By Zane Miller
In the 26-season long history of the West Michigan Whitecaps, the team has gone 6 for 6 in championship finals appearances, to go along with making 19 postseason appearances in total. As of this writing, West Michigan’s best regular season record came in 1997 at 92-39, while their worst came in 2019 at 49-90. These are the top five single seasons by starting pitchers that I felt have stood out the most during the team history of the Whitecaps.
In total, the team has won six championships, coming in 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2015.
5. Andy Van Hekken (2000)
The 95th overall pick of the 1998 draft out of Holland High School in Michigan by the Seattle Mariners picked up a 16-6 record in 2000 with the Whitecaps, going 158 innings with only three home runs, 43 earned runs and 139 hits allowed to claim a 2.45 ERA. Due to this performance, West Michigan finished at 88-52 to reach the 2000 playoffs, losing to the Dayton Dragons two games to one in the first round. Van Hekken would make his major league debut with the Detroit Tigers in 2002.
4. Jon Connolly (2003)
The 837th overall pick of the 2001 draft out of Oneonta High School in New York by the Tigers scored a 16-3 record during the 2003 season with the Whitecaps, as he pitched a total of 166 innings while giving up four home runs, 26 earned runs and 128 hits for a 1.41 ERA. However, West Michigan picked up a record of 67-73, missing the 2003 playoffs.
3. Clay Bruner (1997)
The 98th overall pick of the 1995 draft out of Weatherford High School in Oklahoma by the Tigers earned a 15-3 record with the Whitecaps in 1997, courtesy of 166 and a third innings pitched, giving up 11 home runs, 44 earned runs and 134 hits to get a 2.38 ERA. West Michigan took their best regular season record as of this writing at 92-39 to qualify for the 1997 playoffs, as they fell to the Fort Wayne Wizards two games to none in the first round.
2. Virgil Vasquez (2004)
The 190th overall pick of the 2003 draft out of UC Santa Barbara by the Tigers nabbed a 14-6 showing with the Whitecaps in 2004, pitching 168 and a third innings with 14 home runs, 68 earned runs and 156 hits allowed for an ERA of 3.64. While West Michigan took a 69-70 record on the year, they would still be able to qualify for the 2004 playoffs. The team would take full advantage of the opportunity, defeating the Lansing Lugnuts two games to one in the first round, as well as sweeping the South Bend Silver Hawks two games to none in the second round, before taking down the Kane County Cougars three games to two in the finals to win the third championship in franchise history. Vasquez would make his major league debut with the Tigers in 2007.
1. Burke Badenhop (2006)
The 570th overall pick of the 2005 draft out of Bowling Green by the Tigers pitched to a 14-3 record with the Whitecaps in 2006, allowing just six home runs, 54 earned runs and 170 hits in 171 innings for a 2.84 ERA. West Michigan scored an 89-48 record to make the 2006 playoffs, defeating the Fort Wayne Wizards two games to one in the first round before also defeating the Lansing Lugnuts two games to none in the second round, then knocking out the Cougars again three games to one, clinching their fourth championship in franchise history. Badenhop would make his major league debut with the Florida Marlins in 2008.
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