With the dirt still blowing around the diamond at Royal Athletic Park, it’s time to close the book on the HarbourCats 2015 season. Safe to say it was a season unlike any other, it had a little bit of everything from opening day to the final out last Sunday. If you couldn’t find something to cheer for and about this year, then perhaps baseball isn’t the sport for you…
The WCL season lasts just over two months, a total of 54 games in about 66 days. This year thanks to the first ever rain out in HarbourCat history, only 53 games. What was so different about this season though, was that it seemed like two distinctly different seasons in one.
Out of the gate, Victoria was in a tailspin. Never managing to get both bats and pitching to gel at the same time, Victoria lost two out of every three games on the way to an 8-16 record and a .333 winning percentage. Second last in the entire WCL at that point, and a franchise-worst start (Victoria had 12 wins by that point in 2014, 11 in 2013). Things were looking bleak, with the team languishing at or near the bottom of every offensive category. Positive moments at that point were limited to a couple offensive outbursts, offset by some fine but sporadic early season pitching performances. At that low point the team was averaging 4.9 runs a game, but giving up 6.0. The win-loss record even looked generous.
But then baseball magic took over. A 10-0 home victory against Kitsap, followed by an outstanding 2-1 comeback win the next night seemed to rejuvenate the entire squad. A third win against the BlueJackets and the first series sweep of the year brought back the smiles in the dugout, and put a hop in the step of players and coaches alike. The winning train pulled out, and Victoria went 19-6 over the next 25 games to do the seemingly impossible – turning the 2015 season into a winning season, and into a season with play-off hope and potential. The bats came alive, the defense solidified, and the pitching became reliable all at once. It’s as if Guru Pitka himself had taken over the weekly yoga classes and brought synergy to the HarbourCats baseball world.
Over that stretch, the team ranked at the top of all team statistical categories, and a drastic turnaround had Victoria scoring 7.2 runs per game while giving up only 3.88.
In the end, while falling a couple games short in the wildcard race may seem like a disappointment, the fact that they were even close is truly unbelievable.
In the end, Victoria put up their best record in three years at 29-24, finished above .500 for the first time ever, and had several franchise bests in all aspects of the game, including:
- Most runs scored in a season with 322 (296 in 2014)
- Most triples in a season with 11 (9 in 2014)
- Most Home runs with 36 (27 in 2014).
- Highest slugging percentage of .384 (.378 in 2014).
- Strikeouts against were a team-low 365.
The 36 home runs were the second-most by a WCL team in league history, second only to Walla Walla’s 2014 mark of 44.
On the mound, although a bit of a mixed result this year, there were still some fantastic positive numbers:
- Fewer total runs (258) and earned runs (214) given up (283/228 in 2013).
- Pitchers fanned more batters than ever with a WCL best 7.3 K’s per game.
- Team ERA reached a new team low at 4.10 (4.32 in 2013).
And on the other side of the ledger, some not-so-great distinctions:
- Teams hit better against the Cats this year, clubbing out a .270 average overall, well above last year’s .257.
- More hits were given up than ever – 507, or 9.57 a game. (8.85 in 2013).
- Individually, there were no complete games thrown by Victoria pitchers this year, and the team registered only a single shut-out.
- Victoria tied a team-high wild pitch total of 54 (still nowhere near WCL leader Wenatchee at 85).
On the fielding side, I was surprised to see the team’s fielding percentage exactly where it was last year at .962, and the error total slightly lower than last year at 77 (79 in 2014). From where I sat, it seemed the fielding was much better this year than in previous years, but that was not the case. The WCL tops out at .970 though, so it’s tough to say that Victoria was anything other than average in this category.
Individually, we have talked about Griffin Andreychuk’s performance quite a bit, and if only he had played more in enough to be considered among league leaders he would have won the WCL batting title. If we shelve Griff for a moment, it wasn’t what you would call a dominating season by any other HarbourCat…
Kevin Collard did a nice, no, a fantastic job elevating his game in the second half to establish himself among the league leaders. At the low point of the season he was not in the WCL top 50, yet he finished 14th in average at a very respectable .311. More than that, he finished tied for fourth in the home run race with 7 (Medford’s Dan Mayer led with 11), sixth in RBI with 35 (Bend’s Tyler Davis had 50), and tied for second in triples with 4 (Wenatchee’s Keston Hiura led with 6). Not bad for a guy playing one less game than everyone else!
Austin Guibor held his own at .301 – he was going back and forth with Collard for the last couple weeks of the season before Kevin pulled away at the end, and even Alex DeGoti who struggled mightily to mid-season seeing his average drop to .208 at one point, rebounded to hit .294 – just 2 points behind his last-year’s mark.
The main difference this year was a drop-off in solid support hitting. In 2014, Victoria had 8 hitters hitting .290 or better, this year there were 6 (note that in 2013, only Alex Real and his all-time HarbourCat best .339 hit above that line). As a collective, the Cats hit a rather light .244 in 2015, compared to .266 in 2014.
So with hitting being decidedly average, it must have been on the defensive side that got this team close to the post season right? Pitching was good – better than in 2014 anyway, but still below the mark set by the club in 2013.
