Sunday, October 12, 2014

Werman to coach defending state champions

La Salle College High School in Wyndmoor, Pa., located just north of Philadelphia, is the defending PIAA baseball champion in Pennsylvania's largest classification, Class AAAA. The Explorers have won two of the last three PIAA championships. They also will have a new head coach this spring, former Wild Things second baseman Kyle Werman.

Werman was named La Salle's head coach earlier this month, replacing Joe Parisi, who retired from coaching after 28 seasons. This will be Werman's first head coaching job. After leaving the Wild Things during the 2007 season, Werman has been coaching college in college. Werman's stops have included his alma mater, Virginia, along with George Mason, Radford and most recently St. Joseph's.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bullpen breakdown

Blown saves is one of those statistics, much like pitching wins and ERA, that you sometimes have look beyond the numbers to see if they hold as much meaning as the numbers suggest.

You can get a blown save for giving up one run in a four-inning relief stint, yet a pitcher who gives up two runs in the ninth inning can get a save.

If you don't know the rule, a blown save is charged to a pitcher who enters a game in a situation that permits him to earn a save if he finishes the game, but who instead allows the tying run to score. As it stands, blown saves don’t discriminate between closers and middle relievers.

When looking at blown saves totals for teams, one must take into consideration that clubs that win many games play more often with the lead in late-game situations than losing teams. In other words, Southern Illinois' relief pitchers had many more opportunities for blown saves than the Greys' bullpen. Also, the smaller the average lead the bullpen has to hold on to, the more often it will give up the lead.

For a team to have a winning record and still be at the bottom of a league's blown saves total is rare. When that happens, it shows that the team has an outstanding bullpen. The Wild Things fell into that category this year. Washington had the fewest blown saves (7) in the league, thanks to the stellar relief pitching closer Jonathan Kountis and setup guys Al Yevoli, Pat Butler and Matt Purnell.

Kountis led the league with a record 32 saves. He blew his first save opportunity of the year in the season-opening series at Florence, then converted 26 consecutive save opportunities, which broke the team record of 18 in a row set in 2002 by Robert Garvin.

Yevoli, who seemed to pitch as often with the lead as Kountis, also had only two blown saves, none after July 19. He also set the team record by pitching in 48 games.

Purnell, a rookie out of an NCAA Division II school, did a better job than anybody could have expected. He had a 3.23 ERA in 42 games and only two blown saves.

Butler had the highest ERA (4.15) of the four guys at the back of the bullpen but he was very good when protecting a lead. He had only one blown save and you had to go all the way back to June 8 at Rockford to find that game.

The Wild Things had a 3-4 record in games in which the bullpen had a blown save.

You will notice that Southern Illinois had a large number of blown saves. Almost all of those were in setup relief as the Miners tried numerous players to bridge the gap between their strong starting rotation and closer Derrick Miramontes.

2014 Blown Saves
19 - Southern Illinois
14 - Lake Erie
12 - Rockford
12 - Schaumburg
11 - River City
10 - Evansville
10 - Gateway
10 - Joliet
10 - Normal
 9 - Florence
 9 - Greys
 9 - Windy City
 8 - Traverse City
 7 - Washington

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A quick pick-me-up

Troy Marks is one of two Wild Things pitchers picked up by Arizona this week.
The Arizona Diamondbacks continued to sign players from the Frontier League at a record pace when they purchased the contracts of six players, including two Wild Things, this week.

Joining the Diamondbacks for minor-league spring training next spring are Wild Things starting pitcher Troy Marks and reliever Al Yevoli.

The Diamondbacks also signed Frontier League MVP Shayne Houck, a third baseman from Evansville, catcher Matt Jones and pitcher Stew Brase from Southern Illinois, and Lake Erie outfielder Ryan Hutchinson.

The Diamondbacks have signed 12 Frontier League players since the start of spring training back in May. Among the 12 is former Washington outfielder Stewart Ijames, who was Arizona's Minor League Player of the Month in August and helped the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops to the Northwest League championship earlier this month.

Marks (6-5, 210) was a major addition to the Wild Things' starting rotation in the second half of the season, after joining the Wild Things in late July. He posted a 5-1 record and 2.45 ERA in eight starts, and struck out 55 in 47 2/3 innings. He threw 7 1/3 shutout innings in an extra-innings loss to River City in Game 1 of the Divisional Series. Though Marks is a right-hander, the FL's left-handed batters managed only a meager .164 batting average against him.

