PBL 2016 Season in Review: Kalamazoo Kazoos

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.

PBL Expands By 4 For Season 2

After a rousingly successful debut season, the Patriot League is growing aggressively for its second season.  Commissioner Jeremiah Mills has officially announced that the PBL will be expanding from 8 teams to 12 for the 2017 season.  “Our first season was a tremendous success,” said Commissioner Mills, “and we’ve clearly demonstrated that there’s an appetite and an audience for this.  I know going from 8 to 12 may seem like a big jump, but I see it as a sign of how well we’re doing that we’ve got four new owners who want to join us.”

These are the new teams that will be joining the fold next season:

carolina-cometsCAROLINA COMETS

The Comets, who will be joining the PBL’s Eastern Division, are the brainchild of owner Steven Roseman.  Roseman believes that there is a significant untapped market of baseball fans in the Carolinas, and he expects the Comets to demonstrate it.  Roseman has committed to his vision with money, constructing a retractable-roof stadium in Catawba, NC to house his team.  Catawba is located roughly equidistant from the Charlotte and Winston-Salem/Greensboro metropolitan areas, and he expects to draw fans from both cities.

Despite being housed in an up-to-date modern facility, Roseman expects his team to play with old-fashioned flair.  The Comets certainly won’t lack for color under the direction of manager Taylor “Two-Buck” Ashy, a protege of Knoxville Smokies skipper Snuff Wallace.  “Ol’ Taylor reminds me a lot of myself,” said Wallace, “only meaner, drunker, and crazier.”  The Comets will also get a healthy dose of flair from their hometown stars. Left fielder Stargell Jackson‘s father is a diehard Pittsburgh Pirates fan who named his son after his hero, Hall of Famer Willie Stargell.  Southpaw starter Randy “Satchel” Flats earned his nickname due to his multi-pitch arsenal and quippy nature, both reminiscent of Negro League great Satchel Paige.

kalamazoo-kazoosKALAMAZOO KAZOOS

The Kazoos will be competing in the league’s Western Division.  Owner Will Norman selected his team name to honor “America’s greatest musical instrument.”  He doubled down on the kazoo motif by naming his stadium Kazoobie Kazoo Field, securing the sponsorship of America’s oldest and most venerable kazoo manufacturer.

Norman’s unorthodox choices extend to his choice of managers.  Jacques “Zippie” DeFlute has no background in baseball.  The Montreal native played several years of minor-league hockey.  More recently, he has been a traveling musician.  Despite his lack of baseball experience, DeFlute’s upbeat, effervescent personality is sure to make him a hit with the fans of western Michigan.

The fans are also sure to love the Kazoos’ pair of hometown stars.  CF Damian Mash was a star at Kalamazoo College, and SS Johnny Shorts is a native of neighboring Portage.

The Kazoos hope to establish a regional rivalry with the PBL champion Milwaukee Bear Claws.  It seems likely that rivalry will be fairly one-sided at the outset, but as DeFlute said, “It gives us a goal to shoot for.”



las-vegas-narwhalsLAS VEGAS NARWHALS

The Narwhals are prepared to make a big splash in the Western Division.  Win or lose, the squad from Vegas is certain to attract attention.  From their striking violet-and-gold uniforms to their stadium, MGM Jackpot Field, which will be the second Patriot League stadium (along with Orlando) to have a built-in casino, the Narwhals are sure to be noticed.  The team is going to have the glitz and glamour of Sin City, which is the way owner Tricia Butler wants it.  Bright lights, big flies, and high scores… that’s what Narwhals baseball is going to be about.

The Narwhals’ style and flair starts at the top with manager Benjamin Banks Mahoney, who prefers to go by “B. Money.”  Mahoney’s goals for the season are to “win a lot of games and raise a lot of hell, and not in that order.”  Mahoney’s quest will be aided by the Narwhals’ local stars.  LF Andrew Zocken figures to bring a lot of pop to the heart of the Vegas order.  And ace pitcher Jose Oro has the golden fastball to blow it by visiting hitters.

Traditionalists are likely to hate the Narwhals, finding the uniforms gaudy and the stadium more like an amusement park than a ballpark.  But the team will fit well with its city.  The fans of Las Vegas can look forward to a summer of high scores and high stakes both on and off the field.

new-orleans-sazeracsNEW ORLEANS SAZERACS

While it’s far from clear how well the Sazeracs will fare in the PBL’s Eastern Division this season, the team is going to have a lot of fun along the way.  According to owner Jeff Wiggins, that’s by design.  Wiggins said he loves the Big Easy because it’s “a fun location [where you’re] able to bring your drinks wherever you want.”  He’s made it his goal to assemble a team that reflect the fun-loving spirit of the city.  He said that the team’s motto will be “Work Hard, Play Hard.”

The team’s outlook is also reflected in its name.  Wiggins named the team after the Sazerac, “a strong all-alcohol drink invented in New Orleans.”  Te Sazerac (made with 1/4 oz Absinthe, one sugar cube, 1 1/2 oz Rye whiskey or Cognac, and three dashes Peychaud’s Bitters) is one of the most famous products of New Orleans, and the name gives the team a true local flavor.  Continuing the alcohol theme, the Sazeracs will play at Abita Field, named after a local brewery.

The team will take the field under the veteran leadership of former Angels manager George Knox, who is known for having a “magic touch” with his players.  New Orleans will also be led by a pair of hometown heroes, outfielder Ben Williams and shortstop Al Angel. Wiggins believes that Williams and Angels will be wildly popular, because the fans “are just as likely to see them hitting a home run or making a game-saving play, as they are to see them out on Bourbon Street with everyone else.”


Along with the PBL’s expansion, Commissioner Mills announced that the playoffs will be expanding next season as well.  Going forward, the top two teams in each division will make the playoffs.  The winners of the two division series will face each other in the Patriot Series.

“We are confident that the expanded playoffs will only increase fan interest in our league,” said Commissioner Mills.  “This year, the action is going to be hotter than Snuff’s temper!”