August 03, 2009 — Looking back to April, our starting rotation appeared to be anchored with veteran free agents such as Brad Knox, Matt Palmer, Mike McDonald, Dan Denham. As a bonus, we had Anthony Ortega for a couple weeks, presumably until he could get into major-league shape.
When the transaction-go-round starts spinning as fast as it has this season, it seems awfully quick to the trigger to select a ballplayer who’s only been at Triple-A for just one-and-a-half months. On the other hand, Bell has been as steady as they come, even when he hasn’t gotten the run support he deserves. So
Pitcher injuries among the Angels resulted in a mid-June spot start for O’Sullivan against San Francisco and subsequent promotion for Bell, who got his first Triple-A start against division-leading Colorado. And what a start it was; a two-hit, complete game shut-out. Since then, the 21-year-old has pitched like he’s been with us all season: 2.81 ERA, 52 H, 36 SO, 14 BB, 64.0 IP. Best of all has been his ability to go deep into the game, averaging 7.1 innings per start, with two 9-inning complete games. Bell doesn’t have a blazing fastball, and relies heavily on ground-ball outs. Mentally, he is one tough competitor. One of my favorite moments from this season was a five-pitch duel between Bell and major-league veteran Sal Fasano.
Much has been made of Bell’s off-season acting career, as well as his relation to the original Bozo the Clown. And while these are interesting media bytes, they aren’t nearly as intriguing as a couple of other extracurricular activities engaged in by the youngster from North Hollywood, CA.
At the start of the 2008 season, Bell joined Barry Zito’s “Strikeouts for Troops” campaign, in which he pledged to donate funds to the charity for every strikeout he made. Later that summer Bell was sent down to Single-A Cedar Rapids shortly after horrendous flooding had devastated the Kernels home city, along with several other Midwest cities along the Iowa and Cedar Rivers. During his short stay, Bell took a tour of the area and wrote a personal check for $2,500 towards rebuilding efforts.
What is noteworthy about these contributions is how uncommonly rare it is for low-level minor leaguers to be thinking of something other than their on-field performance. For yours truly, it’s yet another reason to cheer on our latest young gun…Your friend in baseball.
July 01, 2009 — Note: Many thanks to Jason for pointing out the obvious pick for this month’s Lady’s Choice. Usually, mid-point of the season I’m faced with the decision of choosing one standout athlete over another, or several others. It is most certainly not typical to find myself casting about for inspiration. If you’ve been following the team, though, you know this been an unusual season for our Triple-A ballclub.
Thinking aloud then. . .Jeremy Hill, of late, is having some trouble holding leads. I love Francisco Rodriguez. Too bad he wasn’t around for half the month. Matt Brown and Bobby Wilson have been struggling at the plate. Reggie Willits spent two weeks nursing a sore hamstring. Freddy Sandoval and Chris Pettit are out with injuries until late July at the earliest. Oh have I mentioned, the weather’s been lousy too? Sigh!
It’s true, Brandon Wood has been his consistently awesome self. And I’ve noticed significant improvement in plate discipline, particularly his 23:47 BB:SO (a ratio of 1:2). In all honesty, though, it’s not like yours truly is going to add anything revelatory to thewell-deserved praise for this kid’s ongoing development. And yes, I had noticed Brad Coon is steadily upping his offensive production after a slow start. Not to mention, just like last year, he’s an excellent guardian of our 420-foot-deep center field. Trevor Bell? Tempting. His awesome debut is slowly turning, start-by-start, into a Triple-A stay of real merit.
And then I was reminded of having overlooked the bright ray of sunshine in our uncharacteristically cold and dreary June. . .
*Apparently he suited up for one game as a Salt Lake Stinger that year, although I don’t remember it personally.
Yours truly readily admits having wanted an excuse to showcase Pavkovich for a couple seasons now. He stands out for me not only as a good ballplayer, but one who makes an extra effort to bond with his fans, particularly the young ones.
A BeesGal memory. . .One afternoon in 2007, after a long wait for players to come out onto the field, one young fan literally wilted in his spot. He put his head down, cradled in his arms atop of the concrete wall, and closed his eyes. And there he rested, oblivious to the now-arrived ballplayers talking with and signing for fans along the wall.
Pavkovich stopped and bent down, lowering his head to peer upward into the downturned face.
