Monday, October 22, 2012

Get ready for West Coast League small ball!

Fans of the old Victoria Seals are in for quite surprise when they come out to see the HarbourCats for the first time next season. The former Golden Baseball League had an excess of offense and a scarcity of quality pitching and the end result was far too many football-like scores. Next year when the West Coast League (WCL) comes to town, we'll be seeing a completely different style of baseball and if you are a fan of "small ball" then you are in for a treat.

The first thing you'll notice is that the WCL uses the designated hitter -- and for good reason. Hitting with a wood bat is a huge adjustment for collegiate players and power numbers typically take a big hit. Last year's home run champion, Taylor Sparks of the Wenatchee AppleSox, hit 9 homers in his 134 at bats and only seven players in the entire league hit more than four homers during the summer.

In an attempt to get a better idea of the differences between the WCL and the old GBL, I spent a bit of time calculating league-wide stats. I took last year's numbers from the WCL and compared them to the GBL in 2010, the last year the Seals were in town. I also threw in this year's MLB numbers for further context. Here are the results:

GBL (2010)
WCL (2012)
MLB (2012)
Batting average
Runs per game
Hits per game
Home runs per game

Even with the DH, the league-wide batting average in the WCL is 24 points lower than in the old GBL. In terms of runs per game, we'll be seeing roughly 2.4 fewer runs than when the Seals were in town. But compared to the MLB averages, these WCL numbers are actually much more balanced than the GBL, which was excessively tilted on the offensive side.

As you can see, the big difference is in the power numbers: 1.5 homers per game in the GBL, but only 0.6 homers per game in the WCL. That's a huge drop-off, especially when compared to the MLB average of 2.0 homers per game. Clearly, the days of seeing game-breakers like Josh Arhart and Jamar Hill slam multi-homer games aren't likely to return and we won't be throwing around the term "Pembroke Poke" quite as often as in 2009-10. It might even be safe to park your car on Pembroke Street during a ballgame.

So what will we see in place of the extra base hits? A quick glance at the numbers below tell us that we'll be seeing enough small ball to make John McGraw proud:

GBL (2010)
WCL (2012)
MLB (2012)
Stolen bases per game
Stolen base percentage
Sacrifice bunts per game

Marc Gallegos of Corvallis led the WCL with 21 steals in 2012
It's pretty obvious that WCL head coaches turn to stolen bases and bunts to help manufacture runs. In fact, there were almost twice as many stolen bases in the WCL as in the big leagues this season and three times as many bunts. But when only one team in the league manages a slugging percentage above .378, waiting around for a three-run home run isn't an option sometimes.

Of course, some head coaches can take this strategy to the extreme. The Kitsap BlueJackets finished with the worst record in the league last year (14-40), in large part due to a team slugging percentage of .319. Rookie head coach Ryan Parker kept the green light on all summer in spite of a terrible 57% stolen base percentage. Anytime a team's stolen base percentage is below the 70-75% range, the potential reward of moving up a base is outweighed by the risk of getting thrown out and turning on the red light becomes the better option in most situations.

I for one am excited about the brand of baseball that we'll see in the WCL. Solid pitching, good defense and agressive baserunning makes for exciting baseball and I can certainly live without all of those 12-9 and 11-7 games that we use to see in the GBL. Besides, WCL players all have their amateur status to protect, so we couldn't pass the hat for a homer anyway.


  1. Homeruns do put bums in the seats.

    K hughes

  2. Excellent post on the virtues of small ball! As a season ticket holder to the SDSU Aztecs during my time in San Diego, I'm a big fan of college ball - sitting 50 feet from home plate and watching Strasburg strike out 23 batters is an experience not to be missed. It will be very interesting to see the players handling wood rather than aluminum.

  3. Home runs and high scores may be exciting to some, but the downside is the 3-4 hour games that go along with that, as happened in many Seal's games. "Small ball" can be just as exciting and even more so if it means the games are 2-2.5 hours max!

  4. I am not so sure the fans with enjoy low scoring games?