Friday, December 24, 2010

Naughty or Nice

The Defensive Specialist isn’t going to lie to you; he’s had his feet up for the past couple of days taking a well earned break before the second half of the ABL season cranks up. It’s easy to get fat off the land when Christmas roles around but a series of emails from loyal readers bemoaning the lack of Christmas cheer from their favourite baseball blogger has spurred the Defensive Specialist into action –after all, tis the season of giving! Every team has specific needs heading into the second half so the Defensive Specialist negotiated with Australia Post to intercept each managers shopping list to Santa – what better time than Christmas Eve to evaluate the wish lists of each skipper to see what they need to succeed in 2011.

Perth Heat

Manager Brooke Knight’s list to Santa:

1. Pitching

2. Pitching

3. Pitching

4. And grey uniforms for when we play away

Although the grey uniforms are a no brainer they’ve been covered ad infinitum in this forum and in reality, it doesn’t matter what uniform you’re wearing if you don’t have anyone to pitch. The Heat is set to lose number 1 & 2 arms Liam Hendriks and Cole McCurry to inning restrictions while import reliever Brett Jacobsen was traded to the Minnesota Twins and recalled back to the states. On top of that, leading bullpen arm Tyler Anderson is set to head back to the US to work on completing his college degree. That’s 4 fairly key appendages that will be tough to replace. While there’s word that Brendan Wise may be available in the coming weeks (making up for the loss of Jacobsen) Knight will be scouring his little black book searching for live arms to fill the void in his rotation with only Liam Baron a local option. With the Heat regaining the services of Luke Hughes and apparently an import second baseman, the addition of front line arms would almost assure the Heat of a finals berth.

Melbourne Aces

Manager Phil Dale’s list to Santa:

1) Better foreign relations

2) Smaller coaching staff

It would surprise some that Dale would request a smaller coaching staff, but do you realise how hard it must be to remember that many names? The first point about foreign relations relates to the fact that the Aces’ Japanese contingent are said to be shipping back to their motherland in preparation for their spring training / season. Just as the Aces started to hit their straps (winning 9 of their last 11), word comes that their imports need to pack up shop and leave. These departures leave quite the void:

Yoshiyuki Kamei has been an offensive monster hitting .438 with 7 bombs, 25 RBI’s, 20 runs and an OPS of 1300. Sick numbers! Dale should find some way to hide his passport. While Dale is being devious, perhaps he should think about hiding a sizeable quantity of marijuana in the boogie board bags of Norihito Kaneto (2-2 with an ERA of 4.35 over 30 innings), Jumpei Ono (awesome name, 1-1 and 2.12 ERA), Masumi Hoshino (1-0 3.38 ERA) and Tetsu Nishikawa (1-0, 4.85 ERA) in order to keep them in our fair land.

On the upside, the Aces are dropping bombs and scoring runs at an alarming rate of late, lead by Andrew Russell who has vaulted into contention for Deep in the Hole “Dude of the Month”. The beat down has continued recently as the Aces man handled the Bandits in their latest series.

Adelaide Bite

Manager Tony Harris’ list to Santa:

1) A Stud

Harris has always been known as a simple man and his wish list reflects just that, yearning for only one thing. Unfortunately the one thing he desperately desires is the one thing that Santa doesn’t dish out willy nilly –staff aces. The Bite have an offensive line up that bangs with anyone in the league, meaning they’re always going to be able to put up numbers. What they lack is a guy who takes the ball and almost always guarantees a win. While they do have a group of steady pitchers, none has stepped forward and demonstrated the ability to be the guy. Paul Mildren doesn’t have the over powering stuff, Darren Fidge is almost a pensioner and their import Brandon Maurer has been inconsistent. Dushan Ruzic has had some exceptional outings but Harris will be imploring his GM to reach out into the baseball universe to find a staff leader that would completely reshape his pitching staff by providing stability at the front and allowing an arm like Fidge to become a go-to bullpen guy.

Canberra Multiculturalists

Manager Steve Schrenk’s list to Santa:

1) The ABL to only schedule home games

Being a new parent himself, the Defensive Specialist is keenly aware of the developmental cycles of young children. Right now, the Defensive Specialist’s young child is in the phase where kids tend to experience separation anxiety (time away from parents upsetingt them). The more the Defensive Specialist observes the Multiculturalists, the more he sees the signs of separation anxiety. The team plays with confidence and joy at home but goes to water whenever they leave the friendly confines of the nation’s capital. The solution? Perhaps take their parents along for the road trip while loading up on the porn and fireworks to make the lads feel as at home as possible.
Sydney Blue Sox

Manager Glenn William’s list to Santa:

1) A Banger

No Williams isn’t looking for a new relationship! What he’s after is a middle of the order thumper who can put fear into opposing pitching staffs and drive in a plethora of runs. Prior to the season commencing there were a number of guys ear marked to fill this role locally but to this point no one has stepped forward to be the MAN. We keep hearing that Trent Oeltjen will eventually strap on the powder blue uni and while he may not be your prototype banger, he definitely provides a premium bat that should be able to carry a large proportion of the load in the middle of the order

Brisbane Bandits

Manager Dave Nilsson’s list to Santa:

1) Snowstorms in Japan

2) Lubrication

The lube is more of a stocking gift but definitely well needed as the Aces have been legitimately sticking it to the Bandits in their pre Christmas series. The Bandits were pumped 18-8, 12-10, 10-0 and 16-3. That’s some serious friction!
Much like Melbourne, the Bandits are rumoured to be losing their Japanese imports in the coming weeks. The two keys losses will be Shuhei Fukuda who joint leads the team with 4 homeruns, while driving in 6 and scoring 11. He has also proved to be a reliable and versatile defender. From a pitching perspective, the big loss is Hiroki Yamada who has started in every series and struck out almost a hitter per inning while compiling a record of 2-2 with a 4.91 ERA. Neither import has put up “stop the press” numbers but having been steady contributors that Nilsson has relied upon as the season has progressed.

