The season is 30 percent complete, and the team is coming off its first official off day. So let’s step back a bit and take a look at what we’ve learned about this year’s ValleyCats so far:
The starting rotation is good. Euris Quezada has not had the best start to the season, going 0-3 with an 8.83 ERA, but the other four-fifths of the rotation has been anywhere from good to excellent. Juri Perez has the highest ERA of the four at 3.55, and this doesn’t feel unsustainable – all four of these pitchers have the stuff and command to be very good at this level. If the ‘Cats can get the fifth spot figured out, it wouldn’t shock me in the least to see this rotation go on a run like the 2010 team did last August, when all five starters had an ERA below three for the entire month. Now that players have had a few starts under their belt, Tri-City and other teams will be more willing to let their starters go into the sixth and seventh innings, which will magnify the Cats’ starting pitching advantage.
The star of the rotation so far has been Kyle Hallock, who has completed at least five innings in every start and has yet to allow more than two earned runs. Anytime you’re among the league leaders in K/9 and BB/9, as Hallock is entering tonight’s start at Batavia, you’re doing something right. The southpaw has 25 strikeouts against two walks, the best such ratio in the league so far, and ranks fourth with a 0.78 WHIP.
If there’s one candidate for regression among the Cats’ top four starters, it may be Jonas Dufek. Check out these splits: with nobody on base, opponents are hitting .410/.500/.645 off Dufek. But with men on, he becomes “Jonasty,” holding hitters to a .158/.200/.211 line. And with men in scoring position? .114/.184/.200. In a nutshell, Dufek has allowed lots of runners to reach base but has pitched extremely well under pressure. That’s great to see from a mental standpoint, but it’s not likely to be sustainable over a full season – if runners keep reaching base, hitters will eventually get lucky and have bloopers or line drives fall in critical situations, and runs will score. (Of course, leadoff batters aren’t likely to keep getting on base 64 percent of the time either, so it all may even out.)
DIPS likes the pitching staff even more. The ‘Cats have done well in all of the “three true outcome” categories – the team ranks fifth in strikeout rate (K/9), fourth in walk rate and fourth in home run rate allowed. Though they rank sixth in ERA, I have them third in the league in FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching). The difference can be explained by a .323 batting average on balls in play, the third-highest in the NYPL.
Now, a major caveat here: when discussing major-league pitchers, BABIP has been shown to have very little predictive value for pitchers – that is, what happens to a ball in play is mostly due to factors that are outside the pitcher’s control. This is not necessarily true for minor-league pitchers. Minor-league players – especially at a low level such as the NY-Penn League – are very different than major-league pitchers, and it would be reasonable to think that some minor-league pitchers consistently throw pitches that are more likely to go for base hits. (These pitchers would usually be weeded out before reaching the majors.)
In short: while the strong fielding-independent statistics and the high BABIP do suggest that the pitchers have been unlucky (and/or that the defense behind them has been poor), the evidence for that is not as strong as similar major-league numbers would be.
The offense needs improvement. This isn’t as clear-cut as you might expect: the ‘Cats actually rank eighth in the league with 4.43 runs per game, though they’re closer to eleventh (Brooklyn) than seventh (Hudson Valley). What’s not obvious is how exactly they’re doing it. Tri-City ranks 12th in batting average (.236), 12th in slugging percentage (.326) and tied for 10th in on-base percentage (.319), a profile that doesn’t usually lead to a league-average offense.
Only one team has left fewer runners on base than the ‘Cats. You could make a convincing argument that the ValleyCats are one of the better baserunning teams in the league, and generally good lineup construction has helped, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that some of this simply comes down to the team getting timely hits at a rate that may not be sustainable.
Plate discipline is not the problem. It feels like batters have watched a lot of third strikes go by at Joe Bruno Stadium this year, and fans of every team feel like their hitters strike out too much, but the ValleyCats’ problem is not their pitch recognition. The ‘Cats are striking out in a tick under 18 percent of their plate appearances, one of the best marks in the NYPL and well below the league average of 20 percent. They have drawn 83 walks against 155 strikeouts, the third-best ratio in the league.
But the ‘Cats just aren’t doing enough when they make contact. Despite playing in Joe Bruno Stadium, recently the league’s best home run park, Tri-City ranks dead last in the league with six dingers, even after hitting three in its last two games. I’d expect a better showing than that in the final 53 games – powerful hitters like Brandon Meredith and Kellen Kiilsgaard will hopefully return to the lineup, and guys like Zach Johnson and Miles Hamblin have shown the potential to hit for more power than they have so far – but this isn’t an offense that will be having too many one-swing rallies.
These outfielders can throw. Okay, we knew that from the start. Drew Muren leads the league with five outfield assists, and Justin Gominsky is tied for second with four. As a team, the ‘Cats have a league-best 11 outfield assists in 23 games, which the pitching staff must love.
Guess what? The ValleyCats have been unlucky. At this time last year, the ValleyCats were 9-14, but they had scored roughly as many runs as they had allowed. I argued that they would play better for the rest of the season, and sure enough they did, greatly surpassing even my expectations.
Well, it’s a year later, and the ValleyCats are 9-14. And guess what? They’ve only been outscored by two runs (104-102). Run differential is a better predictor of future performance than wins and losses. It certainly doesn’t mean another miraculous playoff run is coming – and a slew of difficult opponents in the next two weeks won’t make it easy for the ‘Cats to make a charge soon – but it means we should expect them to play more like a .500 team for the rest of the season than a .400 team. (14-8 Vermont, incidentally, has outscored its opponents by only one run, meaning the Lake Monsters could come back to the pack in the Stedler Division.)