“Hey,” he said gently. Getting no response, he asked again, “Hey there. Are you OK?”
The small head popped straight up, a startled look upon the youngster’s face. Pavkovich laughed warmly, and spent a few extra minutes chatting before moving on.
Another from 2007. . .Pavkovich appeared a full 30 minutes prior to gametime. He walked along the wall, scanning the rows as if he was expecting to meet someone. Halfway between the dugout and bullpen he stopped. He called up to a boy who looked eight or nine years old, standing with his father about 10 rows up in the stands. The boy and father looked around, and then behind them. They looked back at Pavkovich, who was now holding up what looked to be a brand-new bat, its gleaming walnut finish unblemished by pine tar or ball marks.
“Hi! Do you want this?” he called out, energetically gesturing for them to come over.
The boy remained frozen until finally his father half-pushed them both down the stairs and to the wall. The precious gift signed and delivered, Pavkovich returned to the clubhouse to get ready for that evening’s work.
In 2008, Pavkovich had a break-through year on the diamond. He flashed some power—25 doubles, 4 triples, 22 HR, 80 RBI and 225 TB—while maintaining a nice .280 AVE. That sort of production earned Pavkovich his first invite to the Dominican Leagues this winter and big-league training camp this spring.
Fast forward to Opening Day 2009, and Pavkovich begins his fourth season with the Bees. There have been, of course, a few changes over the seasons. Harper and Nagy are gone. Mitchell and Bennett are in their second seasons as manager and pitching coach.
On April 15th, Pavkovich played his 425th game in a Salt Lake uniform, passing former Buzz outfielder Chris Latham to become the franchise leader in games played. As noted by longtime Salt Lake broadcaster and “voice of the Bees” Steve Klauke, this is a bittersweet achievement, one that underscores a long tenure in the bush leagues. Pavkovich also has taken over the lead in career two-base hits (98), and tied in sacrifice flies (20) with Buzz/Twins infielder Todd Walker. His 19 sacrifice bunts leaves him just three short of Buzz infielder Mike Moriarty (22) and two short of Stinger/Bees infielder Casey Smith (21). Thanks to last year’s bomber run, he also holds sixth place in career homeruns (45).
He’s still the young man who makes the Knothole Club something special. According to local lore, the 23-year-old infielder voluntarily assumed the role of Knothole Club “camp director” soon after his arrival in 2005. This spring, Camp Director Pavkovich once-again led kids and parents on a guided tour of a day in the life of a professional ballplayer.
During the tour he was asked how many bats players receive from Anaheim.
He replied, “Two dozen, which for a good hitter will last all season.”
There was a pregnant pause, and his next sentence was accompanied by that warm smile, “If you’re a not-so-good hitter, you’ll need more.”
What more can I say? Save perhaps, it’s been a delight having this young man in a Salt Lake uniform for all these seasons. I believe Pavkovich is eligible for free agency after the end of this year, his seventh since being drafted by the Angels. In that case, I certainly wish him all the best, with just the tiniest selfish hope of getting to meet again for Knothole Club, 2010…Your friend in baseball.
June 28, 2009 — In my previous post I offered a high-altitude survey of the who, what and where of minor league player blogs. In this post, I'll start drilling down into the individual stats, namely, number of posts per author, word count per post and number of comments per post. The analysis here will begin to tease out what sort impact each of our ballplayer-bloggers is making in the MiLB.com blogosphere.
A few notes about these numbers. When looking at the total posts, remember not everyone started blogging at the same time. Nonetheless, most started blogging during spring training, around February/March. Word count is an approximate average calculated for a randomly sampled handful of posts, roughly five or six, when possible. Comments/Post was calculated via a similar method—grab a handful of posts, count the total number of comments, divide by number of sampled posts. Hopefully this makes sense.
Not sure if the charts do much to clarify the stats. They sure look pretty though, don't you think?
Analyzing these numbers is hardly an exact science due the high number of variables contributing to the final results. Suffice to say these results alone probably won't reveal any useful, magical formulas for success. They will, however, provide an important starting-off point for when we start assessing the content of each blog. Thus I want to at least discuss some of the general principles/assumptions/wild speculations before moving on.