Unfortunately the Defensive Specialist has to cut this post short as he still has 2438 baseballs to autograph as Christmas presents. Thank you very much for reading Deep in the Hole and have a great and safe Christmas. The Defensive Specialist will next check in from the Heat VS. Blue Sox series on December 30th.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Half Full or Half Empty (continued)

Alright, lets pick up where we left off yesterday:

Melbourne Aces

Outlook: Half Full (but only after a late top up)

The Defensive Specialist isn’t going to lie to you, last week at Deep in the Hole headquarters we held a monthly meeting where we spit-balled ideas for future blog posts. When the Half Full or Half Empty concept was generated, a lively debate ensued regarding where each team sat, that raged for almost 3 hours. The general consensus amongst the Deep in the Hole staff (45 people) was that the Aces had run their race for this season. Being the voice of reason, the Defensive Specialist suggested that the Aces were showing signs of life and deserved to be watched for one more series against the Blue Sox. Wouldn’t you know it, they came out and boat-raced the Sydneysiders across 5 games and completely reshaped their season.

What’s the lesson here? Don’t count the Aces out.

So what is there to be optimistic about? Well thanks to a 30 run explosion last Saturday, the team hitting stats look a hell of a lot better! Seriously, the offensive line-up has started to click, lead by Yoshiyuki Kamei (candidate for name of the year) who’s hitting a robust .425 with a meaty 1.177 OPS in 10 games. Josh Davies and Andrew Russell have been in scintillating form in the first half of the season in the middle part of the order. The concerns centre around a collection of hitters who have proven track records but haven’t delivered yet – Justin Huber being the most obvious example. Are we going to have another Sydney situation where the offense is hamstrung by under performance?

From a pitching perspective, the Aces have run a staggering 16 arms out to the mound this year already, although with the addition of Greg Wiltshire and Travis Blackley you’d have to think that this may stabilise somewhat since both guys are proven inning eaters and front of the rotation starters. Adding those two arms relieves some pressure on Norihito Kaneto and Adam Blackley and gives the Aces 4 guys with a legitimate chance at winning every time they take the ball. Adam Bright was outstanding in an extended relief appearance last week and has been dominant out of the pen with 16k’s in 15 innings. Jumpei Ono and Masumi Hoshino have lent credence to Japanese made imports by contributing out of the bullpen and don’t forget the Aces have pro Shane Lindsay to work into the mix in some capacity as well.  By the Defensive Specialist’s count, that’s 8 good arms on the staff, which is definitely enough to make your old pal optimistic. And don’t forget Peter Moylan lurking in the shadows!
Yoshiyuki Kamei revelling in cool-namedness
Perth Heat

Outlook: Half Full

The Defensive Specialist has been staring at the Heat pitching staff and wondering “how are they getting it done?” Surely there has to be an element of smoke and mirrors when you’re leading the league and your best pitcher has a losing record and a 5.79 ERA (and participated in the perhaps the best post ejection move by slow walking across the diamond with his gear bag that also happened to be on wheels). Liam Hendriks (he of the ejection move) has been hot and cold in 2010 mixing in dominant performances with some real fizzers, which is not what manager Brooke Knight wants from his ace. After Hendriks the Heat have import Cole McCurry who is 0-1 with a 4.12 although he does have 23 punch outs in 19 innings. So what’s going right? How about Daniel Schmidt who has been outstanding in compiling a 4-1 record and a 1.83 era while giving his manager almost 7 innings per outing. How about Warwick Saupold with his 2-0 record and 2.49 era in 25 innings (and one of the most awkward television interviews in recent memory). These guys are backed up by Tyler Anderson (1-0, 1.42 era), Brett Jacobsen (1.93 era, 3 saves) and Cameron Lamb (2-0, 3.09 era) who’ve provided rock solid relief. The Heat will have to cover the loss of Jacobsen who is being recalled to the US (part of a trade package that sent him to Minnesota this week). It will be interesting to see if they elect to bring out another import pitcher to make up for his arm.
Liam Hendriks minus his bag with wheels on it
The good news for the Heat offensively is the rumour that Luke Hughes may be back from his stint in Venezuela not long after Christmas. Anytime you can plug his bat into the line-up you have to be optimistic. Robbie Widlansky has been a great pick up for the Heat, hitting at a .367 clip and scoring 17 runs. Catcher Allan De San Miguel has morphed into a middle order threat along with import Evan McArthur who has manned the hot corner. The addition of Tim Kennelly (who recently returned from the Arizona Fall League) is huge and provides another middle order threat. Manager Knight will be pleased Mitch Graham came out of his coma last week and will be praying that import Ronnie Welty follows suit and cranks it up quick smart.

If Knight can add Hughes to his line up it looks something like this:

1. Graham SS
2. Widlansky 1B
3. Hughes 2B
4. Kennelly RF
5. De San Miguel C
6. Welty DH
7. McArthur 3B
8. Dale CF
9. Kennelly DH

And that is enough to make the Defensive Specialist extremely bullish on their chances.

Adelaide Bite

Outlook: Half Full (with a straw poised)

The Defensive Specialist would have punched himself in the face for even having that thought early in the season. A severe hiccup in Canberra where the Multiculturalists put them to the sword over 3 games, and a less than stellar split in a weather-affected 2 game series with the Bandits, has the Defensive Specialist somewhat concerned now.

