Results tagged ‘ Carlos Quevedo ’

‘Cat Watch: Catching up with former champions

In this week’s final installment of ‘Cat Watch, we look at the members of the 2010 NY-Penn League Champion ValleyCats that have moved on to higher levels of the Astros’ farm system.

2010 ValleyCats MVP Ben Orloff was the toughest player in the league to strike out last year, fanning once every 15 plate appearances. He’s up to his old tricks in the Sally League, with only three strikeouts in nearly 100 times to the plate. Orloff, who led the ‘Cats in hitting, is batting .341 with a .419 on-base percentage, though as usual, he has not provided much pop. The versatile fielder has split his time almost evenly between second base and shortstop.

Though he had tremendous power, right fielder Adam Bailey was a streaky hitter in his debut pro season; his play down the stretch of the regular season was critical for the ValleyCats to reach the playoffs, but he struggled to a .235 batting average for the full season. He has been hot for the first two full months of 2011, hitting .307 through 52 games. Anyone who watched a Bailey BP session knows that he has outstanding raw power, which he has put to good use this season, blasting a team-high 12 home runs. Bailey, who also possesses a strong arm, has already thrown out seven runners on the basepaths this year.

Catcher Chris Wallace, who was called up to Tri-City in August after two fantastic months at Greeneville and quickly became the Cats’ starting catcher, is becoming one of the hotter names in the Astros’ farm system. A 16th-round draft pick out of local University of Houston, Wallace leads the Lexington Legends with 37 RBI and has 24 extra-base hits in 50 games, including 10 longballs.

Mike Kvasnicka struggled in his transition to pro ball, bothered by occasional injuries in 2010, but he has recently shown the hitting skill that that the Astros foresaw when they selected him with the 31st overall pick of last year’s draft. The third baseman is hitting .304 and has driven in 32 runs, though the latter is also the product of hitting in the middle of a potent lineup.

For the second straight year, an outfielder drafted in the 20th round broke out at Tri-City. Dan Adamson showed an impressive combination of speed and power for the ValleyCats last year, and he has put up even better numbers in two months at Lexington, trailing only Orloff with a .329 batting average. Adamson, who fanned more than once per game in the NYPL last year, has struck out only 29 times in 43 games so far.

One of two ‘Cats invited to the 2010 NYPL All-Star Game, first baseman Tyler Burnett was also promoted to Lexington for the 2011 season. Burnett has upped his average by a few points but seen his walk rate take a hit from last year’s remarkable level, which was one of the league’s best.

Young hitter Telvin Nash, who joined the ‘Cats for the stretch run in 2010, suffered a wrist injury at the end of April and has yet to return to the field. It was a shame, as Nash – who showed as much power as any Tri-City hitter despite his youth – killed the ball for three weeks in the Sally League, hitting .310/.394/.603 while playing in both outfield corners and learning first base.

A fan favorite in 2010, Kiké Hernandez has struggled in his first stop in a full-season league, batting .244. He has shown much-improved plate discipline, drawing 10 walks in 23 games after taking only 14 all of last season, but the gap power he showed last season is gone, as he has only four extra-base hits, all doubles. Hernandez is still recovering from a sprained ankle, which took him out of action for four weeks between April and May.

The ace of the 2010 pitching staff, Carlos Quevedo, is having a strange season at Lexington. Known for his stingy nature at Tri-City, Quevedo has unbelievably lowered his walk rate this season, issuing just three free passes in 54.2 innings. Though he has increased his strikeout rate significantly (his K/BB is currently a ridiculous 15.33), Quevedo’s ERA has still risen more than two runs to a mediocre 5.27. The main culprit is that hitters are squaring up his pitches – opponents have racked up 12.5 hits per nine innings and have taken the righty deep 11 times. Part of this may be bad luck, but it’s not a good sign for someone who pitches up in the zone without an overpowering fastball.

Southpaw Alex Sogard has been finishing his share of games for the Legends, notching four saves in 12 relief appearances while also making one start. Sogard, who possesses a deadly curveball, has a 3.14 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 28.2 innings.

Jason Chowning, who joined the ‘Cats in early July last year, has been lights-out in his sophomore season. The righty has a 1.40 ERA, 33 strikeouts and eight walks in 25.2 innings pitched this season, the most effective member of the Lexington bullpen.

Flamethrowing righty Jorge De Leon, who posted a 0.64 ERA as the Cats’ closer last year, has saved six games for the Legends this season. The converted shortstop has fanned 19 batters in 21.2 innings while figuring out his control issues in his second season as a pitcher, issuing only four walks.

Outfielder Austin Wates was one of six ‘Cats assigned to high-A Lancaster for the 2011 season. The athletic outfielder, who was signed in August as a third-round draft pick, is hitting .303 for the Jethawks through two months. Wates, who swiped nine bags in just 12 games for Tri-City, has 11 steals and four unsuccessful attempts this year.

Catcher Ben Heath, who was called up to Lexington midseason and even spent a couple days in AA Corpus Christi, is hitting .260 at Lancaster. The fifth-round draft pick, who shows prodigious power in batting practice and led the ‘Cats with six homers at the time of his promotion, has gone deep four times for the Jethawks. But he has continued to struggle behind the plate, throwing out just three of 36 basestealers while allowing five passed balls.

The ValleyCats’ best pitching performance of 2010 undoubtedly belonged to Jake Buchanan, who threw seven scoreless innings in a 1-0 win at Batavia to earn a berth in the NYPL Championship Series. The righty, who gets good movement and keeps the ball down in the zone, has excelled at Lancaster this season, leading the team with a 3.15 ERA despite playing in a very tough pitcher’s environment. Buchanan has been extremely durable, throwing 74.1 innings in 11 starts, over 20 innings more than the next-best on the team. If he continues to perform like this, Buchanan will rise through the system quickly.

After an inconsistent start to the season, Bobby Doran found his command and was one of five Tri-City starters to excel in August, kick-starting the Cats’ pennant run. He has not transitioned well to full-season ball, however, allowing 54 runs and 71 hits in just 44 innings at Lancaster. He is not missing bats – only 22 strikeouts – and his control, such an asset last season, has faltered, as his walk rate has nearly quadrupled to 3.9 per nine innings.

Andrew Robinson, a righty who spent time as a reliever and starter last season, has split time between the roles again for Lancaster. He was called up for two spot appearances in Corpus Christi, becoming Houston’s first pick from the ’10 draft to reach AA, but quickly returned to Lancaster within a week. Robinson has a mediocre 5.17 ERA despite strong control numbers.

A 33rd round draft pick, Michael Ness was by far the lowest-regarded member of Houston’s 2010 class among the six players in Lancaster. The righty, so successful as the Tri-City closer last year – and the man on the mound when the ‘Cats won the 2010 NYPL Championship – has allowed a 6.40 ERA in his sophomore season. His fastball-cutter combination has not kept California League hitters off-balance, as he has allowed 13.4 hits per nine innings.

Kevin Whitaker

Pennant Chase Postmortem

Me, on 7/5:

Given how strong Vermont has looked – the Lake Monsters are off to an unbelievable 14-3 start, with eight consecutive wins – the ValleyCats’ slim playoff hopes probably rest on the wild card.

Me, on 7/15:

Vermont has already all but clinched the Stedler Division. […] The ValleyCats’ playoff hopes look awfully slim, despite [the good run differential] – their recent bad fortune has left them 4.5 games back and behind seven other teams in the wild-card race, which is a very difficult hurdle to overcome under any circumstances.

Me, on 7/28:

[The ValleyCats’] playoff chances, however, are still very remote. Even if the ValleyCats played like the league’s best team in the second half, they would finish at 41-35 or so. Five teams are currently on pace to have a better record than that, and another two aren’t far behind, so they would still probably have no better than a 50-50 shot at reaching the postseason.

Evan, on 8/13:

If you had told me back in the beginning of July that, come August, the ValleyCats would have a shot to win the division, I would have had you declared officially insane. […] It was July 10 and most fans were already hoping for the wild card.

