Tuesday, September 20, 2011

9/20/11 Omaha Storm Chasers 3, Columbus Clippers 9

Isotopes Park, Albuquerque, NM
Triple-A National Championship Game

Who has the power to silence the Storm Chasers? …you’re looking at him!

One of the strongest teams in Minor League Baseball that features some of the finest prospect talent in any organization, the Omaha Storm Chasers making it to the AAA Playoffs certainly didn’t surprise me. That being said, this year’s Columbus Clippers team is a lot like last year’s team…also strong, also from a decent farm system, and last year’s returning champions.

In a one-game playoff, the principles of “Tournament Baseball” are key to success. I won’t sugar-coat my ham-handed analysis one single bit: Mike Jirschele didn’t demonstrate a respect for the Clippers’ ability to rally exponentially, and left his hand-picked SP (the well-baked Sean O’Sullivan) in for one inning too many.

The Storm Chasers got on the board in clever fashion in the first inning, fueled by a 2-RBI triple off the bat of Lorenzo Cain. They scored 3 in that frame against Martinez, but ended their pre-emptive rally right there; Martinez demonstrated an amazing command performance, handcuffing the Storm Chasers for his remaining 6 innings of work and turning Omaha’s finest into chicken feed for the formidable Clippers.

O’Sullivan’s career has been a decidedly rocky one…he hasn’t been able to perform that well in the Majors, as many Royals fans are well aware of. Is O’Sullivan nothing more than a AAAA pitcher? Let’s consult Baseball-Reference and see if there’s an answer hiding somewhere…

Here are some key pitching stats (flush the W-L and ERA down the toilet for now):

SOS Career (MLB and MiLB)
This certainly isn’t überstatistical breaking news, but yes, O’Sullivan seems to pitch better in the Minors than in the Majors. Most of us would agree that 6.6 SO/9 and 1.271 WHIP isn’t really horrible, even if it is in the Minors. In fact, these numbers are really close to Joe Martinez’ 7.4 SO/9 and 1.244 WHIP in his 7 seasons in MiLB. So, what’s happening to Sean O’Sullivan?

Let’s look at O’Sullivan’s MiLB career, year-by-year:
Here, we can see some regression in the Minors…improved WHIP and SO/BB in 2011 from 2010, but overall SO/9 is somewhat stagnant, WHIP overall is increasing. Martinez’ WHIP by comparison is holding steady overall, as is his SO/9. Comparison to Martinez is only valid in that this is who O’Sullivan is facing; the bigger question is: how can we expect O’Sullivan to be a Major League ready pitcher anytime soon? He’s choking at the MLB level and MiLB hitters are figuring him out, and it shows.

Here’s my point: Mike Jirschele is a very good manager; we’re talking about Tournament Baseball here, O’Sullivan had a great 3 groundout 1st inning…after the Clippers’ 3-run 2nd inning, he should have given O’Sullivan the hook when he had the chance and brought in some of the Storm Chasers stellar relief. The bullpen allowed 2 runs after O’Sullivan’s 3IP, 6ER exit; would the Clippers have still won? Probably, yes. Would the Storm Chasers have been working so hard to make up for a 3-run deficit to start the 4th inning? Not at all. The formula is simple: 1 game playoff = don’t let questionable pitchers stay in the game…it just isn’t necessary. Particularly with Sean O’Sullivan on the mound and failing so early.

It’s more than stingingly ironic that in this single playoff game, starting pitching helped bury the Storm Chasers…just as it did for the Royals all season long!

As for Joe Martinez…let’s hope this isn’t the game of his career (which isn’t over yet, by any means), but this certainly was a definitive highlight of his MiLB career so far. I was fortunate enough to meet Joe after a Clippers/Bats game here in Louisville this past summer, and the Storm Chasers loss aside, it was great to see him pull through in this game and not only lead the Clippers to a Triple-A Championship victory, but also end up as the recipient of the esteemed Bobby Murcer Memorial MVP Award after the game…something I’d much rather remember him for than a Mike Cameron line drive in 2009 that nearly took his head off.

I watched this game on MLB Network, courtesy of a feed from Versus (the game was called by Robert Portnoy and former Omaha Royals manager Bucky Dent, who is also known for a few other baseball moments). The folks at Versus were apparently mesmerized by Lance Zawadzki; not so much by his performance as a player, but moreso by his interesting last name.

For starters, Versus spelled his name accurately upon his appearance in the Storm Chasers’ starting lineup:

Zawadzki’s first plate appearance, in the 1st inning…his name is still spelled correctly:

5 innings later, Lance is suddenly “Zwadski” without realizing it:

Someone sends a text message to the Versus folks operating the character generator (Cheech and Chong, perhaps?) and they do their best to correct the error…but don’t quite make it right; Lance is now “Zawadski” in the 8th inning:

The Clippers win the championship; Lance Zawadzki and Kila Ka’aihue were released by the Royals soon after this game. Sean O’Sullivan remains with the Royals and as of December 2011 is still on their 40-man roster.

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