The combined 4.10 ERA was good for 7th in the WCL, nearly a run more than Bellingham’s 3.26. In all three seasons so far, Victoria seems to end right on, or slightly above the league average in ERA (it was 4.05 this year). Interestingly, this was the first year in WCL history that the league average ERA actually declined – it’s been going steadily upward since 2010.
As on the hitting side, individually there were a couple stand-outs on the hill, and a fairly average staff otherwise – although a stellar last month of the season brought numbers back in line in several cases.
Dominic Topoozian lived up to his All-star billing and finished strong with 6 wins – three of them coming in his last 3 starts and 4 of them in his last 6. That was good for second in the WCL behind Wenatchee’s Hunter Wells who finished with 7. In a gripping bit of irony, Wells beat Topoosian in a hard-fought 1-0 game at RAP back on June 27th, where Dom’s only mistake of the game was a 2-1 fastball that Wenatchee hitter Evan Douglas deposited over the outfield fence for the Sox only run that day – giving Wells the seventh win, not Dom. Topoozian also led the team in strikeouts with 55, good for 4th in the WCL behind Bend’s “Crime Dog” Patrick McGuff, who finished with 64. Topoozian finished with a team-leading 2.81 ERA., tying him with Austin Dondanville for the team lead among starters.
Reliever Nick Wojtysiak’s arm was missed down the stretch (he left the team July 23rd), as he posted a team best 2.49 ERA coming out of the pen. Tei Vanderford was next with a 3.30 ERA, his record blemished by a couple outings against Bellingham where he gave up a couple runs each time in relief, and Victoria lost both games by a single run. Those four runs had a significant impact on the season’s outcome.
Sean Kennedy II and Josh Walker were the workhorses in the pen this year, appearing in 20 and 19 games respectively. Walker faired the better posting a 3.96 ERA compared to Kennedy’s 5.03, but Kennedy was on the mound at the right time, posting 3 wins for his efforts. Walker was the “K” master this year, striking out more than a batter per inning (a 1.10 ratio). Josh Mitchell and Henry Omana also struck out an average of at least one batter every inning they pitched.
And speaking of Mitchell, hands down Josh takes the “meanest stare from the mound” title, perhaps in HarbourCat history with his perfectly manicured “short box” (recently ranked one of the top most manly beards of 2015, don’tcha know…).
In the field, as mentioned above, there was nothing outstanding from a team perspective – except at the shortstop position where Alex DeGoti and Scott Jarvis combined to commit 21 errors between them (mostly) at short – nearly half of the team total. Maybe there’s a glare coming off the cheap seats above section 9? PJ Floyd contributed 9 gaffs at first base – expected for a player who isn’t used to the action. In fact, Victoria played the entire season without a true first-baseman on the roster after Carl Stajduhar pulled out late and Gabe Clark was drafted by the Jays. For the first time in HarbourCat history though, the hot corner at 3B was actually on fire, as Michael Gretler solidified that position with stellar defense game after game.
Victoria was not a fast team in 2015. 82 total stolen bases on 128 attempts, a 64% average. The 46 outs given up were the second highest in the WCL next to Corvalis who clocked in at 50 – but they did so on a league-leading 196 attempts. It would be interesting to see if the 82 steals produced more runs than the 46 took away… Individually, Kevin Collard was 8-8 and Griffin Andreychuck was 6-7. Alex DeGoti was the most active on the base paths, swiping 18 times on 24 tries. Mr. HarbourCat was on a new tear this year – last year he stole only 8 on 11 tries, and he was 5 for 9 in 2013.
And we couldn’t do a season recap without mentioning the stellar job Jim Swanson and the rest of the off-field team did to get bums in seats and keep them there all season. From a league record 50,000 fans through the gate, to record setting crowds on fireworks days, to an outfield fence jammed with sponsors, the team’s tireless work in the off season showed in the quality of the product on and off the field. The relationship with the city seems a perfect symbiotic relationship that is allowing both parties to grow and prosper. And all that despite the ownership rumblings before the season even began. Next year – an incredible fourth consecutive year of baseball in Victoria – promises to be even bigger, and even better.
So that’s how the stats played out in 2015. A remarkable late-season turnaround as a team improved most numbers above or near franchise bests. One would argue the 2015 HarbourCats were a team with no real superstars, and they ended where one would have expected, maybe a little better – they just went about it a different way. Overall, I think the 2015 team will inform management and coaching staff with the information to make next year’s team better. Player mix was good, but could have been better (think too many outfielders, not enough relievers). Hopes were maybe set too high for a few big-name players who didn’t show, and late replacement signings didn’t pan out as expected… Still, the success of this year should hopefully see more returning players next year, and management will then spend time concentrating on filling in the holes rather than building from scratch. Obviously the nature of the league is to shuffle the majority of the rosters each year, but the top teams in the league find a way to hold onto key players year after year.
Victoria is a city with fantastic fan support, driven management and passionate coaching (confirmed for next year), not to mention a player-family set-up second to none in the WCL. If anyone can do it, the HarbourCats can.