Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wild Things' worst trade ever

Trades are always a roll of the dice, even in the Frontier League. Sometimes you strike it rich in a trade, such as when Washington acquired record-setting pitcher Aaron Ledbetter from River City. Most trades make little impact one way or another, and many involve teams sending players who are ticketed for the unemployment line to another team for the every-popular player to be named.

Then, sometimes a trade simply makes no sense. One such deal was made by Washington last summer when it sent pitcher Matt Sergey to the Laredo Lemurs of the American Association. Sergey, who might recall, pitched the only perfect game in Frontier League history in August of 2014 against the Gateway Grizzlies, the team the Wild Things will be hosting in a doubleheader tonight.

Sergey made 11 starts for Washington last year and had a 3-4 record with a 2.76 ERA. With any kind of offensive support at all (sounds like a line used when describing every Washington pitcher in the last five years), Sergey's record could have been 7-2. But Sergey had fallen out of favor with manager Bob Bozzuto for sure, and apparently also with pitching coach Ben Moore. A cranky arm was part of Sergey's problem, but when Sergey was healthy and on, then he was almost hittable.

Bozzuto wanted to clean house and plan for 2016, so he traded Sergey to the Laredo Lemurs of the American Association in exchange for two players to be named. Washington did get catcher Alex McKeon from Laredo this spring, but he was likely the player owed to the Wild Things in the Jeudy Valdez trade from last year.

So Washington still has nothing to show for the Sergey trade. Meanwhile, all Sergey did for Laredo was pitch 20 innings late last year for Laredo. They were 20 scoreless innings. Then, in the postseason, Sergey went 1-0 in two starts with a 2.79 ERA and helped the Lemurs win the American Association championship.

This year, Sergey picked up where he left off by going 4-0 in seven starts with an 0.81 ERA for Laredo. If you're counting, that's 73 2/3 innings pitched with a Lemurs and only seven earned runs allowed in 12 starts. That's an ERA of 0.86.

Think the Wild Things could have used that kind of production?

By the way, Sergey, who was ready to be put on the scrap heap by the Wild Things, had his contract purchased Tuesday by the Oakland Athletics.

Monday, June 27, 2016

First managerial change

Chris Mongiardo (36)
The Frontier League's first managerial change of the season happened Monday when the Lake Erie Crushers dismissed Chris Mongiardo and replaced him with Cameron Roth, who was the Schaumburg Boomer's pitching coach.

Mongiardo was in his third seasons as Lake Erie's manager and in his seventh season as a manager in the Frontier League. With the Crushers, "Mong" had a 106-120 record including a 17-19 record this year.

Mongiardo was the manager of the Richmond Roosters from 2003-05 and spent seven games as manager of the Canton Crocodiles in 1999. He also was the pitching coach for Richmond in 2002, when the Wild Things and Roosters played in the Frontier League championship series.

Mong's trademark was he has never seen a pitching change he could not make. In 36 games this season, Mong made 159 pitching changes, an average of almost 4 1/2 per game. Lake Erie, by my count, has made more roster changes this season than any Frontier League team. I'm not sure if the ever-changing roster of the Crushers had anything to do with its new owner wanting to change managers.

The Crushers are in fifth place in the East Division but only 4 1/2 games games out of first place.

Owner Tom Kraming told the Lorian Morning Journal“We had run into a situation where we felt like we needed to move now,” Kramig said. “I didn’t like the direction the ball club was heading on the field.
“And it was primarily a communication issue between ownership, the front office and Chris. That’s pretty much as far as I’ll go.”
Roth, 27, is a former Schaumburg player who is a native of Virginia. He has no managerial experience.

Lake Erie's next game is Tuesday night at home against Florence.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The cheapest/most expensive seats in the Frontier League

Gateway's GCS Ballpark

One of the popular topics of conversation on this blog -- at least by the readers -- has been the price of attending a Frontier League game, especially game tickets.

With that in mind, I've spent some time on the Internet researching the cost of tickets throughout the league. What I wanted to know was three things:

1. Which team has the highest ticket prices? I'm not talking about renting a suite or a party deck or a seat in the hot tub area. I wanted to know the cost of a box seat. If somebody attended a game in every ballpark in the league, and purchased a ticket in the section directly behind the first-base bag in each ballpark, where would it cost the most money?

2. What is the most expensive seat in the Frontier League? Again, we're not talking suites or party decks or tables.

3. Where are the cheapest tickets?

We'll go out of order and start with subject No. 2. The most expensive seats in the Frontier League are found in Normal, Ill., but they're not your normal (no pun intended) seats. You can purchase a "Big League Scout Seat" for $50 per seat.

