Building Upon Last Year

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During the 2014 season, several Atlantic League pitchers were frequently brought up in the Pitcher of the Year conversation. Chris Schwinden, the eventual winner of the honor, was among the league leaders in several categories. Guys like John Brownell, Shaun Garceau, David Pauley and Steve Hammond were also among the best of the hurlers this past season. Even Jon Hunton, the former Duck and current closer for the Somerset Patriots, stole headlines by breaking the Atlantic League record for saves in a single season. However, there was one pitcher who largely flew under the radar for the Flock.

That man was Bobby Blevins, who was signed on Monday to return for a fourth season with Long Island. The right-hander put together a dominant season on the mound in 2014, but it went largely unnoticed by those outside of the Ducks organization. Why the oversight? Blevins compiled a total of just nine wins in 27 starts. Comparatively, Schwinden led the league with 14, while Brownell, Pauley and Garceau each had 13.

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Look past the wins though, and it’s clear to see that Blevins was arguably the Ducks’ most consistent and dominant pitcher this past year. He threw a total of 189 and one-third innings, good for the second-most in the Atlantic League behind Brownell (202.0). He posted a 2.95 ERA, ranking third in the league behind Schwinden (2.57) and Pauley (2.67). His 27 starts were also the third-most in the league after Brownell (29) and Alain Quijano (28). Finally, despite not being a pitcher with overpowering velocity, he ranked sixth in the league in strikeouts with 119.

Those numbers clearly show why the 30-year-old deserved further recognition. However, two categories prove why Blevins, who was named the Pitcher of the Month in August, was worthy of consideration for Pitcher of the Year: walks and quality starts.

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In his 189.1 innings of work in 2014, he walked a total of just 32 batters. That’s equates to just one and a half per nine innings of work! In 12 of his 27 starts during the season (44.4%), Blevins did not walk a single batter. He walked more than two batters in just four starts (14.8%). It is not easy for a pitcher to have that kind of accuracy and confidence in his pitches to consistently throw strikes. Blevins’ ability to avoid walks was a major reason for his outstanding year.

Wins and losses can too often be the focal point in judging a pitcher’s success. However, a pitcher can only control so much. What he can control is whether or not he is able to keep the team in the game and give them a chance to win. In 2014, a quality start (six innings, three earned runs or less) was something that Blevins turned in nearly every time he took the mound. The righty compiled a total of 21 quality starts out of his 27 appearances, a magnificent 77.7%! He began the year with eight quality starts in his first 10 outings. Then in the second half, despite some ups and downs for the team, Blevins remained a constant, tossing 12 consecutive quality starts from July 4 to September 3. He was a model of consistency and efficiency, giving the Ducks a terrific asset in their starting rotation.

We had the chance to catch up with the two-time Atlantic League champion on Tuesday to recap this past season and find out what he’s looking forward to most this year:

What are your emotions upon signing for a fourth season with the Ducks?

I’m excited to be back with a great organization that’s top of the line. This is the start to another season where I can build from last year and go to the highest competitive level of independent baseball. I’m hoping to start out well and get an opportunity to play somewhere else overseas or picked up by an affiliated club.”

You spent the full season with the Ducks in 2014 after joining the team late in 2012 and 2013. How different was that experience for you?

“I don’t think it was very different. The level of competition was great, and it was where I should have been. Coming down to Long Island the previous two years towards the end, it still felt like home right away [when I came back in 2014]. Everyone there was very welcoming, and the relationship I had with everyone there was great. I was happy to come back, get down there for my first full year and put up those numbers. Ultimately we fell short in winning a championship, but there was a lot to build from and that’s what makes this year more exciting to look forward to.”

What would you say were the biggest factors for your success this past year?

“Well one was definitely the defense behind me. I felt comfortable, and when you feel comfortable with your team, it’s not like you’re going out there for nothing. In Long Island, I want to go out there, win and do the best for everyone around me. On top of that, it was just throwing strikes. I incorporated my curveball a little more, and I was able to pitch in-and-out as well as up-and-down. I used all of my pitches effectively. When I did have a bad game, I didn’t let that affect me.”

How comfortable have you felt being in a rotation that was full of great arms?

“It’s always better. When you have a situation like that, as much as you are teammates, you’re always competing against one another because it brings out your best. When one guy is constantly going out there and throwing seven, eight or nine innings, you want to do the same. When you put little competitions into it, it makes you overall a better pitcher. It also ultimately helps out the team. With our starting rotation last year, we had the best pitching in the league pretty much. When you get into situations like that, you just run with it, and overall it made everyone better.”

