A Perfect Ten
by: Evan Valenti (@EvanValenti)
I’ve talked to numerous people that have seen a lot of baseball played here at “The Joe” and each of them claim that they have never seen the ValleyCats play as good as they are right now. For those that have not been paying attention, Tri-City is off to its best start in team history (12-3) and is currently on a team-record ten-game winning streak.
They have had all types of performances during the first 15 games of the season. They have dominated on the mound with starting pitching (COMBINED 1.98 ERA), offensive domination (season-high 14-run output against Connecticut on Saturday June, 30), much improved defense, and havoc on the base paths (league-leading 24 stolen bases). They are essentially doing it all. But the most important part of this streak is that all ten wins have come against division rivals (Lowell, Vermont, and Connecticut). But the biggest explanation for this team’s great performance is clearly the strength of the pitching staff.
ValleyCats starters have performed insanely well so far this season. In 60.1 IP, the six starters have given up only eight earned runs, which totals out to a 1.98 ERA. Joe Bircher has the highest ERA amongst the starters with a whopping 2.70 ERA in 6.2 IP. FIreballer Vincent Velasquez has given up the most runs of the group with three in 15.1 IP. Blake Ford leads the New York-Penn League in saves with six, while Kenny Long remains absurdly effective against lefties (10 outs recorded no hits allowed with 7 K’s).
Oh yeah, they also sport the best team ERA in the NYPL with a 2.37. But are these numbers deceiving?
The ValleyCats have had some shaky defense at points (eight errors in the first three games), so let’s take fielding out of the equation and look how the ‘Cats stack up against the rest of the league.
FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is a stat used to calculate how effective a pitcher is by eliminating runs against ERA due to sub-par fielding. To calculate this stat, you have to use this formula:
FIP = (13*HR + 3*(BB+HBP-IBB) – 2*K)/IP + constant
The constant has it’s own formula, but I honestly do not have the time, or the mental capacity, to actually figure that out. So we’ll use the 3.20 average calculated by FanGraphs.
With these new numbers, the league leaders in pitching (using FIP) are:
Brooklyn – 2.61
State College – 2.74
Batavia – 3.02
Tri-City – 3.02
Here’s what the ratings mean:
Excellent – 2.90
Great – 3.25
Above Average – 3.75
Average – 4.00
Below Average – 4.20
Poor – 4.50
Awful – 5.00
So clearly Brooklyn’s staff is elite and the team’s ERA supports that (2.47 ERA, second in the NYPL). They do not give up the long ball (only three home runs allowed), they have the most K’s, are middle of the pack in BB’s, have given up the least hits (93). and have the best WHIP of anyone (1.02).
Tri-City matches up favorably. Both staffs are considered elite under both the ERA and FIP models. Brooklyn seems to have a power pitching staff, while the ValleyCats are not afraid to pitch to contact. The ‘Cats do a great job in messy situations when the opposing team has runners in scoring position. Tri-City’s pitchers typically get out of every jam they face, which is highlighted by their league-leading 12 holds, meaning when the ‘Cats get the lead they do not give it up.
Will this trend keep up? Who knows. But the ValleyCats pitching staff so far has been the most valuable asset in the NYPL. Each pitcher knows how to get ahead in counts and stay aggressive to put hitters away. And they also are the best in one of my favorite stats: walks (league-low 32). They simply do not beat themselves, which cannot be said about their other division opponents.