The Pitch Clocks Worked

October 30, 2015

Flashback seven months to the start of the Tacoma Rainiers season, and there was a big story throughout Triple-A Baseball: the installation and use of pitch clocks.

Now that everything is said and done, and the statistics are in, it’s time to look and see if they worked.

Pace of play was a big emphasis for the 2015 season, as MLB was looking for ways to speed up play in a game that has gotten longer and longer by the decade.

Triple-A and Double-A teams were required to install clocks with counted down 20 seconds between pitches, and also had a between-inning countdown to get the teams to change sides quickly. Relief pitchers were also on the clock, forced to get on the mound and finish their warm-ups in a timely fashion.

Additional rules were put in place to speed up games. The most important rule forced batters to keep one foot in the batter’s box between pitches (unless the previous pitch had been fouled off or went wild). Umpires were told to ask batters to get in the box and keep things moving.

The changes worked.

Pacific Coast League games dropped from an average of 2:58 in 2014 to 2:45 in 2015. That’s an average of 13 minutes quicker.

Similar results were noticed in the other Triple-A and Double-A leagues, which also had the pitch clocks and new rules enforced. All games in these leagues were an average of 12 minutes quicker in 2015 compared to 2014.

Looking strictly at Tacoma games, we find very similar numbers: in 2014, nine-inning Rainiers games averaged 2:57. In 2015, that number was shaved down to 2:43.

The biggest difference was the lack of ridiculously long nine-inning games.

In 2014 Tacoma played 58 nine-inning games which lasted longer than three hours. In 2015 that number dropped to just 20.

Here’s a breakdown of the Rainiers nine-inning games which lasted over three hours:

2014 (old rules)

  • 3:00 – 3:15: 33 games
  • 3:16 – 3:30: 13 games
  • 3:31 – 3:45: 8 games
  • 3:46 – 4:00: 3 games
  • 4:01 – longer: 1 game (4:18 vs. Fresno on August 9).

2015 (new pace of play rules)

  • 3:00 – 3:15: 18 games
  • 3:16 – 3:30: 2 games
  • 3:31 – longer: none.

It’s clear the new measures worked.

The biggest question moving forward is, What do we do with these pitch clocks? Use them at all levels? Only the minors? Abolish them immediately because there are no clocks in baseball goshdarnit?

I consider myself to be a bit of a traditionalist, and once I got used to the timers I wasn’t bothered by them. In fact, I rarely even looked at them while broadcasting the games, and only mentioned them if I happened to notice that a pitcher was regularly pushing the limits. And of course I mentioned them the three or four times all season that a ball or strike was awarded by the umpire because of a batter or pitcher’s tardiness.

I’m curious to know what the fans think. If you attended a lot of Rainiers games, did you stop noticing the clocks after your first few games? Or were they something you looked at often?

The casual fan who attends two or three games a year certainly noticed them, and probably didn’t like them. I understand that – they took a while to get used to before they faded from my viewing of the game.

They worked, though. I wonder if MLB can figure out a way to maintain the improved pace of play without installing clocks in the big leagues.

Links:

  • The Mariners announced more of the structure of their new front office. Bob Dutton has the details.
  • Here an article from MiLB.com with additional details on how pace of play improved in the minor leagues this season.
  • Game One of the World Series had everything, Jonah Keri writes.
  • Larry Stone has a column on Redmon’s Michael Conforto, now playing in the World Series for the Mets.
  • The San Diego Padres named Andy Green as their new manager. Green won the PCL Most Valuable Player award in 2005 as a member of the Tucson Sidewinders.
  • The 1985 World Series was very memorable. If you have some time to burn, enjoy this oral history of it.
  • There is going to be a new Double-A team in the Eastern League next season: the Hartford Yard Goats. They introduced their mascots and, welp… go see for yourself.

Have a great weekend, and hopefully we’ll still have a World Series going next week!

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Servais & Series Start

October 27, 2015

New Mariners manager Scott Servais was officially introduced in a press conference on Monday afternoon. You can watch the whole thing right here.

A big theme of the press conference was “togetherness.” General Manager Jerry Dipoto and Servais kept coming back to the theme of communication throughout the organization and getting input from everybody before making key decisions.

One item that came out of the press conference is that Servais managed a few games in the Angels minor league system when he was the farm director, helping out when an affiliate’s manager had to step away for a day or two. This included two PCL games for Salt Lake in 2012: he went 1-1 filling in for Bees manager Keith Johnson during a series at Colorado Springs (hat tip to Bees broadcaster Steve Klauke for the details).

