Monday, February 28, 2011

Send in the S.W.O.T Team (Part 1)

Right, 2 weeks seems an appropriate amount of time off between the conclusion of the ABL Grand Final series and the Defensive Specialist switching into off-season coverage mode. The past 14 days were a great opportunity to recharge the batteries after the inaugural season and attend to the many goals and objectives the Defensive Specialist sets for himself on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis – like reading the entire Harry Potter series! (Don’t laugh, that’s 4,176 pages in total or 298.28 pages per day!) Anyway, loyal readers will know that inactivity and the Defensive Specialist cannot coexist in a mutually beneficial relationship, which is why your old pal has decided to cast an analytical eye over the first ABL season and conduct a SWOT analysis.

For those less academically inclined, a SWOT analysis is traditionally a planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats involved in a business venture or project.  Before you role your eyes and click off the page fearful of some egghead style analysis, please consider that the Defensive Specialist will not be adhering to any sort of structural guidelines (like internal or external factors) and promises to inject his rapier like wit wherever possible.  So let’s get the ball rolling by considering the Strengths of the Australian Baseball league after its first season:

  • Well first and foremost the fact that the league actually commenced has to be considered a strength doesn’t it? They say the first step is often the most important on a difficult journey (see the Defensive Specialist drawing Harry Potter like analogies onto this??) so getting the ABL up and running was a huge achievement. The baseball community had been whispering about the reappearance of a MLB backed baseball league in Australia for quite some time, but as each year passed it looked to be fanciful talk. By actually pulling teams together and getting the ball rolling there is every chance that the competition will go from strength to strength (assuming careful management and planning) and become an integral part of the game and its development in Australia. On top of getting teams out on the field in every major Australian market, the ABL and its franchises managed to create a reasonably sound product (quality of games, entertainment etc) that will only continue to grow. 

  • You’d have to say that fan support was a real strength in season 1 with towns like Adelaide and Canberra drawing consistent numbers, especially when you consider that games were spread across 4 days and often included a Thursday night event. It must be disconcerting that Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane had splotchy numbers across the season but with a year under its belt, venues bedded down and hopefully television coverage the crowds will increase. 

  • While the Defensive Specialist wasn’t able to attend games in each location (the Deep in the Hole budget is still feeling the effects of the GFC), the general consensus was that franchises put a good product on the field every week. It was obvious that a lot of time and effort had been put into in-game entertainment, game day activities and the team in general (solid uniforms, conditions, travel) which once again creates a solid foundation for development. 
  • Each team has a home. As amusing as that sounds, establishing facilities for each franchise was critical and although it came down to the wire in Melbourne and Brisbane, they found homes. While many would say that the Melbourne Showgrounds is a poor excuse for a baseball field, what were the alternatives? Road trips to Geelong again or worse yet Altona? The fact that hitters can hit pop ups that drift out of the yard for homeruns is both a pain in the backside and a quirk (much like Boston’s Green Monster) that needs to be embraced and incorporated into a team’s game plan. On the other hand, all reports suggest that the field in Canberra has an amazing playing surface and the makings of a fantastic facility. 

  • A definite strength of the ABL was the level of local talent. While every team had an infusion of imported talent (some more than others), the vast majority of squads were primarily constructed around local Australian talent. For too many years our professional players returned home to Australia and the only preparation they had for upcoming professional seasons was to play in local competitions that in all likelihood did not present the development opportunities that they needed for advancement. By forming a league that operates across the US / Asian offseason our young talent has the forum to compete against their peers and enhance their skill sets. On top of this, non professional players now have the opportunity to compete and measure themselves against the best our baseball community has to offer.For too long we’ve been forced to trumpet the success of long retired players like David Nilsson and Graeme Lloyd because we haven’t had the stage to showcase our current players. While guys like Grant Balfour and Peter Moylan are probably past their ABL used by date (meaning they’re unlikely to ever play in it), the next wave of young players is given the opportunity to creep into the consciousness of children who can say they watched them as a nobody now that they’re in the big leagues – that’s how you build and promote Australian baseball legends (wow, that was getting seriously deep). 

  • Confirming the point on local talent was the fact that players actually signed professional contracts while competing in the ABL. That may not have been the primary objective of the competition but it has to make the league powerbrokers warm and fuzzy in the trousers to see a number of guys extend their baseball careers. In what other way would 33 year old Chris Oxspring get an opportunity to sign with the Detroit Tigers if he didn’t have the ABL? With greater access to high quality games, we can expect more signings as players are able to showcase their skill sets.
  • The quality of imports has to be considered a real upside for the most part as each franchise benefitted in some way, shape or form by having foreigners on their roster (as evidenced by the Heat winning the championship behind the efforts of 2 import pitchers in game 2 &3). The Defensive Specialist mentioned many moons ago how appealing a strong league down under has to be to professional organisations who know its safe (not considering natural disasters), similar in culture to player’s homes (more so the US) and has brilliant weather. While the imports definitely lifted the quality of competition, you’d have to think that the 40 additional games in Australia assisted in their development. The Defensive Specialist will talk more on imports in some of the other sections but for the most part, their addition to the league was a real benefit. 

