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 adjust 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 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. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

HarbourCats Record Book - part 4

Today we roll out the final section of the HarbourCats record book: Individual Batting (Season).

Last week's trivia quiz on pitching records was a popular blog post, so I have created another test of your knowledge of HarbourCats history, only this time I have drawn from the season batting records. The last quiz was a little too difficult, so I have made this one a multiple choice test to give everyone a decent chance of scoring well. Once again, try answering the following questions without looking at the record book or checking the statsistics.
  1. Which player listed below has never hit .300 in a season in which he had enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title?
    • Alex Real
    • Hunter Mercado-Hood
    • Alex DeGoti
    • Nathan Lukes
  2. Which HarbourCat has posted the highest slugging percentage in a season (min. 100 AB)?
    • Sean Watkins
    • Hunter Mercado-Hood
    • Gabe Clark
    • Alex Real
  3. Which player does not share the team record for most runs scored in a season?
    • Nathan Lukes
    • Gabe Clark
    • Hunter Mercado-Hood
  4. Who holds the HarbourCats record for the longest consecutive-game hitting streak?
    • Griffin Andreychuk
    • Chris Lewis
    • Hunter Mercado-Hood
    • Alex Real
  5. Who holds the record for most doubles in a season?
    • Nathan Lukes
    • Alex DeGoti
    • John Schuknecht
  6. Which player has the highest walk rate in HarbourCats history (min. 100 at-bats)?
    • Bryce Greager
    • Griffin Andreychuk
    • Sean Watkins
    • Alex DeGoti
  7. Which player has been the toughest to strike out in a season (min. 100 at-bats)?
    • Austin Russell
    • Aaron Barnett
    • Nathan Lukes
  8. Who has stolen the most bases in a season without ever being caught?
    • Wyler Smith
    • John Grimsley
    • Jordan Ellis
    • Nathan Lukes
  9. Next to Hunter Mercado-Hood, which player has registered the most hits in a season for the HarbourCats?
    • Alex Real
    • Alex DeGoti
    • Nathan Lukes
  10. Which player does not share the HarbourCats record for most hit-by-pitches in season?
    • Ted Boeke
    • Austin Russell
    • Kelly Norris-Jones
Pencils down, please. Now pass your papers to the person on your right and let’s check our answers.


Answers:
  1. Alex DeGoti. Hunter Mercado-Hood (.385), Nathan Lukes (.343) and Alex Real (.339) have all hit above .300 in a season.
  2. Alex Real posted a .518 slugging percentage in 2013, a mark almost equalled by Sean Watkins in 2014 (.514 SLG).
  3. Hunter Mercado-Hood scored 32 runs in 2014, but that was three fewer runs than both Gabe Clark and Nathan Lukes scored that season.
  4. Hunter Mercado-Hood holds the record with a 12-game hitting streak to end the 2014 season. While he walked in his only at-bat in an August 7th game, that at-bat did not end his hitting streak, because a 0-for-0 can only snap a hitting streak if the batter hits a sacrifice fly. Griffin Andreychuk, Alex Real and Chris Lewis have all posted 11-game hitting streaks.
  5. Mr. HarbourCat, Alex DeGoti, hit 12 doubles in 2014.
  6. Griffin Andreychuk walked in 20% of his at-bats in 2014, significantly more than any other HarbourCats player. Next to Andreychuk, the players who have walked the most often are Alex DeGoti (13.3%), Sean Watkins (12.8%) and Bryce Greager (12.2%).
  7. Aaron Barnett only struck out once in every 11.9 at-bats in 2014, the best such mark in HarbourCats history. Nathan Lukes (11.5 AB/K) and Austin Russell (8.1 AB/K) have the second and third best marks, respectively.
  8. John Grimsley went a perfect 14-for-14 in stolen bases in 2014.
  9. Nathan Lukes notched 59 hits in 2014, the second-best mark in team history. Alex DeGoti (58) and Alex Real (57) are right behind Lukes and Mercado-Hood in hits in a season.
  10. Kelly Norris-Jones. Austin Russell and Ted Boeke share the record for most HBPs in a season (7).
How did you do? Let’s see how you measure up:
  • 9 or 10 correct: Congratulations, you’re a HarbourCats super-fan. You deserve a pat on the back for your dedication, but you might want to consider getting a secondary hobby that doesn’t involve baseball.
  • 7 or 8 correct: Nice job. You’re a hardcore fan and a regular at Sports Traders Diamond.
  • 5 or 6 correct: Solid performance. You see a good number of games every year and you may even read the blog on a semi-regular basis.
  • 3 or 4 correct: You’re an average fan -- and that’s A-OK.
  • 1 or 2 correct: You’re a casual fan who’s more interested in the ballpark experience than what happens on the field. You’re way more fun to hang around with than those annoying baseball nerds.
  • Zero correct: You only go to Sports Traders Diamond for the tasty Kolsch. You’re my kind of people.

Friday, October 31, 2014

HarbourCats Record Book - part 3

Today we roll out another section of the HarbourCats record book: Individual Pitching (Season).

To test your knowledge of HarbourCats history, I have created ten trivia questions that have been pulled from these pitching records. Try answering the following questions without looking at the record book -- or doing any Google searches! No cheating.
  1. Who is the only HarbourCats pitcher to hold opponents to a batting average below .200 in a season (min. 18 IP)?
  2. Which pitcher has the lowest walk rate in HarbourCats history (min. 18 IP)?
  3. Who has issued the most walks in a season for the ‘Cats?
  4. Which HarbourCat has the highest strikeout rate in team history (min. 18 IP)?
  5. Which pitcher has thrown the most amount of innings without giving up a home run in the entire season?
  6. Name at least one of the two ‘Cats pitchers to register a WHIP of under 1.00 in HarbourCats history (min. 18 IP).
  7. How many HarbourCats pitchers have won more than four games in a season?
  8. How many HarbourCats pitchers have notched more than four saves in a season?
  9. Who holds the team record for most wild pitches in a season?
  10. Who tossed the only complete-game shutout in team history?
Pencils down, please. Now pass your papers to the person on your left and let’s check our answers.