The pitching staff has proven to be the weak link this season. Number 1 guy Paul Mildren has a 1-4 record with a 4.97 era and a propensity to give up the long ball. Darren Fidge came out with guns blazing but looks like to be destined for a role in relief. Import Brandon Maurer punches out a lot of guys but also gives up a bunch of hits, which has led to a 1-1 record and a 6.19 era. The bright spot has been Dushan Ruzic who is 2-0 in 3 starts with 21k’s in 22 innings. Ryan Murphy and Mark Brackman pick up the majority of the leftover innings and have been solid but after that the bullpen looks a little sketchy. Manager Tony Harris has to rely heavily on his starters so as to avoid overexposing his pen, which is fine when your starters are dealing and not so great when they are having a tough time.

Offensively there’s a hell of a lot to like about the Bite with the Q-Tip straight out banging like the latter day Peter North – producing very large amounts of offensive output on a consistent basis (.377, 5 HR, 17 RBI’s, 1.115 OPS). Brandon Pett (.368, 1.113 OPS), James McOwen (.358, 11 RBI’s), Brandon Bantz (13 RBI’s) and the surprising Jeremy Cresswell have provided ample support to the Q-Tip as the Bite have consistently swung the bat this season. Stefan Welch had been asleep at the wheel until recently so if he can keep his form going the line up just keeps on getting better and with that sort of thump you have to be positive about their chances.
James McOwen
Right, with the word count creeping up, its time to finish up with an abbreviated, yet highly thought out round of series predictions for this weekend’s action:

Perth Heat Vs. Canberra Multiculturalists

Heat 3-1 series win

Sydney Blue Sox Vs.  Adelaide Bite

Series split 2-2

Brisbane Bandits Vs. Melbourne Aces

This is a tough one as the Aces take on the Multiculturalists on Sunday and Monday to make up for previously postponed games and then follow that immediately with 4 against the Bandits. You’d have to assume that by game 6 the pitching staff will be gasping for air.

Series split 2-2

As per usual, don’t bet your house!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Half Full or Half Empty?

So here we are – sitting at the halfway point of the first ABL season (well 2 teams have played 20 so that’s close enough!). As you could probably tell from the Defensive Specialist’s attempts to predict the outcome of each series, things have been a little up and down in terms of performance and form across the league. Just when it seems one team is ready to put their foot on the accelerator and take off, they get a bad case of the speed wobbles and are dragged back to the pack. Wasn’t it only a few weeks ago that the Defensive Specialist was hiding behind ‘league parity” as a means to down play his prediction foibles? Anyway, with 20 games down now seems like a good time to lift the hood on each team and evaluate what’s going on with them. Which teams have reasons to be optimistic in the second half and which teams should be preparing for the worst? Being an eternal optimist, it’s often tough for the Defensive Specialist to deliver tough criticism so please take a moment to appreciate your old pal’s efforts.

Sydney Blue Sox

Outlook: Half Full (just)

Look, there’d be a fair proportion of Melbourne supporters who’d disagree after the Sydneysiders had to hire an extra bus to transport their rear ends home after they were handed to them by the Aces, but the Defensive Specialist has too much faith in their pitching to believe that last weekend’s performance was the death knock on their season. For those of you not following along, the Aces and Blue Sox squared off in a 5 games series (one game was a make up for a Sydney rain out) in Melbourne that ended in a Sydney blood bath, especially on Saturday when the Aces gave them the prison shower treatment in the form of a 30 run assault.

Melbourne fans are still not convinced about the pitching so let the Defensive Specialist elaborate – Chris Oxspring continues his dominance of the league despite only getting a decision in 50% of his games. He is a legitimate number 1 who gives the Blue Sox a chance to win every time out. David Welch seems to have overcome his early season difficulties and has now strung together 3 consecutive outstanding appearances. So right there you have the chance at a series split each week with those two guy - that’s something to be optimistic about isn’t it? But the issue arises with the rest of the rotation. Wayne Lundgren has been Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (more Dr Jekyll of late) this season and Craig Anderson got touched up pretty badly on the weekend. All it takes is for one of those guys to straighten it out and all of a sudden you have 3 big arms at the front of the rotation with the likes of Ryan Rowland Smith and Brad Thomas set to make some form of appearance as the season progresses. Dae-Sung Koo has been rock solid as the closer with 8 saves and 14 punch outs in 11 innings of work and Matthew Williams has provided another quality late inning arm. After those guys, things are somewhat sketchy with the remaining relievers not providing reliable options for manager Glenn Williams.
League leader in saves - D.S Koo
The Blue Sox offensive struggles have been well chronicled in this forum and things just don’t seem to be picking up. If you look at overall team hitting stats, the Blue Sox are 4th in runs and pretty much middle of the pack in everything else which isn’t too shocking. What is shocking is the overall lack of performance from a line-up full of proven performers at this level. The most telling stat? 143 strike outs, which is almost 20 more than the nearest team. We keep waiting for the hitters to click and start swinging it like we expect them to, but at some point perhaps it needs to be said they’re not a good offensive club. When do we say that? Lets give them 2 more series to show us some life.

Brisbane Bandits

Outlook: Half Empty (but half full)

Hang with your old pal on this one! The Bandits have no chance at an ABL championship this year and will be hard pressed to make the playoffs, BUT their future is looking fairly bright beyond this season, which is the half full part. That makes sense right?