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One month into the season, it was not exactly likely that the ValleyCats would be playing meaningful games in September. They stood at 11-18 on the morning of July 19, 9.5 games behind Vermont. The Lake Monsters had cooled off slightly – it would have been impossible to do otherwise after a 14-3 start – but still had a firm hold on the Stedler Division. Tri-City was also well behind Connecticut in the division and trailed several teams in the wild card, and looked headed for a third-place finish.

There were some signs that things might turn around. The ‘Cats were unlucky in close games, and their strong run differential portended better things for the future. Meanwhile, their offense was bound to improve, while their pitching staff was one of the league’s best.

You can trace the ValleyCats’ turnaround to a late-July game at Vermont. Nearing the end of a seven-day road trip that had proven less than fruitful to that point, they found themselves in a 7-3 hole to the Lake Monsters, after ace Carlos Quevedo suffered his worst start of the season. But the ‘Cats battled back, striking for three runs in the seventh and two on a Mike Kvasnicka single in the eighth to win a 10-8 slugfest. Bobby Doran picked up his first win the next night to complete an unlikely sweep.

After the great weekend, fellow VCN member Chris Chenes proclaimed that the ValleyCats would make the playoffs. Evan and I thought he was crazy. We were both optimistic about their future, but the math seemed too daunting – they still trailed the Lake Monsters by 7.5 games (with only two head-to-head matches left), and the wild card was looking less and less attainable as the Pinckney Division teams pulled away from the pack. 

Recent history doesn’t matter a whole lot in the minors – teams change almost completely from year to year. What little difference it does make, however, certainly seemed to go against the ValleyCats. Tri-City was coming off three consecutive last-place finishes, and indeed no Houston affiliate had reached the playoffs since 2007*. But Chris stuck to his guns, and would eventually be vindicated. 
*The manager on that pennant-winning Salem Avalanche? None other than our own Jim Pankovits.

Tri-City was in danger of losing its next series, a three-game home set against Lowell, when they trailed the rubber match 5-1 in the seventh inning. Such a loss, particularly on their home field, would have been very disappointing for the ‘Cats, as the Spinners had not yet won a series all season. But Adam Bailey belted the team’s first (and only) grand slam to tie the game, and Dan Adamson sent the fans home happy, leading off the 11th inning with a walk-off homer.

The ‘Cats swept another two-game set with Vermont early in August, then embarked on a six-game road trip to Mahoning Valley and State College. They lost slugger Ben Heath to promotion midway through the trip, yet ended it on a high note by winning the last two to split the six games. Tri-City allowed just eight runs over the final five games of that trip, which manager Jim Pankovits credits as the point where his team really started its comeback:

About that time, we had made some adjustments to the rotation and started to go to a more regular lineup, and I think we just got on a roll. We played very well that series, and it continued to a couple more series when we came home. The game of baseball is a really streaky game, and we got on a really good hot streak about then.

The ValleyCats then returned to Joe Bruno Stadium, where they won 11 of their final 15 games, and won series against Williamsport – then leading the Pinckney Division – and Staten Island. The All-Star break did little to cool their momentum, as they swept Connecticut on the road, pulling back to .500 for the first time since the first week of the season. More importantly, they passed Connecticut to take second place in the division, and stood only 1.5 games back of the Lake Monsters.

That paved the way for a thrilling, topsy-turvy stretch run:

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Shown above are my playoff odds on each day for the final two weeks. The ValleyCats swept a home-and-home with Connecticut – taking the latter on a heartbreaking two-error eleventh inning by shortstop Brett Anderson – pushing the Tigers three games back and seemingly knocking them out of the race. But Connecticut would not quit, proceeding to take three at Vermont while the ValleyCats dropped three of their own at Hudson Valley, an extremely unlikely turn of events that left the Tigers right back int he thick of things. The division was still completely up for grabs heading into the last week of the season.

The ValleyCats more or less saved their season in their home finale, pulling out a 14-inning thriller on the heels of a 12-inning defeat to Hudson Valley. Two extra-inning losses would have left the ‘Cats deep in third place and in an unenviable position to embark on a season-ending, six-game road trip.

Instead, Chris Wallace doubled to the left-field wall in the 14th, his third huge hit of the series. Bailey followed with his third hit of the game, a single to right field, and Wallace slid home just inches in front of the tag. Bailey was far from the ValleyCats’ most consistent hitter this season – his batting average was just a point above the Mendoza Line entering that game – but he would be critical down the stretch, racking up a league-high 14 hits in the final week of the season.

The ValleyCats then swept Lowell, while Connecticut improbably did the same to Aberdeen to remain a half-game back. Vermont, meanwhile, dropped four of five at Brooklyn to be all but eliminated from the race. The two teams switched places on Friday, setting the stage for a remarkable Saturday. The ValleyCats took an 8-7 slugfest at Brooklyn – with the key hit, naturally, provided by Bailey – wihle the Tigers finally lost at Aberdeen.

That left the ValleyCats needing only a win or a Connecticut loss entering the final day of the season. Connecticut and Aberdeen began 2.5 hours before Tri-City took on the Cyclones, but the ‘Cats still didn’t know if they needed a win as their game started, because Connecticut forced extra innings. The Tigers twice threatened to make the Tri-City game decisive, scoring in the 11th and twice in the 13th. They entered Sunday with a league-best 19-10 record in one-run games, and a 6-2 record in extras, and it seemed like they would pull another victory out of nowhere (Connecticut finished above .500 despite being outscored by 44 runs).

But this time, they came out on the short end of an improbable defeat. The Ironbirds put two runners on with two outs, and #3 overall draft pick Manny Machado tripled off the right-field wall. Kipp Schutz, who hit a walk-off grand slam against the ValleyCats back in July, ended Connecticut’s season with a game-winning single, and the ValleyCats were free to celebrate.

In the end, the ValleyCats won with incredible pitching. Their 17-11 August was fueled by a 2.56 ERA and 81 runs allowed, both best in the league. Vermont, meanwhile, posted a 5.45 ERA while allowing 159 runs in August, going just 9-17 to blow a seven-game lead. Connecticut fared slightly better on that end, allowing 119 runs with a 3.57 ERA, but hit a league-low .212 for the month.

All five regular starters had a terrific month, posting ERAs below 3.00. David Martinez, a mid-season conversion from the bullpen, fared the best, allowing just four earned runs in 30.1 innings and fanning a team-high 31 batters. Bobby Doran (3-1, 2.41) and Jake Buchanan (2-3, 2.97) rebounded from slow starts with strong months, while Carlos Quevedo (3-1, 2.97) and Andrew Robinson (2-2, 2.74) continued excellent seasons in August. On the other side, the mid-month additions of Marcus Nidiffer (.317/.386/.540 in August) and Austin Wates (.368/.500/.474 in 19 at-bats) boosted an offense that saw some of its regulars drop off a bit, while the arm of Chris Wallace (14/25 CS with Tri-City) proved a valuable asset behind the plate.

The ValleyCats make the playoffs, and will be a tough match for a strong Batavia squad in the first round. All four playoff teams are very good, which should make for a very fun week.

So, Chris: You were right, and I was wrong. And I couldn’t be happier.

Kevin Whitaker

Four-homer Notebook

Four ValleyCats homered last night: Dan Adamson, Frank Almonte, Mike Kvasnicka and Tyler Burnett. The four homers were the most the ValleyCats have hit in a game since July 24, 2004*, when they hit six in a 10-2 victory at Oneonta. (That doesn’t look like a record that will fall anytime soon – nobody in the league has surpassed six homers in a game since 2004, and it has only been matched twice. Hunter Pence contributed two of the six homers.)

*If that date looks somewhat familiar…the last time we had to find a historic event, two triples and two homers, it happened two days earlier that same week. Next time the ValleyCats do something that hasn’t happened in a long time, I’m looking for it in that week first, and going from there.