Answers:
  1. Bryan Conant held opponents to a .188 batting average in 2013.
  2. Carson Schneider walked only 1.2 batters per nine innings in 2014 (four walks in 29 ⅓ IP).
  3. Tim Peabody issued 42 walks in 2014, a whopping 13 more than the second-wildest HarbourCat (Andrew Nelson).
  4. Quintin Torres-Costa struck out an impressive 11.7 batters per nine innings in 2014 (33 K’s in 25 ⅓ IP).
  5. Alex Fagalde. He didn’t give up a homer in 34 innings pitched in 2014.
  6. Ty Provencher (0.93) and Bryan Conant (0.94) are the only two pitchers to register sub-1.00 WHIPs for the ‘Cats.
  7. Only one pitcher has won more than four games in a season for Victoria: Ty Provencher won five in 2013.
  8. Zero. Ryan Keller recorded four saves in 2013, and no other HarbourCats pitcher has recorded more than two saves in a season.
  9. Andrew Nelson uncorked 11 wild pitches in 2014, five more than any other pitcher in team history.
  10. Bryan Conant tossed the franchise’s only complete-game shutout in a 6-0 victory over the Klamath Falls Gems on July 14, 2013.
How did you do? Let’s see how you measure up:
  • 9 or 10 correct: Congratulations, you’re a HarbourCats super-fan. You deserve a pat on the back for your dedication, but you might want to consider getting a secondary hobby that doesn’t involve baseball.
  • 7 or 8 correct: Nice job. You’re a hardcore fan and a regular at Sports Traders Diamond.
  • 5 or 6 correct: Solid performance. You see a good number of games every year and you may even read the blog on a semi-regular basis.
  • 3 or 4 correct: You’re an average fan -- and that’s A-OK.
  • 1 or 2 correct: You’re a casual fan who’s more interested in the ballpark experience than what happens on the field. You’re way more fun to hang around with than those annoying baseball nerds.
  • Zero correct: You mainly go to Sports Traders Diamond for the sunshine and tasty Kolsch. You’re my kind of people.
Check the blog over the next few days for the final section of the HarbourCats Record Book!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

HarbourCats Record Book - part 2

Today we unveil two more sections of the HarbourCats Record Book: Individual Batting (Game) and Team Batting (Game). Since the franchise is only a couple of years old, many of the records are still fairly modest. For instance, we’re still waiting for a HarbourCat to register a five-hit game, although ten different players have notched four-hit games. Our team MVP, Hunter Mercado-Hood, turned the trick an impressive four times last season, while Nathan Lukes posted a pair of four-hit games.

Gabe Clark
The all-time West Coast League record for homers in a season is only 10, which isn't a surprise considering that college wood-bat leagues don’t typically feature a ton of home runs. This likely means that Gabe Clark’s three-homer game on July 18th of this year is a record that will stand for quite some time -- unless he breaks his own record in 2015, of course. Not only was Clark’s July 18th performance a team high for most homers in a game, but his 12 total bases is also a HarbourCats record -- by a fair margin. The second-highest number of total bases in a game is only 9, a mark shared by Hunter Mercado-Hood and both Schuknecht brothers (David and John). Clark’s six runs batted in that day also tied him with Hunter Mercado-Hood for most RBI in a game by a 'Cat.

It may be a surprise to some fans, but no HarbourCats player has ever hit more than two doubles in a game. Surprisingly, Griffin Andreychuk has swatted two triples in a game, and he did it in consecutive at-bats in an August 8th, 2014 game at Royal Athletic Park that was filled with oddities. To put Andreychuk’s back-to-back triples in perspective, those two hits also tied him for the most three-baggers by a HarbourCat in a season!

We have definitely seen more than our fair share of offensive explosions in the first two years of HarbourCats baseball, such as the July 27th, 2014 slugfest at RAP that set a record for most runs in a game by both teams (29). Although Victoria clobbered Corvallis by a score of 19-10 on that day, the outburst wasn't a record number of hits by both teams in a HarbourCats game -- that mark was set just a week earlier at RAP in an ugly 11-6 loss to Klamath Falls in which the teams combined for a whopping 31 hits. Something tells me that both of these records may stand for a while.

I also uncovered a couple of surprising high-water marks during the creation of the HarbourCats Record Book. A total of six HarbourCats were plunked by erratic Kitsap pitchers on Canada Day 2014 at RAP, two more batters than in any other game in team history. In a July 16th, 2014 game that would make the Kansas City Royals proud, the HarbourCats set a team record by stealing a grand total of eight bases against the Bellingham Bells. Not only did John Grimsley, Hunter Mercado-Hood and Nathan Lukes each steal a pair of bases in that game, but Sean Watkins and the "sneaky-quick" Gabe Clark also chipped in with a stolen base. By the way, did you know that Clark quietly went five-for-five in stolen bases in 2014? That’s a stat that should bring a smile to Mama Clark’s face.

If you are interested in viewing the other chapters of the record book, please note that the links appear on the right-hand side of every blog page under the heading “HarbourCats Record Book.” Over the next few days we’ll release the remaining two chapters:
  • Individual Batting (Season)
  • Individual Pitching (Season)
Check back soon for more insights into HarbourCats history.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

HarbourCats Record Book unveiled

Bryan Conant
I found myself on a number of occasions last summer trying to figure out if something that happened in a HarbourCats game was a first for the young franchise. In most cases I had a vague idea of the answer, but given my faulty memory I still had to spend time searching through old box scores to come up with an answer for which I had close to 100% confidence. I realized that this process would take progressively longer as the seasons rolled by, so I came up with the idea of creating a record book for the Victoria HarbourCats and making it publicly available so that fans, the media and the HarbourCats front-office could just help themselves to the information.

Of course, finding the time to take on this task is easier said than done, but I managed to do just that over the last few weeks. Not only is it the off-season, but I recently underwent major knee surgery and found myself with considerably more free cycles at home than I would normally have. Rather than manually slogging through two years' worth of box scores, I decided to make good use of that Mathematics and Computer Science degree and come up with a record book that is as close to being error-free as possible.

After a fair bit of effort, I am pleased to present the first two chapters of the HarbourCats Record Book: Individual Pitching Records (Game) and Team Pitching Records (Game). You can view these records by clicking on the previous two hyperlinks. In addition, these links also appear on the right-hand side of every blog page under the heading “HarbourCats Record Book.”

The chapters above are actually the two smallest sections of the record book, but I’ll roll out the remainder of the records over the next few days. The other recently-completed chapters are:
  • Individual Batting (Game) - 14 record categories
  • Individual Batting (Season) - 22 categories
  • Team Batting (Game) - 16 categories
  • Individual Pitching (Season) - 29 categories
Ty Provencher was on fire in 2013 
I also plan on adding chapters for career batting and pitching records, but I'll hold off until the completion of the 2015 season before doing so. There just aren't enough players who have played more than one season for the HarbourCats to make these records meaningful at this point.

The beauty of compiling these records is that it provides context for each achievement, and I was amazed at the insight that I gained during the generation of the record book. For instance, I really have a better appreciation of just how dominant Bryan Conant was in 2013. Conant hurled three of the four best starts in HarbourCats history (who knew?) and he posted a sparkling 1.81 ERA and 0.94 WHIP that season.

How did I discover that Conant tossed three of the four best starts in HarbourCats history? Using Bill James’ Game Score metric, I was able to calculate a number that measures the effectiveness of each and every pitching appearance over the team’s first two seasons. Doing so uncovered Conant’s memorable start on August 3rd, 2013, in which he threw nine scoreless innings but took a no-decision in a hard-luck 10-inning loss in Walla Walla, Washington. That start registered a Game Score of 85 -- definitely a great outing, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the record eclipsed by a HarbourCat hurler in the next year or two. As a point of reference, check out the top Game Scores in MLB this season on the ESPN web site.