Ok, the Defensive Specialist is heading into novel territory as the word count reaches 1200. Hit the comment section with any other strengths you saw in the ABL’s inaugural season while the Defensive Specialist sets to work on the next phase of the SWOT analysis – Weaknesses, which should appear later this week.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Wrap Up

The one advantage of playing the 3rd and deciding game of the ABL Grand Final series at 12pm (West Coast time) is that when you win, you can get a solid 6-8 hours of partying under your belt compared to a regular 7pm start! You can rest assured that the Perth Heat will be tilting numerous cold ones right about now as they celebrate their resounding win against the Adelaide Bite in the inaugural ABL season. As per the rest of the series, let the Defensive Specialist highlight a couple of key points:

  • You can bet ABL coaches around the country will be scouring the local competitions looking for the next Trevor Caugheys and Ben Moores. We discussed Caughey yesterday and we need to pour out some ink on his teammate who took the hill in game 3 and submitted a complete game, 10 strikeout performance to lead his team to the Championship. Aside from a 9th inning blast from Stefan Welch, Moore was in complete command surrendering only 4 hits (1 was a can of corn pop-up that second baseman Luke Hughes should have caught). The performances of Moore and Caughey highlight the kind of talent floating around in local leagues and demonstrate how club teams have thrown their support behind the ABL by allowing the talent that they’ve bankrolled to participate.
  • Moore needs more than one paragraph! the righty befuddled the Bite with his funky ¾ delivery, Frisbee slider and roadrunner change up that had good hitters utterly confounded (see Latimore, Quincy as the prime example). Moore’s ability to get ahead and throw any pitch in any count proved to be the difference as he quieted a fearful lineup that beat up numerous pitchers throughout the season.

  • The Heat managed to get on top of yet another team in the fifth inning, this time putting Paul Mildren to the sword (who was on a short leash in game 3  as Manager Harris could not afford to let the game get out of hand). Mitch Graham was extremely lucky with 2 strikes as he took a fastball down and in that could very easily have been strike 3. Mildren bounded off the mound expecting to get the call. The very next pitch Graham drove a 2 run double into the right centre gap to put the Heat ahead. As Al Pacino said in “On Any Given Sunday” – it’s all about inches!

  • Luke Hughes must have something going on with the official scorers because he was credited with a double in the bottom of the 8th when he singled to centre fielder James McOwen. Tim Kennelly running on second base was waved home by manager Brooke Knight on Hughes’ ground ball up the middle.  McOwen’s throw was cash money but Kennelly executed an outstanding slide that saw him hook his foot around to touch the plate ahead of the sweeping tag (that actually missed making contact). Hughes being smarter than your average bear continued around first and cruised into second base. A very intelligent piece of base running but not something worthy of a double. 

  • Kudos to umpire Brett Robson who got the bang bang call just right in signaling Kennelly safe at the plate. 

  • Robbie Widlansky took some almighty hacks all series and finally brought the thunder in the 8th inning as he blasted a Darren Fidge fastball out to centrefield. Widlansky is best described as a professional hitter for 2 reasons 1) he swings it pretty good and 2) he is a butcher defensively as evidenced by the fly ball that he dropped in left field.  Interestingly though, Widlansky’s ball would have been a long out 2 years ago – when the decision was made to bring the fences in by about 40 feet in centrefield. The shed viewers could see behind the centrefield wall actually sits inside where the old fence was. Talk about Death Valley. 

So we have our first champion in the new Australian Baseball League.  It’s been an interesting season and the Defensive Specialist has thoroughly enjoyed having baseball back on the big stage. For all the skepticism before the season commenced, it’s been a pretty solid product that can only continue to get better. While this sounds like the Defensive Specialist signing off for the offseason, do not fret – your old pal has a couple of rock star blog posts up his sleeve that will be sure to keep you engrossed for at least 15 minutes per week.

Well done to the Perth Heat – 2010 / 2011 ABL Champions

An Abbreviated Look

The Heat and Bite went at it again and in somewhat of a surprise the Heat put a beat down on the Bite and their ace Brandon Maurer, taking the contest 9-2. Let’s take a look at a couple of key points: 
  • The Defensive Specialist was furiously ironing shirts when he commented at the top of the 5th inning that the Heat could be in big trouble. After all Maurer was serving up 94 mph fastballs and complementing it with a hellacious slider on his way to striking out 6 through 4 innings. Mrs The Defensive Specialist looked up from whatever it was she was doing and responded to her husband’s comment with “baseball is a funny game, you can score 6 runs in one inning”. And wouldn’t you know it, the Heat came out and hung a 7 spot (Perhaps Mrs The Defensive Specialist should be writing this blog!). It was startling how quickly the wheels fell off Maurer who had been absolutely dominant until the point when Ronnie Welty went big fly to lead off the 5th. Whether it was fatigue or a mental breakdown, Maurer was unable to get back on track and his good work through 4 came undone in one foul inning. 

