Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Yippee ki-yay

John McLean - Owner
Season one is in the books. I'd say it was a pretty good year, a nice foundation for moving forward. The on-field product was pretty entertaining, the crowds were solid (meeting ownership goals set prior to the season), the beer was cold and we had the added excitement of hosting the All Star Game this year. It did seem to speed by though, didn't it? One day I was at opening day and before I knew it, it was over as fast as a Miley Cyrus sanity test.

So now it's time for reflection, as well as looking ahead to what could be in store for us next year. I recently had the opportunity to speak with HarbourCats owner John McLean about exactly that. Once I figured out that I was not talking with John McClane, and he wasn't going to yell and swear at me, we had quite a good chat.

When asked about the overall "fan experience", John considered this to be a success which I tend to agree with him on. From my perspective, the fans not only got to see some of the future MLB lads strut through RAP, but they got a sampling of the complete minor league experience with fireworks displays, a kid-friendly mascot, dizzy bat spin (aka "lawsuit waiting to happen") and many other ballpark perks. The fans were very positive for the most part, and really seemed to enjoy just getting out to the yard. McLean also indicated that this sentiment was backed up by a postseason survey of fans, billet parents, families, etc. who - aside from the obvious gripes of different food, better start times, etc. (which I myself have been guilty of!) - provided very positive feedback.

As for the "on the field" product, McLean lamented that everyone loves a winner, but kept it in
John McClane - Bad-ass
perspective with this being the organization's first year. I think the strong start set expectations a little too lofty and then when, after the All Star game, the team ran out of gas, fans got generally disappointed. The Boss is quick to point out though, that the 'Cats - being a bit late to the party in their inaugural season - were an unknown quantity so probably missed out on some big ticket recruits. Now that word has spread on what an amazing summer we have here in Vic-town (no rain outs yet again!), and what a great city we have in general, McLean is expecting that next year's recruiting class will be even better.

As well, the 'Cats ownership and management teams now have a season of experience under their belts and know that the team will lose a certain number of players to attrition, even before they ever show up. This could be due to injury, players shut down by their coaches, last minute changes of heart (these are 18 year old kids, after all!) and many other unforeseen circumstances.

To combat this phenomenon, the 'Cats plan to sign 40 players vs. the 35-ish that were signed this year. As for returning players, McLean indicated that in this league they are few and far between due to many factors, one of which is that they - or their coaches - want them to experience the different leagues out there. For these college players, they're looking for any new experience that better prepares them for their quest for the "show". Net, don't count on seeing many of the same players year to year.

The owner was tight-lipped when it came to front office hiring and the coaching staff. We know that there is a vacancy in the General Manager role, now that Holly Jones has moved on. I'm hoping for Theo Epstein, but all I know is that they are still on track to make an announcement sometime in November as originally communicated. Now to the coaching staff, McLean would only say that an announcement would be made soon - so keep your ears open for that one. As a Reds fan, as long as the manager is not Dusty Baker, I'm good.

The roster, on the other hand, is very much taking shape with approximately 30 of the 40 players already signed. I'm sure they will be gradually introduced to us in the coming months which is an excellent way of building up interest and excitement for the new season. The 'Cats will be keeping some of their relationships with the strong programs and look to add even more, in order to generate a quality recruiting class for the 2014 campaign.

Another interesting topic we hit on was the business model and general "off the field" goings on. As expected, not having to pay the players makes this a lot more viable than a pro or semi-pro team. It can only get better as the start up expenses that were incurred last year will not be repeated. Apparently the relationship with the city and the concessions, etc. went very well. From what I could gather, this was due in large part to the good communication and expectation setting that both sides fostered before, during and after the season. The short season of the WCL is well suited to our (short burst of) excellent summer weather, and the fact that it is a true bus league, making it all that more economically viable vs. flying to, say, Hawaii or Mexico.

Looking ahead, I got a glimpse into the boy that lives in the body of the founding partner of Ansera Capital. This owner gets excited when talking about the future and this passion bodes well for the stability and longevity of the team in Victoria. It does not seem like just another business venture, but something much more personal. Like all of us, McLean sets his sights on making the playoffs this year. This should be helped by the new division alignment which has Victoria in the West with Kitsap, Cowlitz and Bellingham, away from the perennial powerhouses of Corvalis, Wenatchee and Walla Walla. With the division winner and one wild card making up the playoff field, I like our chances.

The fan experience will also be pumped up, with popular items like fireworks still being there but with some new twists to keep it fresh. Music to my ears! No major renovation plans are in store for the stadium, but there are some minor improvements being discussed with the city which should lead to an even better RAP experience.