I noted earlier that Williamsport is the best fielding team in the NYPL…but that doesn’t do a whole lot of good when four balls leave the park. And when Carlos Quevedo is pitching, runs will be at a premium.

Quevedo had his eighth quality start in eleven tries last night, continuing to dominate the league. His command again seemed to get better as the game progressed, throwing 13 of 14 pitches for strikes to retire the side in order in the fifth. His lone strikeout came that inning as well, going up the ladder to send Drew Rundle down swinging.

And, of course, the control was there: he didn’t walk a single hitter, and went to three balls only once. He’s now allowed just three walks in 62.2 innings, which is just unfathomable. Quevedo also did not allow a homer last night – his biggest weakness to this point – and gave up just one earned run in six frames.

The one batter who worked a three-ball count also caused the most trouble, as Edgar Duran pulled a 3-2 pitch down the right-field line for a triple. Adam Bailey was shaded way towards center field, which was the only reason Duran was able to reach third (where he would score on a groundout). Quevedo only gave up four more hits – two liners, two grounders – but allowed a few other hard-hit balls that could have snuck through.

He was helped out by some very good fielding – the ‘Cats, not the Crosscutters, looked like the better defensive team in last night’s game. After a double play erased a Carlos Alonso single, third baseman Ben Orloff dove to his right to snare a Cesar Hernandez grounder, getting up in plenty of time to retire the speedy second baseman. Quevedo also helped himself out, picking Hernandez off second in the first inning and snaring a Duran comebacker behind his back to lead off the fourth. (Williamsport reliever Jake Borup saw Quevedo’s play and raised him one inning later, barehanding a Dan Adamson comebacker on one hop.)

Adamson hit the game’s first home run, taking a fly ball roughly 380 feet to left field beyond the bullpen. Burnett said of Adamson after the game, “I can’t explain how much juice he has in that bat.”

Burnett, of course, hit the final blast, a fly ball over the second fence in right field. The homer extended his on-base streak to a remarkable 36 games (he was 0-for-3 entering the at-bat), longest in the NYPL this year by 10 games.

Williamsport starter Lisalberto Bonilla opened the game throwing hard, but lost a little steam in the second inning. His lack of a go-to secondary pitch got him into trouble, as the ‘Cats timed up his fastball for two homers and a double. He started forcing his pitches and walked Ryan McCurdy and Ben Orloff, and a Kik&eacute Hernandez single ended Bonilla’s night.

Fun with scorecards: the ValleyCats went down in order in the sixth, grounding out 4-3 each time.

More fun with scorecards: Frank Almonte was stranded in the third inning after grounding into a fielder’s choice. He was the 13th runner to reach base, but amazingly was the first left there – seven scored, three were forced out, one picked off and one caught stealing.

Kevin Whitaker

All-Star Thoughts

Note: all stats and records are as of before Sunday’s games.

Congrats to Tyler Burnett and Ben Orloff on being named New-York Penn League All-Stars! They will represent the ValleyCats at the All-Star Game in Staten Island next week. Burnett has been an offensive force, leading the ValleyCats with a .399 on-base percentage and reaching safely in each of his last 33 games. Orloff tops the ‘Cats with a .312 batting average and has spent significant time at three positions, making the team as a second baseman.

Evan and I were trying to predict who would be All-Stars last week, and we had a tough time paring down the field – there are a lot of ValleyCats with a good case to make the team. Some of the players that didn’t make the cut:

Carlos Quevedo should have made the All-Star team. The righty has walked only three batters in 56.2 innings – roughly half the rate of the next-best starter – and has 35 strikeouts to go along with it, for an insane 12.7 K/BB ratio. Quevedo has the fifth-best WHIP in the league at 0.99 and has thrown more innings than all but two other pitchers. He tossed six consecutive quality starts early in the year and has allowed more than two earned runs exactly once. He has a solid 3.34 ERA despite being a flyball pitcher in an extreme home run park. If that’s not an All-Star, I don’t know what is. (I think the All-Stars were selected before Quevedo’s most recent masterpiece – a two-run, 7.2-IP outing against Mahoning Valley – but he had a strong case regardless.)

So, why didn’t Quevedo get the call? The NYPL fell into the same trap that the big leagues do every year – it selected too many relievers. Of the 10 pitchers on the National League squad, only four are starters. In a league where almost all of the most talented pitchers are starters – even those who will end up in the bullpen at higher levels – this is absolutely ridiculous, and becomes even more so when you factor in the short nature of the season. Over six weeks and just 15-20 innings, you’re almost guaranteed to have several relievers end up with great statistics based on randomness alone. I know that all but one pitcher comes out of the bullpen in the actual All-Star game, but this game doesn’t count for anything – it is supposed to reward the best players and showcase the best talent. Having only four starting pitchers does neither. With only ten pitchers, there’s absolutely no reason to have more than three relievers on a team, four tops.

Since the All-Star selectors were so infatuated with relievers, one has to think that a couple members of Tri-City’s potent bullpen got strong consideration. In particular, Travis Blankenship and Jorge De Leon have been among the best relievers in the league this year; each has an ERA hovering around 0.50 with only one earned run. Now, ERA is not the best way to measure relievers – part of one’s job is to stop inherited runners from scoring, which does not show up in ERA – and each is partially responsible for a couple of unearned runs. Blankenship has a slightly better ERA but has struggled with command (13 K, 12 BB in 18.1 IP); De Leon has the “closer” label and four saves, plus the more impressive and entertaining stuff. All things considered, I’m not sure either rates as one of the top five relievers in the league, but they’re certainly worth a look.

Dan Adamson leads the team with a .839 OPS and also could have been an All-Star selection. He has blazing speed and great range in center, making him a defensive asset. He’s a four-tool player, and the one he lacks is the least important one – a throwing arm – who has hit four homers and 13 other extra-base hits this season. Adamson strikes out a lot but he squares balls up very well when he does make contact, and his .382 on-base percentage is very good. Adamson was unfortunate to be squeezed out by a plethora of great NL-affiliated center fielders, including (unofficial) midseason MVP Darrell Ceciliani and talented slugger Nick Longmire; sluggers Marcell Ozuna and Cory Vaughn, who are tied for the league lead with 12 homers, clearly earned spots. You could make a case that Adamson deserved the nod over Miguel Alvarez or possibly even Adalberto Santos, but it’s a close call either way and neither of their teams has many representatives either.

David Coleman had a nice profile of Adamson over at The Crawfish Boxes.

You could also make a case for Ben Heath as an All-Star – not too many catchers also lead their team in home runs, but Heath is two clear of Tri-City with six. His .248 average is not pretty but he’s patient, with 20 walks in 150 PA, which combined with his power makes him very valuable. Heath also fell victim to a strong class of peers. David Freitas is Ceciliani’s closest MVP candidate – and you could make an argument for him as more valuable, given his positional value – while Audry Perez is getting a hit every three at-bats as a backstop. Had three catchers been named, Heath of Williamsport’s Jeff Lanning would have been the final choice. (As it turned out, Heath would not have attended anyways – he was promoted to Lexington on Saturday. We wish him luck in the Sally League and wherever else he may go.)

The youngest ValleyCat, 18-year-old Kik&eacute Hernandez, also had an All-Star case; Houston named him Tri-City’s Offensive Player of the Month for July (not sure how that didn’t go to Burnett, who hit for the same average with more power and walks, but still). Hernandez is a good second baseman and certainly has more pop than Orloff, who was selected as a second baseman; Hernandez has yet to go deep, but has 12 doubles and a triple to his credit. The All-Star selectors apparently preferred Orloff’s better average and on-base skills and defensive versatility over Hernandez’s power advantage.

All things considered, the National League affiliates are much more talented than the American League teams this year – NL affiliates are 194-145 in 2010 – which also hurt the case of some ValleyCats. The NL should be a fairly strong favorite in next week’s game.

