The Pacific Coast League is well-known as being a hitter-friendly Triple-A league compared to the International League.
Just compare the stats of each league from 2013 and there’s a vast difference in runs scored as eight teams in the PCL scored more runs than the I.L. leader and three PCL teams hit more home runs than the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the International League leader in that stat from a year ago.
On the other side, only three squads from the Pacific Coast League had a team ERA under 4.00, while 10 of the 14 teams from the I.L. were under 4.00.
But don’t tell those stats to RailRiders starting pitcher Bruce Billings, who came over from the PCL to join the RailRiders rotation.
“I heard it’s a little more pitcher friendly. The PCL is not pitcher friendly,” Billings said. “The ball just seems like it flies everywhere. It’s hard. It’s a hard season for pitchers. Some guys, they survive. I feel like I’m a guy that survived the PCL. I’m pretty pumped to be out here on the east coast.”
In his first start for SWB, Billings got the Opening Day nod for Dave Miley’s club and he showed what he can do, lasting five innings, allowing just one run and fanning three in picking up his first win and helping his team notch its first win on Opening Day since 2010.
Billings pitched for Sacramento in Oakland’s organization for parts of the last three seasons and led the PCL in wins in 2013 with 13 while posting a 4.31 ERA. When he became a free agent after last season, the Yankees were interested and Billings was happy to be back on the east coast. He last pitched in the time zone with Lakewood in the South Atlantic League in 2008 after being drafted by Colorado in 2007.
“It’s just beautiful country out here, the scenery, good cities, the fans seem to be very baseball weary,” he said. “They understand the game. Not saying that the west coast doesn’t, it’s just a different feeling out here.”
But what comes with the sites is the cold weather. And Billings got a glimpse of that in his first two starts at Syracuse and Rochester. He has pitched in cold weather previously with Colorado Springs so, he says, there isn’t much of a difference.
“Cold weather, warm weather we figure out a way to get through it. We got extra jackets and shirts,” said the 28-year-old right-hander. “I love pitching in the warm weather. And from what I remember of pitching in the SAL league, it gets really hot other than cold in some places. But I played in Colorado Springs for one summer and it got cold there and was snowing in the summer one time. As long as it doesn’t snow in the middle of summer I think it’s going to be real nice out here.”
Billings isn’t the only hurler on the SWB roster to pitch in the PCL. Reliever Jim Miller was there in 2012 before signing with the Yankees. Miller and Billings were teammates in Sacramento that year. Miller responded extremely well to the change last year with a career-high 92 strikeouts in just 63 1/3 innings pitched. He also had high praise for Billings as a teammate.
“Great guy. Good clubhouse guy, good teammate. Interesting sense of humor,” Miller said. “He’s a silent assassin in the clubhouse when it comes to joking around. He’s always a good dude.”
If Miller’s numbers are any indication of what Billings’ potential could be, fans could be looking at a bonafide ace in the rotation.