West Virginia Black Bears 2017

By Steve Samek

Tonight, the West Virginia Black Bears begin season number three. The Black Bears had a .500 campaign in 2016 with a 38-38 record. This was after taking the championship in 2015, their first year in the league as the Black Bears.

Taking a look at tonight’s opening roster. The team looks rather pedestrian.  One of the top 30 Pirates prospects have been assigned to the roster. http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2017?list=pit.

Mitch Keller is listed, but it is as a rehab assignment. He belongs with Bradenton.  Michael Suchy is also on a rehab assignment.

The rest seem to be call ups from the Gulf Coast league and Bristol.http://www.milb.com/roster/index.jsp?sid=t5020. No one stands out to even have done anything really worth noting. The closest thing to doing something is Jonathan Schwind. Schwind has seen time at the Double and triple a level. He just hasn’t done much with the bat and isn’t really considered a prospect. This just has to be lineup filler. http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?sid=milb&player_id=605462#/career/R/hitting/2017/ALL

Sandy Santos returns to the black and gold after spending last season with them. Santos was with the West Virginia Power, but struggles this season have led to a demotion back to Morgantown. http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?sid=t5020&player_id=642353#/career/R/hitting/2017/ALL. Santos tied for second on the team with 34 rbi, while hitting .281, also second best on the team. http://www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t5020.

A fast start with the Bears and it won’t surprise me if he gets returned to Charleston. Last season he showed a bit of dominance, but nothing not 30 worthy, yet. https://www.milb.com/milb/news/santos-flashes-potential-for-black-bears/c-185063200/t-185364810.

Though aside from the yawn fest of a line up, the Black Bears have an interesting addition to the coaching staff. Joel Hanrahan is an assistant pitching coach for the team. Hanrahan was a former all-star closer in Pittsburgh with 100 career saves. http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hanrajo01.shtml. This gives that big league feel and experience to the young pitchers and should serve them well.

I will say though even with a lack of pedigree in the lineup I can see moves being made to improve this roster. Shane Baz, the first-round pick that recently signed with the Bucs could perhaps make an appreance here. Though the most likely spot for him would be the GCL. Recent draftees from the college ranks maybe sent here as well after signing. http://bit.ly/2s1uhUo.

 

Though it won’t surprise me either if top 30 ranked pitchers in Braeden Ogle, Travis MacGregor and Max Kranick see time in West Virginia after short, or successful stints in the GCL. http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2017?list=pit.

Plus, with no expectations comes the high possibility of a sleeper prospect emerging.  First pitch for the season is at 7:05 p.m.  against Mahoning Valley.

Wpial Impact.

Two local players drafted early.

By Steve Samek

The Wpial had a fantastic first day. Within the top two rounds too big-name players were off the board.

The highlight came in number four overall pick of the Tampa Bay Rays Brandan McKay out of the University of Louisville. While McKay was drafted as a first baseman he also has skills on the mound. His abilities playing two ways have won him three John Olerud two-way player of the year awards amongst his many awards. http://www.gocards.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=6788&path=baseball.

In Fact, McKay may be starting a revolution of two way players to come. http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/19579082/louisville-brendan-mckay-aims-blaze-trail-draft-major-leagues-two-way-player. While players often switch positions after falling at one, few if any play two way.  Sure, you have the occasional pitcher that can hit a little bit, but that isn’t him fielding a position. Japan does have Shohei Otani a pitcher/hitter that is going to draw attention when he hits free agency next winter. Though it would be fair to say that the last player to hit and pitch at a high caliber in the American Major Leagues was Babe Ruth. http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/19579082/louisville-brendan-mckay-aims-blaze-trail-draft-major-leagues-two-way-player.

Sure, some two-way college players have had success playing one position in the majors. Dave Winfield hit 465 home runs and had over 3,100 hits playing for San Diego as a fielder. John Olerud and Toad Helton made a combined seven Major League all-star teams and won batting titles.

While others have failed to impress. John Van Benschoten pitched for Kent State and won an NCAA home run title. A first-round pick in the 2001 draft for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he didn’t last long after going 2-13 with a 9.20 era in 26 MLB appreances. Becoming one of the biggest busts in Pirates history. http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/19579082/louisville-brendan-mckay-aims-blaze-trail-draft-major-leagues-two-way-player.