Yevoli, who was in his third season with Washington, was one of the reasons the Wild Things had one of the top bullpens in the league and only seven blown saves all season. Yevoli, whose fastball has hit 94 mph, had a 4-5 record, 2.91 ERA and one save in 48 outings. He struck out 46 in 49 1/3 innings. This will be Yevoli's third shot in affiliated ball. He has been with the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves.

This is a big year for players jumping from the Frontier League to affiliated ball. With the Diamondbacks picking up six this week and the Minnesota Twins purchasing Evansville lefty Jose Velez, the count stands at 42 players picked up out of the Frontier League since the start of spring training. Over the same period, the American Association has sold 14 players, but that includes John Holdzkom, who will likely be on the Pittsburgh Pirates' playoff roster. The five-team Can-Am League has had six players move to affiliated ball since May 1.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Quality workmanship

2014 Schaumburg Boomers
As a I type this, the Frontier League's 22nd season might be winding down to its final innings. The Schaumburg Boomers are trying to win back-to-back championships by eliminating the River City Rascals.

The series is an interesting one to me because of the contrast in the way the pitching staffs of the Boomers and Rascals have been used this year. Schaumburg is an old-school style of team that relies on starting pitchers to work deep into games. The Rascals, much like the Lake Erie Crushers this year, have been bucking the theory that quality outings by your starting pitchers are necessary for success.

No team made more pitching changes this year than River City's 338. Lake Erie, meanwhile, made 322 pitching changes. Rascals manager Steve Brook and the Crushers' Chris Mongiardo wore out paths from the dugout to the mound. All they wanted from their starting pitchers was four or five solid innings and then they'd use a deep bullpen to take advantage of lefty-lefty and righty-right matchups for the remainder of the game. And it worked almost every night.

To show how much more River City and Lake Erie relied on their relief pitchers and the matchup game than their opponents, check out the number of pitching changes made by each of the six playoff teams:

338 - River City
322 - Lake Erie
262 - Southern Illinois
253 - Washington
238 - Schaumburg
192 - Evansville

After a break of about 24 hours, I'm back, trying to finish this blog post. Schaumburg did indeed win its second consecutive league championship last night and the Boomers followed the script. Seth Webster had a quality start (seven innings, one run) and three relievers finished a 6-2 victory. A quality start from your pitcher usually gets you a win in the Frontier League, as you can tell by the following chart:

Quality starts in 2014
49 - Southern Illinois
47 - Evansville
46 - Florence
44 - Washington
42 - Gateway
41 - Schaumburg
41 - Traverse City
40 - Rockford
39 - Windy City
35 - Normal
31 - Joliet
25 - Lake Erie
23 - Greys
23 - River City

Scott Dunn led Washington's pitchers with 11 quality starts. Zac Fuesser was second with nine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Game 2 postponed

Paul Baillargeon / For the Observer-Reporter
Frontier League commissioner Bill Lee and Wild Things manager Bob Bozzuto discuss the playing conditions Wednesday night prior to Game 2 of the Frontier League playoff series at River City being postponed because of rain.

Game 2 of the Wild Things-River City Rascals series scheduled for tonight has been postponed because of rain. It will be played Thursday night (8:05 p.m.) and Game 3, if necessary, will be Friday night.

Paul Baillargeon / For the Observer-Reporter
The ground crew and interns check the tarp at T.R. Hughes Ballpark Wednesday evening.

Forecast not promising

It's not looking like a good night for baseball in O'Fallon, Mo.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Game 1 lineups

Here are the lineups for Game 1 of the Divisional Series between the Wild Things and River City Rascals tonight at Consol Energy Park:

River City
LF - Eric Williams
SS - Johnny Morales
C - Saxon Butler
DH - Joe Staley
1B - Brian McConkey
2B - Hector Crespo
RF - Jon Myers
CF - Curran Redal
3B - Steve Carilloo
P - Tommy Mendoza (9-3, 3.40)

CF - Danny Poma
1B - Garrett Rau
RF - Scott Kalamar
3B - Carter Bell
C - Jim Vahalik
DH - Maxx Garrett
LF - Andrew Heck
SS - Ryan Kresky
2B - Austin Wobrock
P - Troy Marks (5-1, 2.45)

UPDATE: Washington made a lineup change at 6:40 p.m., moving Vahalik to the No. 5 spot and Garrett to the No. 6 position in the batting order.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

No. 1,000

The post below this one was No. 1,000 for this blog. Back in May of 2007, somebody at the O-R basically created this blog for me and said "Here you go. You have a blog. Now start posting." I thought I would have stopped long before 2014 and 1,000 posts.