  • The Defensive Specialist has seen his fair share of games at the Barbagallo Ballpark and can honestly say that even some of the best lefthanded hitters have had a tough time getting balls out of that yard to rightfield. All of a sudden a right handed hitter takes two balls out to that very area – one of which he was completely out in front of! So either some ungodly jet stream decided to show up for game 2 or Welty has some serious juice in his bat. Despite Welty’s wiry frame, he has demonstrated the ability to hit the long ball (18 in his last minor league season) and this was on display in the top of the 5th where he appeared to sit on a fastball and drove it with authority out to right field. The second at bat with the bases drunk was a little different as he got out in front of a breaking ball and managed to flip a fence scraper out to right for a grand slam. Either way, the fact that he could put two out to the usually dead part of the ballpark is a testament to his bat speed and strength. 

  • The Foxtel camera work is still a step behind the action and some of the camera angle decisions are probably not the best but once again the quality of the product has been very strong and definitely a building block for future broadcasts. The more the Defensive Specialist thinks about it, the more it makes sense to show a ‘series of the week’ (assuming MLB and Foxtel have plans to continue their television coverage of the ABL). For the series of the week, Foxtel goes all out like this and really showcases the contest. Single cameras could be dispersed to the other series in order to capture highlights which could then be combined to form a highlight / baseball show during the week which would be a great way to keep the game growing. 

  • Trevor Caughey has proven that the local baseball competition can be a fertile ground for finding replacement players. The lefty has been lights out since joining the Heat and held the formidable Bite line-up to just 1 run through 7 innings before conceding a junk run in the 8th. Working backwards (breaking balls in fastball counts), kept the Bite line-up off balance (particularly James McOwen and Quincy Latimore) en route to his 2nd playoff victory.

  • The Adelaide outfield seems to be having a very tough time with balls in the air at Barbagallo Ballpark. Tom Brice in particular would be better served with a shotgun rather than a glove as he continually stabs at the ball and makes routine fly balls an adventure. Fortunately the ball he dropped did not end up hurting the Bite at the time but he can’t be doing much for his manager’s stomach lining. The wind does appear to be howling at the ballpark (Welty’s second home run will attest to that) which is clearly moving the ball around in the air. 

  • Interestingly (and as part of the Defensive Specialists global reach), when the Defensive Specialist was in New Zealand last week, there was a back page story in the newspaper about softball and how it needs to work with baseball. Anyway, that was a little boring but as the Defensive Specialist read on, mention was made of the Boston Red Sox signing a softball catcher to a professional contract. Further reading also indicated that Baseball New Zealand had hopes of having a team competing in the ABL in the next 2 years of so! While your old pal is sceptical of the quality of team that a New Zealand franchise could put on the field, the possibility of expansion is always exciting. 

Right, so where does this all lead us? Well we’re at game 3 for all the marbles! The Heat storm back to grab the momentum and the Bite are left with the challenge of rebounding from a beat down (of their ace no less). The Heat will send Ben Moore to the mound, who was 1-1 during the regular season with a 3 ERA and 14 k’s in 12 innings. The Defensive Specialist’s advance scouting team suggests that Moore owns one of the funkiest change ups you’ll likely ever see so look out for that. It would appear that Adelaide will counter with lefty Paul Mildren who started the season as the Bites ace but has been consigned to number 3 guy late in the season. Mildren contributed a 2-6 record with a 4.58 ERA in 57 innings of work. Caughey spared the Perth bullpen last night by gobbling up 7.2 innings so almost every arm will be available in game 3. The Bite do appear to have the advantage if it becomes a battle of the bullpens with Dushan Ruzic, Darren Fidge and Tom Becker all fresh and ready.

Game 2 drew a crowd of approximately 3000 so you’d have to assume that the Perth faithful will be out in force to push that number up even higher (with local competition wisely rescheduled to accommodate the deciding game).  Since the Defensive Specialist has been firing blanks all season long on the prediction front, let’s turn things over to the brains of the operation”

Defensive Specialist: “Who’ll win game 3?”
Mrs Defensive Specialist: (with resolve) “The Heat”

There you have it!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Quick Hits