Our regular readers know that we don’t own a pair of rose-coloured glasses at the HarbourCats Baseball Blog, so I have also included measures of futility in the record book. This leads to an obvious question: Who had the worst start in HarbourCats history? Turns out that it’s none other than Andrew Nelson, thanks to a particularly malodorous outing on August 9th of this year that registered a Game Score of five (yes, it's possible to notch a negative Game Score). After re-reading Bubba’s post on that game, it’s understandable that the normally sunny blogger came across as a little cranky -- Nelson’s stinker came just one day after Logan Lombana set the previous team low. Yikes, talk about stumbling to the season's finish line.

One of the main goals of this little project was to help document the highs and the lows in HarbourCats history, and I hope that I have done so. I have no doubt that the upcoming season will see many of these records broken, especially the positive ones. Stay tuned for the release of the remainder of the records in the near future.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Pair of righties added to HarbourCats pitching staff

Zander Clouse
The HarbourCats announced yesterday that they have signed two right-handed pitchers from the Pacific Northwest, Victoria’s Chris Fougner and Zander Clouse from Everett, Washington. Both were inked to full-season contracts.

His full name is Zander McClain Clouse, but he stands out for more reasons than simply having a colourful moniker. The sophomore from Bellevue College throws a fastball that tops out at 93 MPH and he’s coming off of a successful summer pitching for the Watertown (NY) Rams in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. Although this league is a slightly below the tough West Coast League in terms of competition level, it’s no slouch in its own right, as league alumni include Hunter Pence of the San Francisco Giants. Clouse was a workhorse this summer for the Rams, logging 58 innings on the hill in nine starts and posting a solid 3.72 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. After playing for a summer team that averaged only 643 fans per game, I'm guessing that he’ll love playing in front of the much larger crowds here in Victoria.

Clouse struggled mightily with his control in non-conference games during his freshman season at Bellevue College, but he settled down nicely in conference games. His combined totals with the Bulldogs were unimpressive: a 4.74 ERA and a whopping 1.66 WHIP to go along with 4.5 walks per nine innings (although he did strike out a healthy 7.4 batters per nine innings). Given that his walk rate in Watertown was consistent with his senior year at Archbishop Murphy High School in Everett, his control troubles in non-conference games were likely a one-time blip. He should be able to make a smooth transition to the West Coast League with another season at Bellevue College under his belt.   

Chris Fougner
Fougner, a freshman at Salt Lake Community College in Utah, was both a star pitcher and right fielder for the Victoria Mariners. On the mound he posted an outstanding 1.71 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 11 regular-season and playoff appearances (8 starts). He struck out an amazing 11 batters per nine innings, but he struggled with his control and issued a generous 5.1 walks per nine. His best outing of the year was a nine-inning no-hitter in June against the Okanagan Athletics (BCPBL games are normally seven innings in length).

Fougner faced the HarbourCats in the June 5th exhibition game at Royal Athletic Park, giving up a run on two hits and three walks in ⅔ of an inning. The highlight of an otherwise disappointing outing was retiring John Grimsley on strikes, so he can already claim to have a WCL punch-out on his resumé. However, if Fougner is to make the big step up to becoming an effective pitcher in the West Coast League, he’s going to have to cut down substantially on his walk rate. I'm sure he’ll improve significantly after a season of tough competition at Salt Lake CC, so hopefully he’ll have better control by the time next June rolls around.

This signings bring the HarbourCats roster up to 15 players for next season. In an odd twist, none of the 15 players signed so far are outfielders. No, the ‘Cats aren't planning on deploying seven infielders arranged in some ground-breaking (and bizarre) defensive shift -- it’s just the luck of the draw. Players are announced as signed contracts are received, so you can expect a well-balanced roster to take shape in the upcoming months.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

2014 Stan Musial Award

The Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog (VHCBB) is a proud member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA). The VHCBB once again has the honour of casting a ballot for the BBA awards given to players and managers in both the National and American Leagues. Today we reveal our ballots for the Stan Musial Award, which will be presented to the MVP in each league.

The BBA’s Stan “The Man” Musial Award recognizes the best all-around player in each league. The award is not based solely on offensive contributions, so the defensive abilities of each candidate must be considered. On my ballot that means that defensive standouts such as Alex Gordon, Josh Donaldson, Jason Heyward and Jonathan Lucroy may be ranked higher than some baseball fans might expect. Conversely, guys like Jose Abreu, Jose Bautista and Michael Brantley, who are below average defensively, drop lower on my ballot -- or as in Abreu’s case, drop off the ballot entirely.

National League

Mr. Pirate, Andrew McCutchen
The trendy pick in the National League is to go with Clayton Kershaw, but his season -- as great as it was -- just falls short for my top pick for the Stan Musial Award. The numbers for Kershaw and Andrew McCutchen are both worthy of a first-place vote, but I have to give the benefit of the doubt to the guy who is in the lineup every day. Kershaw’s numbers are outstanding, but I just can’t give my first-place vote to a guy who trots out there every fifth day -- especially since he missed the entire month of April with a back injury and only made 27 starts this season.

McCutchen, who made 648 plate appearances in 2014, finished third in the batting race with a .314 mark, swatted 25 homers and knocked in 83 runs. The Pittsburgh centrefielder also stole 18 bases and was caught in only three attempts -- a solid 86% success rate. Most impressively, he led all of MLB in on-base percentage (.410) and he topped the National League in OPS (.952). His excellent all-around play was one of major reasons why the small-market Pirates qualified for the postseason in spite of having the fifth-lowest payroll in the big leagues.

The third and fourth spots on my ballots go to two of the most underrated players in the senior circuit: Anthony Rendon and Jonathan Lucroy. Rendon led the league in runs scored with 111 and hit .287 with 21 homers and 83 RBI. Lucroy, who is ranked as one of the top defensive catchers in the NL, hit .301 with 13 homers and 69 RBI.

Our full National League ballot is:
  1. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
  2. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  3. Anthony Rendon, Nationals
  4. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
  5. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
  6. Buster Posey. Giants
  7. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
  8. Carlos Gomez, Brewers
  9. Jason Heyward, Braves
  10. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
American League

Mike Trout
Mike Trout has clearly been the best player in the American League for the past three seasons, although the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) was asleep at the wheel when they gave the MVP Award to the defensively-challenged Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and 2013. The analytics-friendly Baseball Bloggers Alliance is likely to give Mike Trout his third consecutive Stan Musial Award this year and it appears that the BBWAA is finally ready to see the light (hallelujah!!). Ironically, Trout is coming off the weakest season of his short MLB career -- he “only” hit .287 with 35 homers and 111 RBI. In addition to leading the league in RBI, Trout also was tops in the AL in runs scored (115) and total bases (338). That’s good enough to earn my first-place vote.