Here or there?

There will be no division title this year for the Wild Things but they can still play their first home playoff game since 2007. They will have two shots to do the latter, the first coming tonight. If they beat Evansville in the regular-season finale, then the Wild Things will host the Otters in the one-game wild-card playoff Saturday. A Washington loss sends both teams to Evansville.

When you break it down to its most simple form, tonight's game basically determines not much more than who will have the final at-bat Saturday. Sure, both teams want to play a postseason game at home in front of their own fans. It has been seven years since Washington has played a postseason game at home. Evansville hasn't played a home playoff game since 2006. And Evansville wants to play the game on grass at Bosse Field while Washington prefers to play on turf at Consol Energy Park. And the winner tonight will finish in second place, not third place like the loser.

But the only thing that is going to matter Saturday when the first pitch is thrown is who is batting in the top of the inning and which team is batting in the bottom half.

So, do you go all-out to win tonight, knowing you have an off day on Friday? Or do you hold back some pitching for Saturday? Those are questions manager Bob Bozzuto had to ponder late last night and today.

"You want to host because the two fields are not the same," Bozzuto said. "One is grass and one is turf. One has true hops the other does not. We lost two games at Evansville because we had balls bounce over a fielder's head at the last second. We'd like to win (tonight), earn it and host Saturday. It also comes down to some pride, finishing one spot higher in the standings.

"We're 57-38, and some years that would be good enough to win a division. We're in the playoffs, though, and we want to be on our home turf."

Bozzuto said after Wednesday night's game that he had not decided on a starting pitcher for the regular-season finale.

"Honestly, I'm undecided," he said.

The spot in the rotation would be Matt Sergey's. Bozzuto, however, might be considering going with Zac Fuesser on three days of rest for the first time all season.

"That's a double-edged sword," Bozzuto said. "We have to make sure we make the best decision."

Some random leftover notes and thoughts from Wednesday night:

* The game was one of the worst played by each team. During a two-inning stretch, Evansville committed four errors (three by a first baseman who entered the series with only two errors all season) and balked in the tying run on a play (fake throw to third base while on the rubber and then turn and throw to first base) that was legal for more than a century but changed to a balk prior to this year. Washington's night began with its worst start by a pitcher all season and included not scoring with the bases loaded and no outs in the fourth inning, two bad baserunning mistakes, five strikeouts with a runner in scoring position and a pitcher being ejected.

"We didn't have good approaches at the plate with runners in scoring position and that hurt us," Bozzuto said. "We needed to just put the ball in play. We needed to slow the game down."

* Lost among the rubble Wednesday was the performance of Washington reliever Zach LeBarron, who turned in perhaps his best outing of the season. He retired the first 10 batters he faced after relieving starter Shawn Blackwell and gave up only two hits, one run and a walk over 4 2/3 innings.

"He kept us in the game," Bozzuto said. "He gave us a chance."

* Evansville took the lead for good in the seventh inning on a two-run homer by Chris Elder, which came immediately after J.R. Higley drew a two-out walk. Washington rookie reliever Matt Purnell thought he had struck out Higley to end the inning and didn't get a favorable call from plate umpire Drew Ashcraft. After Elder homered, Purnell was ejected.

"In this game, walks come around to score 70 to 80 percent of the time," Bozzuto said. "We were ahead 0-2 in the count and walked (Higley). Whether it was a good call or not, the fact is we were ahead 0-2 and walked him, then lost our composure."

* There used to be a time when the Wild Things signed just about any player they wanted from Pennsylvania. Since Andy McCauley, a native of Allentown, became the Otters' manager several years ago, that has changed. Evansville's roster has four players from eastern Pennsylvania, including league MVP Shayne Houck, a Boyertown native and Kuztown University product. There was another Houck from Boyertown (Kurt Houck), who made the Wild Things' opening day roster in 2010 and pitched in nine games for Washington.

Others Pennsylvanians on the Otters are cleanup hitter Chris Sweeney, relief pitcher Brandon Shimo and outfielder John Schultz. The latter played his college ball at Pitt.

That's why there are so many Evansville fans at CEP for this series. And they were loud Wednesday night.

