Lava Flow for July

Another streak of good luck gave the Volcanoes a 13-7 record in July play, giving them a 54-46 record heading into July’s trade deadline. The Volcanoes dropped the first three games in a World Series rematch against the Paperclips, but kept hitting a “1” split on lefty HR chances at Wrigley (HR 1, fb 2-20) to take games 4 and 5. The Hypnotoad bats went curiously silent and the Volcanoes took 4 of 5 from New New York. Three of five from SGP and 4 of 5 from West Atlanta gave the Volcanoes their unlikely month, and snuck them into the last wild-card spot. Would the Volcanoes buy or sell at the trade deadline? Their record might say “buy” but their run differential (25 more runs allowed than scored) combined with their overused bullpen (Kenley Jansen, Josh James, Brandon Woodruff, Barnes and Freddy Peralta all running at more than 100% usage) suggested that regression was on its way to Margaritaville.

The Volcanoes ultimately decided to check the “sell” box and traded Mitch Haniger (don’t watch the video), Chris Taylor and a reliever upgrade (David Robertson, obtained in a side-deal with SGP) to Savannah for Charlie Blackmon.  The Volcanoes likely became the first I-75 team to acquire the same player in trade deadline deals in back-to-back seasons.

Three Up

Shane Bieber learned that he would not make the American League All-Star team on June 30.  On July 6 things got better.  After Mike Minor was scratched from the AL All-Star team, Bieber was named as his replacement.  In the fifth inning of the All-Star game, Bieber relieved Lucas Giolito and struck out Willson Contreras, Ketel Marte and Ronald Acuna Jr.   Bieber was named the MVP of the All-Star Game following the AL’s 4-3 victory over the NL.  Things continued to roll for Bieber on July 24, when he pitched a complete game 1-hit shutout over the Toronto Blue Jays. A “Maddux” (named after HOF pitcher Greg Maddux) is a complete-game shutout while throwing less than 100 pitches.  Bieber now has 2 “near-Maddux’s” in 2019:  with his 102-pitch shutout over the Blue Jays joining his 107-pitch shutout over the Orioles on May 19.

Francisco Lindor continues to hit after his early-season injury issues.  Lindor’s OPS in Apr/May/Jun/Jul have gone:  .723/.864/.866/.938.  On the season, he has posted 18 HRs in 377 ABs with a slash line of:  .308/.358/.883.  He has also turned his splits around.  While in 2018 he posted 1.006 vs lefties and .821 against righties, in 2019 he is posting .793 against lefties and .924 against righties.  Could it get any better?  His 2019 fielding percentage is up to .980 compared to .2018’s .976 (portending a lower e-rating for Lindor at SS for his 2019 Strat card). Continue reading

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With 60 games to play, expect a whole new look to postseason field

So about that “playing for next year” strategy… it seems like it might actually work.

If you look at last year’s final standings and compare them to the current league standing, we are witnessing a near-total overhaul of the league’s power elite.

At the 100-game mark, all three division leaders are enjoying worst-to-first seasons. Boulder has 62 wins at the 100-game mark after amassing just 50 all of last season. New New York had the worst record in league history last year with 124 losses, more than the 1962 New York Mets, but now has 61 wins and a five-game lead. Tatooine won just 60 games in bringing up the rear of the Northbound Division; the Rebels already have 56 wins this year.

And the leaders in the wild-card race are Satellite Beach, which had a good year last year but missed the playoffs; and Dyersville, which missed the playoffs as well but that was on account of a Game 161 tiebreaker loss.

So the current top five teams record-wise were not in last year’s playoffs. The team holding down the sixth spot, Margaritaville, obviously was, capping off its second straight 106-win season by repeating as World Series champions. This year, at the moment, the Savannah Scorpions and Applegate Paperclips are hot on the Volcanoes’ heels (just one game back with 60 to play), while Superior trails by three and South Grand Prairie by six.

If you look at run differential though, it seems the success of Margaritaville (-25) and Applegate (-45) could be smoke and mirrors; Savannah (+32) and Superior (+10) both have significantly better marks in this category.

Of course, the other wild card in the wild-card pursuit is the potential shifts in balance of power as teams face the July 28 trade deadline. Teams will not only be jockeying for position to get into the playoffs, but also trying to position themselves for the run at the crown.

