“I Feel Loyal to the Ducks”

Brownell-MVP-2013
Whenever someone from the Ducks organization talks about starting pitcher John Brownell, there are several words which are often spoken. “Workhorse” is a common one. “Bulldog” is repeated quite often. “Ace” has been frequently mentioned. It’s no coincidence that all three of those are perfect synonyms and couldn’t be more appropriate in describing the pitcher that Brownell truly is.

On Monday, the Ducks announced that their “Ace” was returning to Bethpage Ballpark for 2015, cementing the first piece of their pitching staff, and specifically, their starting rotation. After arriving on Long Island at the end of 2012 and making his first impression during the team’s championship run, Brownell has spent the past two seasons at the forefront of the Ducks rotation. In that time, he has been one of the best pitchers in the Atlantic League. Let’s take a look at his stats over the past two seasons, including his league ranking where indicated:

Statistic

2013

2014

Wins

9

13 (T2)

Losses

10

9

ERA

3.89 (9)

3.60 (11)

Games Started

26

29 (1)

Complete Games

7 (1)

5 (1)

Shutouts

2 (T1)

1 (T2)

Innings Pitched

166.1 (3)

202.0 (1)

Hits

172

208

Runs

86

94

Earned Runs

72

81

Walks

48

54

Strikeouts

133 (2)

130 (2)

Batting Average Against

.265

.268

It is clear that Brownell is as consistent as they come among starters in the Atlantic League. His reliability has been a huge asset to manager Kevin Baez, but his ability to pitch deep into games might be his best attribute. When the bullpen is short and in need of rest, Brownell lets everyone breathe a sigh of relief as that night’s starter. The right-hander set a franchise record with his 202 innings of work this past season, shattering the previous mark of 179 set by Bob Zimmermann in 2012. In addition, he finished just five innings shy of the Atlantic League record set by Bridgeport’s Allan Sontag in 2000. A deeper look into his game-by-game log shows that Brownell tossed seven or more innings in 17 of his 29 starts, or 59%, and went six or more innings in all but one.

What Brownell has done following the regular season also should not be overlooked. His postseason performances, especially in 2013, have cemented his legacy as one of the great pitchers in Ducks history. In fact, Ducks fans voted Brownell as the right-handed starting pitcher on the 15th Anniversary All-Time Team prior to 2014. Here’s a look at his playoff statistics:

Statistic

Total

Wins

4

Losses

0

ERA

2.87

Games Started

5

Complete Games

1

Innings Pitched

37.2

Hits

27

Runs

12

Earned Runs

12

Walks

10

Strikeouts

27

He is undefeated in five starts and has tossed eight or more innings in three of his five starts. In two elimination games that he has started (Game 4 of the 2012 ALCS and Game 5 of the 2013 ALCS), Brownell has earned the victory. He has been all of those things that everyone continues to say about him: A workhorse, a bulldog and an ace.

We had the chance to catch up with the 31-year-old to talk about a plethora of topics. Among them are his historic 2014 season, his relationship with some of the core members of the Ducks, why he enjoys playing for the Ducks and what he’s looking forward to this year. Here is our Q&A with the latest roster addition:

How excited are you to be back for your fourth season with the Ducks?

“I’m really excited to come back. It’s a great organization and a great town to play in. The Atlantic League is THE independent league to play in, and the Ducks gave me my first opportunity to pitch in that league. I’m a loyal person, and I feel loyal to the Ducks. It’s my home in ‘Indy Ball’ now. As long as I’m playing at that level, that’s where I’ll be as long as they keep asking me to come back. It’s a winning organization, and you want to play for winners.”

What is it about the fan base on Long Island and the area that you enjoy so much?

“I’m from the Midwest, and Long Island feels almost like a Midwest type of area. The fans are very interactive with the players and very supportive. In some places, the fans don’t really support their local baseball, but I feel like the community of Long Island does a good job in supporting the organization.”

You, Lew Ford and Dan Lyons have become a “core” of this Ducks team. Talk about the relationship that the three of you share.