Quick hits from game 1 of the ABL Grand Final Series between the Perth Heat and Adelaide Bite that saw the Bite take a 1 – 0 lead in the best of 3 contest. 
  • The ABL and Foxtel went with the “Entertainment Approach” and in general the coverage was really good. There were some early problems with graphics (both teams had multiple DH’s listed in their line ups), and the side-line reporter revealed a lack of baseball knowledge in the post game interviews by asking  Mark Brackman if he would be starting in game 2. Warren Smith was very good as the play-by-play man with the only major issue occurring when his colleagues referred to him as ‘Waz”. John Deeble was serviceable as the ‘colour’ guy but could have armed himself with more information on some of the players – particularly the professionals. The real down side with the production was the lag between pitch and the cameras switching to pick up where the ball actually went. This is obviously as a result of the production team being inexperienced at putting baseball to air and would surely improve with practice. All in all it was an enjoyable broadcast and both the ABL and Foxtel should be pleased with the package they presented.
  • If you told the Defensive Specialist that both teams would combine for 25 hits and only score 7 runs, you’d be laughed at. Both teams came out swinging, only to see potentially large innings extinguished through a lack of clutch hitting. The Adelaide 8 & 9 hitters (Wigmore and Cakebread combined for 6 hits) while the Heat received major contributions from De San Miguel (4-5) and McArthur (3-5).
  • It appeared that Aaron Bonomi was safe at home plate on a bang bang play in the 8th, which would have been the tying run. The ball clearly beat Bonomi to the plate although the throw from Jamie McOwen drew Brandon Bantz up the first base line preventing the catcher from properly blocking the plate. To the Defensive Specialist’s highly trained eye, Bonomi’s leg went through Bantz’s leg before the tag was applied. This may all be a moot point if Bonomi hadn’t slowed down after rounding third. With 2 out and a runner on second, every third base coach is going to wind the runner home so there was no excuse for Bonomi slowing.
Bonomi wondering "why'd I stop?"
  • Neither starters had their best stuff with Brackman surrendering 10 hits and 3 runs in 5.2 innings and Schmidt giving up 9 hits and 4 runs in 4.1 innings of work. Schmidt in particular appeared to lose his way in the 5th as he gave up 3 runs when his usually outstanding control deserted him and he began elevating his fastball.
  • On the other hand, both teams received stellar support from their bullpens. Adrian Burnside was fantastic over 3 innings while Cameron Lamb provided a sublime 4.2 innings of relief. Both pen-men held their opponents scoreless for the remainder of the game. 
So where to from here? Well Adelaide are most definitely in the driver’s seat heading into game 2 with their most dominant pitcher Brandon Maurer set to take the ball. The Heat will likely send Trevor Caughey to the hill in the hope that he can continue his season-long excellence. It’s hard to envision another 25 hits but both offenses are hot at present and a slugfest is not out of the question.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Big Dance

So here we are, Grand Final week – the Big Dance! The Defensive Specialist finds himself sitting in a New Zealand hotel pouring over line ups, statistics, scouting reports and tea leaves trying to find an edge. Of course both managers (Knight & Harris) have desperately sought the Defensive Specialist’s insight which has made a business trip to our neighbour timely as it would be unfair to assist one team over another. Buoyed by the successful series prediction last week (don’t kid yourself, your old pal was concerned after David Welch tossed a no no), the Defensive Specialist is ready to break down the series and spell out a winner for one more time this season.

With the series going live to air on cable television, it’s a big weekend for the ABL and baseball in general and nothing would be better than an action packed contest that stretches over 3 games. Both teams have a legitimate shot at the title and in a move away from the norm, both teams would be considered offensive ball clubs first and foremost. Following on from last week’s winning formula, let’s take a look at what factors could win or lose it for each team:

Why Perth will lose

2 weeks off without baseball is never a good thing! The inactivity will allow the pitching staff to freshen up but the last thing a highly functioning offense wants is a lengthy break – and in baseball 10 days is an eternity. You can play all the simulated games and two pitch you want but the best way to keep the bats hot is to swing them in anger. Manager Knight has to be anxious about the layoff and the effect it will have on his hitters timing. 1 through 9 the Heat line up had been popping and this break has the potential to put a number of the bats on ice. Sure a hitters may have found their way into local competition line ups but there is a significant difference in the sloppy seconds they’d be seeing down there from a pitching perspective and the higher level offerings they’ll see in the ABL

Why Adelaide will win

Momentum. We’ve discussed how powerful having the “MO” in your dugout can be and the Bite are riding a wave of it after taking it in the back passage in game 1 of the Preliminary finals and then storming back with 2 courageous wins to claim the series. Anytime you steal a 15 inning barn burner on the road you thank your lucky stars and look for your next challenge. Perth saw its own momentum stifled by a 2 week break and will need to get an early jump on the Bite to regenerate the buzz they built up after sweeping the Blue Sox on the road.

Why the Heat will win

They’re playing at home! Ok, that doesn’t guarantee the series win like you’d expect. The Heat were a .500 ballclub at their home park this season and decidedly better on the road. Earlier in the season, Manager Knight indicated that he liked his team on the road because they were free of the distractions and commitments generally associated with playing at home (work, study, family etc). Getting away as a unit is beneficial because the only focus is baseball. You’d like to think a thumping crowd plus a grand final series provides the edge that the Heat should have by being at home.

