Thursday, October 25, 2012

Home plate collisions not part of the WCL game

The West Coast League uses the NCAA's baseball rule book, so there are a number of differences compared to the professional game. Many of the changes are related to player safety and conduct, but perhaps none are as significant as rule 8-7 ("Collision Rule"). This rule is intended to encourage both base runners and defenders to avoid collisions and help reduce injuries. The rule states:
The runner may not attempt to dislodge the ball from the fielder. Contact above the waist shall be judged by the umpire as an attempt by the runner to dislodge the ball.
If the runner attempts to dislodge the ball or initiates an avoidable collision, the runner shall be declared out, even if the fielder loses possession of the ball. The ball is dead and all other base runners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the interference.
If the contact is flagrant or malicious before the runner touches the plate, the runner shall be declared out and also ejected from the contest.
You may remember the infamous home plate collision last May in which Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants suffered a horrific season-ending injury. At the time, there was a huge outcry for MLB to adopt a rule similar to the NCAA's collision rule. As you can see, Scott Cousins of the Marlins makes an obvious attempt to dislodge the ball and also makes violent contact with Posey above the waist. In the big leagues, the runner is simply called safe in this situation.

Now here is an example from the NCAA in which the base runner clearly is attempting to dislodge the ball, but runs into the catcher with much less force than Cousins used to bowl over Posey. The result? The NCAA base runner is called out AND is ejected from the game.

In both situations, the umpires made the correct call according to their respective rule books. The bottom line for HarbourCats fans is that we can expect a radically different call from the umpire should an "old school" collision at the plate happen at Royal Athletic Park next season.

  • You may remember that the end of our blog posts on the old Victoria Seals Baseball Blog periodically had a section for miscellaneous notes called "Seal Blubber Bits". We have decided to rename this section "HarbourCatNip". Yes, it's a bit of a "groaner", but at least it's in CamelCase.
  • Groundskeepers began working on the infield at Royal Athletic Park this week. As an added bonus, home plate is being moved ten feet closer to the grandstand. You can see a picture of the new layout on the team's Facebook page.
  • For anyone who might be considering billeting a HarbourCat for the summer, check out this cool story about Pablo Sandoval's old host family and their reaction to his three home runs in a World Series game last night.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Get ready for West Coast League small ball!

Fans of the old Victoria Seals are in for quite surprise when they come out to see the HarbourCats for the first time next season. The former Golden Baseball League had an excess of offense and a scarcity of quality pitching and the end result was far too many football-like scores. Next year when the West Coast League (WCL) comes to town, we'll be seeing a completely different style of baseball and if you are a fan of "small ball" then you are in for a treat.

The first thing you'll notice is that the WCL uses the designated hitter -- and for good reason. Hitting with a wood bat is a huge adjustment for collegiate players and power numbers typically take a big hit. Last year's home run champion, Taylor Sparks of the Wenatchee AppleSox, hit 9 homers in his 134 at bats and only seven players in the entire league hit more than four homers during the summer.

In an attempt to get a better idea of the differences between the WCL and the old GBL, I spent a bit of time calculating league-wide stats. I took last year's numbers from the WCL and compared them to the GBL in 2010, the last year the Seals were in town. I also threw in this year's MLB numbers for further context. Here are the results:

GBL (2010)
WCL (2012)
MLB (2012)
Batting average
Runs per game
Hits per game
Home runs per game

Even with the DH, the league-wide batting average in the WCL is 24 points lower than in the old GBL. In terms of runs per game, we'll be seeing roughly 2.4 fewer runs than when the Seals were in town. But compared to the MLB averages, these WCL numbers are actually much more balanced than the GBL, which was excessively tilted on the offensive side.

As you can see, the big difference is in the power numbers: 1.5 homers per game in the GBL, but only 0.6 homers per game in the WCL. That's a huge drop-off, especially when compared to the MLB average of 2.0 homers per game. Clearly, the days of seeing game-breakers like Josh Arhart and Jamar Hill slam multi-homer games aren't likely to return and we won't be throwing around the term "Pembroke Poke" quite as often as in 2009-10. It might even be safe to park your car on Pembroke Street during a ballgame.

So what will we see in place of the extra base hits? A quick glance at the numbers below tell us that we'll be seeing enough small ball to make John McGraw proud:

GBL (2010)
WCL (2012)
MLB (2012)
Stolen bases per game
Stolen base percentage
Sacrifice bunts per game

Marc Gallegos of Corvallis led the WCL with 21 steals in 2012
It's pretty obvious that WCL head coaches turn to stolen bases and bunts to help manufacture runs. In fact, there were almost twice as many stolen bases in the WCL as in the big leagues this season and three times as many bunts. But when only one team in the league manages a slugging percentage above .378, waiting around for a three-run home run isn't an option sometimes.

Of course, some head coaches can take this strategy to the extreme. The Kitsap BlueJackets finished with the worst record in the league last year (14-40), in large part due to a team slugging percentage of .319. Rookie head coach Ryan Parker kept the green light on all summer in spite of a terrible 57% stolen base percentage. Anytime a team's stolen base percentage is below the 70-75% range, the potential reward of moving up a base is outweighed by the risk of getting thrown out and turning on the red light becomes the better option in most situations.

I for one am excited about the brand of baseball that we'll see in the WCL. Solid pitching, good defense and agressive baserunning makes for exciting baseball and I can certainly live without all of those 12-9 and 11-7 games that we use to see in the GBL. Besides, WCL players all have their amateur status to protect, so we couldn't pass the hat for a homer anyway.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Welcome to the HarbourCats blog

Back in May of 2009, I started the Victoria Seals Baseball Blog. Shortly thereafter, longtime friends Bubba and Darth jumped on board and all of a sudden we had a team of seasoned baseball fans pumping out blog posts. At the time we had no idea if the concept would go anywhere, but we were pleasantly surprised at the results.

