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.

Before we do that, it’s worth noting that the easiest way for the HarbourCats to get into the playoffs is to improve their pitching. Although the team finished seventh in the league in both runs scored and runs allowed in 2014, they were second in team batting average and tallied only 30 runs less than the second-best offense in the league (Yakima Valley). The Victoria pitching staff, on the other hand, gave up a whopping 101 runs more than the league leaders (Bellingham) and 60 more runs than the fourth-best pitching staff.

New head coach Graig Merritt won't accept 
another losing season in Victoria.
Let’s first assume that the HarbourCats offense scores the exact same number of runs this season as they did last summer (296). By how many runs does the pitching staff have to improve in order to notch 32 wins and (very likely) get into the playoffs? The answer is 50. That’s right folks, the team has to allow almost a run per game less this summer to make the post-season provided the offense scores the same number of runs. New pitching coach Alec Adame has his work cut out for him, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he can turn the trick.

Of course, there are many other combinations of runs scored and runs allowed that will get the team to the magical 32-win mark. For instance, they could score 20 more runs and allow 34 fewer, or tally 27 more and surrender 28 fewer. No matter how you slice it, the team needs to take a big step forward this season to even earn the wild card spot.

The HarbourCats have publicly expressed that their goal is to win 35 games in 2015. How much does the team have to improve in order to reach that lofty level? Just over half of their roster has been announced so far, but one of the more likely scenarios sees them scoring 27 more runs and allowing 60 fewer. In a short 54-game season, that’s certainly easier said than done. While I’m skeptical that the HarbourCats can go 35-19 this summer, I applaud the fact that they are setting their goals so high. We’ll get a better idea of the team’s playoff chances once we get closer to opening day, but right now their prospects have never looked better.

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.

  • 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.

James Paxton
From my perspective, Paxton is the primary draw of the Winter Caravan. The big lefty from Ladner, BC is part of the Big Three in Seattle’s starting rotation, along with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, and he’ll play a key role in the team’s 2015 playoff run. Paxton led the West Coast League in strikeouts (62) and innings pitched (70) in 2007 as a member of the Kelowna Falcons after completing his freshman year at the University of Kentucky. The former star pitcher for the North Delta Blue Jays of the BC Premier League had an incredible start to his Major League career, posting a 1.77 ERA in his first 12 starts. The only player to notch a better earned run average in his first dozen MLB starts (dating back to 1914) was Steve Rogers of the 1973 Montreal Expos, who recorded a 1.16 ERA over the same span at the beginning of his outstanding career.
Dave Sims

Furbush will continue to play an important role in the Seattle bullpen in 2015. The former Detroit Tiger has struck out at least 10 batters per nine innings in each of the last three seasons with the Mariners. The stylish Sims is the only broadcaster in baseball history to call two perfect games in the same season; he was behind the mic in 2012 when both Félix Hernández and Philip Humber turned the trick. Sinclair, a graduate of Oak Bay High School, pitched for both the Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays in the late 1990’s. He holds the single-season record for most saves by a left-handed reliever (15) in the Venezuelan Winter League.

Be sure to reserve the 21st of January on your calendar, because you won’t want to miss this event. Otherwise, you’ll regret it come next October when you’re watching Paxton and Furbush on TV pitching in the MLB playoffs. It should be a fun evening for local baseball fans of all ages.

  • The HarbourCats also announced today that Brad Norris-Jones has been promoted to Assistant GM. Norris-Jones has been the team’s key marketing executive since its inception.
  • The Winter Caravan will make stops in four other West Coast League cities: Wenatchee, Walla Walla, Yakima and Longview (Cowlitz Black Bears).
  • The 2015 West Coast League schedule is expected to be announced in the near future.

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)
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.

What’s VeriFone Media all about? Perhaps their website says it best:
VeriFone Media combines the wide reach of traditional out-of-home on taxis and transit vehicles with the highly-targeted delivery of the VeriFone Digital Network (VNET) in taxis and at gas stations. Combined, we deliver over 1.5 billion daily impressions in traditional out-of home plus 100 million monthly digital impressions across 25 U.S. markets... 
With our highly flexible platforms, VeriFone Media allows geotargeting, dayparting, audience segmentation, and a host of custom solutions for advertisers and marketers of all sizes. 
The VeriFone Digital Network, VNET, engages consumers right at the moment of a purchasing decision.  VNET combines the unparalleled engagement of the point of sale with the significant dwell time of taxis and gas pumps.  Messages appear directly on the payment device, making it the ideal environment to connect people with brands. 
With a wide variety of traditional out of home media options, including taxi tops, wraps, transit, events staging, sampling and more, VeriFone Media can create integrated campaigns to allow advertisers to dominate the conversation in major urban metros.
Dheensaw’s article also mentioned that Stoudt has been to a HarbourCats game, a fact that isn’t surprising considering that he was a close business associate of John McLean. It also mentioned that Stoudt will be in town next week. Very interesting, indeed.

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. 

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 statistics.
  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

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?

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.