These are extra wide, padded seats located in the first two rows of section 108 and 109 (directly behind home plate) at The Corn Crib. The seats come with an all-you-can-eat/drink menu with waiter/waitress service.

The most expensive seats at the other 11 ballparks generally run about $13. Washington and Florence have the most expensive tickets in the league at $15 every night. Lake Erie and Gateway have $15 tickets, but those same seats are $13 in Lake Erie and $12 in Gateway if purchased in advance.

If you're looking to buy a seat directly behind first base in each ballpark in the league and get conked in the head with an overthrow, then your best buy is at Southern Illinois. The Miners have $8 tickets in this section. The only other places where you can buy those same tickets for less than $10 are at Lake Erie and Windy City. It will cost you $9 for those seats, but only if you purchase them before gameday, otherwise they're $11. The most expensive first-base box seat is found in Washington, which charges $15. That's at least $2 more than any other place in the league.

The cheapest seat in the league -- and we're talking seat, so grass berms -- are found in Evansville at Bosse Field. You can buy $6 general admission seats that are covered by the pavilion roof. Many of those seats are between first and third base, so they're easily the best buy in the league.

Washington used to offer general admission tickets in the upper bowl. At one time, this included three sections and the cost was only $4 per ticket. Then it was reduced to only one section on the third-base side for $5. This year, those seats that cost $5 last season now cost $12. That's quite an increase in one year, especially when you're coming off a 42-54 season.

Most ballparks offer lawn seating. which runs from $4 in Southern Illinois to $8 in Schaumburg and River City. Washington's website offers lawn seating for $5 but only on Wednesday and Sunday.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Foss is boss

Trevos Foss
Wild Things pitcher Trevor Foss is on quite the roll.

The right-handed pitcher from Jamesville, Wisc., has a string of five consecutive complete games -- one a seven-inning game and another a rain-shortened six-inning contest -- and four wins in a row.

Foss, who was signed this spring after being released by the Los Angeles Angels, leads the Frontier League in complete games (5), innings pitched (54) and wins (5). With a 1.83 ERA, Foss ranks second in the league.

Over his last five starts, Foss has pitched 40 innings, thrown five complete games, has a 4-1 record and given up only five runs (1.13 ERA). Five starts ago, Foss gave up three runs in a doubleheader game against Traverse City. Since then, he has gone 4-0, throwing 33 innings and allowing just two runs (0.55 ERA). The most impressive part of that 33-inning stretch is that Foss has struck out 29 batters and issued only two walks.

So how does Foss' current string of starts compare with those of other Wild Things pitchers in the franchise's 15-year history? He has a current streak of 13 consecutive scoreless innings and had another of of 14 in a row, but those fall well short of the Wild' Things' team record of 27 consecutive scoreless innings thrown by J.J. Hollenbeck in 2008. You should get a free chicken sandwich at the Consol Energy Park concession stand if you knew that Hollenbeck held that record.

Here's a breakdown of some other impressive stretches of outings by Wild Things pitchers:

* In 2002, lefty Jared Howton had a three-game stretch in which he was 3-0 with two complete games, 25 innings pitched and no runs allowed. He walked four and struck out 24 in than span.

* In 2003, Ben Ally had a six-game run in which he went 5-1 with two complete games, allowing five runs in 36 innings.

* Also in 2003, Dave Bradley's final four starts of the regular season all were wins, covering 33 innings. He gave up three runs.

* In 2007, Aaron Ledbetter, who might be the best scouting comp for Foss, had a four-game run of starts in which he went 4-0, allowing three runs over 26 1/3 innings.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Bad sign: Catchers rarely call pitches in amateur baseball

Here is a link to a story in today's Observer-Reporter about how catchers in high school, summer league and college baseball rarely get to call pitches these days, which is part of coaches micromanaging every aspect of the game.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The hitting has not been a hit ... for 5+ years

The Frontier League season is almost one-third complete and the Wild Things are dead last in team batting average (.222). That shouldn't come as a shock or breaking news. Washington has gone almost wire-to-wire with the lowest batting average.

This, however, is not something unique to the first 30 games of the current season. The Wild Things have been battling a lack of offense for years. And let's face it, offense is what puts the excitement into sporting events, whether its baseball, football, basketball, hockey or horseshoes.

