Welcome back to Banished to the Pen’s preview of the 2015 season for The Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs.

So far, we have posted previews for the Sonoma Stompers, Pittsburg Diamonds, and Vallejo Admirals. We’re about a week and a half into the 2015 season, with the Sonoma Stompers leading the league with a 6-1 record. The Stompers and Pacifics will take the night off this evening out of respect for the Golden State Warriors’ game in the NBA Finals. Tuesday night’s game was also postponed and the two teams will make up one of the games as part of an abbreviated home-and-home 14-inning double-header in July.

Now entering its third season of play, the Pacific Association appears to have moved its way into the middle tier of the independent ball hierarchy, with one front office member commenting to BttP that the league may now rival the Frontier League for talent. While the league started with 5 teams, including 2 Hawaiian teams in 2013, the league now features 4 teams exclusively in Northern California: the San Rafael Pacifics, the Vallejo Admirals, the Sonoma Stompers and the Pittsburg Diamonds. You can find standings and statistics for the league on PointStreak.com as well as Baseball-Reference.com.

The league favored hitters last season, with an average slash line of .280/.367/.400, but that can change quickly in a league with significant player turnover from one season to the next. We’re huge fans of two things here at Banished to the Pen: the Effectively Wild podcast, and baseball that is a little different from what you see on ESPN every Sunday night, so the Pacific Association is the perfect intersection of those two forces.

The San Rafael Pacifics

Founded in 2012 as part of the North American League, the Pacifics are the longest continually operating franchise in the Pacific Association as well as the most successful team in the PA in terms of record. As far as the Pacific Association is concerned, you could say the Pacifics are the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees rolled into one team. [San Rafael is the county seat of Marin County, home to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch. To listen to BttP’s recent off-topic podcast about drafting Star Wars things, click here].

Unfortunately, Banished to the Pen was not able to secure an interview with any employees of the Pacifics for this article, so no direct comments will appear here. We appreciate the efforts of the Pacifics’ spokesperson who tried to find room in their schedule for us and hope we can touch base in the future.

Team in a Box

Owners: Redwood Sports and Entertainment Group. Redwood Sports is actually a company located in San Rafael, formed by San Rafael residents Eugene Lupario, Steve Allen, and Mike Shapiro when they purchased the Pacifics and (now-defunct) Sonoma Grapes in 2012. The ownership group also launched the Stompers before selling them to a Sonoma resident. Lupario serves as managing principal owner and oversees day-to-day team operations according to the team site.

President and General Manager: Along with owning the team, Mike Shapiro, a 25-year sports industry veteran with past experience working with the San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, and Washington Nationals, serves as president and general manager.

Photo Credit: stadiumjourney.com

Field: Albert Park, San Rafael. Capacity: 1200. With dimensions measuring 350/470/350 from left to right field, Albert Park boasts the pitcher-friendliest confines in the Pacific Assocation. Like other PA fields, Albert Park hosts other sports at times. Center field also serves as an inverted softball field, with the baseball center field fence serving as the backstop behind home plate for the softball field.

Manager: Matt Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh was hired to manage the Pacifics for 2015, rather than playing for the team as he had for the past two seasons. The 30-year-old Kavanaugh will be the youngest manager in the Pacific Association in 2015 but brings experience with this level of competition that stretches back to the Golden Baseball League in 2008.

2014 in Review

The Pacifics’ pitching staff dominated PABL hitters in 2014, allowing 54 fewer runs (376) than the next best staff. While the team finished 3rd in runs scored, their previously mentioned roomy home park may be to blame, but the run support was more than enough to get the job done. After winning the first half of the season, the Pacfics held off the Admirals in the second half of the season to claim the league championship.

Last Year Honors:

Pitcher of the Year (Patrick Conroy), Reliever of the Year (Colin Allen), 3 Gold Gloves (Jesse Smith, SP, Mike Orefice, 1B, Zack Pace, CF)

Notable Losses

Kavanaugh’s leadership abilities stretch back to his days as a team captain at San Francisco State. Photo credit: sfsu.edu

Mike Orefice (1B), Matt Kavanaugh (C)

After playing nearly every game last season and leading the team in OPS, Orefice signed with the Schaumburg Boomers of the Frontier League in February, where he is currently listed on the inactive list. Kavanaugh exchanged his catcher’s mitt for a manager’s seat in 2015. While he finished the season with a below average on-base percentage for the PA in 2014, he finished with an above-average slugging percentage and led the Pacifics with 14 home runs.

Notable Returning Players

Outfielder Zack Pace returned to the region from the Frontier League but played college baseball at Sonoma State University. Photo Credit: sonomaseawolves.com

Patrick Conroy (LHP), Ryan DeJesus (LHP), Zack Pace (OF)

The Pacifics were able to bring back 2014 pitcher of the year Patrick Conroy as well as their best pitcher in 2014, by defensive independent pitching standards, Ryan DeJesus. In 91 innings pitched over 14 starts, Conroy posted a 3.93 ERA and a 9-2 record. The former Royals draftee struck out over 19 percent of batters he faced at a rate of 7.5 batters per 9 innings, against walking just over 8% of batters at a rate of 3.1 batters per 9. While Conroy went the extra mile in terms of innings pitched and struck out batters at a solid rate for a Pacific Association starting pitcher, DeJesus controlled the strike zone better and allowed home runs at per-9 inning rate that was half of Conroy’s. DeJesus walked only 4.36% of batters he faced, or just 1.6 per 9 innings, helping him to a team best 2.92 ERA. Time will tell if DeJesus can continue to keep runs off the board while striking out only around 15% of batters he faces, a stat that was well below average last season, but the Gateway Grizzlies liked the left-hander enough to give him an opportunity to move up into the Frontier League this season before cutting him just before the season started.

On the offensive side of the ball, veteran outfielder Zack Pace returns for his third season with the Pacifics. A former Frontier League player, the left-handed hitting Pace led the team in walk and on-base percentage while tying for the team lead in steals with 19 in 24 attempts. He also brought home a gold glove for his efforts in the outfield.

The Season Ahead

After being swept at home in the opening series of the season by the Admirals, the Pacifics headed to Pittsburg where they won two of three. They defeated the Stompers last night to pull back to within one game of .500. The season is still young, and managers may still be feeling out their newly formed rosters, so it’s difficult to draw any conclusions from early season results, just as it would be one week into a MLB season. The Pacifics aren’t necessarily any more vulnerable than they were in previous seasons, and they managed to bring enough of their championship roster back from last season that it looks like new talent coming into the league could determine whether or not the Pacifics end up on top of the standings again.

 

Disclaimer: In the interest of fair disclosure, BanishedtothePen.com advertises with the Sonoma Stompers.

Stats in this article are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and PointStreak.com.

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