Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Big 2016 Season Awards, Gotta Sets Record

The Generals of Jackson wrapped up the Southern League title with a sweep of the MsBraves last week, pretty much as expected.

The Biscuits could only tip their cap and call the Gens their daddy after mustering just a single victory in the playoffs for the second consecutive season. The victory was the first postseason win the Biscuits have had at their home park since 2007.
While the Generals garner the league flag I find it tough to consider them the best team in the league, their main talent being to claim more W's than L's. Its a feat they managed with smoke and mirrors more than ability.

 Posting a league high batting average and OBP by leading the circuit in hits and walks gave opposing pitchers fits and opened the door to winning games.

The Generals pitching was nondescript, vanilla enough not to hurt the club. Tyler O.Neil was sent with a mission to carry the team from day one and indeed he did so, putting up MVP numbers and setting aside his career progress to bring a title to Jackson, Tennessee.

The Generals won the Southern League on one single piece of advice - "Don't swing the bat until you absolutely have to".

Jackson saw more pitches and took more walks than any other team in the league. They had longer At Bats by waiting until two strikes were called to swing for a hit.

Example: Tyler O'Neil hits walk off three run homer in first game of playoffs on a two-ball and two-strike count.

When opposing pitchers challenged on the first two strikes and then went out of the zone on the very next pitch, the Generals had issues.

For whateever reason, teams in the southern league were unable or unwilling to be that efficient against Jackson.

Example: Biscuits no-hit the Generals with bullpen pitchers, the no nibbling relievers went right at hitters and shut them down entirely by trying to pitch efficiently.

The Biscuits season came to an end at the hands of the Gens, who seemed to have a mojo working on the Montgomery team all year. While the end was bitter it should not sour the great season fans enjoyed at Riverwalk all summer, as Brady Williams was handed a roster full of talent and prospects with which to entertain.

And entertain they did, winning often at home in dramatic fashion and dazzling on the road. This squad was full of familiar faces early in the year but by seasons end had a very different look. The excitement of several late inning walk off wins brought new energy to Riverwalk Stadium.

Stats wise, the team was full of talent and provided solid numbers. Leading the league in homers and OPS, the Biscuits put many dents in the walls of southern league ballparks. Second in stolen bases, the Skitz were off and running, challenging catchers and infielders with speed.

Chih-Wei Hu: best ERA in the league
The starting staff was phenomenal from the first day and only got better. While the bats were making much noise, the starters were quietly consistent and effective. Pitching put this team into the playoffs, in large part due to its strong and talented starting pitchers. 

Biscuit bullpen pitchers were a mixed bag, sometimes dazzling, sometimes demoralizing. It was tough going at times and left fans wondering how the team would close the door at the end of the game.

However, over the course of the summer Manager Brady and Pitching Coach RC Lichtenstein managed to hammer out a reliable bullpen. Fans even got to see a couple MLB rehabbers.

Somehow it came together when the Rays brought in Jaye Chapman, the team looked complete.

Most notable among the promotions were pitchers Jacob Faria and Ryne Stanek. Both were having fine seasons and picking up great accolades, so advancement was definitely due.

Faria, right and Stanek would head to the Bulls
Ryne Stanek
Ryne Stanek was leading the team in strikeouts when he was reclassified as a reliever.

When was the last time you saw the team strikeout leader sent to the bullpen? But Stanek thrived there as well, dealing high 90s gas and shutting down opponents rallies. He was a welcome addition to the bullpen at a time when help was needed.

Jacob Faria, who had already put down cash on an apartment in Durham before being sent to the Biscuits at the last minute before the seasons start, took the return to double-A in stride and pitched his way out of town before the All Star Break.

He got some good out of those Durham digs after all!

Casey Gillaspie
1B Casey Gillaspie went to Durham also, proving his worth in Montgomery by showing world-class plate discipline.

Casey led the circuit in walks and batted .270 with 11 homers and a team leading .840 OPS, BigCaseDawg was a beast with a bat. I felt he was a fine defensive first baseman, his .988 fielding percentage led Biscuits infielders.

Also working his way up the Rays ladder was shortstop Jake Hager. After injury shortened his 2015 season it didn't take long for Hager to show he was ready for a promotion to Durham.

Johnny Field Jr.
Along with Hager went Johnny Field Jr. both among the earliest promotions, but also the easiest to predict, as both had little left to prove at the double-A level.

However, the Bulls team they went to was terrible and it can be argued that they were better off in the Southern League compared to what they experienced in Durham.

Before his promotion, Field was guilty of breaking up a no-hitter that the Biscuits were going to win. Up 3-1 in the bottom of the 8th inning, Field singled to the groans of the home fans as well as teammates!

