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