Michael Brantley had a breakout season in 2014, becoming just the fourth Cleveland player in the last 60 years to register 200 hits (Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga and Joe Carter were the others). Brantley hit .327 with 20 homers and 97 RBI, to go along with 23 steals in 24 attempts. A pair of slick-fielding players, Alex Gordon and Josh Donaldson, finished third and fourth on my ballot, respectively. Gordon hit .266 with 19 homers and 74 RBI, and he posted a solid .351 on-base percentage. Donaldson got on base at .342 clip and slammed 29 homers with 98 runs batted in. Here is my full ballot for the junior circuit:
  1. Mike Trout, Angels
  2. Michael Brantley, Indians
  3. Alex Gordon, Royals
  4. Josh Donaldson, Athletics
  5. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
  6. Corey Kluber, Indians
  7. David Price, Tigers / Rays
  8. Phil Hughes, Twins
  9. Jon Lester, Athletics / Red Sox 
  10. Jose Bautista, Jays

Monday, October 6, 2014

2014 Walter Johnson Award

The Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog (VHCBB) is a proud member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA). Once again this year, the VHCBB has the honour of casting ballots for the BBA awards given to players and managers in both the National and American Leagues. Today we give you our ballots for the Walter Johnson Award, which is presented to the top pitcher (starter or reliever) in each league.

National League

Clayton Kershaw
The top spot on my NL ballot for the Walter Johnson Award is an obvious choice -- the one and only Clayton Kershaw. He has put up gaudy numbers his entire career, but 2014 was spectacular by even Kershaw’s lofty standards. He notched a 21-3 record along with a 1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 239 strikeouts in 198 ⅓ innings pitched. His WHIP was the lowest in the big leagues since Pedro Martinez set the all-time record of 0.74 in 2000, and only four pitchers have posted a lower ERA since 1979. Clayton Kershaw's 2014 season was truly one for the ages.

Kershaw would be in line for his fourth consecutive title were it not for a voting glitch in 2012. He won both the Walter Johnson and Cy Young awards in 2011 and 2013, but he was denied each of the awards in 2012 when voters got seduced by R.A. Dickey’s 20-6 record (Kershaw went 14-9 but clearly out-pitched Dickey that year).

Mr. Consistency, Adam Wainwright, gets our runner-up vote. The St. Louis Cardinals stalwart went 20-9 with a career-best 2.38 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. Jordan Zimmermann (14-5, 2.66 ERA), Johnny Cueto (20-9, 2.25 ERA) and Stephen Strasburg (14-11, 3.14 ERA) round out our National League ballot.
  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  2. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
  3. Jordan Zimmerman, Nationals
  4. Johnny Cueto, Reds
  5. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
American League

Felix Hernandez
The choice for the top pitcher in the American League is much tougher than in the senior circuit, but the decision comes down to either Felix Hernandez or Corey Kluber.

A pitcher’s win-loss record isn’t always an accurate measurement of his effectiveness, since there are many factors that a pitcher can’t control that go into determining the winning and losing pitchers in a game. Setting aside this dubious statistic, it becomes clear that King Felix deserves my first-place vote. Hernandez posted a better ERA (2.14 vs. 2.44) and WHIP (0.92 vs 1.09) than Kluber, although their strikeout-to-walk ratios were similar (Hernandez edged Kluber 5.4 to 5.3). It will be interesting to see how this one plays out with the other voters, since Kluber went 18-9 and Hernandez "only" posted a 15-6 record for the punchless Mariners.

Many Yankees fans were probably scratching their head trying to figure out why Phil Hughes had a breakout season in 2014 with the Twins after spending the first seven years of his big-league career with the Bronx Bombers. The answer is actually quite simple: Hughes is a fly ball pitcher who gave up a lot of cheap homers in Yankee Stadium. In a different ballpark, he could finally attack the strike zone without worry and so his walk rate dropped significantly. The result? A 3.52 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and the all-time MLB record for strikeout-to-walk ratio (11.6!!).

A pair of pitching studs dealt at this summer’s trading deadline, David Price (15-12, 3.26 ERA) and Jon Lester (16-11, 2.46), round out our ballot.
  1. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
  2. Corey Kluber, Indians
  3. Phil Hughes, Twins
  4. David Price, Tigers / Rays
  5. Jon Lester, Athletics / Red Sox

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2014 Willie Mays Award

The Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog (VHCBB) is a proud member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA). In this blog post, we present our ballot for the Willie Mays Award, which is given by the BBA to the top rookie in each league. Similar to the Baseball Writers' Association of America, the alliance is organized into different chapters. Gus, the founder of the VHCBB, is President of the alliance's Other Baseball Chapter.

National League

Jacob deGrom
There was no standout candidate for the Willie Mays Award in the NL, but we’re going with the feel-good story of underdog Jacob deGrom. Besides, it’s nice to finally have some good news to report on the mediocre NY Mets, who stumbled through their sixth consecutive losing season in 2014. deGrom posted a 9-6 record with a 2.63 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in his rookie campaign, striking out 144 batters in 140 ⅓ innings pitched. He came into the season with little fanfare, although he was ranked as the Mets’ 10th-best prospect by Baseball America. In three levels of minor-league baseball in 2013, deGrom had a 4.51 ERA and 1.45 WHIP, so the Mets were quite happy to cash in their winnings on the last week of the season and shut him down for the year after he reached a career-high 178 ⅔ innings pitched.

deGrom’s main competitor in the National League was Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds, but we decided to give the edge to the Mets hurler after noticing Hamilton’s steal percentage. The speedy outfielder was caught stealing in 29% of his attempts, which means that Hamilton’s stolen bases were worth very little to the Reds in terms of net runs scored. He’s an exceptional outfielder, but his defense isn’t enough of a reason to give him the nod, especially after considering his anemic .250 BA / .292 OBP / .355 SLG slash line.

Ender Inciarte of the Diamondbacks rounds out our ballot. The speedy Venezuelan is already one of the best defensive outfielders in the league, although he’s no Jason Heyward in the field -- yet. His offensive contributions were modest (.278 BA, 4 HR, 27 RBI, 19 steals), but Inciarte earned our vote based on his spectacular defense alone. After all, a run prevented is as valuable as a run produced.

Our National League ballot is therefore:
  1. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
  2. Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds
  3. Ender Inciarte, Arizona Diamondbacks
American League

Jose Abreu
Jose Abreu is a slam dunk to win the Willie Mays Award in the AL. In spite of being one of the worst-fielding first baseman in baseball, his offensive numbers are so outstanding that he’s the obvious choice for being the rookie of the year in the junior circuit. The 27-year-old Cuban slugger hit .317 with 36 homers and 107 RBI this season and he likely has quite a few more years like that in front of him. Sure, it may be as a Designated Hitter, but there is no doubt that Abreu is an offensive force.