The Bandits have consistently screwed up the Defensive Specialist’s predictions by stealing games that no one thought they’d win but the reality is they’re a young team that are a year or two away. The offensive line-up is littered with local talent like Josh Roberts, Rory Rhodes, Joel Naughton and Alan Shoenberger who will form the core for years to come. In fact, if Rhodes falls into vat of weight gainer he may get so big that he takes up 2 spots on the hitting order! But with youth comes growing pains in the form of low team run totals, poor base on balls tallies, high strike-outs and next to no power. These are all things that typically come with experience and age, which is why the Defensive Specialist has to be pessimistic on the team’s chances this season.
Future man-child Rory Rhodes
The pitching staff also shows flashes of promise but still lacks the consistency of a championship calibre ball club. No one shows more promise than Ryan Searle who has an electric arm but can’t quite parlay it into on-field dominance. James Albury started out well but hit a brick wall in his last 2 starts including a 3-inning beat down by Adelaide last week. Hiroki Yamada appears to be settling into the staff ace role with a K per inning this season and 2 excellent appearances against Perth and Adelaide although reliever Chris Mowday may be the MVP of the pitching staff thus far with 21 innings of work and a 3-1 record.

So don’t expect too much more from the Bandits this season, instead think of them as a long term high interest bearing savings account – you keep contributing to it (more games and experience) and when you check in down the road your investment has paid off as your initial deposit has grown and blossomed into something greater (a better team). That’s a deep metaphor!

Canberra Multiculturalists

Outlook: Half Empty

The Multiculturalists really do live up to their name – a melting pot of talent, performance and output than when stirred together ends up looking brown. On paper a line up of Nick Kimpton, Didi Gregorius, Donald Lutz and Michael Collins looks solid but that’s the beauty of baseball – the game isn’t played on paper. Collins has kept his good form from last season going although a little more pop would be appreciated by manager Steve Schrenk. Kimpton hasn’t been able to maintain the white hot pace he carried across two seasons and Gregorius’ performance has been far from gregarious. The Korean connection was always going to be a surprise and for the most part its been an underwhelming surprise, much like receiving socks at Christmas time. So what’s the upside? Well you’d definitely bring back Collins, Kimpton and Tom Vincent (and not just because they live in Canberra) and the rest you could wave goodbye to and start afresh next year! Is that an upside?
Michael Collins
Ok so that was a bit tough on the Multiculturalist hitters, lets try to be a bit more positive with the pitching staff.

(Crickets chirping)

Just kidding - Chris Morgan has been a real find for the Canberra team, logging 16 innings in relief and picking up 2 saves with an ERA of 1.69. Jun Hyeok Heo and Myung-Ho Jin have emerged as two front line starters although Heo has been prone to the long ball and doesn’t over power hitters. Jin racks up the punch-outs but also the walks, which may explain why his inning total is down. If these were local kids the Defensive Specialist would be giving them the same convoluted treatment Brisbane received but since they’ll likely never be seen again its hard to get excited about their potential. Steve Kent is a local guy but his season to this point is well below where he’d like it to be with an 0-3 record and a couple of outings (against Melbourne and Perth) that he was lucky to get out of alive. The rest of the staff is a bit hit and miss but it is populated by young arms (Phil Brassington being an outlier), which means that with experience and age they should develop and get better in the seasons to come.

Part 2 tomorrow

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Credit Where Credit is Due

The Defensive Specialist’s series predictions have become a dog’s breakfast of inaccuracy each and every week. Despite picking winners with about the same level of precision as a scud missile, the Defensive Specialist insists on ploughing on – after all, the key to becoming a champion is persistence so your old pal is going to take another crack at it. Before we get to the balky guesses / educated picks, the Defensive Specialist wanted to take a moment to congratulate himself for directly contributing to Chris Oxspring signing a professional contract with the Detroit Tigers yesterday. Seriously, the Defensive Specialist was scanning the advanced metrics that work behind the scenes of the Deep in the Hole blog and noticed a flurry of activity hitting the site from the offices of the Detroit Tigers, specifically around the time that Oxspring was crowned “Dude of the Month” for November. If you ever doubted the clout of the Defensive Specialist, well this signing has to show you that the man wields mighty power! One award from Deep in the Hole and the guy is banging on the door of the big leagues again!

Ok, so perhaps the Defensive Specialist is slightly exaggerating his involvement in the whole thing. Congratulation to Chris nonetheless, now he can truly say to his pitching staff “BE LIKE ME!” when they’re scuffling.

Another house cleaning issue that the Defensive Specialist vowed to clear up was the ruling around adding players to the 22-man roster. According to a team General Manager, players can be added to the 22-man roster in the case of injury or illness but these changes have to be approved by the ABL. So without knowing what transpired with the Multiculturalists, it’s safe to assume that they didn’t get up to any unsanctioned mischief when they used coach Michael Wells to fill in during their last series.

And finally before the Defensive Specialist embarrasses himself again with his picks, lets answer a question from reader Nathan:

Hello Defensive Specialist,

I'm a big fan of your blog, and enjoyed this run down of the Blue Sox lineup challenges. You mentioned that the addition of Trent Oeltjen could add some spice. I agree - but I think it poses a challenge for the team when three of the better bats belong to Dening, Auty and Kandilas. Will be interesting to see who gets pushed out. I have read around the place that Dening can play a bit of first base, not really sure how likely that is though, and I can't imagine they would have Oeltjen as a who misses out? Auty? 

Keep up the good work



Thanks for taking the time to write in.

As much as it pains the Defensive Specialist to say it, you’d have to think Techno Tim is the odd guy out when and if Oeltjen makes his much anticipated appearance for the Blue Sox. You slot Oeltjen in to centre, move Dening to left and let Kandilas lock down right. However Oeltjen’s return really throws a cat amongst the pigeons because there is a strong chance he may just DH which means that Alex Johnson, Stone Hands Maat or the Bossman miss out and you end up playing a lesser bat in the outfield. Either way, I’m sure it’s a problem manager Glenn Williams is looking forward to having because his bat is a huge addition to the line up.