After the last game I saw Cade Gotta and shook his hand, thanking him for his fine work.
I told him how much we enjoyed watching him play the outfield for Montgomery and that I felt he "really brings it every single day".

 What I should have said was "Congratulations on setting the Biscuits record for most games by an outfielder without an error."

Its true. All summer fans debated which of the fine Biscuit outfielders was best in the Willie-Mickey-Duke fashion.

Each outfielder brought rave reviews for their talents -
Left fielder Granden Goetzman's reliable two handed catches, Braxton Lee's fleet feet in centerfield, Justin Williams cannon arm in right field all drew praise.

Yet Cade Gotta quietly handled every ball hit his way without fail and picked up a team leading 12 assists while splitting time at all three outfield positions.

Gotta was the one who was without a regular position, getting into games all across the outfield and rarely in the same spot two days in a row.

Perhaps shifting to a new spot in the field every day kept him fresh and alert, able to handle each opportunity cleanly.

For the record: Ty Morrison had one error in 101 games, his .996 fielding percentage from 2012 was tops among Skitz OF regulars with more than 60 games.

In 2011 Stephen Vogt played 40 errorless in left field, Emeel Salem had 49 games error free the year before.

Previously, the diminutive centerfielder Pedro Powell had held the record with 54 clean games in the outfield in '09. Jason Pridie had 40 error free games in 2007.

 Cade Gotta played 66 flawless contests for the Biscuits this summer, which is the new franchise mark. His 2.8 range factor is stellar.

By comparison, Kevin Kiermaier logged a 2.92 Range Factor three seasons ago, but made three errors and finished with .989 fielding percentage in 89 games.

Fans marveled at the outfield talent on this years team, perhaps the feat going unnoticed is a tip to the event - good job on not doing something to get noticed.

So let me go on record here and predict: Cade Gotta makes an error in the first week of 2017. Jinx is on!


The most valuable player overall this season has to be Willy Adames. Willy looked to be having the time of his life on the field, and as well he should - he was on his way to a career year statistically. The young shortstop was the face of the team, emerging as a smiling leader on the field and in the dugout.

Adames cut down on his errors, especially of the throwing type, displaying great range and accuracy. His footwork around the bag seemed excellent, avoiding unwanted contact with baserunners and having good positioning for putting a tag down when needed.

The Adames batting was consistent after a slow April, knocking career highs in batting average, home runs, stolen bases - he just missed on RBIs.

A steady occupant of the third spot in the batting order, Willy was much better batting fourth but hey, they don't ask me to fill out the lineup card!

While much can be said of the numbers Willy Adames generated, his best talent is his personality. He brings winning attitude and lifts a club with a cheerful presence, forming a bond with players and fans that makes baseball fun to play and watch.

More than one person suggested that the first half MVP award for this team goes to catcher Mike Marjama.

A torn quad muscle ended the young backstops season much too early, his handling of the pitching staff was exemplary in the first half. Marj brought a great bat to the middle of the lineup and was an important factor in the Biscuits success.

Marj underwent surgery to repair his injury after it became apparent that he would not be able to return to the team during either the season or the playoffs.

Credit Marjama that he was trying to get back to help his teammates, working to rehab until the last possible moment, even to get into just one game to help the Biscuits to a pennant.

Mike Marjama is a solid catcher and an excellent individual, always striking me as an upfront and hardworking player.

Batting .288 with five homers and 38 RBI in just under a half season, Mike should be ready to go for spring training and hopefully come back to Montgomery to pick up right where he left off.

Jake Bauers had a fabulous season and is a strong team MVP candidate, the young slugger handled being shuffled from outfield to first base with ease and showed great defensive skills at both positions, making it hard to pass him up for the award.

Indeed, many consider Jake Bauers the best all round first baseman the team has had. Jake didn't let many bad throws get by him, his ability to dig out low balls is excellent. Bauers brings good movement around the bag and has great range for a first baseman.

Bauer had seven outfield assists, so don't run on Jake. He had ten stolen bases, though, so he might run on you!

Jake led the team with 14 home runs, 78 RBI, stole ten bases and played both right field and first base with flair.

No Biscuit played in more games this year than Jake Bauers 135.

Bauers should be co-MVP, if Willie wants to share the title.

An online poll saw a write-in vote cast for catcher Jake DePew, and I wholeheartedly agree that JD made the difference for the Biscuits when they needed him most.

Moving from backup to every day catcher, Jake stepped up and took over handling tough pitchers.

If it were not for the fine play of DePew, Montgomery would not have made it to the post season. Jake DePew saved the Biscuits.