Another feel-good story is Kevin Kiermaier of the Tampa Bay Rays. The speedy outfielder was drafted in the 31st-round of the 2010 draft, but Kiermaier moved up the ladder with ease and made his major-league debut at the end of the 2013 season. This year he hit .263 with 10 homers, 35 RBI and 5 steals in 331 at-bats, but it was his outstanding defensive work that got him noticed. Other than Jason Heyward, Kiermaier is simply the best defensive right fielder in the game.

Astros pitcher Collin McHugh rounds out our ballot. McHugh was drafted by the Mets in the 18th round of the 2008 draft and he made his major-league debut with New York in 2012. After being traded to the Rockies for Eric Young Jr. in June of 2013, McHugh was claimed off of waivers last December by Houston. The pickup proved to be a stroke of genius, as McHugh went 11-9 with a 2.73 ERA and sparkling 1.02 WHIP in 25 starts for the Astros this season.

Our American League ballot is as follows:
  1. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
  2. Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays
  3. Collin McHugh, Houston Astros

Monday, September 29, 2014

Wright and a pair of Hornets signed for 2015

Mikey Wright
And then there were seven. Earlier today the HarbourCats announced that they have re-signed a seventh member of last summer’s squad for the 2015 season: pitcher Mikey Wright. They also signed a pair of Nathan Lukes’ teammates at Sacramento State, veteran catcher Dane Fujinaka and freshman infielder PJ Floyd.

Wright was the best-performing pitcher on the team last summer in spite of his (meaningless) 4-5 won-loss record. The big right-hander posted the ninth-best ERA in the entire West Coast League (2.96) and held opponents to a paltry .213 batting average. We had him fourth in our team MVP voting this year, so this is clearly a big addition to the pitching staff. Wright may not have the reputation of some other highly-touted Division I players, but all that really matters is results. A sub-3.00 ERA and 50+ innings pitched? We’ll take that any day of the week.

Dane Fujinaka
Fujinaka, the starting catcher for Sacramento State last season, was backed up by none other than former HarbourCats receiver Gunner Pollman. The 5-foot-8-inch Hawaiian is entering his junior season with the Hornets, so he should be able provide some veteran leadership behind the plate for the ‘Cats. Fujinaka hit .283 with no homers and 19 RBI in 159 at-bats with Sacramento State in 2014, and he threw out 12.6% of stolen base attempts. He’s primarily a singles hitter at this stage of his development, but he has consistently shown good strike-zone judgement and an ability to get on base. 

PJ Floyd
Floyd is entering his freshman season with the Hornets. The native of Rocklin, California (37 kilometres northeast of Sacramento) was a standout shortstop for Whitney High School. In his senior year with the Wildcats, Floyd hit .424 with two homers and 22 RBI in 85 at-bats. He obviously has some pop in his bat, as 17 of his 36 hits were for extra bases. "He can really run and has the ability to play all three infield positions," Sacramento State head coach Reggie Christiansen was quoted as saying.

The 2015 roster for Victoria now stands at 13 players. After playing the first two seasons of their existence with a relatively inexperienced team, the HarbourCats now have a whopping 85% of upperclassmen on their squad. If this trend continues -- and we have every reason to believe that it will -- look for the 'Cats to easily surpass their 25-29 record from last season.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

2014 Connie Mack Awards

The Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog is a proud member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. As a member of the alliance, we have the honour of casting a ballot for each of the five awards given to players and managers in both the National and American Leagues. The first award for 2014 is the Connie Mack Award, presented to the top manager in each league.

National League

Clint Hurdle
In April, the Pirates rewarded manager Clint Hurdle with a three-year contract extension, a move that looks better with each passing day. Hurdle, who won the 2013 Connie Mack Award, seems destined to win it again after leading Pittsburgh to their second consecutive playoff appearance. That feat is especially impressive considering that the Pirates hadn’t made the post-season -- or even had a winning record -- since 1992. To top it all off, the Pirates had the 5th-lowest payroll in baseball this year and they still made the playoffs.

Mike Matheny is in his third year as manager of the Cardinals and he has led St. Louis to the playoffs in each of those three seasons. Even with a middle-of-the-road payroll, the Cardinals continue to be the model of consistency in the National League. Early this season the Cardinals fell behind the Brewers in the NL Central race and then lost Yadier Molina to injury for six weeks. Under Matheny’s guidance, the Cardinals weathered the storm and went on a late run to nail down the NL Central title.

Bruce Bochy is now the winningest active manager in Major League Baseball. Just recently, Bochy moved past both Tommy Lasorda and Fred Clarke into 18th spot for wins on the all-time managerial list and he’s likely heading to the Baseball Hall of Fame. All he did in 2014 was lead the Giants to the playoffs and keep them close on the heels of the powerful Dodgers -- with almost $100M less in payroll.

My National League ballot is therefore:
  1. Clint Hurdle
  2. Mike Matheny
  3. Bruce Bochy
American League

Ned Yost
The last time the Kansas City Royals made the playoffs, this classic tune by Simple Minds was near the top of the Billboard charts (that was way back in 1985). Their return to the post-season this year is even more remarkable considering the fact that the Royals finished dead last in the majors in both home runs and walks. Their current manager, Ned Yost, has been regularly vilified by bloggers and Twitter users for some of his managerial decisions, but he must have done something right to help manufacture all of the those runs. The Royals barely had half of the payroll of the mighty Tigers, but they somehow managed to finish only a game behind Detroit. That fact alone gives Ned Yost my vote for the Connie Mack Award.

Bob Melvin has been managing Oakland for three full seasons and the A’s have made the playoffs in each of those years. Coincidence? I think not. In spite of having the fourth-lowest payroll in baseball, Oakland made it into the post-season once again in 2014. They may have just squeaked in after an incredible first half, but they qualified -- and that’s all that matters.

The Baltimore Orioles have been dealt some tough cards this year, including serious injuries to Manny Machado and Matt Wieters, but Buck Showalter did a fine job of leading his squad over those hurdles to the AL East title. Considering that they are in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox and that they have the 14th-highest payroll in baseball, winning the division was no easy feat. Hats off to Mr. Showalter and the rest of the O’s.

My American League ballot is therefore:
  1. Ned Yost
  2. Bob Melvin
  3. Buck Showalter

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Schneider and Ryan re-sign with HarbourCats for 2015

Preston Ryan
Photo by Brian Hayes
The HarbourCats announced early this morning that three new recruits have been signed and that two key relievers from their 2014 squad, Carson Schneider and Preston Ryan, will be coming back next summer. The pair of University of New Mexico relievers, along with Gabe Clark, Griffin Andreychuk, Alex Fagalde and Alex Rogers, brings the total number of returning players to six. The new players signed today are pitcher Henry Baker and catcher Zach Bonneau from the University of Washington Huskies, along with hurler Josh Mitchell from the University of Pittsburgh.