Let me bore you with some statistical data that illustrates what I'm saying. There are 11 Frontier League teams that have played every season since 2011. The one exception is Schaumburg. This is the team batting averages of those 11 franchises, from the start of the 2011 season through Thursday night:

.279 -- River City
.269 -- Evansville
.269 -- Lake Erie
.269 -- Southern Illinois
.265 -- Normal
.260 -- Windy City
.257 -- Gateway
.253 -- Joliet
.253 Traverse City
.251 -- Florence
.242 -- Washington
Sometimes a lot of hits in a game don't always translate into runs and wins, so maybe batting average is over-rated. One example of this was Washington's 5-0 loss Thursday night to Joliet. The Wild Things outhit the Slammers 9-7, but Washington's offense was like a Saturday night at a South Side Pittsburgh nightclub -- all singles. Thus, the Wild Things left 12 runners on base.
Let's face it, scoring runs is what baseball is all about. And, again, there has been a lack of that kind of offensive production in Washington since at least 2011. Here is more proof, in the form of number of runs each of those 11 Frontier League teams have scored since 2011:

2,780 -- River City
2,566 -- Gateway
2,501 -- Southern Illinois
2,471 -- Normal
2,430 -- Traverse City
2,358 -- Florence
2,347 -- Evansville
2,296 -- Joliet
2,295 -- Windy City
2,191 -- Lake Erie
2,118 -- Washington
So why has it been so hard for the Wild Things to get hits and score runs for at least the last 5+ years? 
Though it's not a hitter's paradise like the ballparks at River City or Gateway or even Florence, Consol Energy Park sure isn't a cavernous pitcher's park, either. CEP doesn't have the problems that hitters face at Wuerfel Park in Traverse City. In Northern Michigan it gets dark later than in any other spot in the league so players are trying to hit in twilight conditions more often. And there is an odd-color batter's eye in Traverse City, plus the slowest infield turf in the league.
Consol Energy Park also isn't as spacious as at Standard Bank Stadium, home of the Windy City ThunderBolts. That's a ballpark in which fly balls go to die.
Have the Washington managers built their teams around pitching and neglected hitting? The Wild Things have had some good pitching staffs in the last six seasons, including this year's club.
Have the hitting coaches been bad at their job? Heck, there wasn't even a hitting coach on last year's coaching staff after the first road trip of the season. But current hitting coach Mike Marshall has two World Series rings to prove that he knows a little about hitting and the current team is still batting only .222.
Has Washington just been very unlucky with the hitters it has signed? There have been plenty of hitters over the last 5+ years who have not produced to the level that their track record suggests they would.
Have the Wild Things signed the wrong kind of hitters? During the early days of the franchise, when Jeff Isom and John Massarelli were the managers, Washington signed speedy outfielders who could take advantage of CEP's deep gaps. Those outfielders covered a lot of ground and hit a lot of balls into those gaps that turned into triples. The Wild Things hit a league-record 58 triples in 2006. You have to go back three years to find the last 58 triples hit by Washington hitters.
Do the Wild Things sign too many hitters who were released from affiliated ball? Do they sign too many hitters who have never been to affiliated ball and are career independent players?
Do the official scorers have a vendetta against Washington hitters and refuse to give them credit for hits, thus keeping the batting average down?
Have the Wild Things just signed lousy hitters?
Is CEP just a lousy ballpark for hitters?
Do opposing managers tell the good hitters who are available that Washington is a hitter's graveyard and not so sign with the Wild Things?
Are the Wild Things just unlucky when it comes to signing hitters?
These are questions that will have to be answered with the coming at-bats, weeks, and seasons.

Frontier League represented at College World Series

The Frontier League, including the Wild Things, will be represented at the College World Series that begins Saturday in Omaha, Neb.

Frontier League umpire Jim Schaly (pictured) has been selected as one of eight umpires for the series. A native of Marietta, Ohio, Schaly will be working his second College World Series. He also was there in 2011.

Schaly umpired at the regional in Starkville, Miss., (won by Arizona). Because he had been chosen for the CWS, Schaly had last weekend off and did not work the Super Regionals. He did get in some work at Frontier League games, most recently in Marion, Ill., where he called two Florence Freedom vs. Southern Illinois Miners games.

Another connection to the CWS is with Coastal Carolina, which for many years was a feeder program for the Wild Things. The Chanticleers are in Omaha for the first time after winning the SuperRegional series against LSU. Coastal Carolina's director of baseball operations is Chris Carter, who played two years (2005-06) as an outfielder with the Wild Things and won the Frontier League batting title in 2003, his second season with Kalamazoo.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Foss is Pitcher of the Week

The Wild Things’ Trevor Foss was named the Frontier League’s Pitcher of the Week, the league announced Monday afternoon.

Normal CornBelters outfielder Mike Fish was named the Hitter of the Week.