Why Adelaide will lose

Inconsistency around their pitching staff. Mark Brackman looked shakier than bambi on ice in game 1 of the preliminary finals which may have been a splash of bad luck or simply because his anus cramped under the bright lights of playoff baseball. The Adelaide trainer will be working around the clock to keep him loose so that the Bite doesn’t get a repeat performance. Brandon Maurer has evolved into the ‘sure thing’ for Manager Harris and it is somewhat surprising that he didn’t get bumped up to game 1. After these guys it looks like Paul Mildren gets the ball in game 3 but there is no certainty there.

Maurer has been a 'sure thing' for the Bite
Why Perth will lose

Uncertainty around their pitching staff. We know Daniel Schmidt will get the ball in game 1 and the lefty has shown that he deserves the honour. After him, it’s a bit of a crapshoot and you can be sure that Manager Knight has spent plenty of time this week calling local competition coaches asking if he can borrow their imports (Caughey & Zachary). Caughey has been a revelation for the Heat in limited appearances and if he is available Knight can then employ “Johnny Allstaff” to fill out game 3. If he isn’t available God only knows who gets the ball in game 2 which is a huge concern this late in the season.
Daniel Schmidt gets the ball in game 1

Why Adelaide will win

Because they bang! The Defensive Specialist knows that you shouldn’t start a sentence with because but it is as simple as that. Jeremy Cresswell, a rejuvenated Stefan Welch, Jamie McOwen, Quincy Latirmore, Brandon Bantz and Tom Brice give the Bite a legit 1-6. Cresswell works the count and grinds out AB’s, Welch is a nice 2 hole hitter who feasts on fastballs and McOwen, Latimore, Bantz and Brice provide the grunt. Not much in the way of a let up in that group which will definitely tax the Heat staff.

McOwen leads the Bite offensively
Why Perth will win

Because they bang harder! Based on end of season form, it’s safe to suggest that the Heat go 9 deep (which also sounds like the title of a porn film). The season numbers may not show it but a line up of:

  1. Tim Kennelly
  2. Alan De San Miguel
  3. Luke Hughes
  4. Robbie Widlansky
  5. Evan McArthur
  6. Ronnie Welty
  7. Matt Kennelly
  8. Lachlan Dale / Ryne Price
  9. Mitch Graham
  10. Luke Hughes needs to keep his eyes open and BANG
Is pretty damn solid and brings the noise! While the Bite line up drops away from 7 through 9, the Heat attack is unrelenting, especially with Graham finding form late in the season. Against the Adelaide pitching staff, the Heat offense could explode. 

So who is the this baseball brain putting his weight behind in the 2011 ABL Grand Final? The Defensive Specialist will be fidgeting in his first class international seat on the flight home tomorrow evening, eager to get in front of the television (pending a late call from ABL CEO Peter Wermuth asking for the Defensive Specialist’s expertise on the broadcast) to watch these two offensive minded ball clubs tee off on each other. When your old pal gazes into his crystal ball he sees the Heat taking game 1, Maurer maintaining his hot streak to guide the Bite to a victory in game 2 and the local boys rallying to win game 3. Perth Heat inaugural ABL champions!


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Television Adds 10 Pounds

MLB commissioner Bud Selig must be reclining in his plush leather office chair, feet perched proudly on his desk as he thinks about the little old league he has running in some far fetched country called Austria / Armenia / Australia. After all, its had decent press throughout the season and as the competition has headed towards its conclusion we’ve seen some hard fought victories, a playoff no hitter and to wrap up the Sydney / Adelaide Preliminary final a 15 inning barn burner that had both teams selling their souls to the baseball gods for a victory. To make things even better in Bud’s world, the final series is being televised nationally! He can definitely check  “establish an MLB out posting in a foreign country” off his things to do list while commissioner of baseball.

It’s definitely an exciting time for Australian baseball and a buzz abounds with the final series being televised. However with national exposure comes a big stage to expose both the good and the bad that our sport has to offer in a time when getting buy-in is absolutely critical to the league’s viability and growth. The Defensive Specialist thought now would be a good time to consider a number of key points as the ABL and Foxtel get ready to package this product.

Are the ABL and Foxtel showcasing or educating?

There is a big difference between slickly packaging the broadcast and allowing the game to speak for itself, or running an ‘idiots guide to baseball”. Let the Defensive Specialist flesh this one out: 
  • Showcasing the game – solid and informed commentary, slick camera work, timely replays and polished production (stats and packages) – think ESPN’s Sunday night baseball.
  • Educating the masses – explaining the rules of the game, increased talking, basic information. More like a teaching the session, detailing every play. 

In the Defensive Specialist’s esteemed opinion, it’s difficult to do both well which is why you see cricket broadcasts do the ‘teaching’ bit during lunch breaks or in packages rather than trying to do so during the actual game. The ABL really has a 3 game trial with Foxtel and the viewing masses so it makes sense to put a polished package together that showcases the game rather than trying to bring people up to speed with the ins and outs of baseball. You’d have to think that the vast majority of people tuning in will be baseball fans, however Foxtel and the ABL will hope to catch the attention of casual viewers who may stumble across the broadcast. Surely these people don’t want to listen to commentators drone on about ‘tagging up’ and ‘how to grip a bat’ when there is a chance to see a well produced performance of baseball.