The team also announced four of the major league coaches: new pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr., bench coach Tim Bogar, returning hitting coach Edgar Martinez, and returning first base/infield coach Chris Woodward. They still need a third base coach, a bullpen coach, and possibly one more such as an assistant hitting coach.

The World Series starts tonight, and the we got totally shut out in terms of ex-Rainiers on the active rosters: there are no Royals or Mets who ever played for Tacoma.

The Royals have a pair of recent ex-Mariners in Kendrys Morales and pitcher Chris Young. The Mets have a Local Guy in rookie outfielder Michael Conforto.

My prediction: Royals in six games. I see this as a very evenly matched series, but the Royals excel at making contact against high-velocity pitchers and that’s what they’ll be seeing. Also, I like the fact that the Royals were in this thing last year and have “unfinished business.”

Links:

Enjoy the Series!


New Schedule, Farm Director, Manager

October 22, 2015

The Rainiers announced their 2016 home schedule with game times on Thursday afternoon. You can check it out right here. If you have trouble seeing it, click on the PDF version and you can make it as large as you want.

(This early schedule always looks weird to me, without the road games listed. The team will release a complete schedule with all road trips once all of the away game times have been received from the opponents and approved by the league).

A few notes of interest:

  • Over two-thirds of the home games come after June 1, which is good for us considering our traditional weather patterns.
  • Tacoma both opens and closes the season at home. That seems unusual to me.
  • The popular 5:05 Saturday games are back for another season. These are during the first three months of the season – in July and August, they revert back to 7:05.
  • Sixteen of the first 20 games after the all-star break are at home. On paper here in October, this looks like the best time for the team to reel off a hot streak.
  • The Rainiers close the season with (at least) eight straight games against divisional rivals. This has not been the case in recent years – I’m glad it’s back, because it increases potential drama in the playoff races.

We’re just five-and-a-half months away from starting! Wait, that seems like a long time.

The Mariners officially announced Andy McKay as their new Director of Player Development. It’s an interesting hire, as he has none of the usual background for this position.

McKay spent the last three years as the Colorado Rockies minor league “Peak Performance Coordinator.” My understanding is this was a mental skills coach / sports psychology position. Prior to that, McKay spent 14 years coaching junior college ball.

Apparently he had no previous relationship with new general manager Jerry Dipoto and simply blew him away in an interview.

McKay has a lot of interesting things to say – I encourage you to read some of the interviews in the links just below – but he’s going to need to earn the respect of his coaches during spring training. There are definitely going to be some minor league staffers thinking “I’ve been managing/coaching/playing pro ball for over 20 years and my new boss is telling me what to do and he hasn’t coached above the junior college level.” That’s an issue that McKay will need to overcome in March.

It’s another move in what is sure to be a long series of changes which will continue throughout the offseason. It’s a new frontier and we’ll see where it takes us.

Word got out earlier today that Scott Servais will be named manager of the Seattle Mariners, with Tim Bogar joining him as bench coach. The team has yet to confirm, but numerous professional reporters are saying it’s true.

Update: the Mariners confirmed the hire. Scott Servais will meet the media at 10:30 on Monday.

Servais is part of the latest baseball trend: major league managers who have no previous managerial experience. The Cardinals, Rockies, and White Sox have each made similar hires in the last three years with varying degrees of success.

I honestly have no opinion on this hire. There is no track record to look at, he’s never managed a game, and I’ve never met him. All we know is he is Dipoto’s friend from when they both worked for the Angels.

Bogar, the bench coach, has lots of coaching and managerial experience in the majors and minors. That makes for a nice balance.

Links:

Have a great weekend!


Rainiers Add Playground & Pitcher

October 20, 2015

Today’s regularly scheduled column has been postponed due to some Rainiers news:

You may have heard by now that the Rainiers have teamed up with the Cheney Foundation and Metro Parks to create a playground and Wiffle ball field at Cheney Stadium. This is scheduled to be ready in April.

It will be placed on the right field side of the ballpark, behind the berm. This area has been underutilized since the 2011 renovation – it’s where the old batting cages were, and the structure of that building was left in place and there were some picnic tables there which had no view of the game. Kind of useless, really.

Now it will be a cool little mini-park which will be open year-round. While lots of the details haven’t been finalized, I’m told that this park will be open year round and free for public use when there is not a Rainiers game going on.

Two other details from short-timing Rainiers spokesman Ben Spradling:

  • Adults will be able to play on the Wiffle ballpark, so round up your friends (what if Metro Parks starts an adult league?).
  • There will be protection from foul balls so kids on the playground aren’t at risk during Rainiers games.

I think it’s a cool idea and can’t wait to see the final product.

We had a roster move on Monday which could impact the 2016 Tacoma Rainiers.