Schneider and Ryan are entering their sophomore year with the UNM Lobos. Schneider, a southpaw, went 1-1 with two saves this past summer. He posted a solid 3.37 ERA and 1.31 WHIP and walked only four batters in his 29 ⅓ innings with the HarbourCats. Ryan had a respectable 4.29 ERA and two saves with the 'Cats, although one cause for concern was his control: he walked a whopping 6.1 batters per nine innings. Ryan’s summer was highlighted by an epic 83-pitch relief appearance on August 2nd against the powerful Bellingham Bells in which he threw six scoreless innings and picked up the win. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Ryan and Schneider take a big step forward in 2015 -- not only will they have another year of experience under their belt, but they’ll greatly benefit from the tutelage of new pitching coach Alec Adame.

Henry Baker
Baker is a sophomore starting pitcher with the Washington Huskies who went 1-0 with a 7.31 ERA and 1.44 WHIP last spring. In spite of his inflated ERA, the underlying numbers for the left-hander from Agoura, California were quite positive: 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.4 walks per nine. Although Baker only had six appearances (five starts) last season with UW, he is expected to play a more prominent role this spring. Baker had a 1.18 ERA in his senior year of high school and struck out close to 11 batters per nine innings, so there is plenty to like in this signing.

Josh Mitchell
Mitchell is yet another southpaw pitcher and he’s also the first HarbourCat in franchise history to be signed from the University of Pittsburgh. He was ranked as one of the best lefties in the state of Pennsylvania in his senior year of high school in 2013, and he features a good moving fastball that is regularly clocked in the high 80’s and can touch 90. Mitchell also possesses a good change-up. He didn't pitch last spring in his freshman year and he’s coming off of shoulder surgery, so we’ll be keeping close tabs on him once the Panthers' season starts (February 13th) to get a read on how he is progressing. 

Zach Bonneau
Bonneau, a left-handed hitting catcher, is a UW teammate of Baker’s and another guy who is entering his sophomore year. He played his freshman season for Palomar Junior College in San Diego County last spring before accepting a scholarship at the University of Washington.  Although he only had 24 at-bats with Palomar JC, Bonneau had a .292 batting average (all hits were singles) and he posted a solid .414 on-base percentage. He’s a graduate of Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane, Washington. Unfortunately. Bonneau’s high school stats aren’t readily available.

The current Victoria roster now stands at ten players. As we explained in a previous post, veteran experience is key to a team’s success in the tough West Coast League. Of the ten players already signed by the 'Cats for the 2015 season, there are two juniors, seven sophomores, one freshman and no high schoolers (seniors are not eligible to be signed to a WCL contract). When all is said and done, it’s likely that the roster will contain a majority of upperclassmen (defined as sophomores and juniors in college wood-bat leagues), so you can expect the HarbourCats to feature both skill and experience when the season opens up on June 5th.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Pivetta and Real continue on MLB trail

Nick Pivetta
After only two seasons of HarbourCats baseball, the franchise has already produced a pair of professional ballplayers and that figure that will surely climb with each passing year. To keep track of things, we have created a permanent page on the blog that lists the HarbourCats alumni that have gone on to play professionally and shows their progress as they climb the ladder towards the big leagues. It has been a while since we last checked in on ex-HarbourCats Nick Pivetta and Alex Real, so let’s get you caught up on their respective summers.

Pivetta, a Victoria native, was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the fourth round of the 2013 draft and he followed up a successful professional debut with a very solid 2014 season. He spent the entire year in the South Atlantic League (‘A’ ball) with the Hagerstown (Maryland) Suns and was the ace of the pitching staff, leading the team in wins, starts and innings pitched. Pivetta's regular-season highlights included being named to the South Atlantic League (SAL) All-Star team and winning SAL Pitcher of the Week honours on June 23rd. Earlier tonight, he had the privilege of starting the first game of the SAL Championship Series against the mighty Asheville Tourists, but Pivetta didn't get the result he was looking for, giving up six hits and four earned runs in 2 ⅓ innings. There was no shame in that performance, because not only are the Tourists the best hitting team in the history of the South Atlantic League, but Asheville went on to score 16 runs in a lopsided affair.

Pivetta went 13-8 in the regular season with a 4.22 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. Although those numbers were slightly less impressive than what he posted in Rookie and Short Season ‘A’ ball in 2013, he did improve upon his control (from 3.4 to 2.7 walks per nine innings), while continuing to strike out batters at a reasonable pace (6.7 K’s per nine innings). With those numbers, I wouldn't be surprised to see the 21-year-old start the 2015 season with the Potomac Nationals in the Carolina League (Advanced ‘A’ ball).

Alex Real
Alex Real was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in June of this year after his junior season at the University of New Mexico. Real, who wasn't drafted until the 24th round, surprised many onlookers when he chose to sign with the Twins instead of completing his senior year with the Lobos. The highly-skilled catcher was named a semifinalist this spring for the prestigious Johnny Bench Award and he seemed destined to become an All-American with the University of New Mexico, but he was clearly eager to get his professional career started.

Real was assigned to the Elizabethon (Tenessee) Twins in the Appalachian League shortly after signing and he put up unremarkable numbers in Rookie ball after starring with the Lobos in the tough Mountain West Conference. Real posted a .284 batting average and .323 on-base percentage to go along with one homer and 11 runs batted for Elizabethon, although he only had 88 at-bats in his 28 games played. The most troubling aspect of his numbers was a big drop-off in plate discipline, as Real walked just four times and struck out on 23 occasions in those 88 at-bats. This uncharacteristic lack of strike-zone judgement can likely be chalked up to an overeagerness to succeed at the professional level, and I wouldn't be surprised to see those numbers return to normal levels (for him) in 2015. He is only 21 years old, so he has time to get back on the fast track to the big leagues.

The new Victoria coaching staff, led by Graig Merritt and Alec Adame, have been busy recruiting the next crop of HarbourCats players. You can be sure that next year’s Victoria squad -- and almost every visiting team at Royal Athletic Park -- will include a number of future pro players, so you’ll be getting your money’s worth when you plunk down your hard-earned cash for a HarbourCats ticket. Only 270 days until Opening Day...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Clark to return to 'Cats in 2015

Clark in action at Royal Athletic Park
What’s more Canadian than having a Beaver on your baseball team? Having two Beavers on your baseball team, of course. On Wednesday morning the HarbourCats announced that they are bringing back slugger Gabe Clark next season and that they have also signed one of his Oregon State University teammates, Michael Gretler.

Clark is already the fourth player from the 2014 HarbourCats to commit to returning with the team next season. The junior from Riverside, California hit .291 with 8 homers and 31 RBI this past summer and finished third in team MVP voting. Although the WCL All-Star Game in Klamath Falls was rained out, Clark still represented the HarbourCats in fine fashion, as he won the Home Run Derby before the skies opened up and made the field unplayable. In the feel good story of the summer, his Dad, Jim Clark, served up the pitches that Gabe hammered in his home run assault. The scribes at the Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog were pleased to learn of Clark’s 2015 return, especially since we’ll be treated to another season of witty (and frequently pointed) observations from Mama Clark.

