When it comes to the American Association, “defence wins championships” is more than just a cliché.
The league has seen 151 teams during its first 13 seasons, and of the top 10 finishers in team fielding percentage, nine have reached the postseason. Conversely, the 2009 Pensacola Pelicans are the only playoff club from the American Association’s 20 worst fielding averages.
The relationship of quality defence and winning baseball games is hardly a secret, but the above numbers illustrate why Goldeyes’ manager Rick Forney made a concerted effort to become more athletic and defensively-sound as soon as the 2018 season came to a close.
The Goldeyes were ninth out of 12 teams in fielding percentage last year, and committed the third most errors in the league.
“You win and lose baseball games based on runs,” said Forney, “but how many runs you allow are just as important as how many you score. When you have guys who can really defend it — even if they’re a .250 or .260 career hitter — then that’s the same as having a .300 hitter, especially at a premium position in our league like a shortstop, third base, or catcher.”
New first baseman Dominic Ficociello projects to be a force in the middle of the lineup, and led the team with 10 RBI during spring training. But Ficociello is also a former minor league Gold Glove winner at his position, an award he took home in 2015, and one that encompassed all levels of the affiliated minors.
Adrian Marin was stellar at shortstop during the pre-season, and started four double plays. Second baseman Alex Perez initiated two double plays during Winnipeg’s exhibition win on Tuesday at Kansas City. During their time in affiliated ball, both Marin and Perez consistently ranked near the top of their respective leagues in fielding percentage.
“(Defence) doesn’t really slump,” said Forney. “You don’t have to worry about hot and cold streaks. When Max Poulin was here, he was a young player who was improving offensively as he went along. But Max had his role on our team, and he made our pitching staff better because he was so solid defensively.”
From 2016-17, Wes Darvill’s range and quickness allowed him to handle more chances than any American Association third baseman. Darvill’s fielding abilities were as much of a factor as his offence when it came to the Los Angeles Dodgers picking up his contract in 2018.
“It shortens up the game,” Forney added. “27 outs are hard to get, and if you’ve got some guys that can take an out or two away from the opposition each night, you can really give yourself a chance to win.”
Collectively, the Goldeyes were charged with only four errors in seven spring training games.
The infielders should receive plenty of opportunities to showcase their talent during the current road trip. Both the Texas AirHogs and Cleburne Railroaders feature artificial surfaces in their ball parks.
GOLDEYES WIN OPENER
The Winnipeg Goldeyes beat the Texas AirHogs 3-1 in 10 innings at AirHogs Stadium in their 2019 season opener on Thursday.
Willy Garcia singled home Darvill with the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th. After Winnipeg tacked on an insurance run, Christian Torres and Victor Capellan combined on a scoreless bottom half to seal the victory.
Marin’s sacrifice fly in the fourth gave Winnipeg a 1-0 lead. Texas tied the game in the seventh when former major leaguer Josh Prince hit a two-out, RBI triple.
WPG: Marcus Crescentini (1-0)
TEX: Ryan Smith (0-1)
WPG: Victor Capellan (1)
The Goldeyes won their 2019 season-opener 3-1 in 10 innings. Reggie Abercrombie became the first player in American Association history to play in a 10th season.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Starting pitcher Kevin McGovern took a no-decision, but allowed one earned run on just two hits in seven innings. McGovern also recorded 17 of his 21 outs on groundballs.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Alex Perez’s relay throw in the bottom of the seventh cut down Josh Prince, who was trying to score the go-ahead run. Prince had tripled home Stewart Ijames to tie the game and was attempting an inside-the-park home run.
The Goldeyes and AirHogs meet again Friday at 7:05 p.m. Mitchell Lambson faces right-hander Zech Lemond. The game can be heard live on 93.7 FM.