In any case, while we tuck away our memories of 2013, we can now look forward to the series of upcoming announcements, press conferences, etc. that lead us into 2014. Game on!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

2013 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 five 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.

National League

In the senior circuit, the choice for league MVP is simple: It's Andrew McCutchen. "Cutch" has improved in each of his five years in the big leagues, and this year his career-best season was enough to lead the resurgent Bucs to their first winning season since 1992. McCutchen hit .317 with 21 homers, 84 RBI and 27 steals in 2013, but he also played great defense in centre field.

Matt Carpenter was an offensive force for the St. Louis Cardinals, as he led the National League in hits (199), runs (126) and doubles (55). The Cardinals, who won the NL Central with relative ease, led the National League in runs scored without the benefit of a serious power threat and Matt Carpenter was the biggest reason why that happened.

Our National League ballot looks as follows:
  1. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
  2. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
  3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  4. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
  5. Joey Votto, Reds
  6. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
  7. Matt Harvey, Mets
  8. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
  9. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
  10. Hunter Pence, Giants

American League

Mike Trout
Last year Mike Trout put together the best rookie season in baseball history. This year he had the best sophomore season in baseball history. I'm not a statistician, but that trend line looks pretty darn good.

Trout was far and away the best player in the majors this season. While his defense wasn't quite as spectacular as in his rookie year, his offense was incredible: 27 homers, 97 RBI, 109 runs, 33 steals and a .323 batting average. Trout's batting eye is phenomenal, as shown by his league-leading walk total of 110 and his .432 on-base percentage. It's scary to consider that the 22-year-old is still five or six years away from his peak production, so it's not outside the realm of possibility that he'll end up being viewed at some point as the greatest ballplayer in baseball history. 

Josh Donaldson is also worthy of special mention. The 27-year-old former first round pick of the Chicago Cubs surprised most of the baseball experts with his incredible breakout season in 2013. The free-spirited Donaldson hit .301 with 24 homers and 93 RBI and he was a big reason why the Athletics finished ahead of the heavily-favoured Texas Rangers in the AL West.

Our American League MVP ballot stands at:
  1. Mike Trout, Angels
  2. Josh Donaldson, Athletics
  3. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
  4. Evan Longoria, Rays
  5. Chris Davis, Orioles
  6. Max Scherzer, Tigers
  7. Anibal Sanchez, Tigers
  8. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
  9. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
  10. Manny Machado, Orioles

Friday, October 11, 2013

2013 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 five 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
Last year, both the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and the Baseball Bloggers Alliance botched their voting for the top pitcher in the National League by giving the award to R.A. Dickey over Clayton Kershaw. Voters got seduced by Dickey’s 20-win season, but this year they have no excuse for snubbing Kershaw -- he led the National League in ERA for the third consecutive year and he should be a slam dunk for the award. The only other players to lead the National League in ERA for three or more years in a row are Greg Maddux and Sandy Koufax, so Kershaw is in a pretty elite group. This season he posted a 16-9 record with a stellar 1.83 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. Can you say “Hall of Famer?”

Adam Wainwright earned the second spot on my ballot with his 19-9 record and 2.94 ERA. While his (more relevant) numbers are outstanding, most still fall behind Kershaw’s. Wainwright did a great job as the anchor of the St. Louis pitching staff, posting a 1.07 WHIP in a league-leading 241 2/3 innings on the hill.

Matt Harvey took the National League by storm in 2013, but the 24-year-old hurler blew out his elbow in August and is now scheduled for Tommy John surgery. The first-round pick in the 2010 draft is likely to be out of action until the start of the 2015 season. In his 178 1/3 innings of work before his injury, Harvey posted a 9-5 record, a 2.27 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP.

A pair of 14-game winners, Cliff Lee and Mat Latos, snagged the last two votes on our ballot. That ballot looks as follows:
  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  2. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
  3. Matt Harvey, Mets
  4. Cliff Lee, Phillies
  5. Mat Latos, Reds
American League

Three of the five pitchers on our American League ballot are from the Detroit Tigers’ starting rotation. Max Scherzer topped our ballot thanks to his stellar 21-3 record to go along with a 2.90 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. Scherzer mixed a curve ball into his repertoire this season and the results were impressive, as he set career highs in innings pitched (214 1/3), strikeouts (240), ERA and WHIP.

Anibal Sanchez won the American League ERA title with a 2.57 mark, but his other numbers weren’t quite good enough for him to finish ahead of his teammate Max Scherzer in the voting. The 29-year-old Venezuelan registered a 14-8 record and a 1.15 WHIP.