Peering into the future, perhaps next season the league could feature a weekly highlights type show – 30 minutes of action, interviews, top plays etc that grabs viewers attention. This could be supplemented with a game of the week (which would reduce cost by limiting the number of games broadcast) and then to bring the casual fan up to speed maybe even an educational type show that zeroes in on kids (although the Defensive Specialist believes that these would be better in cut down versions inserted into some form of pregame show).

Will the commentary be up to standard?

This really ties in to the above point regarding production. The Defensive Specialist hopes and prays that the commentary can be polished and informative rather than inane and pointless conversation that we’ve seen on other occasions. We’ve seen MLB bring out US expertise to assist in running the franchises and in game day preparation and it would be great to see some influence around commentary with well informed and educated people behind the microphones. A good broadcast team includes a play-by-play announcer who provides a running overview of the game and a colour man who contributes analysis and opinion. With other American sports played in Australia, we’ve seen numerous instances where the commentary team simply couldn’t provide a professional and interest-holding dialogue for the duration of the contest.
The great thing about baseball is that it’s timeless. The worst thing about baseball from a commentary perspective is that it’s timeless! What does this mean? Well because baseball can be somewhat on the slow side, commentators have to deftly fill time without becoming a talking head that fills up the space with words. The real art is letting the game speak for itself and using the words to fill the gaps (that was almost poetic in it’s beauty!).

It’s not easy broadcasting baseball!

Think about the experience you have when you watch an MLB game on Foxtel or ESPN. Multiple camera angles, immediate tracking of the action and almost instantaneous replays provide for an outstanding experience. In order to provide a close approximation of such an experience, you’d have to think that Foxtel will require at least 5 camera’s  (1 behind the pitcher, 1 behind the hitter, 1 behind first, 1 behind 3rd and 1 on the field). You can see right there the cost associated with broadcasting baseball games, especially across a 3 or 4 game and why it’s a big deal if the league gets more games on air in coming seasons. It will be interesting to see how inexperienced camera operators and production crews (from a baseball perspective) handle the cut and thrust of a game. Can they get the broadcast in the right place at the right time?

What about the bells and whistles?

Being the first time the ABL has gone to air, will we get slickly produced player profiles, graphics and packages? If the ABL is aiming to showcase the product then you’d hope so. Baseball fans want to see averages and statistics. In order to promote the game, pre-packaged player features can be used adroitly to add value and launch local players into the public’s consciousness. A brief pregame show would be an interesting wrinkle and allow the BAL to show case local stars or leading baseball figures in Australia. The more effort that’s put in around these types of features, the better the product will be.

At the end of the day, if the ABL and Foxtel can put together an outstanding broadcast, the game will benefit. The ABL has a small window of opportunity to promote the game on a grand stage – lets hope that they’re able to do it right so that televised games become the norm rather than a bonus.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Under normal circumstances the Defensive Specialist would bang out this post on Saturday morning. Tonight wasn’t a normal circumstance.  How often do you get to witness a no hitter? More importantly, how often do you get to witness a no hitter during a playoff game (don’t answer that Phillie fans)?

Sitting at Blacktown Olympic Park it truly felt like the Defensive Specialist was inside a barbeque with all 4 burners on high heat. Seriously, it was ridiculously hot with stifling humidity to boot. Perhaps it was the weather but the crowd for a playoff game was once again disappointing with numerous empty seats along the third base line section of the stands. The conditions seemed to be taking a toll on the home side as well. They contributed one of the sloppiest pre games the Defensive Specialist had seen in a long time, which didn’t bode well.

Your old pal was left scratching his head at the wholesale changes that Manager Glenn Williams had made to his Blue Sox line-up. Gone was the uber hot January bat of Trent Schmutter, replaced with Moko Moanaroa. Gone was Mark Holland, replaced at second by Trent D’Antonio. Josh Dean was added to the line-up at third and rightfielder David Kandilas was promoted to the two-hole.  Drastic alterations like these are often deemed panic moves and not what you’d expect from a league leading team in a playoff series.

Fortunately the one constant all season for the Sydney team has been starting pitching and no one has been steadier than David Welch. The lefty had an outstanding season and was expected to shoulder the load for a Blue Sox team that just couldn’t find a way to manufacture any runs.

Mark Brackman was given the starting assignment for the Bite and things did not get off to the start he or his manager were hoping for. D’Antonio led off with a crisp single to centre which was followed by a Kandilas walk. Mitch Dening then took 35 seconds to stroll to the plate but wasted no time in punching a 2 run double down the left field line. Alex Johnson punched out and clearly demonstrated that he and sliders can never be in a serious relationship. Brendan Kingman and his bandaged together body dumped a fist shot into right to put runners on first and third for Dean who grounded out to short to score Dening.

