The Springfield Odyssey ends for Homer

Dave LaMont, circa 2011

Springfield brought its mascot to the 2011 draft (on the left, to clarify.)

Dave LaMont has announced he is stepping down as manager of the I-75 League’s Springfield Isotopes after 15 seasons.

Dave’s Strat tenure ran parallel to a time of many personal and professional changes, having joined the league in 2003 when we first expanded from nine to 12 teams. Over those 15 years he and his wife Jennifer have raised two young boys to Division I college athletes, and Dave has climbed the broadcasting ranks from local radio to national television broadcaster in multiple sports.

In the I-75 League, he’ll forever be known as “Homer” for his affinity for Homer Simpson. But his clubs will always be remembered as sporting a tough-as-nails pitching staff.

Here’s where the Isotopes have ranked in team pitching in the last eight seasons:

First. Second. Second. Fourth. Third. Second. Second. First.

Clayton Kershaw

The common thread over that period has been lefty ace Clayton Kershaw, who threw two no-hitters for the Isotopes under Dave (Bushwood in April 2012; Dyersville in April 2016). Second baseman Ian Kinsler has also been a longtime mainstay, anchoring a club that became known for its defensive excellence as well.

In the six years since the league expanded to 15 teams, the Isotopes won three division titles (2012, 2015, 2016), made four playoff appearances (wild-card entry in 2017) and had five seasons with winning records. They advanced to the World Series in 2016 before succumbing to the Superior Titans. Their best season was 2012 when they finished with a 102-58 mark, a year that saw three clubs break the 100-win mark in our first year of expansion.

They leave behind a club positioned to remain very competitive in 2018, still featuring the dazzling Kershaw but now becoming an offensive power force to match, led by four sluggers with 30-plus homers (J.D. Martinez, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Duvall and Steven Souza Jr.), plus 20-homer seasons from infielders Chris Davis, Kinsler and shortstop Zack Cozart. Ender Inciarte adds a .300 bat with speed and excellent defense.

So the Isotopes will live on, and likely successfully, in another form and bearing Dave’s imprint, for several years to come. We wish Dave and his family well and thank him for his participation in the league for the last 15 years.

“I cannot thank everyone enough for the fellowship, friendship and fun over the years,” Dave wrote in his farewell email to the league. “I never thought I would play as long as I did and I have no regrets.”

Dave LaMont with sons Drew (left) and Drake (right)

Dave LaMont with sons Drew (left) and Drake (right)

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Margaritaville Volcanoes’ master plan comes full circle with World Championship

The Margaritaville Volcanoes’ six-game conquest of the Boulder Tree Huggers for the 2017 I-75 League World Series title brought closure to a multiyear reconstruction project that saw the Volcanoes intentionally descend into the abyss, only to rise to the top through shrewd trading and relentless prospecting.

The David Wright-led 2013 Volcanoes rolled to a division title and the league’s best record at 109-51, only to fall to the Bushwood Gophers in extra innings of Game Seven, leaving the Volcanoes in search of their first World Series crown. It wouldn’t come in 2014, as an 84-76 mark was good enough to make the playoffs but not enough to make the finals, when South Grand Prairie infamously came back from a 3-0 series deficit to defeat Chatfield for the crown.

Margaritaville signaled its intended direction early in the 2015 draft, acquiring the No. 12 overall pick from Boulder and snagging Mookie Betts, who at the time was 21 years old with only 189 big-league at-bats to his credit; and a still-developing slugging Khris Davis in the sixth round. The Volcanoes suffered through a 60-100 season in 2015, setting the stage for a furious rebuilding effort predicated on stockpiling young stars, aided and abetted by unwitting co-conspirators in the managerial ranks.

Manager John McMillan was among the many who recognized the unusually deep talent pool that the league waded into for the 2016 draft, and the Volcanoes made the most of their opportunity. In addition to owning the No. 3 overall pick and the first selection in each subsequent round, the Volcanoes pried the No. 2 overall pick from the hands of Satellite Beach, enabling Margaritaville to score Kris Bryant (No. 2 overall), Francisco Lindor (No. 3 overall), catcher Wilson Ramos (10th round) and pitcher Ervin Santana (14th round).

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Better predictor of I-75 success: Yahoo or Draftalyzer???

We won’t bury the lede here. Both did well.

The final 2016 Yahoo standings (which come with a big caveat — some teams were way better than others about keeping their rosters current and lineup slots filled than others — looked like this:

  1. Springfield. (Finished with league’s second-best record, 93 wins)
  2. Destin. (Tied for 6th playoff spot, lost play-in)
  3. Iowa. (Now Boulder, won West Division)
  4. Margaritaville (Finished with league’s best record)
  5. Michigan. (Now Tatooine, earned sixth playoff spot)
  6. Savannah. (Underperformed in W-L despite scoring and allowing same number of runs)

So of the top six finishers, Yahoo standings only misforecasted Destin, which lost a play-in game; and Savannah, which underperformed according to the predicted wins formula. And let us not forget that Savannah dealt away some key players, like beastly David Ortiz, who contributed to the 2016 Yahoo standings finish but did not contribute to the team’s 2017 Strat performance.

The remaining two teams that did make the playoffs finished 7th (Superior) and 9th (South Grand Prairie) in the Yahoo! standings. Ninth might seem low, but ninth was still the highest standings finish for any team in that South Division, which SGP won with a sub-.500 record.

Now looking at John McMillan’s Draftalyzer (see your March 8 in-box for the full details and analysis), this deadly-accurate predictor tool was off by no more than one standings position on 14 of the league’s 15 teams. It correctly forecast either four or five of the six playoff participants depending on how you interpret the South Division prediction order, which listed SGP on top but with fewer points than second-place Dyersville. And the other one it missed would have been Destin, which only fell short by virtue of that tiebreaker loss. It nailed the precise order of finish in the North Division and arguably did so in the South, if you look at the order and not Dyersville’s “current” value that was higher than SGP.

The only team that was more than one standings position off was Boulder, which won the West Division despite being evaluated as having the third-best current value in the West.

That’s a pretty deadly accurate analysis overall.

Next we’ll look at what the 2017 Yahoo standings tell us about the 2018 Strat league season.