At first blush, the American League (127 posts) seems to be leaving the National League (79 posts) in some serious dust. After removing blogs by Chris Hayes, who's posted a staggering 41 entries since mid-February, the adjusted totals are a bit of a mixed bag. Post frequency and comments/posts are roughly equal. The big difference, not shown in the charts, is total word output. Even without Hayes' contributions, American League bloggers produced roughly 4,421 total words, about double the National League's 2,149. On final analysis this researcher concludes American League minor leaguers are a more cyber-sociable group than those hailing from the National League.
Click on image to enlarge
Click on image to enlarge
Total posts is an indicator of post frequency. And why is this important? Although there's no clearcut consensus or magic formula for blogging success, most blog readers seem prefer the following combination: high post frequency + medium word counts + a photo/video gew-gaw or two. Of the three, post frequency seems to make or break the spell for most readers. While we're on the topic, about those, "Sorry, I know it's been a while" excuses, use them sparingly. After awhile, it won't matter why, readers will stop clicking over.
Click on image to enlarge
Click on image to enlarge
While easy to quantify, this stat is a bit tricky to qualify. On the one hand, longer posts mean more news. On the other, a long, winding story that takes too long to get to the point will quickly lose your reader. 300-400 words is a perfectly acceptable length. The less-is-more writing technique takes some practice to pull off, nonetheless, it's a worthwhile skill to cultivate, particularly since your audience is used to having information delivered via 2:35 minute YouTube videos and/or 140-word Tweets. One website declared the average page visit lasting only 96 seconds. Woof.
This post, in fact, teeters dangerously close to marathon-like. Nonetheless, there are times when popular appeal must be sacrificed in the name of scientific truth-seeking.
For longer posts, think about including in a photo, widget or video clip to help break up blocks of boring print. (Now do you see why I included the charts? Ssssh! That'll be our little secret.) One handy trick if you find yourself with a novella of 1,000-plus words is to chop it in half, or even three, and offer them as a matched set. Best of all, by stringing them out like this, you've given yourself a deadline extension of at least another week before having to come up with something new, witty and charming.
SIDEBAR: The Amazin' Hayes
Speaking of post length, now would be a good time to make special mention Chris Hayes. The side-arming relief pitcher with the yoga-instructor wife has produced roughly 51,660 words as of early June, when I sampled his blogs. In real-world terms, he's well on his way to putting the finishing touches on a mass-market mystery or romance paperback.
To put this into context with his professional peers, below is a bar graph representing Hayes' total word count compared to the other 22 ballplayer-bloggers. It is really, really tiny because Hayes' total word count exceeds that of his peers by orders of magnitude, in other words, multiples of 10!
Click on image to enlarge
OK, goggle-eyed amazement aside and back to the original concern stated in Part 1, does this sort of quantity mean a better blogging experience? And if not, what is the magic formula to a well-written, well-visited, well-spoken of blog? Stay tuned, and these mysteries will be revealed. . .
Click on image to enlarge
Click on image to enlarge
You'll notice no data was collected on star-ratings. Although quite easy to tally up, these little popularity polls offer no contextual information as to why a certain post is popular, or not. Also, the quick-and-easy, one-click process means you can never be quite sure if the rater even bothered to read the blog before boosting up (or dragging down) someone's work with a quick click. Kind of like choosing players for the All-Star Team; pick your favorite and start voting away, up to 25 clicks/day. (BTW, if you're wondering, no, I don't participate in All-Star Team voting, minor league or otherwise.)
A better litmus test of who is actually reading is provided by comments. Feedback via reader comments are a very important indicator of whether your blog is actually "doing anything" besides just taking up space on the server hard drive. For example, a loyal commenter following usually indicates the blogger is providing useful/entertaining information for his targeted audience. Comments can also give a reading on how friendly/interactive a blogger is with his readers. A couple of our ballplayer-bloggers have taken interactivity a step further, asking for comments and feedback, which is a great way to generate repeat visits. One caveat, blogs showing only a few comments doesn't necessarily mean they're not popular. For every comment posted, there's likely to be a whole mess of lurkers. Also, it's important to note blogs with the most comments are not necessarily the ones with the most frequent entries or longest posts.
Coming up in the next section, we move on to the blog-by-blog, qualitative analysis. Unlike baseball, this portion of the competition will be a judged event, which means I'm open to bribes, . . .er, oops! I mean suggestions. In this most critical section of the whole shebang, I'll do my durndest to point out what seems to work, as well as what doesn't. . .Your friend in baseball.