Right, time to get focussed and nail these picks.

Adelaide Bite Vs. Brisbane Bandits

The Bite will be desperate to get back in the winners circle after last week’s debacle against the Multiculturalists that saw them get swept in a 3 game series. The Bandits return to home soil fresh off a split against the Heat, which could have very nearly been a 3-1 series win. As much as the Bandits have continually made the Defensive Specialist look stupid lately, the Defensive Specialist’s heart and advanced analytics tell him that Adelaide will come out swinging. They’ve added a 6’7 monster by the name of Mark Brackman to the pitching staff which gives them another professional arm and of course the Q-Tip continues to bang along with James McOwen. Adelaide to take the series on the road 3-1.

Sydney Blue Sox Vs. Melbourne Aces

Sydney took the series 2-0-1 last weekend in a rain affected contest and now travel to Melbourne for their first taste of action at the MCG.  The Aces added Travis Blackley last week and Shane Lindsay this weekend, significantly bolstering their pitching staff. Their bats were fairly stagnant last week but that is almost expected against the Blue Sox considering the strength of their arms. Speaking of arms, the Defensive Specialist strolled past Ryan Rowland Smith at the airport in Brisbane this week – no real reason for telling you that story other than to let you know he’s in the country. Anyway, getting back to the predictions – Melbourne’s improved pitching versus Sydney’s sputtering offense = 2-2 split.

Canberra Multiculturalists Vs. Perth Heat

The Multiculturalists have to be riding high after brazenly taking 3 games off Adelaide last weekend and head to the West Coast with the goal of at least splitting the series. The Heat have demonstrated that they don’t mind people coming into their house, eating all their food and making out with their wife as evidenced by them splitting their last 2 home series. The one advantage the Heat have is that the Multiculturalists have not travelled well at all having not yet won on the road. The Multiculturalists bats got going against Adelaide with Donald Lutz leading the way. The Heat welcome back Tim Kennelly (who just spent time in the prestigious Arizona Fall League) to the line up where his bat will be another welcome addition. Manager Brooke Knight will count on ace Liam Hendriks figuring things out as his last 2 starts have been horrendous. Daniel Schmidt, Cole McCurry and Warwick Saupold will also need to calm the Canberra bats. Heat to take the series 3-1.

The Defensive Specialist looks forward to reflecting on these picks on Monday! Enjoy your baseball weekend.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Feeling Blue

The Defensive Specialist wanted to take a break from making horrible series predictions and answer a couple of questions that have recently hit the comments box and email.

First up from an anonymous poster:

I'd like the Defensive Specialist to weight in on this one...In what rulebook in PROFESSIONAL baseball; can a team put a COACH on the field? I have nothing against Mike Wells; I've just never heard of allowing a coach to suit up and play. Wells was NOT on the 22-man roster, nor was he on the 35-man roster (the minor leagues). The team still has several very good position players who ARE on the roster who have not had the chance to get out on the field. Why not let them suit up and play? If the ABL really wants to be taken seriously by the world of Professional Baseball; then they really should follow the rules. You won't see this kind of thing happening in Major League Baseball! The Bite should play this series under protest!

Well that’s a different question! Not since the days of the ‘player coach’ has the Defensive Specialist heard of a coach getting into a game in professional baseball. A quick check of the Multiculturalists roster indicates that 23 guys are listed ‘active’ as of 8.05pm on Tuesday night. As far as the Defensive Specialist knows teams can only nominate 22 players per series and that roster is fixed. We have seen considerable flexibility around the 35 man rosters with players coming and going throughout the season, but to extend the active roster by an additional man seems a little slim shady quite frankly.

Obviously the goal of the ABL in the early days is to put a good product out on the field each and every week, so roster flexibility is a good thing as it prevents teams from being decimated by injury and playing short. It does seem odd however that a 23rd man could be pulled into action especially as it’s really only beneficial to the home team who have additional players on hand to draw from. In fact, something similar happened in Perth last weekend when a player was struck down by illness (and taken to hospital by ambulance) and replaced on the roster by a substitute. The originally listed player did not appear and his replacement saw no game time either. The Defensive Specialist has to assume that there is some fine print allowing teams to make changes to the 22-man roster under exceptional circumstances.

The situation that unfolded in Canberra was stranger still because the replacement player was a coach. Michael Wells put down his stopwatch, stepped into the lineup and proceeded to go 3-8 with a double, 3 RBI’s and 2 runs scored. From an outsider’s perspective, it doesn’t make the league look overly professional when coaches can stroll in to the lineup to fill a hole. Without knowing exactly what went down during that series (injury, illness, domestic disharmony) it’s tough to argue that it was a bush league move, however the Defensive Specialist vows to get a ruling on it and report back ASAP.

From a concerned Sydney Blue Sox fan:

Hey D Spec,

I was interested in hearing your thoughts on the Blue Sox’ struggles at the plate to start the season. Our pitching staff is pretty legit but its asking a lot of them to hold teams to 1 or 2 runs per game since our hitters cant score any more than that at the moment.




For a team that’s 10-4 and atop the ABL standings, it’s interesting how much talk there is of the Blue Sox offensive woes. The Defensive Specialist has seen more of the Sox than any other team and has been doing quite a bit of thinking about their line-up of late mainly because with their  stellar pitching staff, they could legitimately take the league apart if the offense ever got going.