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Around the league: Vermont is in a major tailspin right now, one that contined with an 8-1 loss at Batavia on Saturday night. The Lake Monsters have won just three of their last 14 games and don’t seem on their way to turning things around. They’re still in first place in the Stedler Division, a half-game ahead of Connecticut, primarily on the strength of a 14-3 start and a soft midseason schedule. Since July 16, Vermont is 6-15 despite playing half its games against last-place teams (4x Lowell, 3x Auburn, 3x Staten Island) and another five against teams below .500 (Tri-City and Aberdeen).

Vermont won’t be as fortunate from here on out. Including last night’s game, the Lake Monsters head into the All-Star break with nine games against teams above .500 – Batavia, Jamestown and Hudson valley – six of which are on the road. After the All-Star Game, they have to play six games against the league’s best team, Brooklyn, and all six agaisnt Staten Island and Aberdeen are away. Four games with Lowell are the only solace; they also play three at home against Connecticut, which will be critical if they have any hope of turning things around to reach the playoffs.

That’s very good news for the Tigers, who have pretty consistently playing .500ish ball this season. Connecticut also has five more left with Brooklyn after last night’s extra-inning loss and travels to Jamestown later this week, but otherwise has an easier slate. It’s done with Hudson Valley; nine remain with Staten Island and Aberdeen, but six are at home. No more games remain against Lowell, whom the Tigers have swept twice; but they still have a home series with Pinckney bottom-feeder Auburn and four with the 21-27 ‘Cats. Connecicut is a half-game back right now and boasts a run differential 23 runs worse than Vermont’s, but given the remaining schedules and Vermont’s recent slide the Tigers have to be the Stedler Division favorites at this point.

Vermont’s collapse is also good news for the ValleyCats, but with a caveat. The ‘Cats certainly weren’t going to catch a Vermont team that was well above .500, so the Lake Monsters’ slide keeps their hopes alive. Tri-City has a better shot at catching Connecticut at the top of the division – the ValleyCats still have four games remaining with the Tigers and actually have a significantly better run differential this season despite being 4.5 games back. Their schedule is no picnic, but not terrible either; six against Hudson Valley and three with Williamsport will be tough, but they have three games remaining at Lowell and home against Staten Island and Aberdeen. Tri-City closes with three at Brooklyn, which appears brutal – the Cyclones are 21-4 at home this season – but Brooklyn may be looking ahead to the playoffs by that point, which might allow the ‘Cats to sneak out a game or two.

However, Vermont’s slide also affects the ‘Cats in some less-positive ways. Tri-City has no games remaining with the suddenly vulnerable Lake Monsters, and now seems unfortunate for drawing five games with the then-juggernaut in June. More importantly, once we realize that Vermont has been one of the worst teams in the league over the past three weeks, the ValleyCats’ recent performance just does not look all that impressive. Take away the Vermont sweeps and Tri-City is just 5-9 in its most recent games despite an easy schedule. The ‘Cats went 1-3 at Connecticut, 1-2 at Aberdeen, 2-1 home against Lowell (needing extra innings to avoid handing the Spinners their first series win of the year) and 1-3 on the current trip at Mahoning Valley and State College. Every single one of those teams has been outscored this season.

The ValleyCats have an opportunity here to make a run at the Stedler Division title, but they’ll have to play better than they have recently to make things interesting.

Believe it or not, the ‘Cats are now in the top half of the league in run differential, ahead of seven other teams. Only three have a worse record than the ValleyCats, suggesting some poor luck in Troy. (Through games of 8/7)

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Kevin Whitaker

Notebook: Brooklyn series

This weekend was a little crazy for those of us working at the ballpark – with a 5:00 Sunday game and an 11:00 am matinee Monday to close the three-game series, the schedule was really compressed. As a result, I didn’t get a chance to write anything about Brooklyn yet, so here’s a weekend roundup:

Fortunately, the players were not adversely affected by the odd schedule – the ‘Cats played their best ball of the series by far on Monday, defeating Brooklyn 7-4 to avoid a sweep. The first game was ugly and the second loss was disappointing, but at the end of the day, losing two of three to Brooklyn is pretty much what we should have expected. The Cyclones are the best-hitting team in the league and they had three of their four best starters this season lined up for the weekend, so winning this series would have been very difficult. Brooklyn is two games behind Lowell but leads the league in run differential at +52 (Jamestown is second at +41, Vermont is at +40).

Brooklyn is actually one of the least patient teams in the league, but they make up for it by absolutely hitting the crap out of the ball. Its .290 batting average is 21 points better than anyone else in the league, and the Cyclones lead the league in doubles, triples and homers. As a result, they have a 13-run lead on the rest of the NYPL despite ranking second-to-last in walks. The home run category is the most impressive – they have hit 31 homers, while Auburn is second at 21 and Jamestown ranks third with 17. (They have hit more homers on the road than at home – and have only allowed eight longballs – so it’s not as if their power is the result of playing in a bandbox.)

The Tri-City pitching staff has been homer-prone this season, allowing a league-high 26 dingers, including five in this series. Carlos Quevedo found this out the hard way, giving up two bombs in an outing that was unimpressive by his very lofty standards. Rylan Sandoval took the second pitch of the game off the scoreboard well beyond the left-field fence – his fourth homer in his last ten games – and Cory Vaughn hit a two-run shot in the third inning. Quevedo gives up his homers in bunches – the only two he had allowed to this point also both came in the same game, at Vermont in June.

But the righty settled down after that, holding the Cyclones scoreless for three more innings to notch his sixth consecutive quality start. Quevedo got a bit lucky in the fourth, escaping the inning unharmed despite allowing two clean doubles, as Ben Heath gunned down the first runner trying to advance on a ball in the dirt. He didn’t have his best stuff early on and left his fastball up a bit, but was perfect in his final two innings, throwing 20 of his 21 pitches for strikes in those two frames and mixing well to keep hitters off-balance. Quevedo was successful against league batting leader Darrell Ceciliani, inducing a pair of groundouts and a harmless fly ball in three at-bats.

Quevedo fanned two more batters without a walk. He has walked two batters in 40.1 innings, easily the lowest BB rate in the league. His SO/BB ratio is now an insane 14…I can’t find sortables for that statistic, but I would bet that tops the NYPL as well.

The ‘Cats got an offensive boost from an unlikely source in Jacke Healey. The shortstop came into the game with only four hits on the season, but hit a two-out shot to deep left-center that left the park. The two-run homer gave Tri-City a 5-3 lead it would never relinquish. Healey, a bench player known more for his slick glove, also made a great sliding forehand in the fourth inning, retiring Brian Harrison at first by half a step.

After the game, Healey said the guys in the dugout were teasing him all game because his girlfriend came to visit him the night before. Manager Jim Pankovits quipped, “Maybe we should bring her with us on the road.”

Brooklyn added a third homer, when Jeff Flagg led off the ninth inning with a moonshot that landed in the Tri-City bullpen. The wind here usually blows out to right field, but was going towards left at a pretty good clip on Monday; 9 out of 10 days at this ballpark, Flagg’s ball is an easy flyout. Michael Ness was unfazed, however, snaring a J.B. Brown comebacker and doubling off Joe Bonfe at first to end the game.

Healey wasn’t the only middle infielder to hit well on Monday. Second baseman Kik&eacute Hernandez, whose 13-game hit streak snapped in the series opener, went right back to stroking the ball in the final two games, picking up three singles in each contest. Like most of the ValleyCats, Kik&eacute started the season slowly, but he is batting .347 in July.

Mike Kvasnicka also recovered from a Saturday 0-fer to strike the ball well. He blasted a big two-run homer in the eighth inning on Sunday, pulling the ‘Cats within one run, and added a double and two singles over the final two games. Kvasnicka’s early-season struggles have been well-documented; hampered by a hand injury, he was batting .108 at the end of June and continued to struggle into the next month. Hopefully, this weekend marks something of a turning point.

