Quad Cities Bandits Starter of the Year: 2010

A surprise choice as the top starting pitcher on the Cardinals Class A Midwest League affiliate.

I have never had such a difficult time choosing someone to nominate as the Quad Cities River Bandits Starting Pitcher of the Year! There are a couple who would be the "obvious" choice and there are some who still deserve to be mentioned. How do you narrow this field to only one winner?

First of all, I considered these pitchers as possible starters of the year: Mike Blazek, Eric Fornataro, Deryk Hooker, and Shelby Miller. I also had Scott Schneider on this list, but he was promoted at the All-Star break and only had seven official starts with Quad Cities so I left him for consideration on the Palm Beach roster. As noted in discussions earlier, I counted Jorge Rondon amongst the relievers because that seemed to be his primary role toward the end of the season. As a starter or a reliever, I didn't feel that Rondon's performance this summer merited a nod for POY. All of Nick Greenwood's appearances with the River Bandits were in the role of reliever so I did not include him here either, although his full season stats would have merited his presence on this list had I included his starts in Fort Wayne.

In making my selection, I looked at stats and I also considered my face to face interaction with players before and after games at the stadium and away from the game. I compared the number of strikeouts; walks, hits, and home runs given up; runs and earned runs. I factored those stats with the total number of innings pitched. To add more of a twist, I weighted all of the stats with the innings pitched, considering the amount of work each pitcher put into the summer. My final consideration was how well the player performed compared to the expectations that the baseball world had for him this year.

In alphabetical order, here is each pitcher's analysis -

Michael Blazek started 11 of the 32 games in which he appeared and had the best ERA of those who are being considered. He posted a 2.71 with 41 runs allowed (31 earned) in 103 innings. He walked 31 and struck out 104 over the course of the season. There were times he struggled with consistency but he also seemed to come up big in games that kept the team in form to go into the post season. Blazek made a one week stint in Palm Beach in late June but was a much bigger part of the Bandits' season.

Eric Fornataro was one of my favorite pitchers this summer. He led the team in games started (28) and innings pitched (140) for the season. He and Miller were the two pitchers who started the season as "solo" starters, not part of the tandem system. At 5.26, Eric's ERA was the highest among the starters as he struggled at the end of the season. I suspect that he was more fatigued than he was willing to admit. He walked less than one batter per two innings pitched and struck out more than two per three innings. Off the field, Eric was more dedicated to his health and conditioning than anyone I've seen here in 25 years of following baseball here.

Deryk Hooker is undoubtedly the greatest turnaround story of the team. Having spent most of 2009 away from the game, he came back with good power and command for the Bandits this year. He was promoted on July 22 to join the Palm Beach Cardinals. With the Bandits he started 11 of his 18 games and posted 70 innings before his promotion. 22 of the 26 runs he allowed were earned. His approach at the plate was very methodical - it was easy to tell when he went into the zone on the mound.

Shelby Miller had the most to prove this year based on his preseason expectations. Regular readers know that I spent a lot of the season saying that I wanted to see more from him and I wasn't getting what I thought he should be showing. In his defense, for whatever reason, he pitched better on the road than he did at home. He led the team to their only postseason win when he struck out 14 of the batters he faced in Kane County. Shelby led the team in strikeouts with 140 in 104 innings pitched. He had an ERA of 3.62. In the end, I think that Shelby came closer to meeting those expectations than I gave him credit for at the start of the year.

Statistically, these four pitchers were very evenly matched so I'm not making my nomination based solely on statistics. This is where it gets touchy for everyone because the objective analysis becomes very subjective. I had the opportunity to sit with each of these players and talk to them about the game and about their lives - they are all good young men so I can't put a lot of weight on my personal perception of any of them.

Miller would be the easy choice for this nomination but I try to avoid the easy route. Blazek had the best stats and Hooker got promoted but I don't think either of them deserves the nod. My vote goes to Eric Fornataro. It's my proud pleasure to name him as my choice for Quad Cities River Bandits Starting Pitcher of the Year.

Eric worked harder, worked longer, and performed above the level of expectation from the beginning of the year. His commitment on and off the field and his leadership on the field and in the clubhouse makes him my choice. Congratulations, Mr. Fornataro!

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