The great Ted Williams used to say that the hardest thing to do in sport is hit a round ball with a round bat squarely. He’s right on the mark with that statement! The Defensive Specialist has a couple of solid reasons why the hitting may be down:

Firstly the overall quality of pitching in the league is significantly better than what we saw last year in the Claxton Shield. Every team is able to run out at least 2 starting pitchers who would be deemed above average. Where last year teams could knock out the starter and then feast on the bullpen, teams are now able to roll quality arms out in relief making life tougher for hitters. The other noticeable difference is the uptick in velocity around the league – more guys are dialling it up, once again making it tougher on hitters who have to contend with greater changes in speed. The improvement is attributable to imports, greater involvement from Australian professionals and steroids.

(Ok that last point was a fabrication)

Another factor to consider is that teams are only playing 4 times per week with anywhere from 3-5 days in between series. Hitting is all about repetition and timing so only strapping it on a couple of times per week can play havoc with a player’s rhythm and comfort levels. For starting pitchers who are used to 5 days between starts this break in action is somewhat more manageable. You could say that hitters are somewhat underdone each week while going up against pitchers who are on a typical pitching rotation. That’s always going to create disparity.

While the above 2 paragraphs seem like sound reasons why a team may not be hitting, it doesn’t do much to explain how teams like Adelaide are hitting the cover off the baseball. It may be more helpful to take a look at the Sydney line up and see if the Defensive Specialist can identify any major issues. The first thing that stands out is that Manager Glenn Williams is not blessed with a significant amount of depth offensively meaning that he doesn’t have a plethora of sticks that he can turn to when one of his starters isn’t getting it done. There are 4 guys (Andy Graham, the Bossman, Alex Johnson and Stone Hands Maat) who are able to rotate through the catcher, first base, DH positions but other than those 4, the options off the bench have been Josh Dean and Trent Schmutter (who has been hot of late). This lack of depth has forced Williams to stick with the same guys who have just struggled to get it going.

Lets run down the line up and take a closer look.

1. Trent D’Antonio- The Defensive Specialist must admit that he enjoys watching D’Antonio hit, mainly because he gets in there and grinds it out (and doesn’t mind dishing a spray at the home plate umpire on strike 3 calls). As a lead off hitter D’Antonio has walked 11 times while hitting .280 for a solid .419 on base percentage that would please his manager. He has a solid split average-wise against lefties and righties (.295 / .273) and has been particularly effective with runners on base.
Grade: B+ 
2. Techno Tim Auty – It pains the Defensive Specialist to see one of Deep in the Hole’s favourite players scuffling with a .219 average. Rumours are swirling that Techno Tim’s increased focus on his dance career is detracting from his baseball. The Defensive Specialist prefers to believe that it is the fact that he drifts a little at the plate coupled with the increased quality and velocity of pitching that is making things a little tougher for him.
Grade: D (recent win in the World Electronic Dance Championships: A++)

3. Mitch Dening: Dening’s swing has caused stirrings in the Defensive Specialist’s loins for some time now. Sydney’s 3-hole hitter has not replicated the success he had last season but to be fair he leads the team in hard hit balls straight at the defence. Denings power numbers are down and all of his success has come off right handed pitching. In fact, he has had a rotten time against left-handed pitching this season with a paltry 1-16 performance which has lead Williams in recent times to move him down the order when a southpaw has taken the mound to decrease his exposure.
Grade: C
4. Stone Hands Maat – the big fella had a rock solid season last year and was expected to plug the 4 hole and drive in runs for the 2010 Blue Sox. Things haven’t gone quite according to plan, with Maat languishing at .171 with 17 punch-outs (in comparison Maat had 13K’s in 23 games last season). His slugging % (.244) and OBP (.261) are nowhere close to his career norms, which has to be alarming to his manager. The Defensive Specialist has mentioned previously that Maat has appeared to struggle catching up to the fastball which can be attributed to a) greater velocity around the league and b) his swing being longer than the Defensive Specialist remembers from years past.
Grade: F

5. Andrew Graham: Graham got off to a hot start last season and settled into a middle order run producer. This year Graham has yet to get things going at the plate which may be a clever developmental tool for his new managerial career – you know, tasting failure so that he can coach players through it, although that may be reading too much into it. Like Stone Hands, Graham seems to be susceptible to the firm stuff and has grown increasingly pull-conscious therefore exposing himself to offspeed stuff.
Grade: F

6. Alex Johnson: The man from parts unknown exploded onto the scene winning a player of the week award before cooling off in recent weeks. Johnson has shown glimpses of power as evidenced by his 3 home runs and 10 RBI’s but may now be a victim of his early success as teams pay more attention to his at bats and pitch him with greater caution. The key for Johnson is adjusting to this increased scrutiny from opposing pitching staffs which means he’ll need to hit the breaking ball.
Grade: B+
7. The Bossman: A young hitter playing on the big stage consistently for the first time, the Bossman has had some success driving the ball into the gaps but has not been a run producer as yet this season. He does seem to want to pull the ball at any given chance which is understandable considering that if he ever makes the big leagues it will be as a banger but this approach may be exposing him to breaking balls and the outside pitch.  His manager seems to be using him selectively against lefties and letting him get after right handed pitching which he is handling much better (albeit in a small sample size).
Grade: B-

8. Michael Lysaught: Despite leading the team in stolen bases, Lysaught has not done a great deal at the plate at all this season. He has managed only one extra base hit while striking out 16 times. He showed considerably more pop last year although the strike out has always been part of his modus operandi. Ordinarily a team can carry a light hitting middle infielder who provides defence, unfortunately the Blue Sox are carrying more than 1. Lysaught seems prone to expanding his strike zone, which sees him chasing out of the zone.
Grade: D-