3-0 Blue Sox.

The second inning provided no respite for Brackman as Michael Lysaught singled to right with one out and D’Antonio mashed a homerun to straight away rightfield. Kandilas grounded out and Dening picked up his second knock before Johnson made the final out of the inning

5-0 Blue Sox.

Brackman went out for the third and after a Kingman groundout he surrendered a singled to Dean and a walk to Moanaroa before he was lifted for Dushan Ruzic. Ruzic immediately gave up a scorched double to the right centre gap off the bat of Stone Hands Maat. Dean scored on the double while Moanaroa advanced to third. Lysaught grounded out with the infield in and D’Antonio picked up his third knock with a line drive to right that scored Moanaroa. Assuming that Maat would be waved home (he wasn’t) , D’Antonio continued to second. He would have been out easily if the Bite first baseman had cut the ball but by this stage the Bite’s wheels had well and truly fallen off.

7-0 Blue Sox.

Both pitchers settled into a groove and began working their way through the innings. The Defensive Specialists sent his first “Welch = dealing” text message during the 5th inning and by the 6th the Defensive Specialist had moved to the edge of his seat sensing that Welch was on the cusp of something special. The 7th inning was interesting because there was  a noticeable drop in Welch’s velocity (the stadium radar gun made a welcomed return!) which obviously indicated that the veteran was tiring (not surprising considering that he may have sweated 15-20 litres of body fluid).

The Blue Sox crowd started to dial in on the occasion by the 8th when Welch forced Josh Cakebread into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

The atmosphere in the park took on a whole new turn in the 9th with Welch on the verge of a no no and the heart of the Adelaide line up at the plate. Jeremy Cresswell struck out to get things going. Stefan Welch then popped out to second. With Jamie McOwen striding to the dish, the crowd was on its feet. Welch managed to get McOwne flailing which resulted in a high chopper back to the mound. The pitcher leapt and snagged the ball as McOwen hustled down the line, desperate to break it up. Perhaps not realising he had more time or perhaps experiencing some severe sphincter tightness, Welch rushed himself and launched the ball down the line.


What should have been a routine final out to complete a no hitter all of a sudden became a farcical mistake that resulted in a runner on base and the big hitting righty Quincy Latimore at the dish. Welch was clearly running on empty as his fastball was now at 82 (he had it up to 88 earlier in the contest) and was almost solely reliant on his breaking ball. After falling behind 0-2, Welch pumped a slurve for a strike and then followed with another. With the count 2-2 he went to it again and Latimore pounced sending a towering fly ball to left that immediately sucked the sticky air out of the ballpark. Replacement leftfielder Trent Schmutter drifted back to the wall and the fans held their breath. And then all of a sudden the ball dropped from the sky into Schmutters glove on the warning track.

Game over – no hitter!

The Blue Sox mobbed their starter (who didn’t seem to know who to hug first - finally settling on his catcher Stone Hands) on the field, performing a very nice dog pile on the mound in celebration.

Obviously the Defensive Specialist Player of the Game goes to David Welch who not only tossed a complete game no hitter, but also racked up 10 strikeouts in a game that Sydney really had to have in order to get them off their recent schnide and put them in a commanding series position. All momentum sits in the Blue Sox dugout now as the mighty Adelaide line up must now find a way to get two wins on the road against Craig Anderson and Wayne Lundgren as well as a newly confident Sydney attack. Not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wait til I get my money right

Things have gotten so bad that playoff team members and supporters have been writing in to Deep in the Hole asking the Defensive Specialist to pick against them in the playoffs because if things hold true to form they’ll end up winning. For a certified “expert” at picking horseflesh, you have to know that this run of bad form truly troubles the Defensive Specialist. Your old pal has spent countless hours evaluating the process:

  • Rock solid analysis: CHECK
  • In-depth research: CHECK
  • Numerous hours of study: CHECK
  • A healthy dose of gut instinct: CHECK
Baseball is one of those sports that can totally derail a player if he can’t ride the storm and keep his emotions in order. As you can imagine the Defensive Specialist is unwavering in his self-belief but still turned to a mentor to get an assessment of the state of play:

Defensive Specialist: “I’m concerned that my analysis is off the mark”

Mentor: “It’s not”

Defensive Specialist: “But I’ve faltered on numerous occasions this season”

Mentor: “You’ve got to keep swinging the bat my young apprentice”

Defensive Specialist: “I could be in a slump”

Mentor: “Stop that. In the words of the great Kanye West – Wait til you get your money right”.

And with that, the Defensive Specialist felt a sense of calm. If the Defensive Specialist keeps doing the hard yards, the universe will correct itself and the Defensive Specialist will be an unstoppable force once again.

