Are the Kalamazoo Kazoos the most boring team in the Patriot League? When they were expanded into existence this season, they seemed likely to be a colorful bunch, given their quirky name and the fact that they hired as a manager Jacques “Zippie” DeFlute, a former musician with no baseball background.
But then the season came, and the Kazoos were… fine. They weren’t great, but they weren’t terrible. For much of the season, it looked like they would win the moderately prestigious Expansion World Cup, awarded to the expansion team with the best record, but the New Orleans Sazeracs passed them out in the last week of the season. They don’t have any gaping holes, but they don’t have any big stars either. They just… are.
Perhaps still smarting from their EWC defeat, neither DeFlute nor Kalamazoo owner/GM Will Norman had any comment on the season. But a close look at the numbers suggests a team that has a relatively high floor and a relatively low ceiling. In other words, next year is likely to look like this one.
Kalamazoo’s greatest strength is unquestionably its pitching. Unlike their expansion cousins, who all struggled to assemble a viable staff in some area or another, the Kazoos were all-around competent on the mound. Their 4.46 ERA was fifth in the league, while their .765 OPS allowed placed them sixth. In general, Kalamazoo’s staff largely consisted of soft tossers who hit their spots and kept the ball in the yard, a strategy that served them well.
Rookie righties Zachary Barrett (8-14, 3.77 ERA, .694 OPS allowed) and Trevor Cutchall (8-10, 3.79, .698) anchored the rotation, while Steve DiPietro (2-0, 3.48, .629) won a surprise All-Star berth out of the pen. They got bounce-back seasons from a pair of ex-California hurlers, righties Ty Shive (9-9, 3.88, .728) and Brian Goreman (4-5, 3.92, .740), who served as durable swingmen for the Kazoos. Closer Elias Rosado (6-6, 19 save, 4.83) was serviceable, though he faded a bit in the second half.
One pitcher who didn’t fit the mold was teenage sensation Angelo Rosales. The young righty dazzled with his velocity and raw stuff, striking out 252 in 190 1/3 innings, but struggled with inconsistency and bad cluster luck, finishing 11-12 with a 4.87 ERA. If he, Barrett, and Cutchall can take a step forward next season, they represent Kalamazoo’s best shot at improvement.
Kalamazoo’s offense, meanwhile, was the best among the expansion clubs, but that wasn’t saying a whole lot. They were seventh in the league in batting average (.257) and eighth in OPS (.758). Nor were they especially fast; their 71 stolen bases were second-worst in the league.
The good news is that the Kazoos had plenty of thump in the middle of their order, with OF John Taylor (39 round-trippers), RF/DH Robby McAllister (38), and CF Damian Mash (34) all capable of crushing. But they lacked table-setters in front of those big bats; no one on the team had a batting average over .300, and too many of those longballs were solo shots. As a result, Kalamazoo tallied only 667 runs, ninth in the league.
If the Kazoos are going find a spark at the plate in 2017, they’d be wise to focus on adding some high-average hitters, especially on the infield. SS Johnny Shorts (.275, 38 doubles) is solid, but the other three starting infielders posting averages below .250, nor did they have the pop to justify such low averages. Perhaps the team might consider selling high on a pitcher like Shive or Goreman in exchange for someone who can get on base.
The good news is that, for an expansion team, Kalamazoo has a decent number of strengths; barring any unexpected collapses, they should be decent again next season. But without some savvy or unexpected growth from their young players, they might be stuck on the mediocrity treadmill for some time. Not the best, not the worst, just… fine.