A native of Janesville, Wisc., Foss (3-2) had a 2-0 record last week, winning at Normal and throwing six shutout innings for a victory in a rain-shortened game Sunday against the Evansville Otters. The 26-year-old right-hander baffled the CornBelters, throwing nine innings and only allowing one run on six hits while striking out eight batters in a complete game. Against Evansville, Foss set a career high with nine strikeouts. He allowed only four hits and one walk over six innings in the Wild Things’ 8-0 win.

Foss has a 2.50 ERA with 27 strikeouts and only four walks. He also has one save in his lone relief appearance and leads the Frontier League with three complete games.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Long bus rides, travel nightmares and the 'Club Med' League

I've mentioned on here several times about having to write two stories for Sunday editions because of the Observer-Reporter's early deadline on Saturday nights. A feature story runs in print if the Saturday night Wild Things home game runs long. If the game moves quickly and ends before deadline, like it did last Saturday, then the game story runs in the Sunday edition and that early feature or notebook that I rush to complete usually doesn't see ink.

Such was the case with this story about travel in the minor leagues:

By Chris Dugan
Sports editor

Ask a professional baseball player, from any level of competition, what he dislikes most about his job and the answer will surely be the travel. It often can be grueling, it’s always tiring and it’s all part of the job.
Traveling in the major leagues means chartered flights, no bags, no airport check-in and a lavish getaway meal. It’s a comfortable process.
In the low minor leagues, which includes the independent Frontier League, traveling means long hours on a bus, sometimes sleeping on bus floors, stopping for quick meals at fast-food restaurants or gas station convenience stores, and lots of bumps on the highway.
After the Pirates completed sleepwalking their way through a forgettable 9-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels Friday night at PNC Park, some of the discussion on a Pittsburgh postgame radio show was about the theory that the Pirates’ lackadaisical performance was caused by players being weary from travel. Pittsburgh played an extra-innings game Thursday night in Miami and the team charter didn’t land in Pittsburgh until about 3 a.m. Friday.
At that same time, the Wild Things and Evansville Otters, who began their three-game series at Consol Energy Park Friday night, were both somewhere near the Ohio-Indiana border bussing to Washington. The Wild Things, who played Thursday night in Normal, Ill., arrived in Washington about 7:30 a.m. Friday. Evansville, which played a home game Thursday night, followed 90 minutes later. Both teams lost an hour of potential sleep because they crossed from the Central to the Eastern time zone.
The Wild Things and Otters would have loved to have been at their destination at 3 a.m., but they understand life in the minor leagues doesn’t come with chartered flights.
“People don’t understand the travel that is involved,” Wild Things manager Gregg Langbehn said. “It’s not always fun. One of the first things I thought about when I took this job was having long bus rides again.”
Langbehn spent the last two years as the Cleveland Indians’ replay coordinator. He worked every Indians game, home and away.
“In the major leagues, it’s chartered flights, no line at the airport, though you do get checked by (Transportation Safety Administration),” Langbehn explained. “With the Indians, on travel day, 45 minutes after the game the first bus leaves for the airport. Thirty minutes later, the second bus leaves. Players don’t have to carry their bags, unless its a carry-on. Twenty minutes after the second bus gets to the airport, you’re taking off.”
For a minor league team, traveling means spending hours on a bus en route to the next city. And trying to find a comfortable spot in your seat that will allow for a few hours of sleep.
Though the independent Frontier League has outposts in Washington, northern Michigan and St. Louis, the travel for its teams pales in comparison to many other minor leagues. In affiliated baseball, the Class AA Texas and Eastern leagues and Class A South Atlantic are considered the worst for travel. In independent ball, nothing rivals the American Association, which stretches from Winnipeg in Canada to Laredo, Texas, on the U.S./Mexico border.
When Winnipeg began its season last month, the Goldeyes traveled to Kansas City, Kan., for two exhibition games, went to Joplin, Mo., for the regular-season opener, then to Laredo before heading north to Lincoln, Neb., and back to Winnipeg for the home opener. There was no travel day between the games in Lincoln and Winnipeg. The Goldeyes’ entire road trip covered more than 3,700 miles.
“The American Association by far has the worst travel,” said Evansville manager Andy McCauley, who also managed in that far-flung AA. “Going to Winnipeg took hours, but crossing the border was always a crapshoot. You might get through the checkpoint in 30 minutes, other times it might be two hours. If you swept Winnipeg, it always took longer to get back into the United States because security might make you take every bag off the bus at the border and that would add two hours to your trip.”
Wild Things center fielder Jamal Austin played in the Southern League while in the Seattle Mariners’ system, but he says that league doesn’t compare to the travel in the independent Can-Am League, in which he played last year. The reason? Again, the U.S./Canada border.
“We had eight-hour trips to Canada,” said Austin, who played for two Can-Am teams that were based in New Jersey. “Sometimes, you’d sit for two or three hours at the border.
“All trips in the minor leagues are tough. You never get used to them. You know it comes with the lifestyle but that doesn’t make it any easier. You put up with it because you love the game.”
Sometimes travel plans change because of delays of more than just a few hours. The Hartford Yard Goats, the Class AA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, have played the first 53 games of the Eastern League season on the road because their new ballpark is still under construction. There is no timetable for the park’s opening. The Yard Goats are managed by Darin Everson, who held the same job with the Wild Things for two years (2010 and ’11).
From a player’s standpoint, one of the nice things about the Frontier League is it rarely plays games on Mondays. Sometimes teams have Monday and Tuesday off. Two teams – River City and Evansville – each have one strech of three consecutive off days.
“This league is the Club Med League because you have almost every Monday off,” McCauley said.
The other six days of the week are a grind. And that’s if everything goes smoothly, which doesn’t always happen. As McCauley says, you can count on the air conditioner in the bus to break on the hottest day of the year.
“Everybody has those stories. My first year managing in Evansville, we had a bus that broke down three times on a trip to Kalamazoo,” McCauley recalled. “Before each game, it was pot luck as to whether we’d make it to the game. Then, after the last game, the driver backed the bus into a sandpit behind the ballpark. The players had to push the bus out of the sand before we could leave.
“But those aren’t the things you remember during the offseason. You know the hours on the bus come with the job description.”