With Adelaide visiting Sydney this weekend, let the Defensive Specialist channel Kanye and tell you why each team can win and lose this contest.

Why Sydney will win:

Starting pitching. The Defensive Specialist feels like a broken record having spoken about the combination of Oxspring, Welch, Lundgren and Anderson ad infinitum this season but the fact is, no team can line up 4 front line guys like them. Of course the spanner in the works here is that Oxspring has been pushed into the bullpen in an effort to prepare himself for spring training. His departure dents things somewhat for the Blue Sox but the vast majority of teams would take a three headed monster featuring Welch, Lundgren and Anderson. Welch really is the key this series as he presents the best chance of a win for the Blue Sox. His season has been flat out dominant and he has shown that he can lock down even the best hitting teams. Manager Glenn Williams will be counting on Welch getting a win and eating innings so that he can throw the rest of his staff at the Bite in games 2 and potentially 3.
David Welch
Why Adelaide will win:

Because they’ve got an edge and they’re hungry. The Bite are riding a solid wave of momentum after pounding Melbourne at home in the minor semi final and winning 7 of their last 8 games. Momentum can be a powerful force, especially during the playoffs (and if anyone doubts that, take a look at the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers who both ended up in the World Series despite being severe underdogs entering the playoffs). Numerous readers have commented that the Bite just appear determined and edgy. It’s obvious that they can taste a championship and will do what it takes to achieve that goal (and yes, don’t be surprised if we see some physical fireworks) which means we will see some boys selling out physically to win ball games which makes for compelling viewing.

Why Adelaide will win:

The Bite bang the ball around the yard. With James McOwen in the 3 hole and Quincy Latimore in the clean up position the Adelaide team has some serious punch. Stefan Welch finally seems to have found some form with the bat and with Jeremy Cresswell leading off, the Bite have runners on board in front of their boppers. Brandon Bantz and Tom Brice have both been hot of late which means the Adelaide line up is dangerous 1-6 at the very least.
A frequently occurring event for the Bite offensively
Why Sydney will lose:

They just can’t hit. Ok, that’s a bit hard but why beat around the bush? Mitch Denning got it going against Perth (4-7), which is absolutely critical to the cause but the Blue Sox need Alex Johnson supplying some thunder and more importantly Trent D’Antonio and Trent Schmutter have to find a way to get on base in front of these two. After the top four it’s all question marks although Brendan Kingman has managed to run into a couple of balls for clutch homeruns. If Dening or Johnson can be shut down, the Defensive Specialist doesn’t see anyone else shouldering the burden.
Holy white man line beard!
Why Adelaide will lose:

Inconsistency in the starting pitching. Brandon Maurer really found his groove late in the year and despite not having his best stuff in his first play off appearance still managed to punch out 8 in 6 innings while giving up 3 runs. Mark Brackman will take the ball in game 1 and the big man will need to replicate his performance against Melbourne, especially when you consider that he’s going up against the miserly Welch. Knowing that his opponent wont give up many, Brackman will need to be dialled in and prepared to keep the Blue Sox to 2 runs or less. After those two, Manager Tony Harris has a quandary – does he use Paul Mildren (who’s been buried on the shelf for 2 weeks after a poor outing against Brisbane on January 20th) or Dushan Ruzic (who could be a weapon out of the pen, especially against righties) should a game 3 start eventuate? The Bite pitching has been up and down this season and the worse case scenario for their skipper is a bumpy outing from a starter that forces the pen into action early in the series.

Why Sydney will win:

Home field advantage! Ok, so that was a cheap shot. Aside from being swept in the first round of the playoffs at home, the crowd support was less than optimal with large sections of the seating area empty for game 1 last week. Adelaide reportedly had 3000 people at their 2nd playoff game while Sydney struggled to crack 1000. Without rapid home support, the Adelaide momentum will be allowed to run unchecked.

Why Adelaide will lose:

Good pitching beats good hitting. If the Blue Sox staff performs at its expected level they’re a tough group of arms to contest.  Remember a few weeks back when the Blue Sox shut down the Bite in 4 games (granted Latimore and McOwen were missing). If the Bite can’t manufacture runs early and grind it out they’ll face a tough challenge offensively because Williams can employ the lights out and rubber armed Dae Song Koo to close things out.

Why Sydney will win:

They’re the regular season league leaders who pulled Adelaide’s pants down in their last meeting. The Blue Sox finished in first place for a reason and may relish the fact that they enter this series as underdogs with the vast majority of baseball fans jumping on the Bite bandwagon for this preliminary final. The underwhelming expectations for the team may lift some of the pressure and allow them to play better baseball. Stranger things have happened!

So does the Defensive Specialist have his money right? Adelaide momentum + big bats Vs Sydney pitching + home field advantage. In the Defensive Specialist’s esteemed opinion, Adelaide wants it too much and will take the series convincingly, setting up a grand final contest between the Heat and the Bite.

(Sydney fans now rejoice and start wagering heavily on their team to win!)