9. Mark Holland: Holland was meant to be the light hitting infielder who provided solid defence at second base. He has had a tough time at the plate thus far this season and looks somewhat overmatched at times. Typically your 8 hole hitter would feast on fastballs as pitchers don’t want to mess around with the lower order but Holland has had trouble catching up, punching out 14 times in 15 games. While manager Williams would obviously love more from his second baseman, he could probably afford to carry him if the rest of his line up was producing at expected levels.
Grade: F

10. David Kandilas: One of the few bright spots in the Sydney line up, Kandilas has settled into the 9 hole and flourished, hitting at a .306 mark with 9 runs scored and an OBP of .422. While he hasn’t provided a great deal of extra base power he has shown a discerning eye (6 base on balls to the 9 hole guy is impressive considering most pitchers would rather get right after this spot in the order) and signs of speed. The tricky thing for Williams is whether or not to promote Kandilas up the line up when he is having such clear success where he currently is.
Grade: A
From that brief overview of the main players in the Sydney order, it is clear to see that they’re really suffering from the underperformance of guys who have truly deviated from their norms (Stone Hands & Graham and to a lesser extend Dening). If those 3 guys find a way to get it going again and the likes of Auty and Lysaught can provide just a little more, the line up could be formidable. Now if you add Trent Oeltjen to the mix, things get downright scary.

The upside to it all? The Blue Sox are 10-4 with a lights out pitching staff and the knowledge that good pitching beats good hitting almost every time.

Later this week – more less than reliable series predictions

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Best Laid Plans

The Defensive Specialist had it all planned out this past week:

Step 1: make a series of awesome predictions that would allow numerous people to bet their life savings and retire early.

Step 2: bypass Friday night’s Blue Sox / Aces contest because Chris Oxspring was going for the Sydneysiders and you can almost guess what his line is going to look like.

Step 3: head to Blacktown Olympic Park on Saturday and catch 2 games of solid baseball.

Step 4: bypass game 4 of the Blue Sox / Aces contests in order to take baby daughter to her first Christmas party and secure gorgeous photos of her with Santa.

Lets just say that the plan did not run as smoothly as the Defensive Specialist had hoped. To start with the series predictions were just an embarrassment:

Heat Vs Bandits: The Defensive Specialist called a series sweep to the Heat on their home soil. The Bandits had other ideas, splitting the series 2-2 and keeping the third game tighter than bark on a tree, only to lose on a walk off jack. We’ve talked up Brisbane’s pitching of late but manager Dave Nilsson will be pleased as punch with the offensive output of his boys who thoroughly out-hit the Heat across the series. The Heat would have to be disappointed continually splitting series at home because it makes life tougher having to head out on the road needing to win 3 out of 4 to stay competitive.

Bite Vs Multiculturalists: Ok so this one was a total Defensive Specialist abortion. Your old pal suggested that Adelaide would take 3 games. Well they definitely took it – directly in the rear passage for 3 games! Have we finally seen the awakening of the Multiculturalists who took it directly to the league leaders and left them battered and bruised in the nations capital? Donald Lutz and the lads put on their hitting shoes this weekend outscoring the Bite 20-8 while the pitching staff put the clamps on what has been the most prolific hitting line-up this season. Manager Tony Harris will be staring at himself in the mirror, searching for answers after a sickening weekend in Canberra.

Aces Vs Blue Sox: Ok, this one kind of redeemed things - well not really. The Defensive Specialist called a 2-2 result and we ended up with a 2-0-1, which will have American readers scratching their heads and wondering how the hell a baseball game ended up a drawn contest. With weather playing a factor and drawing out the game time, the Melbourne boys needed to hit the airport in order to get out of town so they game was called in the 9th all tied up. Both managers have to be wondering where all the offense has gone as the squads combined to plate 9 runs over 3 games.

The Defensive Specialist did manage to execute Step 2 in the plan, successfully not attending game 1 of the series as Oxspring went head to head against Adam Blackley. The Aces actually out-hit the Blue Sox, but in the end this was a pitching dual.

Step 3 went pair shaped fairly significantly. The Defensive Specialist took his seat in the members section as the Aces took infield outfield. Coach Damien Shanahan stole a glance into the stands, noticed the Defensive Specialist and abruptly walked off the field without attempting a catcher’s pop up. Perhaps this angered the Baseball Gods because before the Blue Sox could even take the field, the skies opened and delivered an absolute deluge on the yard that had the infield cut-out looking like a swamp. The first game was called off almost immediately with the second game postponed to 8pm. As the rain kept coming and the field remained soggy, the second game was cancelled and a double header was scheduled for Sunday.
This presented a quandary for the Defensive Specialist who had parenting responsibilities lined up for Sunday. You don’t become Superdad without doing the hard yards so the Defensive Specialist made the tough call to skip seeing any baseball over the weekend and introduced his daughter to Santa for the first time. Seeing her little smile more than made up for missing a 9-inning ball game that ended up in a tie!

Enough of the Defensive Specialist lowering his guard and appearing anything less than hard-ass. So what do we make out of all this? Well firstly the Defensive Specialist may have to stop trying to predict winners because it’s disheartening to screw up so badly every week. The upside however is that perhaps there is greater parity in this league than we first thought. The Multiculturalists and Bandits were written off by most experts before the season commenced as being also rans with Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide expected to battle it out in the top 4. What we’re seeing is all 6 teams flashing the ability to mix it up across a 4 game series, which is great for the league and its fans.

So that’s how the Defensive Specialist will defend his picks – parity across the teams!

Anyway, the Defensive Specialist expects the Aces to improve and is worried for the league if the top of the table Blue Sox ever decide that they’re going to start hitting as their 43 runs scored is the lowest in the league despite a 10-4 record which speaks wonders for the strength of their pitching staff.