Not only did the blog exceed our expectations, but so did the Victoria Seals. The city of Victoria embraced the team and over 200,000 Seals tickets were sold in 2009 and 2010. The grand old dame, Royal Athletic Park, received much-needed upgrades and it returned to its glory days of the 1950's. New heroes like Josh Arhart and Jamar Hill energized the city and it became fashionable to head out to the ballpark on a summer evening.

HarbourCats V logo
Sadly, out of nowhere, it all fell apart. The Seals folded in November 2010 and Victoria baseball fans were both saddened and angry that their team could be taken away in the blink of an eye. The city of Victoria was blamed by some, but others believed the real culprits were many miles away in the league office in Northern California. Two other well-run franchises in the league, the Calgary Vipers and Edmonton Capitals, would eventually cease operations following the 2011 season.

Immediately after the demise of the Seals, rumours swirled about other leagues that might setup shop in Victoria. Our hopes were realized in June of this year when the official announcement came: Baseball is coming back! Frankly, we couldn't be happier. The West Coast League is a stable outfit, team ownership is first class, local government is much more supportive and the front-office is staffed by experienced professionals. The last two summers have been quiet at Royal Athletic Park, but I firmly believe local baseball fans are in a better position now than they were back in 2010.

Of course, we'll be doing another baseball blog. We're reinventing ourselves as the Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog and we're very excited about the future. We hope that our loyal followers will remain with us and that new fans will come on board. However, our approach will be much the same: we'll bring you analysis, opinions and coverage that you won't find anywhere else. We'll give you a heads up on who to watch when you come to the ballpark, tell you why we think the team is playing so well (or poorly) and throw in some irreverent commentary that will hopefully make you chuckle. We can hardly wait for opening day.

Friday, October 12, 2012

What's in a name?

There you have it - Victoria HarbourCats. I like it. I give it a solid "A". There is a "u" in HarbourCats making it uniquely Canadian, which I also like. The logo is pretty cool too - my first thought was that it looked like the Carolina Panther (mother) and Jacksonville Jaguar (father) mated and had a little HarbourKitty of their own - awww look, he has his mom's colours and his dad's whiskers! Yes, this is the type of insightful blogging you can look forward to all year as we rev ourselves up to a frenzy until opening day! 

This new team name and logo were introduced in an open team news conference today at the Shark Club by the team's GM, Holly "HoJo" Jones. John McLean (owner) and Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin were also on hand with their comments. There were over 600 names suggested by the public with the first 250 entries getting a pair of tickets to a HarbourCats' game next year. As has always been the case, community spirit was stressed with the logo being fierce enough for the players/fans, and soft enough for a non-kid-threatening mascot. And as a member of our community, I really do hope we get behind this new team so their tenancy is a long and fruitful one here in Vic-town.

Today's announcement was brief and to the point, with team logo T-shirts being handed out to a lucky few via a random draw. Rumours that Mayor Fortin will be on the bump for the season opener had the crowd on the edge of their seats, that is, until someone called out that he may not be NCAA eligible.

As we now convert our Seals blog site to a new HarbourCats one (goodbye Seymour, hello..."Kitty" - sorry, couldn't resist!), we look forward to more announcements in the future as the team formalizes its roster and also comes up with a new uniform design.

The more I hear about the league, the more I look forward to the youthful excitement to which I think we will be treated. Without having seen a game, I liken it to the WHL of the amateur baseball world and that fires me up.

No one has called "play ball" in Victoria just yet, but as Ed Grimley would say, "I'm so excited already, I must say".

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Name and logo of Victoria's WCL team to be released Friday!

After much anticipation, we'll soon know the name and logo of our new West Coast League baseball franchise. The team is set to make the official announcement at 11:30 AM at the Shark Club. Our group of intrepid bloggers will be on hand to cover the event and you'll find news and commentary on this site afterwards. Members of the public are welcome to attend the unveiling, so feel free to come on down to the Shark Club and experience it yourself.

The team has been tight-lipped about their decision, but GM Holly Jones has been releasing names periodically on Twitter that were not selected. So far, the following have been ruled out:
  • Muffins. No shocker that it didn't make the cut, but if you're going to submit that name wouldn't you go with Stud Muffins instead?
  • Rogers. There are some obvious promotional opportunities with the chocolate company, but it didn't quite make the cut.
  • Vikings. Uh, that one's taken.
  • Cupcakes. Wow, there were a lot of food suggestions... and they all suffered the same fate.
  • Capital City Surf. Of course, we'd need the Capital City Goofball as our mascot.
  • Orcas. One of the most commonly suggested names, but this one fell short too. It would have been a good one though.
  • Brewers. Also taken.
  • Tide. Another one of the most common suggestions, but it's already used by a AAA team.
  • Mini Goldendoodles. Holly Jones sure has a cute dog, but there's not enough room on the front of a uniform for that one.
  • Smokies. Nope -- already used by a AA team.
  • Fighting Marmots. That was a great suggestion... OK, maybe I may have put it forward it in a previous blog post, but it was a good suggestion nonetheless. Of course, the Marmots haven't been ruled out yet, so there is always hope.
It's a bit of a long-shot to predict what name might be chosen, but given owner John McLean's knowledge and respect of Victoria's baseball tradition, I wouldn't be surprised to see a throwback name selected. Either that or the Stud Muffins.