The Auckland Tuatara begin their sophomore campaign in the Australian Baseball League tonight, hosting the Perth Heat at QBE Stadium in Albany. Christopher Reive breaks down all you need to know for the season ahead.
Wait, Australia has a baseball league?
It sure does, and has done since 2009. While the odd Kiwi player has featured in the league over the years, it didn't really become all that relevant to the New Zealand audience until last year with the addition of the Auckland Tuatara.
Right, so there's an Auckland team too. Where do they even play?
This season the Tuatara will be playing all 20 of their home games at their new base of QBE Stadium in Albany. The stadium has been configured to host baseball in a redevelopment that cost about $2 million and took 90 days to complete.
OK, but how many of the players are Kiwis?
There's no shortage of local talent on the roster, with more than 10 players - active and reserve - of the 24-man roster from New Zealand. Nine of these 10 are returning from last year's team.
And the rest?
The rest of the team is comprised of prospects from MLB teams, former MLB players, independent players and players from Asian leagues. Starting pitcher Josh Collmenter is arguably the biggest name in the team after a long tenure in the MLB, while the Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins all sent players down for the season as well.
So it's not just a bunch of local battlers out there?
Nope. The ABL displays quite a high-level product. Of course, it's not the MLB, but it's akin to the higher levels of the American minor league system, which is pretty good.
How many teams are involved?
The league is made up of eight teams, divided into two divisions. Each team plays those in the same division twice in a season, and teams in the other division once a season.
How long is the season?
Each team plays 10 four-game series' between tonight and January 26. Each series is played over a weekend, usually with a game on each of Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. After 10 rounds, the top five teams go into the post-season.
The Auckland Tuatara play their first game tonight against Perth at QBE Stadium, with the first pitch at 7pm.
Need help understanding the terms? Here are a few of the basics...
AB - At-bat: Plate appearances. Walks and sacrifices do not count as at-bats.
RBI – Run(s) batted in (often referred to as ribbies): A hitter is credited with an RBI when his plate appearance results in a run. The plate appearance doesn't necessarily need to be a hit – walks and outs can produce RBIs. A batter is not credited with an RBI if the run comes in as the result of a fielding error.
HR - Home run: When a batter hits a fair ball and scores on the play without being put out or without the benefit of an error. Home runs usually occur when a ball is hit over the outfield fence in fair territory. A home run is called a grand slam when it is hit with the bases loaded.
HBP - Hit-by-pitch: A hitter gets an automatic pass to first base if he is hit by a pitch; however, a hitter must show an attempt to evade the pitch.
SAC/SF - Sacrifice fly: A fly-ball out to the outfield or foul territory that allows a runner to score. The batter is given credit for an RBI, unless an error is committed in the field.
SAC/SH - Sacrifice bunt: The hitter bunts the ball into play to advance runners while sacrificing himself.
Avg - Batting average: The most common metric for measuring a hitter's success at the plate, a batting average is determined by dividing a player's number of hits by their total plate appearances.
DP - Double play: When two offensive players are ruled out within the same play. Double plays come in a number of ways, most commonly when a player hits a ground ball with a runner on first base. In this scenario the fielder throws the ball to second base to get the first out before throwing the first base for the second – this scenario is scored as grounded into double play (GIDP). You can also get triple plays, where three outs are recorded on a single play. These are extremely rare.
Infield positions: Catcher (behind the plate), first base, second base, third base (all self-explanatory), shortstop – an infielder usually positioned between second and third base.
Outfield positions: Right field, centre field, left field – directional aspect of the name is given from the hitter's viewpoint, not the fielder's.
K/SO - Strikeout: If a pitcher draws any combination of three swing-and-misses or pitches left in the strike zone the hitter is struck out. A foul ball counts as a strike, but cannot be the third strike unless it is tipped into the catcher's glove.
BB - Walk: Also known as base on balls, a walk results if a pitcher throws four balls outside of the strike zone that are not swung at by the hitter.
ERA - Earned run average: The number of earned runs a pitcher allows on average over nine innings. Earned runs are those scored without the aid of a fielding error. It's the most common statistic used to evaluate how well a pitcher is playing over a period of time – the lower the number the better.
SV - Save: For a relief pitcher to earn a save, they must maintain their team's lead in the final inning(s) of the game. To earn a save a pitcher must do one of the following: pitch at least one inning and enter the game with a lead of no more than three runs; enter the game with the potential tying run in the on-deck circle, on base or at the plate; or pitch the final three or more innings of the game.
BS - Blown save: When a pitcher comes into the game with a save opportunity but instead allows the opposition to draw level or take the lead.
W - Win: A pitcher is credited with the win if he is the pitcher when his team takes the lead for good. Starting pitchers must go at least five innings to be eligible for a win in a traditional nine innings game.
L - Loss: A pitcher is credited with a loss when he gives up the run which gives the opposition a lead which is maintained until the end of the game. A pitcher's win-loss record is another good indicator of their performance – more commonly with starting pitchers.
WHIP - Walks and hits per innings pitched: A common metric of evaluating pitchers, this statistic adds walks and hits allowed by the pitcher, and divides the sum by their total number of innings pitched.
Starter: Tasked with leading the team on the mound. Starting pitchers generally have a wide variety of pitches in their arsenal, and are usually relied upon to pitch the first five or more innings.
Reliever: Replacing the starting pitcher, relievers are used in a limited capacity generally one or two innings. Relievers tend to have a limited, but more specialized, arsenal and are tasked with maintaining a lead or limiting the damage already done. Pitchers in this role vary from long, medium or short relief, and are called upon as necessary.
Closer: A relief pitcher who is brought on to close out a game. Closers are tasked with earning saves.
Bullpen: The collective term for a team's relievers and closer.
Rotation: The collective for a team's starting pitchers.