Thursday, June 2, 2016

On the road, again

When the Frontier League contracted from 14 to 12 teams during the offseason and switched to a North-South division alignment (though the East and West names were kept), it was thought that the changes would mean less travel for most teams, especially those switching from the East to West division. To some degree, this much is true as Evansville is the big travel winner this season. Switching divisions helped the Otters reduce more than 1,300 miles off their travel from last year.

One thing, however, that might have been lost in the shuffle is teams are playing fewer home games because of the loss of the defunct traveling Frontier Greys. That might explain why six teams will be rolling down the highway for more miles this season than in 2015.

While the schedulemaker included some odd twists and trips this year, it seems there are fewer of those head-scratching, this-doesn't-make-sense journeys. The Wild Things will be making their third 500-mile trip tonight when they go from Normal, Ill., back to good ole Washington, Pa. None of the three trips have been followed by an off day. And Washington has to make eight more trips of 500 miles or more. Such is life for the eastern-most franchise in the Frontier League.

Even with all its long journeys, the Frontier League sure isn't the American Association when it comes to travel. In that league, the Winnipeg Goldeyes opened the season in Joplin, Mo., then went to Laredo, Texas, and then on to Lincoln, Neb., before making a 690-mile trip back to Winnipeg to play their home opener the next night. When the Goldeyes were in Laredo, they were more than 1,700 miles from home.

Here are some of the interesting/puzzling items in the Frontier Legaue schedule:

* Traverse City plays a series at River City, then returns home for a series against Florence, then hops back on the bus and goes to Evansville and Gateway. That's two trips to St. Louis in two weeks.

* Windy City has a bizarre trip that takes it to Lake Erie and then 575 miles overnight to River City. There is no travel day between series.

* After the all-star break, Normal does not have a homestand longer than three games until the final two series of the season.

* River City opened the season at Lake Erie, then had three days off. I assume the Rascals traveled back to O'Fallon, Mo., before heading off to Florence for the second series of the year. That meant the Rascals were on the road for 1,569 miles before playing their fourth game of the season.

* River City has one of the worst trips of the season, a 598-mile journey to Washington to play three games in two days, then turns around and and returns home to play Traverse City the next night.

* Evansville and River City each have three consecutive off days in June (19-21). Sounds like the perfect time to work out some undrafted college guys.

Here is the breakdown of miles each team will travel this season series to series, from start of the year to the final pitch of the regular season. If some teams choose to make short trips a commuter series, that's not factored in. I only calculate the location of each series, with the exception of River City's first two, for which I included a trip back to O'Fallon.

Miles      Team                     +/- from 2015
6,174       Normal                      303 less
6,734       Windy City                876 more
6,834       Joliet                          129 less
7,101       Gateway                     100 more
7,196       Southern Illinois        118 less
7,272       River City                  92 more
7,359       Evansville                1,339 less
7,517       Florence                     494 more
8,029       Lake Erie                   289 less
8,156       Schaumburg             1,837 more
9,791       Washington                 332 less
11,128     Traverse City            1,660 more