Gretler was drafted out of high school by the Boston Red Sox in the 39th round of this year’s MLB draft, but he chose to go to Oregon State instead of turning pro. Gretler played shortstop at Bonney Lake High School and put up some big offensive numbers in his senior year: a .459 batting average with six homers and 22 RBI. He has some serious pop in his bat and a strong throwing arm. With the Beavers entering a rebuilding year, Gretler has a chance to earn more playing time than a freshman would typically receive at OSU, and he may see some action at third base, shortstop or even second base. He projects as a third baseman in the long term, so we may see him manning the hot corner for the HarbourCats next summer.

The signings bring the (announced) roster for next season up to a total of five players. Stay tuned for more roster details as they are released. From what we have seen so far, 2015 is shaping up to be a great season of HarbourCats baseball.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fagalde, Rogers and Andreychuk to return in 2015

One of the great aspects of baseball is that fans can follow their favourite players on a daily basis and get to know their personalities, tendencies and even some of their idiosyncrasies. The familiarity that we have with the players on the home team adds to the enjoyment of ballgames, so it’s important that there be some sort of continuity from year to year on a baseball roster -- especially in college wood-bat leagues that may be prone to high turnover.

The HarbourCats took a big step forward today in ensuring that roster continuity by announcing that three key players from this year's team will be returning to Victoria for the 2015 West Coast League season. Pitchers Alex Fagalde and Alex Rogers, along with second baseman Griffin Andreychuk, will be back next summer in a HarbourCats uniform. Additional returning players may be announced in the coming weeks, so Victoria may feature more returnees than it did in 2014, when only Alex DeGoti, Logan Lombana and Ryan Keller came back for a second season.

Alex Fagalde
Fagalde was one of the most effective pitchers on the HarbourCats staff in 2014, compiling an impressive 1.85 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 34 innings on the hill. His underlying numbers prove that his season was no fluke -- his strikeout to walk ratio was greater than 3:1 and he struck out 9.3 batters per nine innings pitched. Although he finished fifth in team MVP voting conducted by the bloggers at the Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog, he would have surely finished higher had he been given a more prominent role in the first half of the year. Fagalde earned the win in his last three appearances of the summer -- his only three starts of the season.

Fagalde was injured this past spring and did not get into any games for the Cuesta College Cougars, but his accomplishments this summer weren't that much of a surprise based on his past performance at the collegiate level. In his dominant freshman campaign in 2013, he put up eerily similar numbers to those with Victoria: a 1.86 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. He is a potential staff ace for the ‘Cats next year.

Rogers was a huge surprise for the HarbourCats in 2014. The freshman from Trinidad State Junior College was only signed initially to a 10-day contract, but the former Nanaimo Pirate made the most of his opportunities and earned a full-season role with the club. Rogers posted a solid 3.09 ERA in 10 appearances (9 starts) and he tied Fagalde for the second-best WHIP on the staff -- a tidy 1.18 mark. Rogers should be even better next summer with another year of experience at Trinidad State under his belt.

As expected, Andreychuk had a solid season with the HarbourCats, notching a .271 batting average with one homer and 14 RBI in 140 at-bats. His .407 on base-percentage was fifth-best on the team and he was one of only three HarbourCats who walked more than he struck out (Nathan Lukes and Aaron Barnett were the others). The Nanaimo native will be returning for his sophomore season at Seattle U this fall.

Stay tuned for further roster announcements as coaches Graig Merritt and Alec Adame continue their recruiting efforts.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mercado-Hood and DeGoti named First-Team All-WCL

Mercado-Hood ASG snub a distant memory
Photo by Brian Hayes
The West Coast League announced their end-of-season awards earlier today and both Hunter Mercado-Hood and Alex DeGoti of the HarbourCats were named First-Team All-WCL. The pair join former HarbourCat Alex Real as the only Victoria players to make the First All-Star team in the franchise’s brief history. Gabe Clark, Nathan Lukes and Mikey Wright received honourable mentions.

Mercado-Hood led the entire league in hits with 77, finished second in the batting race with a remarkable .385 mark and trailed only Vince Fernandez of the Pippins in RBI with 46. He also posted a slow-pitch like .452 on-base percentage, the fourth-best OBP in the WCL. Mercado-Hood also set new single-season team records for batting average, at-bats (200), hits and RBI.

DeGoti notched a .296 batting average and .373 on-base percentage to go along with four homers and 34 RBI in 49 games played at shortstop. The sophomore from Long Beach State anchored the HarbourCats middle infield and led all WCL shortstops in total chances (258), putouts (110) and double plays (35). His .953 fielding percentage was seventh-best among WCL shortstops with at least 20 games played at that position.

Yakima Valley’s Vince Fernandez was named league MVP after he set new single-season WCL records for home runs (10) and RBI (51). Pitcher of the Year went to Seth Martinez of the Bellingham Bells. Martinez posted a 6-0 record with a league-leading 2.07 ERA and an outrageously low WHIP of 0.79. He also held opponents to a feeble .147 batting average. Not surprisingly, Bellingham’s head coach Jeff James earned Coach of the Year honours after leading the Bells to their first WCL Championship in team history.

Congratulations to the winners, especially all of our HarbourCats!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

HarbourCats hire Adame as pitching coach

The HarbourCats have announced that they have hired Alec Adame as their pitching coach, exactly one week after introducing Graig Merritt as the team’s new head coach. Adame will look to improve a HarbourCats pitching staff that finished with a 4.50 team ERA, which was 8th best in the 12-team West Coast League.

Alec Adame
Adame has a very impressive baseball resumé, to say the least. On top of a master’s degree in Physical Education, Adame is a Health and Kinesiology Instructor at East LA College (ELAC), a community college with almost 35,000 students in the Los Angeles suburb of Monterey Park. He is the head assistant baseball coach of the ELAC Huskies, a team that plays in the California Community College Athletic Association. Last year the Huskies posted a 15-6 record in conference play and earned a berth in the State playoffs, largely because of their strong pitching. With Adame in charge of ELAC’s pitching staff, the Huskies notched a miserly 2.02 team ERA in conference games.

After spending eight years as a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres, Adame knows a thing or two about evaluating players. Prior to becoming a scout, he was the head baseball coach at Los Angeles City College for three years and he was also an assistant coach at California State University (CSU), Chico in 2000-2001.

There’s a very good reason that HarbourCats head coach Graig Merritt tapped Adame to be his right-hand man on the HarbourCats coaching staff. Adame was a pitcher and a teammate of Merritt’s at CSU Chico. The pair were battery mates on the 1999 team that won the Division II national championship, so I’m guessing that it won’t be difficult for them to be on the same page next summer. In their 1999 championship run, Adame went a perfect 5-0 in 23 relief appearances.

Adame and Merritt are already busy recruiting the next generation of HarbourCats for next summer’s squad. Adame brings a wealth of contacts in college baseball to his new job, so don’t be surprised to see more HarbourCats players from community colleges in California, Oregon and Washington state.

