts with the AppleSox.

Of the 18 players currently under contract with the HarbourCats, a whopping 72% are upperclassmen (sophomores and juniors in the context of most summer collegiate leagues). This is starting to look like a team with significantly more experience than last year's group, which only had 36% upperclassmen. I have written about this before, but one of the most important aspects in building a winning West Coast League team is the number of veteran players that are recruited, so the 2015 version of the HarbourCats is likely going to be the best squad in franchise history.

The HarbourCats have commitments from approximately 41 players for next summer, so you can expect further announcements in the next few weeks as the signed contracts arrive in the team’s front office.

Monday, December 8, 2014

HarbourCats ownership issues revealed

The HarbourCats were the lead story on today's 5:00 CHEK News, but unfortunately it wasn't exactly a positive story on the team. While I was made aware of some of the high-level details just before the segment aired, I was surprised to see it presented as the lead story (slow news day?) with the over-the-top tagline “HarbourCats Crisis.” In addition to CHEK Sports Director Jeff King's piece, Mike Walker also filed a report on the situation. Let me summarize the most relevant information (for fans) that was revealed in the reports.

John McLean in June 2012
John McLean is no longer the owner of the Victoria HarbourCats. In fact, he hasn't owned the team since October, when a BC Supreme Court civil suit resulted in the transfer of team ownership to Bhootan LLC, a company that is based in Dover, Delaware. McLean is in the venture capital business, an area that I must admit I know very little about. However, it appears that Bhootan has little interest in owning the HarbourCats, but simply acquired the asset through a civil suit that was not related to the baseball business. As Jeff King reported today, Bhootan will run the team (in 2015) if no new ownership comes forward. The company does not want to be in the business for the long haul and they are hoping to sell to local owners sooner rather than later. Whoever this mysterious company is, I'm comforted by the fact that they aren't likely to do anything that might devalue their newly-acquired asset.

The other key players in this drama are saying all the right things. In King’s report, WCL President Dennis Koho was quoted as saying “Our top priority is to make sure the HarbourCats are playing next season in Victoria with no interruption.” GM Jim Swanson insists that the HarbourCats will be on the field next summer as planned. Swanson also said that “There are some people locally who are interested in being part of an ownership group”, although it is unclear at this point who those people might be.

What I do know is that investing money in a West Coast League franchise is a pretty smart thing to do, especially in a vibrant baseball market like Victoria. The WCL is an extremely stable league with a solid business model, so hopefully one or more local business people realize just how great of an opportunity this is. Only two teams in the league’s 10-year history, the Spokane RiverHawks and Moses Lake Pirates, have ever ceased operations. With a reasonably small geographic footprint, the league is able to keep costs down by busing players between cities. Add in the fact that college players aren't paid in order to maintain their amateur status and it becomes pretty tough not to turn a profit over the long term in any reasonable WCL market. All of the startup costs associated with a new franchise have already been paid by the HarbourCats and they’re coming off a season in which they led the league in attendance in spite of posting their second consecutive losing season. Swanson and his new coaching staff have assembled what is likely a winning team for 2015. For potential owners, what’s not to like about this scenario?

Victoria baseball fans have been burned twice in the last dozen years, first losing the Capitals and then the Seals. It’s worth noting that in both cases, the Victoria teams were near the top in league attendance, so I can understand a bit of angst from local fans with the announcement of this latest ownership issue. I must admit that I am a bit of a worrier myself, so I do have a few nagging doubts that things will work out, especially since there is probably more to this story than we currently know. Being the realist that I am, I’m not going to breathe easily until I see a WCL schedule released with Victoria’s name on it. Last year’s schedule was released on November 14th, so I wouldn't expect it to be much longer before that happens. No matter how this plays out, the next few weeks will indeed be interesting for local baseball fans.

Friday, November 7, 2014

In praise of Canadian ballplayers

One of the nice side effects of digitizing the statistics for the HarbourCats Record Book is that the data is now much easier to analyse for other purposes. I was messing around with the data the other day and quickly compared the performance of the Canadians who have suited up for the HarbourCats with their teammates. Quite frankly, the results are rather surprising, so I’d like to share these numbers with our readers.

First, let's take a look at the pitching numbers. So far, 40 players have pitched in a regular-season game for the ‘Cats -- 11 Canadians (see the bottom of this blog post for a list) and 29 non-Canadians. Please note that two non-Canadians have pitched in both 2013 and 2014. Here are the aggregated statistics after the first two seasons of HarbourCats baseball:

                IP    H    ER   BB  BB/9    K  K/9  HR/9  XBH/9  WP  HBP   ERA  WHIP
11 Canadians  160 ⅓  151   70   59   3.3   85  4.8   0.9    2.4   9   22  3.93  1.31    
29 Others     798 ⅓  814  400  371   4.2  584  6.6   0.5    2.4  72   87  4.51  1.48

From my perspective, I find these numbers to be mind-blowing. So much so that I double and triple-checked the numbers to make sure they are accurate. Not only do the Canadian pitchers in this group have better numbers in most statistical categories, but the differences are quite significant in some cases. A WHIP of 1.31 is far superior to the 1.48 posted by non-Canadian pitchers, and Canuck pitchers have an ERA that is a whopping 0.58 runs lower than that posted by their teammates. The only category in which non-Canadians pitchers have outperformed the locals is in strikeouts and home runs allowed, but that is offset by much better control by Canadian pitchers in the group (both walks and wild pitches) and a near identical number of extra-base hits allowed.