WILD-CARD STANDINGS

DIVISION LEADERS W L Pct. GB
BOULDER 62 38 .620
NEW NEW YORK 61 39 .610
TATOOINE 56 44 .560
WILD-CARD RACE W L Pct. GB
SATELLITE BEACH 57 43 .570 +3
DYERSVILLE 56 44 .560 +2
MARGARITAVILLE 54 46 .540
SAVANNAH 53 47 .530 -1
APPLEGATE 53 47 .530 -1
SUPERIOR 51 49 .510 -3
S. GRAND PRAIRIE 48 52 .480 -6

Emergency Top 15 update: Keston Hiura is on fire

Forget everything we said about projected No. 13 pick Keston Hiura, second baseman for the Brewers, having an unimpressive season at the plate. Check out what he’s done in his last 10 games:

Can you read that? (Click on it to go to his page if you can’t.) His batting average has jumped 71 points and his OPS has skyrocketed 192 points! If the draft were held July 20, we’d bump him up to No. 6.

If the season ended today and the draft were tomorrow…

(Edit: Steve Hart correctly pointed out that Howie Kendrick is on Satellite Beach’s roster… I have updated the rankings to remove Kendrick at 14, bump Jay Bruce to 14, and insert Hunter Pence at 15. We apologize for the oversight.)

…here are the top 15 players on my list who’d go in the first round of the 2020 I-75 League draft. And why.

Retreads

15. Hunter Pence, OF/DH, Texas. Because even though he’s 36, he’s raking like it’s 2013, hitting .294 with a .353 on-base percentage, a .608 slugging percentage and a .961 OPS. One of only three draft-eligible players with enough qualified at-bats who has a slugging percentage over .600. The other two rank 1-2 on this list.

14. Jay Bruce, OF/1B, Philadelphia. Because he’s got 24 homers in 268 at-bats and nearly identical slugging and OPS splits vs. lefties and righties (overall, .575 and .867).

Because they’re prospects

13. Keston Hiura, 2B, Milwaukee. Because the league has a love affair with prospects even if they haven’t done much yet. Hiura has just 101 ABs so far and unremarkable hitting stats (one double? five walks?) but his range factor of 4.65 would be second-best in baseball (behind Kolten Wong) at second base if he had enough qualifying at-bats, so maybe he’ll be a 1? Who knows, I’ve given up projecting fielding ratings. Scouting report says high average, medium power, medium fielder, pretty much opposite of what he’s displayed.

NIck Senzel

Senzel

12. Nick Senzel, CF, Cincinnati. Because the league has a love affair with prospects even if they haven’t done much yet. Senzel is looking good against lefties (.973 OPS), struggling against righties (.703). Former No. 2 overall pick who has moved to the OF from 3B/2B. Scouting reports says his best quality is ability to hit for average; at .263 in 213 at-bats he has room to grow. As a center fielder, fielding rating may bump him up or drop him down from 12.

11. Eloy Jimenez, LF, Chicago White Sox. Because the league has a love affair with prospects even if they haven’t done much yet. This one though is only 22, with prodigious power yet not much of a fielder, scouts say. So far he’s clubbed 16 homers in 228 at-bats, but is hitting just .241 and his on-base percent is just .303. With 72 whiffs, he’s your prototypical all-or-nothing slugger. Continue reading

Are your stars aligning for 2020?

2019 All-Star Game starters, reserves and pitchers have been announced, giving us a chance for an early peek at who might hold the upper hand in the 2020 Strat season. And the answer is: West Atlanta, with seven of the 64 representatives. The Crush’s strategy of punting on the 2019 season and drafting for the future looks to be paying early dividends, with five pitchers highlighting West Atlanta’s representation in Cleveland on July 9.

Bushwood checks in next with six representatives, three hitters and three pitchers. Three clubs — Margaritaville, Boulder and Dyersville — boast five representatives at this point.

There are seven all-stars who currently are not on any teams, either because they weren’t drafted or don’t yet have a card.

In the reshuffled divisional alignment, the new South and new North divisions have nearly identical aggregate All-Stars (22 and 21), while the new West can claim just 14. Here’s a look at the team-by-team totals:

NORTH (21) SOUTH (22) WEST (14)
Bushwood (6) West Atlanta (7) Dyersville (5)
Margaritaville (5) Boulder (5) Tatooine (3)
Satellite Beach (4) S. Grand Prairie (4) Applegate (3)
Destin (3) Savannah (4) Bismarck (2)
New New York (3) Greendale (2) Superior (1)

Free agents: 7

Here’s the complete rundown of all-star starters, reserves and pitchers as originally announced (before changes): Continue reading

Lava Flow for May

In “The Opposite” episode of Seinfeld, Jerry discovers a peculiar balance in his universe:

Jerry: Played cards last night.