Tampa Bay plans to let him continue to play both positions, giving them a value pick in his versatility. http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft/rays-go-bogo-brendan-mckay/#5P9KJ5JH5z3U15HI.97.

Though local fans remember him as a dominant pitcher for the Blackhawk Cougars. McKay threw 72.1 consecutive innings scoreless, between his junior and senior seasons. He earned the ranking of 10th best player in the state and won two Gatorade PA state player of the year awards. Three seasons at Blackhawk he had a sub 1.00 era while hitting at least .400.  Can’t wait to watch and root for the local kid. http://www.gocards.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=6788&path=baseball

 

J.J Matijevic is another local star I’d love to see succeed. Matijevic is a Norwin High school product. He won numerous awards during his time with the Knights including a Baseball American All-American. http://www.arizonawildcats.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=5709

 

Matijevic is an infielder for the Arizona Wildcats. Famously known for his dominating play during last year’s College World Series. Matijevic had at least a hit in 11 of Arizona’s 15 postseason games. His biggest one was an rbi double that played the game’s only run in a super reginal win over Mississippi State. He then moved his talents to the Cape Cod league. The dominance continued with Matijevic collecting 11 doubles, five homers,25 rbi, while scoring 19 runs and taking 15 walks. http://www.arizonawildcats.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=5709.

His strong performance earned him the 75th pick in this year’s draft by the Houston Astros. http://www.baseballamerica.com/draftdb/index.php Matijevic was the top hitter in the Pac-12 this season and on the all-Pac-12 team. http://www.arizonawildcats.com/news/2017/6/13/baseball-matijevic-selected-in-2nd-round-by-astros.aspx

 

Making this a much higher selection than in 2014, when Matijevic went in the 22nd round to the Boston Red Sox. http://www.arizonawildcats.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=5709.

My feeling is this is a guy that can get on base and get things started. Though if given the opportunity he can drive in numerous runs. He could rise fast, but bummer he’s blocked at second by Jose Altuve. Good pick though for an rising Houston team.

 

 

 

Logo Mania 2017

By Steve Samek

The chase for supremacy once again hits minor league baseball. This time in the form of Logomania 2017. A contest of 36 teams and four rounds naming one champ the best logo in minor league baseball. Here is how I voted in the first round of the contest and my thoughts on the included teams.
Pool A
Biloxi
Montgomery
Carolina
Beloit
Buffalo
Charleston
This pool features three good logos fighting for two spots in the next round. The Carolina Mudcats is a classic goofy logo that is much loved. The Biloxi Shuckers have made some waves sense rebranding from the Huntsville Stars. Either of these fine aquatic themes offering should end up advancing to the second round as pool A’s runner up. Beloit has a slightly better than average logo, but it’s in a strong pool and should not advance. So many negative points to whoever though to include the likes of the Charleston River dogs and Buffalo Bison in this tournament. They are so boring and uncreative that they don’t deserve a shot at the best logo title. The easy winner here is Montgomery. The Biscuits are the original food themed logo. Take that Lehigh Valley and Fresno. http://bit.ly/2njLZ0M. They will make you laugh and take the title belt with it. Vote Montgomery.