How do the numbers compare on the batting side of things? A total of 48 players have appeared as a position player in a regular-season game for the HarbourCats -- 11 Canadians (see the bottom of this blog post for a list) and 37 non-Canadians. Please note that one non-Canadian has played in both 2013 and 2014. Here are the numbers:

                AB    R    H  HR  RBI   BB   SO HBP  SF  SH   SB  CS  DP    E    BA   OBP   SLG
11 Canadians   413   69  106   1   33   69   76  12   0   9    5   2  10   16  .257  .379  .308
37 Others     3346  450  887  51  411  352  701  73  23  48  122  46  66  139  .265  .346  .363

These are pretty surprising numbers. Non-Canadians have posted a marginally higher batting average than the Canucks (more on that below), but the Canadians have blown away their teammates in a much more important measure: on-base percentage (.379 to .346). However, the Canadian batters have been mainly singles hitters up to this point and the slugging percentage for American hitters has been superior, although it’s still an anemic .363 versus a very anemic .308. The rest of the raw numbers are difficult to compare directly, so let’s adjust these numbers to an MLB-standard 600 at-bats for each group, which is must easier to understand.

                      AB    R    H  HR  RBI   BB   SO HBP SF  SH  SB  CS  DP   E    BA   OBP   SLG
11 Canadians(adj.)   600  100  154   1   48  100  110  17  0  13   7   3  15  23  .257  .379  .308
37 Others(adj.)      600   81  159   9   74   63  126  13  4   9  22   8  12  25  .265  .346  .363

Exhibit A: Alex Rogers
In addition to on-base and slugging percentages, there are some stark differences between these two groups. The Canadians have shown very good strike-zone judgement, walking almost as many times as they have struck out, but the non-Canadians have struck out twice for every walk that they have drawn. Non-Canadian players have also attempted to steal far more often, but their success rate is not much different from the locals (72.6% vs. 71.4%). The difference in batting average for the two groups is not significant, considering that the eight-point difference amounts to five extra hits over 600 at-bats. It’s also worth noting that the Canadians have committed slightly fewer errors than the other players, although the difference is not statistically significant. Although the non-Canadian players have knocked in more runs, the Canucks have scored more runs; perhaps this simply reflects the fact that the non-Canadians have typically shown more pop and have been hitting more often in the heart of the order, while the locals have been more frequently slotted into the top or bottom of the order.

Exhibit B: Ty Russell
So what conclusions can we draw from these numbers? I'm certainly not naive enough to suggest that Canadians are better ballplayers than Americans or that we should field a team made up entirely of locals. However, I think that it’s time to adjust some pre-conceived notions that many of us have about Canadian baseball players. I myself have been guilty over the last couple of years of assuming that certain Canadian players would have difficulty competing in the tough West Coast League. Time and time again, those fears have proven baseless and Canadians have generally excelled when given an opportunity to play for the HarbourCats. History has also shown us that it doesn't matter that a local ballplayer comes from a small junior college instead of a big name NCAA Division I school -- Canadian players simply find a way to get it done when they put on a HarbourCats uniform.

I think it’s time for us to alter our perception of Canadian ballplayers, especially the local ones. British Columbians have been very successful in the West Coast League in the past -- Alex Calbick (Burnaby, BC) even won the WCL batting title for the Bellingham Bells in 2013. Based on the numbers above, it's fair to say that the 22 Canadians who have suited up for the HarbourCats have out-pitched their American counterparts and have batted and fielded just as well. I have no doubt that many British Columbians will continue to be successful in this league, so perhaps we shouldn't act surprised when it happens again in 2015 and beyond.





Canadian position players who have appeared in a regular-season game for the HarbourCats:

Ryan Adkins, Griffin Andreychuk*, Daryl Blaskovich, Chase Cuckovich, Darren Honeysett, Brendon Magee, Jackson McCuaig, Kelly Norris-Jones*, Austin Russell*, Ty Russell**, Nick Rutckyj.

Canadian pitchers who have appeared in a regular-season game for the HarbourCats:

Drew Davidoff, Riley Edmunds, Brandon Feldman*, Emilio Foden, Eric Hegadoren, Daniel Koo, Danny Moore, Dallas Patterson, Nick Pivetta*, Alex Rogers**, Connor Russell*.

* Originally signed to a full-season contract.
** Originally signed to a 10-day contract but extended for the full season.