The Mariners claimed right-handed pitcher Cody Martin off waivers from the Oakland A’s, and added him to the 40-man roster.

Martin, 26, is a product of Gonzaga University where he was teammates with current Rainiers/Mariners pitcher Tyler Olson. He’s made 54 Triple-A starts over the past two-and-a-half seasons, going 15-19 with a solid 3.66 ERA. Most of his Triple-A time came with Gwinett in the International League.

Martin made his MLB debut this season, working in 21 games out of the Atlanta bullpen and then appearing in four games for Oakland. He has two option years remaining – making him a strong candidate to appear on the main field at Cheney Stadium next year (as opposed to the Wiffle ball field).

To make room for Martin on the 40-man roster, the Mariners released reliever Logan Kensing. Kensing is now a free agent and can sign with anybody – including the Mariners, who may be interested in re-signing him on a minor league deal. I’m sure Kensing will take his time and try to make a smart choice figuring out which organization will give him the best major league opportunity.

Links:

  • We’ll start with The News Tribune’s story on the Wiffle ball field, which includes quotes from Rainiers team president Aaron Artman about kids who “get the crazies.” Aaron has four kids and he is highly knowledgable about this.
  • Ryan Divish has an update on the Mariners manager search.
  • Tom Allison – one of the holdovers from Jack Zduriencik‘s regime – has been promoted to oversee all Mariners scouting under new GM Jerry Dipoto. Bob Dutton’s story on this also includes some other front office and managerial notes.
  • Former Tacoma Rainiers catcher Jason Varitek has been interviewed for the Mariners manager position, Jon Heyman reported.
  • Former Tacoma Tigers pitcher Jeff Jones retired from his position as major league pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers. Jones started 29 games for Tacoma from 1982 to 1984.
  • Ex-Rainiers pitchers Jarrett Grube and Anthony Vazquez made the Team USA roster for an upcoming international tournament in Asia. Current Mariners prospect Tyler O’Neill will play for Team Canada.
  • In the PCL, we have good news from New Orleans where the Zephyrs and the State of Louisiana have agreed to extend their stadium lease through 2020, with hopes for a renovation project in the future.

Check back on Friday for that post I alluded to last time – unless more interesting news breaks out.


Weekend Update

October 19, 2015

Let’s get caught up on the news of the last few days..

  • Pat Listach‘s team in the Dominican Winter League opened play on Friday. He’s managing Estrellas de Oriente, which is the DR’s version of the Chicago Cubs: they’ve been around since 1910, and their only championships came in 1954 and 1968. This league has only six teams in it – you’re supposed to win more frequently than that! Well, they went 2-1 on opening weekend, with Rainiers first baseman Ji-Man Choi helping out by going 3-for-12 with a triple, HR, and three RBI. Some other PCL players you may know are on the roster: Fresno DH Tyler White, Salt Lake outfielder Alfredo Marte, and New Orleans outfielder Jordany Valdespin have appeared in games.
  • Bob Dutton has some additional notes on Rainiers playing winter ball.
  • The Arizona Fall League continues today with James Paxton making his second start. Mariners farmhands D.J. Peterson, Tyler O’Neill, and Tyler Smith have each had a good start at the plate for the Peoria club.
  • My spies tell me that the Mariners managerial search is down to five. The industry – which in this case means people who work for teams other than the Mariners – continues to think that Angels Special Assistant Tim Bogar is the leader.
  • Former Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito announced his retirement today. He played in the PCL on his way up to the big leagues, and at the end of his career – he spent the entire 2015 season with Nashville, before getting a September opportunity to say goodbye in Oakland. He posted his own retirement announcement.
  • Ex-Rainiers hitting coach Jeff Pentland was let go by the Yankees. He’s a true veteran of the game, and I love his quote at the end of the story. I can picture him just shrugging and saying, “it’s the Yankees.”
  • On the field, the Mets have a 2-0 lead over the Cubs in the NLCS. Mets starting pitching has been dominant so far, but now the series moves to Wrigley – which played very small in the Cubs’ Division Series win over the Dodgers.
  • Kansas City has a 2-0 lead over Toronto with the series moving to the homer-friendly Rogers Centre tonight. Jonny Cueto gets the start for KC tonight; he had HR problems in the regular season but then dominated in the decisive fifth game of the Royals series against Houston. Which Cueto shows up tonight?

Check back Wednesday for my thoughts on one of the big stories of the PCL in 2015.


Some M’s News and a Wild Inning

October 15, 2015

We got some clarity on recent Mariners minor league coaching news on Wednesday afternoon, and then the on-field baseball took center stage.