So although 2011 hasn’t started the way the ValleyCats and their fans would have liked, we could still see some good baseball at “The Joe” over the final seven weeks of the season.
Our second installment of Get to know the ‘Cats features first basemen Zach Johnson. He just hit his first professional home run in Tri-City’s 5-1 win over Aberdeen Sunday night.
Zach was drafted by the Astros in the 15th round of the 2011 MLB Draft out of Oklahoma State University. Through 23 games, he’s the only ValleyCat to start every game, all of them at first base.
Here’s your chance to get to know a little more about the California (San Ramon) kid.
Erik Elken[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvkfXs-nCq4]
Given that the roster is almost entirely new every season in the New York-Penn League, we thought it would be a good idea to help introduce you to some of the 2011 Tri-City ValleyCats. Our first ‘Cat is one you’ve seen, or heard, on the field quite a bit this season. Second baseman John Hinson was gracious enough to sit down with me in our first installment of Get to know the ‘Cats.
Feel free to comment with any questions you might have for some of the ‘Cats and we’ll try to squeeze them in. Enjoy!
Saturday July 9th marked the 2011 Time Warner Cable Customer Appreciation Night at “The Joe” . . . and for the second consecutive season, this promotion produced a new ValleyCats record for single game attendance.
7,119 fans enjoyed a beautiful night at the ballpark as the ‘Cats dropped a 2-0 pitchers duel to the Aberdeen Ironbirds. The pregame festivities featured a team poster giveaway at the gate with the opportunity to have it autographed as part of the annual Photo Day promotion.
Fans were also invited onto the field to play catch prior to the game and then again for kids to run the bases following the final out.
Time Warner customers were treated to a special appearance and national anthem performance by Siobhan Magnus, American Idol Finalist from Season 9. Siobhan stuck around after the anthem to sign autographs as part of the TWC entertainment in the Pavilion.
The Time Warner Cable Picnic Pavilion display was a popular destination and included the Storm Chaser from YNN, 3D TV, ESPN Trivia, a Whole House DVR set-up, and the opportunity for fans to record their own sports cast.
Special thanks to newlyweds George and Loretta Hackney for making the ValleyCats part of your special day. Loretta and George were married earlier on Saturday but continued their celebration with friends and family at “The Joe.” Their ceremonial first pitch was a great way to start the evening.
Thank you to Time Warner Cable for your support in this promotion and for all those who came out to be a part of this record setting crowd.
Tonight is Sunday Funday at “The Joe” presented by MVP HealthCare. The theme for game 2 against the Ironbirds will be Game Show Night with seats still available.
Here is a slideshow of pictures from the record setting night:
Below is the game story from last night. Tough way to lose one for the ‘Cats on the walk-off wild pitch. Good news is the ValleyCats go for the series win tonight before returning home to play the worst team in the New York-Penn League (Aberdeen). Juri Perez is the starter tonight, who has a chance to re-take the NYPL lead in strikeouts. He’s currently T-5th in that category with 23, six behind Brooklyn’s Eduardo Aldama.
I’ll be back on the broadcast tonight with Matt Appel, the on-field emcee at ValleyCat home games. We’ll come on at 6:45 with the pregame show. Hope you can join us!
WAPPINGERS FALLS, NY – Tri-City played an extra inning game for the first time this season and it didn’t quite go as planned. The ‘Cats dropped game two of the three game set to Hudson Valley 2-1 in ten innings.
Neiko Johnson drew a leadoff walk in the top of the 10th but got picked off at second base for the second out to end a possible threat.
In the bottom half of the inning, the Renegades also got the leadoff batter on when Chris Winser knocked a single to left. After stealing second and advancing to third on a fielder’s choice, Winser represented the game-winning run at third.
Pitcher Ryan Cole got ahead of cleanup hitter Matt Rice 0-2 and it looked like the ValleyCats would extend the game to the 11th inning.
But, Cole’s two-strike slider crashed in the dirt, catcher Ryan McCurdy couldn’t find it, and Winser came sliding home for the walk-off wild pitch win over Tri-City.
The ‘Cats lost despite a good pitching performance from starter Nick Tropeano and the bullpen. Tropeano threw five innings of one-run ball, allowing just two hits. Three Tri-City pitchers combined for 4.2 innings, yielding just one run on two hits and two walks.
Tri-City’s offense managed just one run on three hits.
The ValleyCats go for the series win tomorrow night at Dutchess Stadium before returning home for a three-game weekend series versus Aberdeen. First pitch is set for 7:05.
The ValleyCats started their first road trip outside the Stedler Division last night, traveling south to Hudson Valley. The Renegades took a 3-1 lead in the first inning and held it through seven, but the ‘Cats scored five times in the ninth for a thrilling comeback victory.
Some scenes from Dutchess Stadium:
Erik and I noticed that the ‘Cats hit very well in batting practice, including Jacke Healey, above. Infielder Hector Rodriguez even took one out of the park – something he has never done in 145 professional games.
The position players go through their pregame stretching routine. Below, starting pitcher Kyle Hallock loosens up while catcher Ryan McCurdy talks strategy with pitching coach Gary Ruby. Hallock uncharacteristically ran into some trouble early on, allowing three runs in three hits, but he would not let another runner reach second base, striking out five and retiring the final eight hitters.
The middle innings moved very quickly – neither starter threw more than nine pitches in the fourth or fifth frame. Reliever Lenny Linsky walked two ValleyCats in the seventh, prompting this mound visit, but got out of the inning without allowing a run.
The series continues tonight at 7:05 p.m. Our hardware issues should be fixed tonight, so you can listen to Erik and Matt broadcast the game from Dutchess Stadium at tcvalleycats.com.