Kvasnicka did strike out three times in the final two games, however; he now has 23 whiffs in 118 at-bats. That’s not a horrific rate for a player in his first month of professional ball – three other ‘Cats have at least as many – but it’s something to watch over the final month and a half of the season. I wasn’t as worried about it when he was among the league leaders in walks, but he has drawn just one free pass in his final 11 games while striking out at the same rate. Two innings after the homer, Kvasnicka came up with the tying run on first and nobody out, but went down looking on three pitches.

“I’ve been [practicing] my right-handed swing a lot because we haven’t seen a lot of lefties,” Kvasnicka said of his homer, his first from the right side this season. “But I got an at-bat lefthanded [in the 10th], and I was thinking about mechanical things to make the switch back over, and I wasn’t ready to hit because of it. I had been swinging the bat well lefty, but I let the mental side take over for a few pitches there.”

“In the last week and a half, I’ve had a lot of lineouts,” he continued. “Baseball’s a cruel game in that sense – once you start feeling good, you’re not going to be hitting .400 the rest of the year. There’s been definite progress in the cage work and in batting practice, so it should come around.”

Evan thought Kvasnicka should have bunted in the tenth; I disagree. Although it is practially standard managerial practice, a sacrifice bunt down one run in the ninth or extras generally hurts a team’s chances of winning the game. According to Baseball Prospectus’s extensive study in Baseball Between the Numbers, a successful sacrifice down one run with a runner on first will actually decrease the offensive team’s win expectancy by as much as 5%. Given the slightly lower-scoring environment of the NY-Penn League and the increased chance that the opponent will make an error on the play, you can probably make an argument that it’s a break-even proposition, but then you need to account for the fact that Kvasnicka – who did not lay down a single sacrifice bunt in three years at Minnesota and has yet to bunt this season – is probably not the world’s best bunter. If you think Kvasnicka’s a true .170 hitter, then yes, a bunt makes a lot of sense with better batters coming up – but I don’t believe that, and I doubt Pank does either.

Dan Adamson made a fantastic diving catch on a bloop to end the fifth inning on Monday. The ball looked like it would fall in shallow left-center, and I thought Healey and Wilton Infante were the two that might have a shot at it, but Adamson came from out of nowhere, laid out full extention and made the catch. Adamson’s defense was crucial a day earlier, when he gunned down James Schroeder trying to stretch a base hit into a double leading off the seventh. Monday’s other great play came from Vaughn, who threw an absolute lazer to gun down Infante – one of the fastest ValleyCats – tagging for third on a fly ball that was hit pretty well to right field. Vaughn’s throw reached third on the fly.

Tom Shirley was having his best outing of the year on Saturday – a pretty impressive feat for a guy who hasn’t allowed an earned run all year – so it was a shame to see him come out after three innings and 44 pitches after re-aggrivating his knee injury. He said it was “just a little strain.” Pankovits said, “We don’t think it’s serious – it wasn’t serious before – but we’re being cautious with him.” Shirley’s knee caused him to miss his start last week against Jamestown.

Shirley fanned four batters in three innings and had his best stuff of the year. Whereas he’s been working in and out of jams this season – he had allowed 18 baserunners in 14 innings entering Sunday – the southpaw allowed two walks and no hits against a tough Brooklyn lineup (albeit one without two of its top hitters). He was sitting 88, dialing as high as 91 and dropping as low as 85 when behind in the count, but his offspeed stuff was the best I’ve seen from Shirley this year. I don’t believe he threw his curveball (67-73) for a strike, but it was around the zone every time, instead of being completely a junk pitch, and his slider (79-80) was an effective offering.

Murillo Gouvea took the hill next, and I think the book on him is pretty much written at this point: he struggles when he’s not missing bats. When he’s striking out a lot of guys – like his 8 K performance against Jamestown last week – he is an effective pitcher, but in every other outing he’s been hit hard. The first four batters Gouvea faced all reached base. Gouvea allowd four runs and really only pitched well enough to retire two batters; two more gave themselves up on sacrifices.

Mike Kvasnicka threw out his first runner from behind the plate on Sunday, gunning Vaughn at second in the top of the fifth. Kvasnicka has struggled with recieving at times this year, but I’m not worried about his arm. He also made a nice play to throw out a runner at first on a strikeout-wild pitch, when Andrew Robinson’s putaway pitch to Amauris Valdez was well wide but ricocheted off the backstop back towards the plate.

Robinson and Jorge De Leon both looked great on Sunday. Robinson held the Cyclones scoreless for 3.1 innings but left with two on and two out in the eighth, and pinch-hitter Darrell Ceciliani – the NYPL batting leader – singled off De Leon to plate both. Those were the only earned runs allowed by either pitcher in the game’s final 5.1 frames. De Leon flashed 97 mph and was consistently at 95-96 early in his outing, the fastest I’ve seen him sitting at all year. He was left in to throw 2.1 innings and 42 pitches, both easily season highs, which I found kind of surprising – the last time Tri-City stretched him out, he struggled by the end of his second frame. He still pitched well enough to get out of the tenth inning, were it not for a Figueroa throwing error, but he was down to 90-91 mph by the end of the night.

The bottom of the ninth inning on Sunday featured a somewhat humorous play, going down in the book as (Johan) Figuereo picking off Figueroa. The ValleyCats weren’t laughing, however, as it looked at the time to be the final blow to their chances of winning. Of course, fate intervened on behalf of Tri-City, as Figuereo threw two wild pitches – his first two of the season – with two outs and two on to tie the game.

42s were wild on Sunday, as the ValleyCats were all dressed in identical #42 jerseys to honor Jackie Robinson. This was a very nice tribute, but not particularly fun for those of us in the press box who had to figure out who everybody was. We were thankful this happened in July and not, say, a month earlier, as we generally knew each player well enough to identify him.

Saturday featured an electric game, but not in the good sense. From about the fifth inning through the eighth, lighning flashed all around the park every 20 seconds or so, creating an interesting atmosphere to play baseball in. Play continued throughout – the lightning was always in the distance past the outfield, and rain fell only briefly – but the storm sent many of the 4,365 fans scurrying for shelter. The brunt of the storm came after the game, making my drive home fairly adventurous.

The opener was pretty ugly otherwise, except for the eighth-inning triple play. I thought Luis Nieves’s line drive was a base hit off the bat, as did both baserunners, but Figueroa ranged to his left to get the ball fairly easily. I wasn’t thinking triple play at all, but Tyler Burnett called for the ball and Hernandez made the quick turn at second, getting the ball to first just in time to triple off Juan Centeno. I – and most of the people I talked to afterward – thought Centeno was safe at first, but Burnett was pretty adamant afterwards that they got the out.

A.J. Pinera just flat-out dominated the ‘Cats for six innings. Pinera struck out five, gave up only two hits, and never issued more than two balls to any hitter. He got through three different innings on eight pitches or less, and was only at 57 when he was pulled. This was only his second start, so Brooklyn was understandably loath to push him too hard, but it sure seemed like he could have kept going – he fanned four of the last five batters he faced. Naturally, Pinera’s replacement, Brian Needham, opened the seventh inning with four straight balls to Tyler Burnett.

Burnett, incidentally, has drawn 22 walks this season, tied for second in the NYPL. He and seven others are tied atop the league leaderboard with 10 doubles.

The ‘Cats run into another hot opponent this week in Aberdeen, winners of four straight. Brooklyn had posted four consecutive victories before coming to The Joe, while Tri-City met Staten Island on an eight-game streak earlier this month.

Kevin Whitaker

Videos:
Saturday
Sunday
Monday

And check out this ridiculous story about ‘Cats reliever Jason Chowning, courtesy of Astros County.

ValleyCats: Unluckiest team in NYPL

The ‘Cats got a big win tonight, thrashing Auburn 11-2 to snap a three-game skid. Tyler Burnett had a monster night, going 3-for-3 with a homer, a double and two walks; his 19 bases on balls rank second in the New York-Penn League. Ben Heath added a homer and a double, while Mike Kvasnicka notched his first extra-base hit since Opening Day. Tri-City pounded out 15 hits and didn’t commit an error while turning three double plays. Carlos Quevedo posted his fifth consecutive quality start, allowing two runs in six innings for his second victory of the season.