Pool B
Clearwater
Corpus Christi
El Paso
Eugene
Hillsboro
Las Vegas
This is the strong, but not strong enough bracket. With the likes of Threshers, Hooks, Chihuahua’s, Hops, Emeralds and 51’s in the house. Each with great local flare, but not really well known nationally. Except maybe the infamous little doggies. https://hammerdownsportsblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/el-paso-embraces-the-chihuahuas/ I vote for the aliens to back up the pups in this one. Vote El Paso
Pool C
Ashville
Binghamton
Chattanooga
Durham
Frisco
Jacksonville
Quirky meets classic in this bracket. Mr. Moon of Ashville graces a glow in the dark cap that does look really cool. A horse meets Rocky in another option. Famous Bulls put the classic in this grouping. Combined with a new rebrand effort, a weird look and a United States President and you have a pool C where anything can happen. Two of these names I talked about here and I agree with my thoughts today as I did before. http://bit.ly/2mBxu8e. Frisco owns the president on the cap and Teddy Roosevelt does hit hard in this competition. My vote goes to the RoughRiders over the most likely picked Jumbo Shrimp. Vote Frisco
Pool D
Stockton
Tennessee
Albuquerque
Salt Lake
Tacoma
Akron
A very underwhelming selection of teams. A standard script R logo yawn. A bee, a bear, an anchor, try no. An Isotope and the RubberDucks should be the picks to move on. I vote for the one mentioned on a long running cartoon. Vote Albuquerque.
Pool E
Rochester
Syracuse
Vermont
Modesto
Ogden
Richmond
A bracket that looks underwhelming at first. The Red Wings and Chiefs are a weak start to this bracket. The next four redeem this bracket. Nuts, Raptors, Lake Monsters and Flying Squirrels make this a tough pick. Lake Monsters advance as does Richmond. My vote goes to the super hero Squirrel. Vote Richmond
Pool F
Harford
Norfolk
Reno
Lansing
New Orleans
Portland.
Save the best for last as the saying goes. This bracket will see two strong players come out of it. Lansing, Portland and Reno could be sleeper picks to advance and surprise people. Hartford and Norfolk also look impressive, yet retain a certain comedy to them. As for New Orleans please do yourself a favor and not rebrand to something stupid. http://bit.ly/2mBxu8e. Read more there. Voting here for a tasteful rebrand. Vote Norfolk.
You can vote in the contest to crown a champion here. http://www.baseballamerica.com/2017-logomania/

 

Crossing The Line.

Promotions that may have been too edgy.

By Steve Samek

Minor League baseball embraces the crazy and unique to make for the perfect promotion. Though what if a promotion goes too far.
Enter the Ogden Raptors and their Hourglass appreciation night. http://www.baseballamerica.com/business/ogden-raptors-announce-quickly-remove-hourglass-appreciation-night-a/#LUOVb6EismcMMCm5.97
Yes, the promotion honored women’s bodies of the curvy variety. The promotion was to include models, 18 of them to be exact each calling a half inning of baseball in the booth. Fans can then take pictures with the beauties.
Sounds harmless, while being so offensive at the same time. You are promoting looks first and all the unhealthy things that women do to match the ideal body shape. Plus, it doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with baseball. I mean baseball doesn’t have a clock, or hour glass like in most other sports, but the connection to honoring that and an hourglass is weak at best.
Not helping the fact is that A.P Harreld a broadcaster for the Raptors has connections with the modeling agency in question.
The promotion was canceled and was never an official thing to begin with. Fans knew about it through social media and internet means, and have been voicing disapproval for the promotion. An apology has been given by the team. http://www.baseballamerica.com/business/ogden-raptors-announce-quickly-remove-hourglass-appreciation-night-a/#LUOVb6EismcMMCm5.97.
Though if you did have models at the ballpark, what’s not to say attendance wouldn’t rise. It’s the idea behind many a cheerleader, or dance team. They entertain and look good doing it.
Also brought up in the article was another failed promotion idea in White Heritage Night by the Orem Owlz.
Orem’s promotion was to celebrate the good and wholesome aspects of American living. A leave it to Beaver feel of the past. Fans didn’t take too well to that idea either. Mostly poking fun at how every day is a white appreciation day. Two days later was the church shooting in South Carolina. One that may have had racial motives. The promotion was canceled.
I think this promotion was more of a spoof than anything else. It made sense with the rest of the heritage night promotions out there to include whites. Though it does raise a lot of eyes for possible connections to white supremacy. That’s a no go. http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/20/us/caucasian-heritage-night/index.html
Sports should be a uniting factor. Even if your bitter rivals are to be hated, there is a line that doesn’t need to be crossed. These promotions may have crossed it.

 

Another Rarity

By Steve Samek

Ah so many problems with the game of baseball. Though still much loved. First was the mentioning of killing extra-inning games. http://bit.ly/2q82Reo

 Second is the over reliance on the specialty closer. http://bit.ly/2qfDxk6

This problem leads to a very real problem the rarity of the complete game and its possible extinction.

In this ESPN article http://www.espn.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/80161/the-death-of-the-complete-game It shows that the numbers of complete games being thrown are going down by significant margins. As of the writing of this article the 2017 season is on pace for 75 complete games. This is down from 83 in 2016. Sense 2011 and the 173 complete games thrown that season the number has been declining every season this decade.

The percentages of complete games being thrown has also gone down according to the ESPN piece. During the 1900’s 79 percent of game pitched were complete games. Today just about two and a half percent go the distance. The trend has been decreasing percentages the whole time.

