Saturday, January 31, 2015

The 2015 college baseball season is here!

Spring can’t be far off, because the college baseball season is officially underway. Although NCAA Division I teams don’t begin play until February 13th, many junior / community colleges have already kicked off their seasons. As we have done for the last couple of years, we’ll be providing regular updates on the progress of HarbourCat players leading up to the beginning of the West Coast League season.

Alex Fagalde
The first HarbourCat to see game action in 2015 was Alex Fagalde, as he drew the opening day start on Thursday for the Cuesta College Cougars. Fagalde, one of seven returning HarbourCats from last summer’s squad, was one of the most effective pitchers for Victoria in 2014 and he could be the staff ace this summer. Based on the 1.85 ERA and 1.18 WHIP that he posted in 34 innings on the hill, our bloggers had him ranked fifth in team MVP voting, although he would have surely finished higher had he been given a more prominent role in the first half of the year.

On Thursday afternoon, Fagalde gave up only one earned run on four hits and two walks through his first seven innings on the mound, although Cuesta College was unable to score any runs for him and they trailed 1-0 after seven-and-a-half innings. Even though Fagalde was approaching 100 pitches and it was his first start of the year, Cuesta's current (and Victoria’s former) head coach Bob Miller chose to send him back out there for the bottom of the eighth inning. Fagalde faced four batters in the eighth -- all four reached base -- and he was finally pulled after throwing 113 pitches. Although the deficit was only 2-0 at the time, Fagalde left with the bases loaded and all three inherited runners would come around to score later in the inning. The Cougars would eventually lose 6-1, with Fagalde's line looking a lot worse than it should have:
7 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 3 K

This isn't the first time that Fagalde has been left in a game too long by coach Miller (or former HarbourCat pitching coach Ben Jackson for that matter). Although he only made three starts for the HarbourCats last summer, Fagalde threw more than 100 pitches on two of those occasions, including a prolonged 126-pitch outing against Wenatchee on July 30th. For the sake of the long-term health of his pitching arm, let’s hope that Fagalde doesn't have to deal with too many more of those marathon outings moving forward.

In their inaugural season in 2013, HarbourCats threw more than 100 pitches on 26 occasions -- a remarkable stat considering that the West Coast League regular season has only 54 games. Last summer, Victoria hurlers "only" broke the 100-pitch barrier ten times, although in a perfect world young pitchers would rarely go over that threshold. Now that the HarbourCats have a new coaching staff in place, we’re expecting that these lengthy outings will become the exception and not the rule.

Stay tuned to the blog for more updates on HarbourCat players throughout the college baseball season. Only 125 more days until opening day...

  • Alex Rogers was expected to start a game for Trinidad State (Colorado) Junior College this weekend, but all games have been cancelled due to bad weather. Rogers posted a solid 3.09 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 10 appearances (9 starts) for the HarbourCats last summer, and the Nanaimo native will be returning to the ‘Cats in 2015. 
  • Victoria native Chris Fougner is scheduled to begin his college baseball career this weekend with Salt Lake City Community College.  However, Friday's games were cancelled and it is unclear if Saturday's games will be played.
  • The HarbourCats who play in the Northwest Athletic Conference (Curtis Bafus, Zander Clouse, Matt Fish, Kyle Francis, John Naff and Jamie Umbinetti) don’t start their regular-season games until February 28th.

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.

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.