There are some parallels to the 2010 season and the 2011 season for the Potomac Nationals. Both teams started slowly…VERY slowly, getting into offensive funks that saw both teams get shut out seven times. The 2010 edition finished the first half at 31-39, ten games behind Frederick; the ’11 guys were 29-40 and twelve games behind the Keys at the break.
Given that the core of the team was the 2010 Hagerstown Suns that faded fast in the second half, it was natural to think that a second-half rally was unlikely, particularly since it seemed rather unlikely that much come in the way of reinforcements. The whispers that Bryce Harper would skip the level turned out to be true, but what the team really needed at that point was pitching.
Oddly enough, both the hitting and the pitching did improve in the second half with basically just one starter (Solis) and one reliever (Holland) added to the mix. But while 2010 was largely the hitting getting much better down the stretch, the story of the 2011 second half was the stabilizing of the pitching. Essentially, it went from league worst (5.01 team ERA on June 1st) to slightly higher than league average (3.79 vs. 3.77) the rest of the way.
Coupled with an improved offense (4.00 R/G before July 1, 4.44 after), the P-Nats turned in a 39-31 second half that became good enough to win second-half Northern Division title when the Keys lost the last three regular-season games (and eight of the last ten). Thanks to league bylaws, Frederick’s 39-31 mark down the stretch still earned them the home-field advantage in the first round of the Mills Cup playoffs. That turned out to be the difference as the Keys beat the P-Nats 3-2 for the fifth game and 3-2 for the series to send Potomac packing and end any hopes of defending the 2010 title.
So let’s take a look at how the 2011 edition stacked up against the rest of Carolina League…
Having watched these guys day in and day out, I was bit surprised to see that the team finished third in walks drawn — in my mind, there were only a handful of players that seemed willing to take the walk, and too many that weren’t. But those that did walk, walked a lot (Francisco Soriano and Steve Souza were 2nd and 3rd in walk rate for players with 200+ PA in the Carolina League).
That 215 steals led the league by 63 and was the most by the team in its affiliation with Washington and the most in the league since the 2008 Wilmington Blue Rocks. They were only caught 66 times, which works out to an efficiency rate of 76.5 percent. Yes, Eury Perez and Jeff Kobernus accounted for the bulk of it (88 steals combined) but even big men such as Souza (25) and Destin Hood (21) stole 20+ bases. The thievery helped offset the team’s lack of doubles, but otherwise, this squad was mostly right around league averages. Not bad when you consider the position players were the second-youngest in the league.
As aforementioned, the pitching went from horrid early to serviceable late. They still finished last in nearly every rate or total statistic, but let’s not forget that the Carolina League tends to be a pitcher’s league despite the launching pads in Frederick and the Salems. For those that may have missed it or were wondering, the Pfitz usually comes out neutral in ballpark-effect studies.
You can argue over how much of it came from reshuffling the deck and removing failed starters from the rotation (Mitchell Clegg, Marcos Frias, Trevor Holder) or how the unsung work of swingmen (Adam Olbrychowski, Evan Bronson) filled in the gaps, or how the team’s top two starters improved over the course of the season — one steadily (Danny Rosenbaum), the other in fits (Paul Demny) — but the bottom line: it did get better.
Now, in our little dance, we take a look at the Top 12′s for the batters and pitchers in terms of PAs and IPs.
Full statistics for the team can be found here. (* 2009 Draft Pick, ** DSL Graduate).
I chose to highlight the ’09 picks and DSL grads to illustrate the counterpoint to drafting ‘em young: It takes time. In this subset, there are four ’08 picks (Hood, Higley, Lozada, and Ramirez) and fifth that was traded for (Dykstra). Only one 2010 position-player draft pick saw playing time, and that was four games before his shoulder went out (Rick Hague) — two, if you want to count Zach Walters.
What I personally like about High-A is that it’s the true litmus test for a prospect. I’ve seen varying percentages that break down once a prospect plays at level X, his chances of ever playing in MLB are now Y, but almost all of them jump from single digits to double digits when it comes to High-A vs. AA. Anecdotally, I can tell you that this where many players stall: The bridge over the Susquehannah in Harrisburg may as well be the bridge over the Rhine in Arnhem, so to speak. Seems like every April I fill in the lineups and think to myself “This guy is still here?” — and the thought occurs on both sides of the scorebook.
So while some folks have expressed great dismay over the lack of development of some guys, it bears repeating that this happens all the time. And in my mind, that disappointment is offset by guys breaking out (Hood) and/or shaking off the proverbial primates (Kobernus). Not to mention my personal favorite: seeing a pitcher start to “get it.”
How’s that for a segue?
Just to expand upon what I wrote earlier, Olbrychowski was terrible as a reliever but found his groove as a starter (5.63 vs. 3.71 ERA) and the reverse was true for Frias (1.67 vs. 5.06). Bronson was actually better as a reliever when you look at the season as a whole, but unlike Olbrychowski and Frias, kept bouncing between roles (and levels) until he was given a spot in the rotation in mid-August and turned in quality starts in two of his four starts down the stretch.
Demny, as aforementioned, improved over the course of the season but take a look at the ERAs by month:
April – 2.08, May – 6.93, June – 2.55, July – 8.42, Aug/Sep – 2.72. He’s young (22 in August), throws hard (~93-95), and durable (100+ IP the past three seasons). Clearly, he made his adjustments and the league adjusted back, but you have to like that he was able to rebound not once but twice from rough patches of pitching.
OBLIGATORY TOP 5 LISTS
The upside to rating Potomac is that I’ve seen these guys the most. The downside to rating Potomac is that I’ve seen these guys so much. Looking over last year’s season review I can see that invariably, I’m either going to overvalue some guys as a fan (e.g. Chris Curran), and undervalue others in an effort to overcompensate for being a fan (e.g. Tyler Moore last year). So bear that in mind as I fire from the hip and make the lists that folks love so much…
1. Destin Hood
2. Jeff Kobernus
3. Eury Perez
4. Steve Souza
5. Justin Bloxom
HM: Zach Walters
1. Danny Rosenbaum
2. Sammy Solis
3. Paul Demny
4. Josh Smoker
5. Marcos Frias