“We each have a good relationship, and it is a good core of guys. It’s nice to have a core that has been around, especially for the last few championship runs. You have guys that know what is expected of the organization, and as new guys come to the team, they follow the lead of the guys who have been around. The organization has a high standard of play on the field and of your conduct as well. It’s a good place to be, and it’s good to have guys like ‘Shorty’ and Lew around. Lew’s an older guy who has played at pretty much every level. To have someone like that to lead your team, not a lot of teams have somebody like that.”

How much of a leadership role do you take with the starting rotation and your fellow pitchers?

“I don’t like to be THE guy. Everybody wants to be looked upon as a leader, but I’m not a very vocal person as far as trying to tell guys what to do. We’re all professionals and know what is expected and how you’re supposed to approach the game. We all learn from each other, so if anyone sees something that I’m doing in a game or a bullpen session, I have open ears and am willing to hear their input because we’ve all had different experiences. You’re not really instructing or teaching anybody. You’re just bouncing ideas off of each other and picking each other’s brains to refine your craft and keep each other consistent.”

What does it mean to you to have broken the franchise records for games started and innings pitched in 2014?

“On a personal level, it’s nice to set any kind of record for whatever team you’re playing for. Ultimately, it’s a team game and a team sport, so you want to win a championship as a team. Whatever you can do to help that team win the championship is what you have to do. One of my strengths, I feel, is my endurance and not being limited to pitch counts or innings. I feel like I can help the team in that aspect because if I can eat more innings, it will help the bullpen for the next day or the rest of the week. Starting pitchers are all going to have rough starts and get taken out of games early, and that wears on the bullpen if you consistently are using them for four or more innings. You want your relievers to be fresh at the end of the year when games start getting into crunch time at the end of the season and in the playoffs.”

How disappointing was it, knowing the talent that was on last year’s team, to have not been able to defend your back-to-back championships?

“It was tough. You want to make the playoffs and have a chance to win a championship. It was kind of tough to swallow at the end of the season because we led the league in hitting, had five really good starters and had a real good bullpen. It was kind of weird that as good as our team was, the win-loss record didn’t show it. That was tougher to handle because I felt like talent-wise, we were right there with anybody in the league. To not come away with at least making the playoffs was tough to handle. Hopefully we can get back in there this year and get another chance to win.”

Will this year’s team use this past year’s result as motivation?

“I think the guys coming back know what’s expected of the organization and know the history here. You don’t try to dwell on the past because it is the past. We look forward to the future and getting better as players and teammates. The guys coming back will know what happened last year, but every team’s motivation is to make the playoffs and have a chance to win a championship. For me personally, I’m not going to dwell on the past. I just need to make sure that if we go through struggles this year and I’m the guy to get the start the next day, I’ve really got to bear down and make sure that I give the team a quality chance to win the game.”

How different is this season going to be without having Steve Foucault as your pitching coach?

“It will definitely be different. When you’re playing for an organization for a few years now, you’ve got the coaching staff kind of in order. Now that ‘Fookie’ has left, it will be a little bit of an adjustment for the new pitching coach to get to learn the guys. Being in professional baseball as long as I have though, I’ve had a lot of pitching coaches. You had that sense of normalcy with ‘Fookie’ being on the coaching staff, and it will be a little bit of an adjustment getting to know the personality of the new pitching coach. I’m excited though, and I’m sure ‘Fookie’ is feeling good down in Florida and not dealing with the winter weather. It would be nice to have him back of course, but I’m looking forward to meeting the new pitching coach!”

Stay tuned to the blog for more news throughout the offseason as the roster continues to get filled and the coaching staff is finalized. We’ll also have a final update soon from the Caribbean Winter Leagues and some other exciting features down the road. If you have any ideas for stories or information you would like to see here on “Quack of the Bat” please let us know! Simply click the “Contact” button at the top of the page and send us a note with your suggestion.

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Posted on February 10, 2015, in Player Signings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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