Elaine: Oh yeah? How’d you do?

Jerry: Broke even.

Elaine: You always break even.

Jerry: Yeah, I know; like yesterday I lost a job, and then I got another one, and then I missed a TV show, and later on they re-ran it. And then today I missed a train, went outside and caught a bus. It never fails! I always even out!

In May the Volcanoes won 10 games, and lost 10 games.  After 60 games, the Volcanoes have a record of 29 wins and 31 losses.  In their 12 series, the Volcanoes have gone 3-2 in six series, 2-3 in five series, and took a 1-4 thumping at the hands of the Hypnotoads.  They have just enough offense to win 29 games (Lindor hitting .324 with 17 HRs and 42 RBI) and enough bad starting pitching to lose 31 (six pitchers have started for Margaritaville in 2019, each has an ERA of over 5.00).  Kenley Jansen has 11 saves, but has given up five home runs in 28 IP and blown three saves.

A somewhat quirky – but ultimately useless – fact:  The Volcanoes have not played any extra-innings games in 2019.  Such is the journey to a .500 season.

Three Up

Shane Bieber 

April’s “Three Up” featured two starting pitchers – Luis Castillo and Domingo German – and May’s “Three up” features three more starting pitchers.  Through Memorial Day, Volcano pitchers rank No. 3 (Castillo), No. 14 (German), No. 16 (Brandon Woodruff), No. 18 (Mike Minor), and No. 21 (Shane Bieber) in MLB for lowest OPS allowed.  The potential to throw five of the top 21 (and with Jake Arrieta and Jose Quintana “lurking” at No. 50 and No. 54) starting cards in 2020’s rotation is a big turnaround from the end of the 2018 season, when the returning Volcano starters were Ervin Santana, Andrew Cashner, Michael Fulmer, Dinelson Lamet, Cole Hamels and Brandon McCarthy (we still haven’t given up on Lamet – who is expected back for the Padres soon).  A big part of the turnaround was pick No. 20 in the March draft – Bieber.  While BP was somewhat “down” on Bieber, stating, “The plus-plus command gives him a pretty high floor of capable innings eater, but the lack of advanced stuff or any true out-pitch is what keeps him from topping out as anything more than that,” Shandler was more optimistic, noting, “Still some Dom uncertainty, but otherwise this is a skilled young SP looking at a potential breakout year.”  Through 10 starts / 63.2 IP for the Indians, Bieber has resolved the “Dom uncertainty,” increasing his K/9 rate from 9.26 (in 2018) to 11.17.  Perhaps he does have a true out-pitch after all!  We might be looking back at this start against the Orioles on May 19 as the game where Bieber “announced his presence with authority.” Bieber pitched a complete-game shutout, allowing five hits (all singles), no walks and striking out 15. Bieber also appears to have resolved his split issues (he is rated a 6R pitcher in his 2018 card), allowing an OPS of .665 vs lefties and .639 vs righties so far for the Indians.

Mike Minor Continue reading

Lava Flow for April

Through the season’s first quarter the Volcanoes emphasized that 2019 is likely to be a rebuilding year for the defending champions.  The Volcanos can score – their 207 runs scored rank fourth in the league — but cannot prevent their opponents from scoring. Their 228 runs allowed rank 14th in the league.  Most alarming is the 75 home runs allowed by Volcano pitchers, worst in the league and on a season pace for 300 homers allowed.  ERA stats for Volcano starters read like the midterm grades for Delta House:  Michael Fulmer – 5.85 (congratulations Mr. Fulmer, you’re at the top of the Delta House pledge class); Jake Arrieta – 6.07; Jose Quintana – 6.75; Luis Castillo – 7.17; Mike Minor – 9.56.

Somehow in April play the Volcanoes managed to patch together a winning record, winning series against South Grand Prairie, West Atlanta and Bushwood to post an 11-9 record on the month and 19-21 record on the season.  Key to this over-achievement were victories against pitching aces Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Trevor Bauer.  Even more impressive was winning a series against the Bushwood Gophers – a feat that the 2018 championship team could not achieve in three attempts (the Volcanoes posted a 4-11 record against the Gophers in 2018).

Three Up: Continue reading