The 11 runs marked a season high for the ValleyCats this season. They also set another milestone you may not have noticed: with the blowout victory, the ‘Cats have now scored more runs on the season (112) than they have allowed (111).

That’s right, Tri-City has outscored its opponents this year. You would not expect that from the standings, however: the ‘Cats stand at 10-15 (.400), ahead of only two other teams in the NYPL.

It has generally been accepted in baseball (and in most other sports) that run (or point) differential is a better indicator of a team’s true ability than winning percentage. This is because the binary of “win” vs “loss” tells us relatively little about how well a team played in a given game. Run differential helps us get a better picture – a team that wins by 9 runs generally had a better performance than a team that won by one run. Over a larger sample, wins and losses cumulatively give us a pretty good picture of a team’s talent, but run differential will usually tell a more complete story.

Run differential and winning percentage often agree, but there are times when they don’t, such as for the ValleyCats this season. Based on run differential, we would expect Tri-City to be about .500; instead, they’re .400. Generally, difference between expected and actual winning percentage is chalked up to the vague term “luck”.

There is one factor, unique to baseball, that often explains the difference between expected and actual winning percentage: bullpen performance. If a team’s bullpen is lousy, it might lose more than its share of close games, which would hurt its winning percentage more than its run differential. However, it is easy to see that this theory does not fit the ValleyCats this year. The Tri-City bullpen has been far from weak; it has been outstanding, with a 2.68 ERA. I can’t find any sortable stats for bullpens around the NYPL, but the league-average ERA is 3.92, and the best pitching staff (Vermont) is at 2.75. Even after allowing for the fact that relievers generally have a lower ERA than starters, the ‘Cats have still had an excellent bullpen.

So, if anything, we would expect the ValleyCats to be overperforming their run differential, instead of playing well below it. Without any other likely explanation, I have to conclude that the ‘Cats have simply suffered some bad luck, and they’re more likely to play like a .500 team than a .400 team going forward.

Looking at run differential, there are a few clear-cut tiers in the NYPL:

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Jamestown, Brooklyn and Vermont sure seem to have separated themselves from the pack. Vermont has already all but clinched the Stedler Division, while the other two currently lead by small margins and should be expected to pull away. But the race for the fourth-best team is a real mess; according to run differential, 15-11 Williamsport is no better than 10-15 Tri-City. There are eight teams who are a good or bad game away from a zero run differential, which is awfully rare. Then the two Valley teams are a clear cut below, with Lowell unsurprisingly bringing up the rear.

Sabermetric pioneer Bill James devised a method of predicting winning percentage from run differential called the Pythagorean Expectation. The equation, which has held up well over the two or three decades since its inception, is fairly simple:

Expected WP% = RS-squared / (RS-squared + RA-squared)

A team who has allowed as many runs as it has scored would be expected to have a winning percentage of .500, and the results are similarly intuitive for other inputs (basically, the marginal value of each extra run has less and less effect on winning percentage).

So, compared to their Pythagorean expectation, which teams have been the luckiest and unluckiest? You won’t be surprised by the bottom team (positive = lucky; negative = unlucky).

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According to run differential, Tri-City is basically as talented as any other team in the league, save the top three. The ValleyCats’ playoff hopes look awfully slim, despite this good news – their recent bad fortune has left them 4.5 games back and behind seven other teams in the wild-card race, which is a very difficult hurdle to overcome under any circumstances. But if their run-scoring and run-allowing rates stay roughly the same, the ValleyCats seem likely to win a bit more frequently than they have thus far.

Kevin Whitaker

Notebook: Carlos Quevedo is Cliff Lee

Didn’t get to finish this as quickly as I wanted, so it’s a little dated now. Tonight’s notebook should be up around the usual time tomorrow.

At the end of yesterday’s notebook, I wrote:

The ‘Cats continue to have absolutely no success at bringing runners home – they’re 4-for-25 with RISP in two games this series, stranding 11 runners each game. I remain hopeful that this is just bad luck, and the team will start to convert more hits into runs soon.

Well, that correction came, and it came quickly. The ValleyCats scored 10 runs in the first two innings, going 6-for-9 with RISP. They only left four runners on base for the game. The nine hits was actually right at where they had been all series, but with eight of them in the first two innings, they were able to convert them into many more runs than usual.

Now, just as the ‘Cats were bound to start driving in more runners after their slow start, they also won’t keep up this pace – I can guarantee they won’t go 9-for-14 with runners on base again tonight. But hopefully a few more of those baserunners will be driven in, and hopefully a few more of those close losses will become close victories.

Carlos Quevedo is Cliff Lee. Quevedo handed out a five-pitch walk to PJ Polk, which was unusual – it was his first walk of the season in 16.1 innings. But he certainly found his groove after that; he didn’t throw another ball that inning, and didn’t get to another three-ball count all night.

Quevedo now leads the New York-Penn League with 22 strikeouts, and has just the one walk on the season. That is insane. (Lee currently boasts a 15.60 K/BB ratio for the Mariners, which would be the best mark ever if he maintains it for the full season.) I love watching the way he attacks hitters, and he’s been very successful with it so far, holding a 2.01 ERA. The only disappointment is that, at this rate, Houston’s not going to keep him in the NYPL all year.

The righty struggled a bit in the first, leaving a lot of balls up in the zone. Alex Nunez and Josh Ashenbrenner each hit a fastball hard to center, but Dan Adamson tracked them both down. Julio Rodriguez got a soft line drive hit to right, but a pair of 83-mph changeups fanned James Robbins*.

*Robbins was lighting up the park in batting practice – he took three consecutive pitches over the wall, reaching the third fence in right field with the first one.

Quevedo again sat 88-90 mph* with his fastball, and settled down after the first inning. He gave up a cheap single to Matt Perry, a lazy opposite-field fly ball that just fell inside the line. He got Brett Anderson to hit a grounder to second that looked like it might erase Perry, but the ‘Cats could not complete the double play. two pitches later, Quevedo induced the same from Les Smith, getting out of the inning with a second 4-6-3.

*For those of you who are new or may have forgotten, all reported velocities are from the stadium gun. But I have seen no reason to doubt its accuracy so far – obvious misreads such as 51-mph fastballs aside, pitchers are hitting their expected ranges.

A pair of singles to lead off the fourth led to two runs, one earned, but that was all the Tigers could get off Quevedo. The Venezuelan native flew through six innings on 71 pitches – throwing single digits in three differnt frames – to notch yet another quality start.

Clemente Mendoza pitched well against the ‘Cats on Opening Day, but Tri-City sure figured him out the second time around. He allowed nine hits at The Joe two weeks ago, but limited the damage to just three runs. On Saturday, he wasn’t so lucky. The ValleyCats tagged him for nine runs on seven hits, three walks and a hit batsman. After a four-pitch walk for Orloff, Kik&eacute Hernandez drove a fly ball to the wall in left-center – his third first-inning double in as many games. With the bases loaded, Tyler Burnett followed with a double that brought home two more.

I’m not sure if it was because he was spooked by Oscar Figueroa’s game-changing out at the plate the night before or because the game was a blowout quickly, but Jim Pankovits was almost comically gun-shy with runners rounding third last night. (I’m leaning towards the latter – he did send Orloff home from first on Kik&eacute’s double.) Ben Heath could have easily scored from first on Burnett’s double in the first inning. The next inning Heath only advanced from second to third on Burnett’s second two-bagger; he got a poor read and was tagging up from second, but still would have likely made it home.

The most notable example came earlier that inning, on Heath’s cracked-bat single down the right-field line. Hernandez could have walked home from third, but Pankovits put up the stop sign; Kik&eacute didn’t see it until he was 50 feet from the plate. He dutifully stopped, but had nowhere to return, as Mike Kvasnicka was already standing on third base. Fortunately for the ‘Cats, the relay throw home bounced off the catcher’s glove 40 feet from the plate, allowing both Hernandez and Kvasnicka to score – it was that kind of night.