Unless some sugar daddy decides they want to pony up the cash to fly the Defensive Specialist around the country, the next live action of 2010 will be on December 30th as the Blue Sox take on the Heat in Perth. Do not fret however, the Defensive Specialist will continue to fill the internet with baseball knowledge, as only he can.. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dude of the Month – November

All right, we’re one month into the season so its time to unveil the first Deep in the Hole Dude of the Month. There’s a strong chance you’re sitting in front of your computer scratching your head and asking; dude?? So let the Defensive Specialist set a few parameters that’ll help you better understand. Firstly, according to the Urban Dictionary, dude can be defined as:

“Something that's just so awesomely cool, amazingly kick ass”

Here at Deep in the Hole we’re going to use that definition as a starting point and add that a ‘dude” in a baseball sense is a guy who basically looks his team mates in the eye, points at his back and says “climb on boys, I’m going to carry the club”. It’s kind of like the team MVP only cooler. So from now on when we refer to a player as a dude, you know they’re legit! We’re not talking about guys who’ve started hot, we’re talking about players who are carrying their ball club while carving up the league.

While you’re sitting there thinking about all the ‘dudes’ you know the Defensive Specialist needs to rip through some A1 series predictions and address an inquiry that hit the comments box.


Perth Heat Vs. Brisbane Bandits

The Bandits travel to Perth buoyed by their split with the Blue Sox last week while the Heat will be bitterly disappointed that they weren’t able to take 3 from the Bite in Adelaide. The Defensive Specialist is going with a 4-0 Heat series sweep as they add a couple of key bats (Adamson & Dale).

Canberra Multiculturalists Vs. Adelaide Bite

The Multiculturalists got rolled in Melbourne in a rain-affected series while the Bite split with the Perth team at home. The weather looks ominous in the nations capital but if they get all 4 in, Adelaide will win 3.

Sydney Blue Sox Vs. Melbourne Aces

The matchup of the round. The Blue Sox looked shabby against the Bandits while Melbourne found some form and took 2 off the Multiculturalists. It will be a tight contest and the Defensive Specialist is calling a split 2-2.

Ok, now that the tips are in, lets visit a comment that got left behind after the last post (no, not the humourless and nonsensical one):

After the first few weeks of the season will the ABL teams start to look for further imports to address holes in their roster? I can see Perth needing a bit more help in the middle infield and another starter. – Diesel


You’d have to assume with the roster flexibility that’s in place, teams will do whatever it takes to tool up during the season so if that means importing new players, they’ll do it. A number of teams (see Blue Sox, Sydney) have a bunch of local stud horses buried on their roster (Rowland-Smith, Thomas & Oeltjen) that will definitely help. Other teams sniffing the playoffs may dip into the foreign player ranks if it means getting to the big dance. In better news for the happy Heaters, the word on the street is that Luke Hughes’ stay in Venezuela may be done in late December / early January meaning that they’ll add his bat and Tim Kennelly’s to form a formidable offensive attack just in time for the playoffs.

Right, lets get back to the Deep in the Hole Dude of the Month award for November. As mentioned above we’re awarding the guy who’s flat out been a world-beater in the first month of the season. There have been plenty of hitters who’ve taken off running like Robbie Widlansky (Heat), James McOwen (Bite), Josh Davies (Aces), Michael Collins (Multiculturalists) and Alex Johnson (Blue Sox) or pitchers that have made short work of the league such as Dushan Ruzic (Bite), James Albury & Chris Mowday (Bandits), Greg Wilstshire (Aces) and Daniel Schmidt (Heat). But at the end of the first month of the season, there have been two “DUDES’ that have set themselves apart from the pack- Quincy Latimore (Bite) and Chris Oxspring (Blue Sox). Both players stand out on league leading ballclubs and both have been instrumental in their clubs success.

The US born Q-Tip has mashed ABL pitching at a .400 clip with a 1.264 OPS (On base % + slugging – anything above .900 is rock solid). He has been a middle order beast for the Bite crushing 5 home runs and driving in 16 while scoring 12 runs. Half of Latimore’s knocks have been for extra bases meaning that he is a one man wrecking crew in the early part of the season. The only downside to his season has been his relatively low base on balls total (3) and high strikeout tally (11) although it’s fairly safe to say that Adelaide Manager Tony Harris won’t be complaining about this facet of Q-Tip’s game.
The Defensive Specialist has been fortunate to witness 3 of Chris Oxspring’s 4 starts this season and 2 of those outings were absolute gems. Oxspring has put up a 2-0 record in his 4 starts with a 0.64 ERA and a ridiculous 29-2 strikeout to walk ratio. Oxspring has been a workhorse, gobbling up innings (28.1) while yielding only 2 earned runs and surrendering 16 hits. People often bandy about the term “Ace” but Oxspring has lived up to it in every definition of the word with displays like his start in Brisbane where he reeled off a 1 hitter with his team down 2-0 in the series. The only blip on the month was his last outing where he appeared a little less sharp than usual and surrendered a 3 run lead to the Bandits.
It’s not an easy call to make since both guys have demonstrated real ‘DUDE”-like qualities throughout the month of November, but the Defensive Specialist is remunerated handsomely to make the big decisions so with that in mind, the Deep in the Hole Dude of the Month for November 2010 goes to Chris Oxspring. Although Latimore has landed in Australia with his bat blazing, he is surrounded by more firepower that assists in picking up a large amount of the offensive burden. Oxspring on the other hand has been a steadying force on an inconsistent pitching staff, with a middle of the road offense behind him.

Congratulations to Chris Oxspring – Dude of the Month