One reason behind this is pitch count watching. This season none of the 26 complete games this season, none have been more than throwing 120 pitches. Compared with 250 complete games of 120 plus pitches in 1988. Though in 5 year increments the trend downward is continuing. Just five compete games went 120 or more pitches last year. http://www.espn.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/80161/the-death-of-the-complete-game

This trend has to be assisted by the bullpen argument. The game has shifted to a bunch of specialists in the bullpen, even to the point of the loogy, or roogy. (Left handed one-out guy, or right handed one out guy.) http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/LOOGY.

The point is get the 27 outs even if you have to take six pitchers to do it.

The ideal scenario in a baseball game is have a starter go six, or seven innings for the quality start then move to a set-up man for the eighth and the closer in the ninth. Lots of closers never see the field for days based on the need to lock down the save and the win. Lots of closers are known for being hard throwers. Being able to give maximum effort for a short time is an advantage and shortening the game with a lock down bullpen is a legitimate strategy. Though a lot of the time the closer, which is often one of the best arms on the team gets left on the bench.

Conversely, the closer would mess with the idea of the complete game. Even with a starter cruising and the game in hand, why not bring in the closer in a save situation. Have the starter not throw more pitches than needed and still pick up the win. The starter gets pulled for the all-important save and loses the complete game. http://bit.ly/2qfDxk6

 

The pitcher hitting may have a say in this argument too. A lot of times pitchers are lifted in favor of pitch hitters, for offensive improvement. Yes, using a designated hitter helps keep pitchers focused on pitching, but it still doesn’t mean pitchers will be kept in longer. It just means you won’t have to deal with often time a liability at the plate. Though some pitchers can hit insert Madison Bumgarner here.

Looks lie the key to completeness in 2017 isn’t actually complete a game. Five of this season 22 games have only been eight inning complete games. While technically a complete game because you lost after the top of the ninth with the home team winning, I feel it cheapens it. Full games are nine innings. To truly be a complete game you have to pitch all nine. http://www.espn.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/80161/the-death-of-the-complete-game.

Though I must admit the rarity is what makes it exciting. If it becomes too common to throw a complete game it loses its luster. That’s why perfect games and no-hitters are celebrated. For their difficulty to achieve. Complete games are easier to throw than perfect games and no hitters, but still can be a special thing. Just let your pitchers have a couple more pitches to finish things off.

 

Star Wars Night

By Steve Samek

On Friday May 19,2017, I went to a galaxy far far away. Well or at least a ball park near me for Star Wars Night at the Altoona Curve. The game turned into a mini prospect scouting trip after the main objective for the evening was met. This report will chronical my prospects and promotional thoughts all in one.

The main objective for the night was to snag one of the night’s giveaway items. This came in the form of much loved fish mascot Al Tuna with a light saber as a bobble head. The top 1,000 entrants would receive this prize. While it may not make for fun reading, thanks to lining up at 4:30 p.m. for a 5:00 p.m. gate time, I was able to add this collectable to my collection. Note was only offered to sell this item once and turned it down. I would say most fans got the item, as the crowd was sparse that day.

Surprisingly that crowd didn’t head for the exits after the seven run first inning the Erie Sea wolves put up. Curve starter Alex McRae, who I saw in an earlier game was rocked and looked the opposite of that earlier game. Try to the tune of just 1/3 of an inning pitched giving up six runs and two home runs, including a grand slam. McRae is would be my pick for a sleeper prospect as he sits outside of the top 30 Pirates prospects, but has pitched consistently well.

Jared Lakind pitched 3.2 innings only allowing a singular run on a singular hit while striking out six. He looked good in his long relief. Montana Durapau looked super as well. The 2016 Altoona fireman of the year lived up to the award with two scoreless innings of 1 hit ball with two stakeouts. Look for this guy to make a run at Pittsburgh, despite also being outside of the top 30 prospects.

Former top 30 prospect Luis Heredia did not impress. In 2/3 of an inning Heredia barley kept the lead intact, from a mess inherited from Buddy Borden. Borden was also lacking his best stuff on the day.

Kevin Kramer impressed me with the bat. The number 17 ranked prospect in the Pirates system went 3-4 with a home run and scored three times. http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2017?list=pit. He was a major player in the Curves 11-10 win over Erie. https://www.milb.com/gameday/seawolves-vs-curve/2017/05/19/497495?#game_state=final,game_tab=box,game=497495.