Mendoza’s night mercifully ended after a Dan Adamson sacrifice fly in the second inning, but Adam Bailey had one more statement to make. He took Logan Hoch’s second pitch some 400 feet to right field, landing it just in front of the OTB sign.

The ‘Cats sent all nine hitters to the plate in the first and second innings, but Hoch and Drew Gagnier shut them down after that, retiring 15 consecutive batters. It’s easy to give up on plate appearances when you have a ten-run lead, so there’s probably not a whole lot to say about that. There were a lot of strikeouts in the mix (10 for the game), which is not what one usually sees from this offense.

Chris Blazek threw a pair of scoreless innings, sitting 87-89 as usual. He went deep into counts but located well, hitting or just missing the corner with almost every pitch. He threw a dirty 80-mph changeup to the righty Anderson but ended up walking him; two batters later, he fanned righty Londell Taylor with a 78-mph one.

Michael Ness was called on for the final inning, allowing a groundball single but no other trouble. He fanned Les Smith with an 88-mph fastball to seal the 10-2 victory.

Radio broadcaster and fellow ‘Cats Corner blogger Evan Valenti may want to forego his budding career in broadcast journalism and move into something more along the lines of being a psychic. We were discussing the crowd size between innings at some point, and Evan threw out the number 4,525. Some other members of the ‘Cats staff who shall remain nameless (i.e., not me) mocked that estimate as optimistic. We got the official number an inning or so later, and it was…4,525 exactly.

Adam Bailey, on the other hand, may want to work on his counting skills. While being interviewed for the crowd on the field after the game, Bailey said, “…it’s nice to finally win two games in a row.” As nice as the win was – it marked the first time Tri-City had won a series – it did not change the fact that the ‘Cats lost their previous game 5-4. (The ValleyCats did win on Sunday to actually get that elusive back-to-back victory, so I feel a little better ragging on Bailey for it.)

Check out Astros County’s Q&A with our very own Vic Christopher.

Kevin Whitaker


Goose Eggs

There are a lot of things to like about this ValleyCats team, twelve games into the 2010 season. The pitching staff has been dominant, posting a 2.90 ERA – fourth-best in the NY-Penn League. Tri-City leads the league with 108 strikeouts, and has only walked 38 batters, less than the league average.

And the offense has shown strong secondary skills. The ‘Cats have walked 54 times, second-best in the league to date. And their power numbers – 17 doubles and six homers – are not bad in the context of the league.

But, as important as walks and power are, you still can’t score a lot of runs when you’re batting .197, as the ValleyCats are after tonight’s 4-0 shutout loss at Vermont, the second goose egg in as many days. And that’s certainly the biggest story surrounding the Tri-City team right now. On Sunday afternoon, I wrote that I really liked that night’s lineup, and they proceeded to score two runs on three hits, only one of which was well-struck. But although I thought I had jinxed them that night, Sunday’s lineup looks absolutely potent compared to the one we’ve seen in Vermont. Last night, three Lake Monsters combined for a four-hit shutout; tonight, three more home team pitchers allowed only two hits and three walks.

I will offer many of the same warnings I offered last week: we’re still dealing with small samples. This team certainly has the ability to hit – we saw that in the middle of last week’s homestand, when they racked up 28 hits in three games. And the fact that the secondary skills are still there gives me some confidence that the ‘Cats will figure out what they’re doing at the plate.

And again, we’ve seen this before. Tri-City’s batting average through 12 games last year was .198, eerily similar to that of this year’s team. The 2009 offense turned out to be fine, finishing up just shy of the league average at .242 despite the cold start. (Of course, that team picked up an offensive boost at about this point in the season, adding unknown college outfielder J.D. Martinez*, who eventually led the league in hitting. We certainly can’t count on getting that kind of addition again.) Vermont also has the best pitching staff in the league to date, although with only 12 games in the books we run into some cause-and-effect issues with the stats that we need time to sort out (i.e., does Vermont have good numbers because Tri-City is bad, or do the ‘Cats have bad numbers because their opponents can pitch?).

*Care to guess who’s currently leading the ValleyCats in batting average? That’s right, a college outfielder drafted in the 20th round, Dan Adamson.

So I guess my message is pretty much the same as it was last week: be patient. If the ‘Cats are still flirting with the Mendoza Line at the end of the upcoming six-game homestand, well, then it might be time to panic. But right now, it could be no more than a teamwide slump happening at a bad time.

Mike Kvasnicka will not finish the season hitting .121, I promise you that. He’s still found ways to be productive at the plate, however, drawing 10 walks (tied for fourth in the league).

Although the hitting is obviously the headliner, this also has not been a very good defensive team. The ValleyCats rank second in the NYPL in fielding percentage at .974, but that only tells a small part of the story – this defense is allowing a lot of balls to fall for hits. Even with all the strikeouts, opponents are batting .263 against Tri-City pitchers – 20 points above the league average. I plan on diving into this more in a later post, but eyeballing the numbers, I would expect that the ‘Cats have allowed the highest batting average on balls in play, and it might not be close. They have also thrown 12 wild pitches, one shy of the league high, and have thrown out a below-average share of base stealers.

I would expect the defense to get better over time, as the ‘Cats have been breaking in players at new positions. The fact that they are fourth in ERA despite having a lot of players unfamiliar at their position is a tremendous credit to the pitching staff.

Baserunning has been another pitfall of this young team. The ValleyCats got five runners on base tonight, and only two stayed there until the end of the inning. Vermont turned a pair of double plays, which certainly aren’t the runners’ fault, but Wilton Infante was picked off and caught stealing after his base hit in the fourth inning. Tri-City has had eight runners caught stealing and only five successful thefts, and I can’t find stats for pure pickoffs but there have been a couple of those.

It’s probably worth mentioning that, despite the 4-8 record, Tri-City has only been outscored by four runs (44-40). However, that comes with the caveat that Randy Consuegra basically handed them 5-10 runs, depending on how you want to count the inherited runners. Drawing walks is absolutely a skill, and this is a patient lineup, but Consuegra was a special case – batters could pretty much step in the box, see four or five pitches and know they were going to take first base.

I was legitimately disappointed that Carlos Quevedo pitched last night, because the team was on the road and I couldn’t watch. That’s how good he has been this year. He did give up a pair of longballs on Monday but was otherwise brilliant, allowing just two other runners to reach base in six innings. For the season, Quevedo has 16 strikeouts and no walks. That’s Cliff Lee territory. His next start should be at The Joe, projected for July 3rd against Connecticut.

Quevedo’s record so far is 0-1, which should demonstrate exactly how useful that statistic is for measuring pitchers (particularly in this league).

And after a pair of shaky outings last week, the bullpen is right back to its amazing old self. Tri-City relievers have thrown six scoreless innings in the series so far, giving up only three hits.

The ValleyCats and Lake Monsters finish their three-game set tomorrow. Tri-City looks to take the first step towards breaking out of its slump against Matt Swynenberg, who frustrated the ‘Cats in Troy last week. But as long as the pitching keeps this up, we will at the very least have a season full of close, fast-paced games.

Kevin Whitaker

Power Outage scenes and thoughts

At one point in yesterday’s game, I actually began to wonder if we might be able to finish the game in under two hours. It would have ben a stretch, but didn’t seem like a ridiculous proposition: the sixth inning was almost complete at 8:29, just an hour and 25 minutes after the game began. Carlos Quevedo was throwing great for Tri-City – 6 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 0 R on 65 pitches – and the Vermont pitchers also working quickly, allowing just one run and no walks. Neither side had needed more than 15 pitches to complete an inning, and with potentially only two and a half innings left to play, it seemed possible.

Then, the scoreboard went dark, the lights went off, and ominous black smoke started escaping from the roof of the generator building behind the left-center field fence. You probably know the story by now. The game was delayed for 61 minutes until all the lights finally came back on and play could resume. In the meantime, the ValleyCats gathered outside the third-base dugout, entertaining fans and themselves by throwing items into the stands. The postgame fireworks show was instead launched during the delay to keep the crowd engaged.