* Have I mentioned that one-game playoffs are absurd in baseball? What's good for Major League Baseball is not always good for minor-league baseball. Maybe that's a topic for another blog post.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Kountis, Beatty named to all-league team

One current Wild Things player and one former standout were named Sunday to the Frontier League’s end-of-season all-star team.
Relief pitcher Jonathan Kountis and designated hitter C.J. Beatty were among the 11 players selected.

Kountis became the first player in Frontier League history to have 30 saves in a season when he pitched the 10th inning of Washington’s 3-2 victory Friday night at Gateway. Kountis has a 1-4 record and 2.70 ERA. He has converted 30 of 32 save opportunities. Kountis had a streak of 26 consecutive save opportunities converted.

Beatty had his contract purchased by the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 12. At the time, he was batting .275 with 18 home runs, 57 RBI and 15 stolen bases. The 18 home runs ranks fourth in the league. Beatty is currently playing for the Winston-Salem Dash of the Class A Carolina League.

Both Kountis and Beatty are on the all-league team for the second time. Kountis made it in 2012 as a member of the Lake Erie Crushers. He signed with Washington as a free agent during the last offseason. Beatty was the all-league second baseman last year.

Evansville third baseman Shayne Houck (.311, league-leading 22 home runs, 62 RBI) was named the winner of the Morgan Burkhart Award as the league’s Most Valuable player. Houck is a Pennsylvania native and played his college ball in the PSAC at Kutztown before being drafted by the San Francisco Giants.

Southern Illinois starter Matt Bywater (8-4, 2.38 ERA, league-leading 112 strikeouts) won the Brian Tollberg Award as the Pitcher of the Year. Bywater has 14 quality starts in 20 outings.

Rockford second baseman Tanner Witt (.305) won the Jason Simontacchi Award as the Rookie of the Year. Witt is from Kansas State.

Evansville’s Andy McCauley was named Manager of the Year.

Others chosen to the all-league team are catcher Tyler Shover and outfielders Sam Judah and Mike Schwartz of Normal, Florence first baseman Sam Eberle, Lake Erie second baseman Vincent Mejia, Gateway shortstop Michael Wing and Windy City outfielder Kyle Robinson.

The Observer-Reporter was voted the Newspaper of the Year.

Wild Things radio broadcaster Randy Gore received the Commissioner’s Award of Excellence for his broadcasting and community work. Gore was instrumental is organizing the recent Ovarian Cancer Night at Consol Energy Park.

Former Wild Things trainer Rebecca McFeaters, who now works for Rockford, was named the league’s top trainer.

Gateway's Adam Young was chosen as the Broadcaster of the Year and the Grizzlies were named Organization of the Year. Gateway's Steve Gomric was named the Executive of the Year. Joliet infielder Max Casper will receive the Fran Riordan Award for citizenship.

A few random thoughts on the all-league selections and awards:

Beatty being chosen as the DH was the most interesting of those on the 11-player team, if only because of the position at which he was put on the ballot. I don't have the exact number, but Beatty played about 17 games at DH. He did play 58 in left field.

Having Beatty on the ballot as a DH meant that Saxon Butler, who is second in the league in RBI and only one behind the leader, did not make the all-league team.

There were some hard decisions for voters. First base had four viable candidates, shortstop was a tough call between Wing and Southern Illinois' Ryan Cavan, Joe Staley of River City had good power numbers at catcher, and in addition to Witt there were three other solid candidates for Rookie of the Year.

McCauley would not have been my first choice for Manager of the Year. That's not a knock on what he has done with Evansville, which has been at or near the top of the East all season and overcame the loss of three starting pitchers to affiliated ball. What caught my attention is the jobs done by Steve Brook at River City and Chris Mongiardo at Lake Erie.

Brook lost six players to affiliated ball, and we in Washington all know what losing just two players can do to a team's lineup. Also, when River City was in Washington the first time, the Rascals had suffered a rash of injuries and were so depleted that they played one of those games without a position player on the bench.

Mongiardo, who probably should be known as Captain Hook, has Lake Erie currently in a playoff spot despite having to start the season with his best hitter, Andrew Davis, on the disabled list and going through the season with the fewest quality starts (25 so far) of any team except the Greys. Mongiardo has worn out a path between the dugout and pitcher's mound. He has made 306 pitching changes. Evansville has made only 180 pitching changes.