 

Now to review the festivities.  I think the Star Wars theme was a bit underdone. There were several costume characters around the park for pictures, score board graphics and walk up music themed to Star Wars. Though it felt weird that the Curve didn’t have a theme jersey on. I also felt that as cool as the bobble head was, the choice of robe makes it look like Harry Potter. If it didn’t say revenge of the fish on it and have a red colored saber it could be confused for another pop culture icon. It also seemed like the music was the same theme over and over and not a ton of varity. Though points added for playing the Saga Begins by Weird Al during the eight inning.

The promotional video work also gets an A grade. Loved the Loco vs. Al Tuna using the force hitting and pitching. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3S0Czrkw8l8.

I just think they could have done a better job emerging fans in the theme. Maybe have special themed contests, or have the costume characters participate in the games. Maybe add more video clips from the movie on the score board if doable. Overall I think I give the promotion a B-.

 

 

 

Save the Save?

By Steve Samek

The hot button statistical topic of major league baseball is the save. Just how important is the save. Is it worth saving your so called top relief pitcher for a situation that may never come.

Be hold a new strategy. Andrew Miller gets acquired by the Cleveland Indians at the trade deadline. Miller was acquired to be the Indians shutdown man in the ninth inning closer. When did he enter the game, as early as the fifth inning during the Indians run to the end of October baseball. Then behold the debate on whether or not the closer, or at least the modern one is going to become extinct. http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/17903285/how-andrew-miller-became-most-important-reliever-baseball

Miller’s role was that of the fireman. The old-school terms for relievers. That came in during a tough situation to put out the fire. Firemen pitched multiple innings with the tightest of leds. The save wasn’t even adopted by the MLB until 1969. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/goose-egg-new-save-stat-relief-pitchers/?sf71069884=1 The save then gave way to the relief man of the year award solely tabulated on save and win total. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sporting_News_Reliever_of_the_Year_Award.

 

Today the best arms are sent into the ninth innings with up to a three-run led for the all-important save. The starters go the six expected or maybe seven innings the turn it over to an 8th inning guy and the closer in the ninth.  It’s a bull pen of specialization rather than get in there and get the guy out no matter what the scenario.

Taking a look at the save requirements. According to the Major league baseball rule book, Saves:
Rule 10.20 in the Official Rule Book states:
Credit a pitcher with a save when he meets all three of the following conditions:
(1) He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his club; and
(2) He is not the winning pitcher; and
(3) He qualifies under one of the following conditions:
– (a) He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning; or
– (b) He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, or at bat, or on deck (that is, the potential tying run is either already on base or is one of the first two batsmen he faces; or
– (c) He pitches effectively for at least three innings. No more than one save may be credited in each game.

http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/about_mlb/rules_regulations.jsp.

Seems too easy right. Three run led saves require everyone due up in the inning to score if tied.  Though under conditions 3 b and c the save is much tougher, but still reasonable.

An alternative was given for the stat called the Goose egg. It is a harder save set up more in the old fireman style. A long explanation can be seen here. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/goose-egg-new-save-stat-relief-pitchers/?sf71069884=1.

Though the first part of the article is about how too many stats are ruining baseball. So why add another one. Why not just change the save requirements and call it a day? Why not just get rid of the save all together?

I advocate for the latter. It promotes the best pitcher pitching to get the outs rather than waiting and wasting your best pitcher on a chance that may never come.

Two I hate the fact that it is such a situational stat. The number of saves a pitcher gets changes based on the number of three and under run wins a team gets. So why are teams aiming to win by less, just for a stat. Granted the stat is a bit of an equalizer as an 80-win team and 50-win team can both have 30 plus save men in a season if the chips fall right. Though the save is exactly that based on how the chips fall. A hit can be all it takes to create, or bust a save. The situation may come 30 times a year or it may come 15. So is the 30 save man better than the 15 save man because of situations beyond each’s control.

If you want to simplify the game why not eliminate a worthless situational stat from the ranks. If that’s not possible maybe go the goose egg route and toughen up the requirements. Better yet let your starters pitch as much as they can and forget the bullpen. Saves need to die if baseball wants to move forward strategy wise.