Eventually the game was resumed. Vermont decided that, even after the delay, it had not been at the ballpark long enough, and scored a run in the eighth to force extra innings. Each team had a runner in scoring position in the ninth and tenth, but neither could score. In the eleventh, Vermont finally broke through. Henry Jimenez – who had entered the game in the ninth as a pinch-runner for designated hitter David Freitas – led off the inning with a single through the right side, and came around to score on a two-out single by pinch-hitter Justin Miller. The ValleyCats couldn’t answer, and Vermont had a 2-1 victory.

The 61-minute delay provided some of the wildest scenes of the season.

Infielder Enrique Hernandez became an honorary member of VCN, taping Elliot’s camera to the top of his head:

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Hernandez wanted to bring the camera out with him to coach first base, but the rest of us thought that was a bad idea.

The players throw giveaway items into the stands:

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Mike Kvasnicka stole some frisbees from Southpaw to throw into the crowd:
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Fun Facts: As long as Wednesday might have been for the ValleyCats, it was even longer for John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon. Isner and Mahut began their match on Wednesday…and didn’t finish until Thursday, as Isner took the final set 70-68. Tri-City and Vermont could have almost played their game twice, complete with power delays, in the time it took the tennis pros to complete their fifth set alone (8 hours, 11 minutes).

In fact, in the 11 hours and 5 minutes it took Isner and Mahut to play their match, the ValleyCats could have…
    …put on 44 consecutive firework displays
    …waited through 11 power outage delays
    …in which they could have thrown an estimated 22,000 items into the stands
    …including 11 cardboard boxes, signed by a dozen ValleyCats.
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I think we’re all glad it didn’t come to that.

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Some notes from the game:

The ValleyCats’ pitching staff is due for regression at some point – that 1.73 ERA is simply not sustainable for any team. But I am confident that Carlos Quevedo will continue to have a lot of success at this level. You can’t help but appreciate the righty’s pitching style. How’s this for going after hitters: In his first start, Quevedo threw first-pitch strikes to the first 12 batters he faced. Last night? 14 of the first 15. His fastball only sits around 89-91, but it gets on hitters really quickly, enabling him to challenge batters up in the zone and succeed. The stadium shadows last night helped a bit with that deception, but it was still impressive. Quevedo’s second pitch is a slow curve, which seemed to come in around 74-76 mph (though I trust the stadium gun a little less in this range, as it was showing a few curves at 61); it was very useful for him last night, although he did get some help from the umpire on a couple hooks.

Quevedo was the player affected most by the power outage: he was only at 65 pitches at the time of the delay, and would have pitched the seventh inning (although likely no more). He only allowed three hits – all singles – and now has not given up a walk in 10.1 innings this seasion. He currently ranks second in the NYPL with 10 strikeouts.

The bullpen was not as lights-out last night as it had been. The overall line is good – five innings, one earned run – but that overstates its effectiveness. The first run counted as unearned, but Tri-City pitchers were hardly blameless – Joan Belliard hit Ronnie LaBrie with one out, Travis Blankenship walked LaBrie over to third with two, and then Andrew Robinson walked the next batter to bring in the run. That was uncharacteristic of a team that has had remarkable control this season. The ‘pen held Vermont scoreless in the ninth and tenth, but didn’t make it easy, stranding a runner on second in the ninth and leaving the bases loaded in the tenth with the help of a baserunning out.

I was very impressed with the ValleyCats’ fielding. The outfielders threw out three runners on the basepaths. In the first inning, Chad Mozingo tried to stretch his leadoff single into a double, but hesitated a bit coming around first, allowing a strong throw by Renzo Tello to beat him to second base. In the tenth inning, Rick Hughes tried to score the go-ahead run on a soft single to right, but Michael Kvasnicka’s throw arrived well before Hughes and catcher Buck Afenir held onto the ball in the collision. In the eleventh, Cole Leonida tried to score an insurance run from second with two outs, but Tello again delivered a good throw to end the inning. Ben Orloff added a terrific sliding catch deep in foul territory in the fifth inning, while Oscar Figueroa, starting at third for the first time, made a nice play on a grounder in the second.

But the story, as always, is that the ‘Cats can’t hit. I already covered that theme this week, and one more game doesn’t change my opinion much. Still, Tri-City is batting just .197 on the season, which is not good.

Kvasnicka continued his hitless streak, going 0-for-1 in two plate appearances. The rookie did not start, but pinch-hit for Adam Bailey in the ninth with Burnett on first and one out. From the right side, he took a big swing through the first pitch, but eventually worked a walk. He got up again in the eleventh, this time from the left side and again with Burnett on first. The ‘Cats called a hit-and-run but got a bad pitch as Kvasnicka swung and missed at a fastball up and out of the zone, hanging Burnett out to dry between first and second and effectively ending the ‘Cats’ rally. Kvasnicka went down swinging on a ball in the dirt two pitches later.

He’s back in the lineup tonight, in the three-hole and starting at third. Let’s hope he breaks out of the slump.

Kevin Whitaker

Game 1 and VCN Behind the Scenes

Well, yesterday’s season opener was great: we got a 4-3 thriller, capped by a walk-off double off the bat of Oscar Figueroa. The game moved along quickly (2:30), it was close and exciting the whole way, and we had a sellout crowd of 5,370.

You can read my gamer here. After sleeping on it for a night, I’m wondering if I kinda buried most important story: the ValleyCats’ pitching performance. Pitching is usually ahead of hitting at the beginning of the season, but the Tri-City stat line from yesterday was ridiculous: 15 strikeouts, 0 walks.

Honestly, the walk-off victory is great for fans and for those of us who cover the game, but given how each team played, yesterday’s game shouldn’t have been that close. Connecticut only got seven runners on base and managed to bring home three of them – teams aren’t usually that efficient at driving runners in. The ValleyCats, on the other hand, smacked 12 hits and added a walk, but only got four runs out of it. If both teams hit as well today as they did yesterday, I’d expect something more like a 5-2 ‘Cats win.

And even those seven baserunners understate the pitching performance yesterday. Enos’s first double was a lazy, 300-foot fly ball that just happened to land right on the line, where Bailey couldn’t get to it. If that ball goes in pretty much any other direction, it’s an easy out. His second one was struck much better, but even that one hung up in the air for a very long time; if Infante’s playing a step or two farther back (and he was positioned very shallow for most of the game), he runs that one down too. Stanley got his glove on two more hits – if he’s another step to the line or even leaning that way, he probably makes those plays. Connecticut really only had two or three clean, no-doubt hits.

Carlos Quevedo’s stuff was absolutely electric. The top of Connecticut’s order couldn’t touch anything he had – they were swinging through high fastballs all night. His approach is dangerous, as working up in the zone results in fly balls that can become extra-base hits – like Enos’s two moonshots – or eventually homers, but it sure worked last night. He only lasted 4.1 innings – presumably, he was on a 70-ish pitch count (69 when he came out), as he was still effective, coming off a strikeout and just about to face three batters who he had fanned twice apiece – but that’s a great sign for the ValleyCats looking forward. Blazek will be on very low pitch counts and we probably won’t see him for more than an inning at a time as he returns from surgery, but he’ll be a great asset in the bullpen. And for three other relievers to come in and be practially untouchable – th eonly hit after the sixth was a line-drive double off Blankenship – is a great sign for Tri-City.

We at the ValleyCats Network felt that our opening day went about as well as the players’.  The production was very smooth, and the fans seemed to enjoy our show.  Here are some behind-the-scenes photos of VCN’s opening night:

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Chris, Evan and Gino work on setting up the live broadcast

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Jason and Elliot in the production room

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Elliot gets some video during batting practice

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Jason hard at work before the game…

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…controlling what shows up on this.

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Evan starts his pregame radio show

And a few more random pictures from the night:
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Kevin Whitaker

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