Was it mentally frustrating for you to not get as many wins as you would have liked?

“Mentally, it is what it is. That’s baseball. At least they weren’t losses, so that’s one way to look at it. Some people look at it and say that wins are everything, but my goal every time I go out there is to give the team a chance to win. Regardless of whether I had nine wins or 18, every time I went out there on the mound, the team knew that they had a chance to win. That’s doing my job right there. Turning in a quality start is something that I want to make sure I do every time I’m out there. Wins will come and go. There have been many times where I should have had a loss and the offense picked me up. I think sometimes when you look at a person’s win-loss record, it’s a little bit overrated. It’s all about giving the team a chance to win.”

You played winter baseball in Venezuela with Navegantes del Magallanes and in the Dominican Republic with Toros del Este this offseason. What did you like about the experience and how helpful was it for you?

“It was great! I went out there and did very well. Going to Venezuela, it lived up to the hype. The reputation of the league is ‘big league.’ You can’t get any better than that. It’s a third world country, but they took care of you very well. It was like the New York Yankees of winter ball out there. I met some great people, it was a great experience and that’s all I could ask for. I had the opportunity to go to the Dominican Republic towards the end for the last three weeks, and that was another great experience to see what the Dominican baseball talent was like. You get an opportunity during the winter months, while other people are sitting back and doing nothing, to continue playing the game I love, network and help get myself better than I was previously.”

After playing a full season with the Ducks and then several months of winter ball, are you concerned at all about fatigue or wear and tear on your arm?

“I’m not concerned at all because of the way I train and the way my body is. I work for it. It’s not something where I’m a tall lanky guy who throws that many innings or can’t bounce back. I’m a short stocky guy that is used to putting up lots of innings. That’s what I train for in the offseason and work for. I put in a lot of work last offseason, and it paid off. This time, I’ve been training all year-round and am excited to see what comes from it. I’m looking forward to getting this season going, and I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. My body feels great!”

What are you looking to improve upon this season?

“I basically just want to improve on my secondary pitches. I’m not trying to throw more innings or have more strikeouts but just build off of this past season, stay healthy and put hitters away within four pitches. It comes down to quality secondary pitches, and if I can make that a little more consistent, other people will give me a chance.”

How eager are you for the opportunity to work with new pitching coach Marty Janzen?

“That’s always exciting to come across somebody new, pick their brain and use their knowledge to my advantage. We’re all professionals and have been around to many places. Everyone picks each other’s brain and is helping each other. We’re going to use his experience to our advantage. It sounds like he has a great resume and everything, and I’m looking forward to it.”

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In addition to Blevins’ return, the Ducks also announced that Kevin Vance, who signed with the team on February 17, has been signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. He becomes the third player signed from the Ducks by a Major League organization this offseason after catchers Brandon Bantz (Marlins) and Jan Vazquez (Rockies). We would like to wish him the best of luck as he tries to achieve his Major League aspirations.

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Along with Vance’s signing, Brett Lorin has announced his retirement from baseball. The right-handed pitcher appeared in 53 games for the Ducks in 2014, second-most behind Eric Niesen (59). He posted a 3-4 record with a 2.76 ERA, two saves and 35 strikeouts in 52 innings of work. After the announcement, he sent us this message:

“I really enjoyed my time as a Long Island Duck. I played with a great group of men and worked alongside some fun and caring people.

I am choosing to step away and pursue a business career at the right time in my life. Playing in the minor leagues for seven total years was a great experience, and it has shaped me into the person I am today.

Hopefully I will be able to visit Long Island to see all of you in the near future.

I want to thank everyone in the Ducks organization for treating me the right way, and I wish everyone there the best of luck. I appreciated it all.”

We here at “Quack of the Bat” would like to thank Brett for his cooperation and contributions to the blog as a member of the Ducks and wish him the best of luck as he begins life after baseball.

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Posted on March 3, 2015, in Player Signings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Bobby’s strikeout to walk ratio also beat Schwinden and Pauley; as did his hits allowed per nine innings. It would be interesting to know how many times he left with a lead as well. By memory, I think he left 8 times with a lead in 2014, and thirteen no decisions.

    I think the league should do away with this right pitcher, left pitcher award stuff. If they are going to name 2 of each, then name the top four (2 first team; 2 second team) in the league regardless of right-handers or left-handers and leave it at that. In 1968 (the year of the pitcher) would the league have left out Gibson, or Marichal or Seaver with this rationale?

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