Wednesday, March 2, 2016

2015-16 BBM Winter Awards: Pitcher of the Year

Although the Mexican Pacific League's longstanding tradition of top-notch pitching didn't really show itself until the playoffs last season, there were still plenty of strong candidates for BBM's Pitcher of the Year for 2015-16.  Mazatlan's Alejandro Soto led the loop with a 2.63 ERA but somehow only finished 4-4; Navojoa's Eddie Gamboa was 5-2 with a 3.13 ERA and only 15 walks in 80.2 innings, remarkable for a knuckleballer; and Los Mochis closer Andres Avila tied a 25-year-old LMP record with 23 saves. However, Mexicali's Javier Solano was just a little better than everyone else.

The 25-year-old Solano, a right-hander from Rio San Luis Colorado, led the MexPac with eight wins and 72 strikeouts over 81 innings, ending the regular season at 8-3 and coming in ninth in ERA at 3.33.  While the quality of outings was spotty over the final month of the schedule, Solano went 6-2 with a 2.84 ERA in his final ten starts.  He turned in a gem of a seven-inning effort against Hermosillo on December 18, shutting out the Naranjeros on two hits while striking out ten batsmen and walking one to win a 6-0 whitewash.  Solano then started five more times in the playoffs for Mexicali, registering a 2-0 record, striking out 25 batsmen and walking just five in 26 innings, although his 4.15 ERA was nothing to write home about.

Few would've predicted the winterball season Solano turned in for manager Edgar Gonzalez' Aguilas.  After spending five seasons toiling in the Dodgers' chain as a middle reliever between 2008 and 2012, going 13-7 with five saves a 4.19 ERA in 152 trips from the bullpen, he returned home to Mexico in 2013 and turned in a 4-1 mark in relief for Monterrey.

It was when he moved west to Mexicali for the 2013-14 season that Solano got his first chance to be part of a rotation.  After starting the winter in his accustomed setup role, he got nine starts and came in at 5-2 with a 2.28 ERA that season.  After that performance, he was given 12 starts in 43 appearances for Monterrey in 2014 but had a bad year, going 5-7 and 5.51.  The pattern continued last year, when Solano started 14 times and was 8-2 with a 3.39 ERA before another forgettable campaign with the Sultanes last summer in which he was 6-7 and 5.44, although he did start 21 times in 22 appearances.  Then came his third season in Mexicali, and the rest is history.

It remains to be seen whether the portly Solano, who is listed at 180 pounds but is reminiscent of Mickey Lolich in appearance, can finally translate a solid winter performance into summertime success, but he may never have a better springboard than the one he has now.