Tuesday, June 13, 2006

RailCats: Pitching 2005 Versus 2006

Niki Paton / Baseball Notions

“The big difference between this year's team and last years team is the pitching staff, just wondering what you thought about it.” – Anonymous

SAINT PAUL, Minn.- The quote above is part of a comment recently posted here at Baseball Notions inquiring about my opinion of the pitching staff from 2005 versus today. When seeking out dynamics we have to look at a number of differences, which made up the previous 2005 Northern League Champions RailCats staff.

First, if you are a fan of the RailCats before 2005 you remember and would like to erase the 2004 season from the books completely. There were so many trades, loses and releases during that season even the players were confused as to who was on the bus or in the locker next to them.

In 2005, Manager Greg Tagert came into a very uncertain situation with a team who later were coined the “No Names,” by fielder Anthony Iapoce and 2005 teammates.

Tagert made very few changes throughout the season to the RailCats roster. Major changes that were made either happened early in the season as the teams’ chemistry was coming together finding the niche or towards the end of the season due to injuries and illness in order to remain contenders for a play off spot.

In my opinion, the 2005 RailCats team, coaches, pitchers and hitters alike contributed to the RailCats overall success. When looking at the staff in 2005 versus the 2006 staff you have to take into account total team chemistry. What is the clubhouse feeling? Is everyone too serious? Is there chemistry between the players off the field they can carry out onto the field? Any pitching is dependent on the physical abilities of each player as well as the mental and the same can be said of any position in baseball.

If you really analyze the season for the RailCats in 2005 there were struggles in the beginning as there are now to find that perfect groove. Where is each player going to be strongest? Tagert is a player’s coach who makes an effort to take the pieces of the RailCats puzzle, shake out the box on the table and find the perfect position key to the goal.

In 2005 there were seasoned RailCats such as fielders Curt Lee, Anthony Iapoce, and Scott Samuels as well as pitchers Derek Lopez (previously worked with Tagert in the Frontier League), Dominic Woody and Travis Kerber.

When Tagert came to Gary he brought in the best guys he could find to add to the mix such as Jamie Bennett, one of Gary’s stronger starters. Tagert also signed on pitchers such as Greg Bruso, Cody Fisher, Mike Schaefer, Randy Vanderplow, John Gonzalez and Willie Glen among others who contributed to the overall chemistry. Glen and Bruso were starters and Fisher pitched in relief, Schaefer was released and brought back, Gonzalez was traded and brought back.

The team struggled on away games in 2005 and Bruso’s games for instance, much like with Jeff Mault’s or Josh Habel’s outings so far this season, were challenging. When Bruso pitched the team just wasn’t hitting and vice-versa. Bruso found himself struggling as well and by July Tagert had made the decision to move Bruso to the bull pen such as he has recently moved Jeff Mault to the bullpen.

Willie Glen was signed and became part of the team on the road for the RailCats in 2005, while Cody Fisher came out of the bull pen toward the middle of the season in 2005 and became a starter and one of Gary’s assets in making it to the Championship.

If a good coach can find a way to change up the strengths in the pitching rotation and bull pen, creating diversity and finding the right chemistry that is how a team wins championships.

Where another coach might have released Bruso, Tagert decided to challenge him and put him in another role. Ultimately, Bruso became a key piece of the bull pen staff and the 2005 champion RailCats.

I believe although key members retired after an incredible 2005 season, current players such as pitchers Jason Shelley, with an incredible record playing for Joliet in 2005; Willie Glen, Travis Kerber and others on the roster will be valuable assets for the RailCats this season.

My overall opinion of the 2006 RailCats, wait and see what surprises lay ahead. A few new pitching changes are in store for the RailCats arsenal. Baseball is a thinking mans (woman’s) game, my previous RailCats and baseball experience says; watch Tagert position the pieces of the puzzle. One wrong fit in one position might be a perfect fit in another and the outcome could be another chance at the playoffs or another title.

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