Details were released about the Mariners recent round of front office and coaching changes. You can find all of the information on the Mariners website, but here are the Rainiers-related takeaways:

  • Tacoma manager Pat Listach has been offered the opportunity to return as Tacoma manager. Listach has a lot of experience as a major league coach, and he’s also been interviewed for MLB manager jobs on multiple occasions. There are many major league possibilities for him – potentially including with the Mariners – so he’ll see what develops before committing. Listach is currently managing in the Dominican Winter League.
  • Minor league pitching coordinator Terry Clark and hitting coordinator Lee May Jr. were among the coaches who were not renewed by new GM Jerry Dipoto. Both visited Tacoma on many occasions and are class acts. Clark even served as the Rainiers pitching coach during the second half of the 2013 season.
  • Dipoto is keeping key members of the scouting department, with Tom McNamara handling the amateur side, and Tom Allison heading up the pro side.

This news came down during one of the wildest playoff games you’ll ever see.

The seventh inning of yesterday’s Rangers-Blue Jays game was ridiculous and awesome. It included a play I had never seen before, and ex-Rainiers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo was in the middle of it.

With the score tied 2-2 in the top of the seventh, Texas had Rougned Odor at third base with two outs. Choo was the batter.

On a 1-2 pitch, Choo took a high fastball for ball two. Catcher Russell Martin received the pitch, and threw the ball back to the pitcher just like normal… except his throw hit Choo’s bat. Choo was just standing there, still looking at the pitcher, when Martin’s throw glanced off his bat and rolled up the third base line. This was a live ball, and Odor raced home with the go-ahead run.

Things got really odd when home plate umpire Dale Scott signaled time out while Odor was about 75% of the way towards the plate. Scott initially ruled the ball was dead, but after conferring with the other umpires the call was overturned and the run was allowed to score. It was a mess, but they got the call right in the end.

I haven’t seen this play before, but here’s a similar one we see in Triple-A once every five years or so: runner on base, batter doesn’t swing at pitch, catcher’s throw back to the mound goes wild and zips past the pitcher, runner moves up a base. I had never seen a routine throw back to the mound hit any part of the batter or bat until yesterday.

At the time, the play in yesterday’s game looked like it might decide the game. But in the bottom of the inning the Rangers made a comedy (or tragedy depending on your rooting interests) of errors, and then Jose Bautista launched a three-run homer which included a bat flip that even the Korean Baseball Organization would approve of. The Blue Jays won, 6-3.

Links:

We get one more Game Five this evening, and then the ALCS starts on Friday.


Rainiers To Have New Coaches In 2016

October 12, 2015

Cue the David Bowie hit, because we’ve got changes.

We knew a new Mariners general manager was going to shake things up, and that process is well underway.

On Friday, Jerry Dipoto announced that Lloyd McClendon will not return as Mariners manager. Dipoto has begun his search for a new big league skipper.

Sunday, word leaked out that several minor league coaches had been let go – including two Tacoma Rainiers coaches. Bob Dutton of The News Tribune broke the news:

Navarro was a Mariners pitching coach for seven years. He served as Tacoma’s pitching coach in 2010, as well as 2014 and 2015. He coached in the lower minor leagues in 2008 and 2009, and also served as the major league bullpen coach 2011-2013. Navarro helped many pitchers to the majors, and was most acclaimed for his work developing Michael Pineda in 2010.

Snyder worked five years in the Mariners system. He was the hitting coach at Double-A Jackson from 2011-2013, then was promoted to Tacoma for the 2014 season. This year’s Tacoma team showed a big improvement in contact hitting, while still leading the PCL in home runs. Tacoma’s team batting average of .280 was fourth-best in the PCL.

I enjoyed working with Jaime and Cory the past two seasons – and I’m sure they’ll be able to hook on as coaches in another organization, if that is what they want to do.

What about Rainiers manager Pat Listach? Listach is currently in the Dominican Republic, where he is managing the Estrellas club in the Dominican Winter League. It’s, um, “fall training” down there – the season opener is this approaching weekend. He told me via text message that he hasn’t heard anything about next year yet.

There is a name from the past who is an interesting candidate to be the next Rainiers hitting coach: former Tacoma manager and ex-Mariners third base coach Dave Myers. Myers has spent the last nine years as a Triple-A hitting coach in the International League – the past seven with Durham (Tampa Bay). He still lives across the bridge in Gig Harbor, and would be a link back to a time when the Mariners actually won consistently in the major leagues.

That being said, don’t expect any news on Tacoma’s coaching staff for 2016 to come quickly. Dipoto will hire a player development director first, and then they’ll figure out who they want coaching and managing in the minor leagues.

Links:

We’re just getting started on four straight playoff games today – enjoy it!