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Success at gate, disappointment on the field: Takeaways from Charlotte Knights season

BB&T has a significant presence in Charlotte already, including naming rights for The Charlotte Knights stadium.
BB&T has a significant presence in Charlotte already, including naming rights for The Charlotte Knights stadium. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The Charlotte Knights wrapped up their 2018 season Monday with a 6-1 road victory over the Gwinnett Stripers and finished with the 10th-best record of the 14 teams in the International League.

The Knights were a success at the gate, once again winning the minor league attendance title – both in raw numbers and average per game.

On the field, it was a mixed bag. They finished 11 games under .500 (64-75) but were 47-48 since Memorial Day weekend.

Here are some statistical observations on this year’s team:

The Knights didn’t hit well as a team: Their team batting average, around .248, ranked 11th of 14 teams, entering Monday’s game. They were 13th in runs scored, and 12th in on-base percentage. They also struck out the third-most times of any team in the IL.

But second baseman Jake Elmore was eighth in the league in batting (.286 average), third baseman Patrick Leonard was sixth in doubles with first baseman Matt Skole seventh; and both infielder Jose Rondon and right-fielder Eloy Jimenez were among league leaders in home runs.

The fans showed up: As was the case from 2014-16, the Knights led the U.S. minor leagues in attendance, drawing 619,639 fans, for an average of 8,980 for their 69 dates. In the closing days of the season, fellow IL member Indianapolis passed the Pacific Coast League’s Round Rock (an Austin suburb) for second. The Indians drew 619,122 for a 70-game average of 8,845. Round Rock had 616,636 in 70 dates, for an average of 8,809.

Michael Kopech
The Charlotte Knights’ pitching was spotty in 2018 with an ERA that ranked 12th in the International league, but right-hander Michael Kopech had a 1.70 ERA from mid-July until his call-up to the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 19. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The team improved during the season: The Knights were 18-30 through May 26, then had a winning record (46-45) from May 27 through Aug. 31. The pitching of Donny Roach (who left the team for Japan in early July) and Michael Kopech (now with the Chicago White Sox), and the arrival of Jimenez in late June from Class AA were among the factors.

The pitching was spotty: Team ERA was 12th, but Kopech had a 1.70 ERA from mid-July until his call-up a few weeks ago. And Asher Wojciehowski, who led the league in home runs allowed (26), was among the IL’s best in the important WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) statistic – 1.22.

Rondon and Jimenez are sluggers: Rondon (18 homers) hit one over the fence every 17.4 at-bats. Jimenez (12) had a 17.2 mark. Compare that with IL leader Christian Stewart of Toledo, who homered once every 19.2 at-bats.

Recapping final week:

Last Sunday: Jimenez slammed a single, double and triple as Charlotte trounced Gwinnett 10-4.

Monday: The Knights beat Gwinnett 3-1, with Jimenez and Skole each driving in two runs.

Tuesday: Ex-Knight Jason Coats hit a two-run homer for Durham, and the Bulls edge Charlotte 4-3.

Wednesday: A crowd of 10,539 – the Knights’ 22nd sellout of the season – saw Charlotte fall 9-4 to Durham. Ryan Cordell hit a homer, but the Bulls clinched the IL South title.

Thursday: Another sellout crowd – 10,687 – saw Charlotte win its home finale 5-3. Jimenez homered, and Trayce Thompson singled in the winning run. The sellout helped the Knights win the minor league attendance title.

Friday: Charlotte edged Gwinnett 4-3, with Thompson slamming a two-run homer in the top of the sixth. Starter Jordan Guerrero ran his record to 7-2, striking out nine in six innings.

Saturday: Colton Turner allowed only four hits and two runs in five innings, but he took the loss as the Knights fell to Gwinnett 2-1.

Sunday: Ryan Cordell’s 10-game hitting streak was snapped as Charlotte was blanked 2-0 by Gwinnett.

Monday: Jordan Stephens pitched six innings, allowing five hits and one run, as the Knights beat Gwinnett 6-1. Patrick Leonard hit a three-run double in a five-run seventh inning.

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle

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