Also an online vote was cast for Miss Gravy, the suidae mascot in her final season with the team. Unfortunately Miss G did not appear at enough games to qualify for the award, but is regarded highly enough that her name was tossed in for consideration.

The toughest of the awards, the three headed monster of Hu-Guerrieri-Kirsch drove the Biscuits into contention.

With around 140 innings pitched each, its tough to find a way to set one apart from the others.

Taylor Guerrieri won a dozen games, Chih-Wei Hu led the league in ERA and Chris Kirsch pitched his way onto the league leaderboard in multiple stats.

Any of the three could easily handle the moniker of MVPitcher, but if I have to choose one....

For me, the title of Most Valuable Pitcher goes to lefthander Chris Kirsch, who had a solid season and led the pitching staff with 114 strikeouts.

Kirsch pitched a dominant complete game shutout at Birmingham and later brought the Biscuits their first postseason win at home in almost ten seasons.

Among the top five leaders in ERA and strikeouts in the league, Kirsch never missed a start and almost always carried the ball late into the game.

Following the final game I caught Chris to congratulate him on his work this summer. This is how the conversation went:

me "Great season this year, Kirsch"
ck "yeah, not bad for a guy with a torn hip labrum"
me ":O"

Again, its true. Chris Kirsch pitched all season with a hip injury, one that will require offseason surgery to correct. He expects to be fully recovered in time for spring training.

Chris said he knew about the injury as the season began but didn't want to miss any time after being assured he was okay to pitch through it.

Yeah, not bad at all.

Kirsch narrowly edges out Chih-Wei Hu. And for me the only reason is that Hu missed two Montgomery starts, one he made in Durham and another to the Futures Game.

Chih-Wei allowed fewer hits, fewer walks and fewer home runs than Kirsch, but as a top prospect he is expected to have better numbers than a 14th round signee like Chris Kirsch, who made each of his 24 starts for the Skitz.

Also making a very strong case is Taylor Guerrieri.
Also with fewer hits and fewer walks than Kirsch, but giving up a couple more long balls and thusly a higher ERA, Taylor led the staff with 12 wins and had excellent statistics all season.

Guerrieri made one more start than Kirsch, it could have been two but rehabbing Chase Whitley forced Guerrieri into relief, he picked up his first career save in that game.

A quick look at the relief corps reveals some good candidates for top fireman.

Kyle Winkler
Kyle Winkler was a reliable hurler for Montgomery this summer, filling in at closer and working well as the setup man.

Winklers 2.59 ERA was tied for the best in the pen, his 1.02 WhIP shows he was great at keeping runners off the pillows.

An argument could be made for Jaye Chapman, but the veteran closer was a late addition compared to the other relievers on the list. His 4.43 ERA also works against him in these considerations, though his nine saves tops the team.

Jordan Harrison
Kyle Bird
Lefties Kyle Bird and Jordan Harrison were both very good. Harrison also had a 2.59 ERA in relief, didn't take a loss all year and stifled opponents in the hit department.

Kyle Bird was in a few more games than Harry and got touched for a few more hits, but kept his ERA under 3.00 and finished 17 games.

But the true Bullpen Boss is Jeff Ames, appearing in 48 games and earning six saves Jeff was "Good Aim" Ames.

Learning the cutter helped get Ames into a lot of contests over the course of the full season. With a nice 2.71 ERA, one win and one loss, Jeff earned the trust of his manager and was deployed in games the good guys had a chance of winning.

A feel pitch that Jeff gets two different types of movement from, the cutter is a weapon that put the right hander into the game more than any other reliever this year.

A broken bone he received in the last game of the year isn't expected to be any problem for Jeff moving forward into next spring.

Overall the success of the Biscuits was more a group effort than individual accomplishment. There was no one man who was more important, nobody asked to carry the team for weeks at a time. Each player took their jobs seriously and performed to the best of their ability.

Not mentioned here are many quality players who contributed to the second half Champions - the guys like Pat Leonard, Kean Wong, Tommy Coyle, Juniel Querecuto, pitchers Jared Mortensen, Steve Ascher, Brent Honeywell and others. Each of them pitched in to bring a great team together on the field in 2016.

The BayBears will affiliate with the LA Angels, supposedly of Anaheim though I haven't been there to be sure thats the case. This will be the first time the BayBears have had to use a designated hitter, having always been aligned with a National League team in the past.

It will be a two year deal, buying the league two season to find and build a new ballpark somewhere nearby to accommodate a team, or to upgrade the Hank.

Previous tenants, the AZ Diamondbacks have bolted to better digs in Jackson, Tn and will stock the Generals. The Mariners now set up shop in Arkansas, completing the affiliate shell game for the moment.

#BULLPENLIFE: The Offseason