Although he is “just” the new pitching coach, it’s not a stretch to conclude that Adame also has the credentials to be a head coach in the WCL. With an embarrassment of riches in the coaching department, the HarbourCats’ future looks a heckuva lot brighter than it did just a few short weeks ago. It’s safe to say that Victoria’s team ERA should be well south of 4.50 in the summer of 2015.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Bells ring up their first WCL championship

Monday night at Joe Martin field in Bellingham, the Bells proved that perhaps the most important key to building a winning franchise is team chemistry. All season long the Bells have proven they have what it takes to win in this league - dominating opponents with clutch hitting, stellar defence, and intimidating pitching. They did so again Monday beating the Corvalis Knights 3-2 in the final game of the three-game set to claim their first WCL title.

Bellingham's Walker Olis hoists the WCL Champion's Trophy
It wasn't an easy victory at all... The Bells got lucky in the third inning, scoring a run on a throwing error by Knights right fielder Tim Rausch, who bounced a ball past third base allowing the run to score and a runner to advance to second. A walk, a balk, a wild pitch to score another run, and a bloop single off Corvalis starter Chris Haddeland gave the Bells their three runs. They would get only two more hits the rest of the game. Corvalis clawed back two runs in the 4th, but the Bellingham relief core shut the door after that and the Knights never threatened again. Over the last 5 innings, Bellingham pitchers gave up only 3 hits, only allowing one runner to second base. Bells reliever Moises Ceja was credited with the win, retiring all 4 batters he faced after replacing a shaky Gabe Cramer who got the final game start for the Bells.

Demolition of the field at Joe Martin can begin in earnest this morning. After a week-long delay while the Bells went through the playoffs, the turf field will be pulled up starting this morning. It's a 90 day task to replace the field with a new 1.7 Million dollar FieldTurf surface, and it should still be able to complete by the November 30th deadline.

And that's a wrap on the 2014 WCL season! Congratulations to the Bellingham Bells.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Building a successful WCL roster

The HarbourCats finished their second year in the WCL with a disappointing 25-29 record, a three-game improvement in the win column over the previous season. While they crept closer to the .500 mark, the ‘Cats did benefit from a fairly easy schedule and they racked up a combined 12-6 record against the weak Kitsap BlueJackets and Cowlitz Black Bears. If you take away those 18 games, the HarbourCats had a record of 13-23 (.361) against the rest of the league -- hardly the mark of a playoff contender.

In the two-year history of the franchise, the ‘Cats sport an unimpressive winning percentage of .435, and they hold the distinction of being the only team out of the three recent expansion franchises that failed to make the playoffs in their inaugural season (Medford and Yakima Valley are the others). There are many reasons why Victoria hasn't had much on-field success so far, but this post will focus on one in particular: the composition of their roster.

In spite of that .435 winning percentage, the HarbourCats have featured plenty of talent in their first couple of seasons. There have been players with flashy skills. Guys who threw hard and had nasty stuff. Guys who had blinding speed. Guys who could rake. “Toolsy” guys who could make scouts drool. We have even seen guys on the team who will play in the big leagues one day. In short, skill hasn't been the problem.

We have also seen rosters full of talent from the top NCAA Division I programs. Players who have played key roles on highly-ranked teams have been sent our way. We have had players who have been mentored by some of the top head coaches in college baseball. Players who have been on teams that made the College World Series have worn the HarbourCats jersey -- one guy even played on the team that won the (Division I) national title. Getting players from the best programs hasn't been the problem.

So what has been the problem with the roster these past two seasons? Our team has quite simply been too young and too inexperienced to compete for a playoff spot in the West Coast League. As a point of reference, let’s compare the 2014 HarbourCats roster to the two teams that made this year’s WCL Championship Series. The graph below shows the percentage of players on each team, broken down by the school year completed just prior to the WCL season.

2014 Roster Breakdown
As you can see, the HarbourCats roster was structured very differently from the Corvallis and Bellingham rosters. Only 36% of the HarbourCats were upperclassmen (sophomores and juniors in the context of summer college leagues), as opposed to 65% of the Knights players and 59% of the Bells. This experience gap between Victoria and the other two clubs was massive, so it shouldn't come as a big surprise that the HarbourCats only took four of the 12 games played against those teams in 2014. By the way, only 29% of Victoria players were upperclassmen in the team's inaugural season.

Victoria also had more incoming freshman (i.e. high school seniors) on their 2014 roster than the Knights and Bells combined. The WCL is a very good college wood-bat league, and it’s not easy for recent high school grads to perform well at this level -- especially for middle infielders and pitchers (the super-human Sean Watkins is the rare exception to the rule). In the future, the HarbourCats would be wise to minimize the risk of rookie meltdowns by taking only one or two incoming freshmen per season, and whenever possible only take an outfielder or a first baseman, who have an easier transition to the college game.

The other roster ingredient that we haven't had enough of, as compared to the playoff teams at least, has been desire. We need more players with a fire in their belly for summer baseball. Guys with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove to their college coaches. A number of HarbourCats have had significant success in the last couple of seasons despite coming from lesser-known programs, and there are plenty of other examples throughout the WCL. Alex Fagalde, Austin Russell, Alex Rogers and Connor Russell are four such examples from the Victoria squad alone.

The surprising Drew Davidoff
Photo by Brian Hayes
The surprising success of the three graduating Victoria Eagles who were signed to 10-day contracts for the last week of this past season is another case in point. Riley Edmonds, Dallas Patterson and Drew Davidoff were high school pitchers who were in tough against experienced WCL competition, but each player was the best HarbourCats pitcher in one of the final (meaningless) games down the stretch. How did they do it? A big factor was desire. These guys were fired up to be given the opportunity and they made the most of it. Their ERAs for the week? Only 0.00 (Davidoff), 3.85 (Edmonds) and 3.85 (Patterson).

This past season, I recall a couple of blog readers, a HarbourCats player and one of the player’s parents using a phrase that strikes me as odd. This puzzling phrase, usually used in defense of a player or group of players for some perceived slight, is that “... the players are giving up their summer…” I’m really surprised that some people consider it a sacrifice to travel to a foreign country, learn about another culture, get a taste of the minor-league experience, improve their skills and further their baseball career. The HarbourCats should be recruiting players who are thrilled to have this opportunity, instead of signing those who see the glass as being half empty. I realize that these players are in the minority, but the effect they have on their teammates cannot be underestimated.

Our new head coach, Graig Merritt, is already hard at work recruiting for next season. He’ll be building us a roster under the direction of GM Jim Swanson, who started in his job last December and largely (but not entirely) inherited the 2014 roster from the former head coach. Fortunately for HarbourCats fans, both Merritt and Swanson seem to have their heads around how to construct a winning WCL team. It’s likely that we’ll see a handful of returning players next summer, but look for a much different type of roster for year three of HarbourCats baseball… and possibly even that pennant race we have been waiting so long for.