Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I'm ready to begin the process of my second annual listing of the top performers in he Valley League. I'll begin with the hitters, then move to starting pitchers, and then finish with relief pitchers. In between the starters and relievers I will run a series of quick-hit profiles on pitchers that did not make either list because of some reason- usually too few innings pitched.
Please keep in mind that this list is NOT a prospects list- I'll leave that to Baseball America and PG Crosschecker- but a list of who had the best years in the league. Obviously, this lends itself to problems. How do you compare a speedster against a power hitter? Well, that's what I've tried to do. Trust me, I've looked at the stats every possible way, and sometimes I still have trouble ranking guys.
A couple thoughts: The be eligible, hitters had to qualify for the batting title. Therefore, Ryan Schimpf, according to Baseball America the best prospect in the league, will not be on the list. Also, I tend to look at on-base percentage over straight average, and slugging is important, too. A good BB/K ratio is likewise important- most of our better hitters will have a good ratio.
Last year I ranked 10 hitters, 11 starters, and 10 relievers. This year, I'm ranking 15 hitters, 10 starters, and 10 relievers. Why the different numbers? Well, I had huge problems narrowing my field of hitters to 10- I was stuck on #11. When I looked at numbers 12-15, I thought that they deserved some kind of recognition, too, so I expanded my list. And the most obvious reason? This is my blog, and I suppose I can do what I want! (Until all the women in my house put a collective foot down, that is.)
On to the list:
#15 Hitter: David Herbek, SS, Haymarket
I was surprised when I first saw, during the preseason, that a JMU player was planning to suit up for Haymarket. Why would a player who lived in Harrisonburg over the winter head up to Northern Virginia for the summer? Then I saw his hometown- Haymarket! So the summer was a homecoming of sorts for David, even though he was "only" a rising sophomore, and had been gone for only one season.
What at first seemed to be a puzzling decision instead turned out to be a real positive for Herbek. He agreed, saying, "Playing in my hometown this summer was an advantage because I got to sleep in my own bed at night, play on a field that I have spent countless hours around and be around friends and family."
It worked for Haymarket as well. David, coming off a 306/379/468 freshman season at JMU, was the Senator's best hitter, putting up 301/383/427 numbers over 101 at-bats. He added 22 runs, 5 doubles, a triple, 2 home runs, 14 RBI, and a solid 12/24 BB/K ratio.
Unfortunately, David also got hurt this summer. On July 24th against Front Royal, he caught his cleat in the clay at home plate trying to score on a sacrifice fly, and broke his fibula. This injury hurt the Senators doubly: they went 1-3 in the last four games after the injury, and pushed Waynesboro to an elimination game in the opening round series before losing. They certainly could have used David's bat in the lineup for the deciding game. Herbek is currently rehabbing the injury, and is expected to make a full recovery.
This was Herbek's initial experience in a wood bat league. He had some adjustments to make, saying, "Using a wood bat was an enormous transition from using metal...the transition was especially difficult because I came directly from finishing my season in college with metal. The ball doesn't travel as far with wood and, more importantly, the sweetspot on a wood bat is significantly smaller. But, like anything in baseball, you have to make adjustments to survive."
With his final numbers, most would agree that David made those adjustments with aplomb.