The Seattle Mariners may have moved in the fences this year, but that didn’t seem to slow down Felix Hernandez. King Felix’s numbers actually improved over 2012 and he posted career bests for strikeouts per nine innings (9.5) and walks per nine innings (2.0). He even managed to have a winning record on the 71-91 Mariners, as he registered a solid 12-10 mark with a 3.04 ERA.

Chris Sale and Justin Verlander earned the last two spots on our AL ballot, which looks something like this:
  1. Max Scherzer, Tigers
  2. Anibal Sanchez, Tigers
  3. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
  4. Chris Sale, White Sox
  5. Justin Verlander, Tigers

Thursday, October 10, 2013

2013 Goose Gossage 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 five awards given to players and managers in both the National and American Leagues. Today we reveal our ballots for the Goose Gossage Award, which will be presented to the each league's top relief pitcher.

National League

Craig Kimbrel
This is starting to get a little boring, but for the third consecutive year my vote for the top reliever in the National League goes to Craig Kimbrel. Although Kimbrel’s season was the least impressive out of his three full years in the big leagues, he still lit it up: Kimbrel posted a 4-3 record with 50 saves, a 1.21 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP. His underlying numbers dropped off a bit from the previous two seasons, but they were still eye-popping. Kimbrell struck out a whopping 13.2 batters per nine innings and only walked 2.7 per nine. Most pitchers could only dream of having such a “sub-standard” season, but that’s what happens when the bar gets set so high.

Although he toiled in relative obscurity in Pittsburgh, my top vote almost went to Mark Melancon. Had he not struggled in the latter part of September, he most certainly would have garnered my top selection. Melancon went 3-2 on the year with 16 saves, a 1.39 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP, but his most impressive statistics was the fact that he only gave up one home run over his 71 innings on the mound in the regular season. He also showed incredible control, walking a miserly one batter per nine innings while striking out 8.9.

The Dodgers’ closer, Kenley Jansen, rounds out my ballot thanks to his 4-3 record, 28 saves and a 1.88 ERA. Jansen relied heavily on his nasty cut fastball to strike out nearly as many hitters as Kimbrel did – an incredible 13.0 batters per nine innings.

My National League ballot is as follows:
  1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
  2. Mark Melancon, Pirates
  3. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
American League

Without a doubt, Koji Uehara had the most dominant season out of the bullpen in the entire major leagues. In fact, Uehara broke Dennis Eckersley’s all-time MLB record for the lowest WHIP by posting an absurd 0.57 mark. Add in 21 saves and a 1.09 ERA and the 38-year-old wonder gets my vote easily.

Greg Holland had a fantastic year for the Kansas City Royals on the way to breaking the team’s single-season record for saves (47). The record was previously shared by Dan Quisenberry (1983) and Jeff Montgomery (1993). Holland posted a 1.21 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP in what was by far the best season of his career.

Another 38-year-old, Joe Nathan, rounds out my ballot by virtue of the 43 saves he earned for the Texas Rangers. Nathan also had a 6-2 record to go along with a miniscule 1.39 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.  

My AL ballot is therefore:
  1. Koji Uehara, Red Sox
  2. Greg Holland, Royals
  3. Joe Nathan, Rangers

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

2013 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

The National  League featured a slew of high-performing rookies in 2013, although the dynamic Yasiel Puig garnered by far the most media attention out of the current rookie crop. Puig was incredible in his inaugural season, but he wasn’t called up until early June, so we’re going with the right-handed phenom Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins instead.

Jose Fernandez
The Marlins were smart to put the 21-year-old Fernandez on a strict 170 inning limit this season, and they stuck to their guns and shut him down on September 11th. On the season, the Cuban flamethrower went an incredible 12-6 with the hapless Marlins and posted a spectacular 2.19 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. Those stats were no fluke – his underlying numbers of 9.8 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and 0.5 HR/9 prove that he's the real deal.

Another Cuban, Yasiel Puig, came close to earning my vote as the top rookie in the senior circuit, but the fact that he only had 382 at-bats pushed him down a notch in my books. Puig still managed to put up great numbers: .319 BA and a .925 OPS to go along with 19 homers and 11 steals. If he can cut down on the fielding and base running errors then he’ll be a future MVP in the National League.

A.J. Pollock of the Arizona Diamondbacks quietly put up a solid rookie campaign this past season. The 25-year-old outfielder was a first round pick in the 2009 draft and although he doesn’t possess a ton of power or speed, he can do everything well and he’s an excellent defensive player and base runner. Pollock’s numbers on the year were .269 BA, 8 HR, 32 RBI and 12 steals in 443 at-bats.

My National League ballot for the Willie Mays award is:
  1. Jose Fernandez, Marlins
  2. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
  3. A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks
American League

The pickings were slim in the American League, but Wil Myers on the Tampa Bay Rays was clearly the best of the mediocre lot. Myers played a big role in getting the Rays into the playoffs, hitting .293 with 13 homers and 53 RBI in only 335 at-bats.

Outfielder David Lough of the Kansas City Royals didn’t have the offensive numbers of Myers, but his defense was outstanding in 2013. Lough did hit .286 with 5 homers and 33 RBI in 315 at-bats, but it’s his great defensive work that nudges him onto my ballot.

Mariners fans had little to cheer about once again in 2013, but at least some of their youngsters are starting to develop. Danny Farquhar, the 26-year-old rookie who came over in the Ichiro trade, took over as Seattle’s closer in August and finished the season with 16 saves. Although Farquhar’s ERA was only 4.20, he didn’t get much help from his defense and still registered some solid underlying numbers: 1.19 WHIP, 12.8 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 and 0.3 HR/9.

My ballot for the junior loop looks as follows:
  1. Wil Myers, Rays
  2. David Lough, Royals
  3. Danny Farquhar, Mariners

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

WCL re-aligns into three divisions

The West Coast League has re-aligned from two to three divisions for the 2014 season. With the addition of an expansion team in Yakima, some had been expecting the new team to simply be added to the North Division, but the league has instead decided to implement three four-team divisions.

The new divisional alignment is expected to help cut down on travel costs. All four of the Oregon-based teams have been placed in the new South Division, while the remaining teams will be split into East and West Divisions. The new alignment is as follows:
Kelowna Falcons
Walla Walla Sweets
Wenatchee AppleSox
Yakima (expansion)
Bellingham Bells
Cowlitz Black Bears
Kitsap BlueJackets
Victoria HarbourCats
Bend Elks
Corvallis Knights
Klamath Falls Gems
Medford Rogues
It is expected that each team will play half of their games within their division. Each of the division winners and one wildcard team will advance to the playoffs.

The re-alignment works out extremely well for the Victoria HarbourCats. In addition to saving on travel costs, the HarbourCats no longer are in the same division as the powerhouse Wenatchee AppleSox and the tough Walla Walla Sweets. The West Division is clearly the weakest of the three divisions and the HarbourCats have a viable shot at making the playoffs in 2014. At the very least, Victoria should be in a pennant race deep into the 2014 season.

2013 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 2013 is the Connie Mack Award, presented to the top manager in each league.

National League

Choosing the Manager of the Year in the National League was a slam dunk – consideration starts and ends with Clint Hurdle of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hurdle was one of the big reasons why the Bucs improved from 79 wins in 2012 to an impressive 94 wins this season and their first winning record since 1992. Their 94 wins is even more astounding when you consider that the Pirates had the 5th lowest payroll in baseball.

The Washington Nationals were the clear favourites in the NL East heading into the season, but they finished a full 10 games behind the surprising Atlanta Braves. Fredi Gonzalez deserves a good amount of the credit for the Bravos' reappearance in the postseason, especially considering the number of injuries that he has had to deal with this year. Gonzalez did a masterful job of juggling his lineup and selecting the right players to plug the numerous holes.

The St. Louis Cardinals surprised few by winning the NL Central title once again, but their path to victory wasn’t exactly free from obstacles. Mike Matheny had to deal with losing his closer, setup man and two starters for the remainder of the season by the end of May. The losses proved to be no problem at all, as Matheny calmly led the Cardinals to an NL-best 97 wins.

Accordingly, my National League ballot is:
  1. Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates
  2. Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves
  3. Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals
American League

The waters were muddier in the junior circuit, but I’m giving the edge to Terry Francona of the Cleveland Indians. Little was expected of the Tribe this season, but Francona led them to a 92-win campaign and a wild card berth in the playoffs. That achievement was vindication for a man who received an unfair share of the blame for the Red Sox implosion of 2011.

Bob Melvin may have won the AL Manager of the Year Award in 2012, but he still deserves serious consideration for this year’s award. All he did was take a team with a paltry $60 million payroll and lead them to a 96-win season and the AL West title. Since the BBWAA has only given the award to the same manager in consecutive years once (Bobby Cox in 2004 and 2005), it's unlikely that Melvin will come out on top in either the Baseball Bloggers Alliance or BBWAA voting this year.

The trendy pick by many is John Farrell of the Boston Red Sox, but I'm not one to blindly follow trends. Sure, the BoSox had the best record in the American League, but they also featured a $150 million payroll. Boston’s AL East title in 2013 only proves just how bad of a manager Bobby Valentine is, and that's not enough to warrant the AL Manager of the Year award for John Farrell.

My AL ballot is therefore:
  1. Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians
  2. Bob Melvin, Oakland Athletics
  3. John Farrell, Boston Red Sox