Presenting the winner of the inaugural Quad Cup

As the battle continues to rage for World Champion honors of the 2019 season, we pause to announce the winner of the inaugural Quad Cup.

No, it’s not an athletic supporter for your quadriceps. As we realign our divisions for the 2020 season, we look back at the four years recently concluded (a quadrennial) and recognize the best-performing teams over that stretch. While we close the book on this four-year run, we note that 13 of the league’s 15 franchises made at least one playoff appearance in that time, with the Westbound Division proving to be the most brutal, as four of the five teams notched winning records in the span, and the fifth was not that far off with a .495 mark.

Third place: Applegate Paperclips, with a four-year win percentage of .545 (349-291).  The Clips managed 80+ wins in each of the four seasons while competing in the league’s toughest division, one of only two franchises that can claim to have done so. In fact the Clips have winning records in seven of the eight years since the league expanded to 15 teams. But, only in 2018 did the Clips make the playoffs during this quadrennial. That was the year of their 101-win season and seven-game defeat in the World Series.

Second place: Margaritaville Volcanoes, with a four-year win percentage of .572 (366-274), including playoff appearances and World Series titles in their matching 106-win seasons of 2017 and 2018.

First place: Superior Titans, with a four-year win percentage of .578 (370-270), trips to the playoffs in three of the four seasons, and a World Series crown in 2016. Superior was anchored by the offensive core of Bryce Harper, Anthony Rizzo, Miguel Cabrera, Lorenzo Cain, Corey Seager, Nick Ahmed and Kyle Schwarber over this span, as well as the starting pitching of Noah Syndergaard and Corey Kluber.

 

West 2016 W 2017 W 2018 W 2019 W Total W Total L Pct. Playoffs WS titles
SUP 101 88 98 83 370 270 0.578 18, 17, 16 16
APP 84 82 101 82 349 291 0.545 18
BTH 94 91 50 99 334 306 0.522 19, 17, 16
SAT 82 78 83 84 327 313 0.511 19
DBB 90 85 82 60 317 324 0.495 16
North 2016 W 2017 W 2018 W 2019 W Total W Total L Pct. Playoffs WS titles
MAR 80 106 106 74 366 274 0.572 18, 17 18, ’17
GRZ 94 93 61 72 320 301 0.515 17, 16
BUS 72 83 89 83 327 314 0.510 18
TAT 72 86 60 91 309 332 0.482 19, 17
BIS 67 55 80 70 272 368 0.425
South 2016 W 2017 W 2018 W 2019 W Total W Total L Pct. Playoffs WS titles
SGP 87 78 91 79 335 306 0.523 18, 17, 16
SAV 72 71 90 89 322 319 0.502 19, 18 19
DYT 53 76 88 91 308 333 0.480 19
NNY 95 57 36 102 290 351 0.452 19, 16
WAT 58 72 87 41 258 382 0.403
  • Greendale was East Cobb in 2018 and Springfield in 2017, 2016
  • Tatooine was Michigan in 2016

Also worth noting: Three 90-plus win seasons (and a 50-win season) that led to three playoff appearances for Boulder, and three playoff appearances (including two division championships) for South Grand Prairie. New New York gets the Yo-Yo Award for posting win totals of 95-57-36-102, while Dyersville earns the Best Trajectory Award for going 53-76-88-91. Destin draws “You’re Going the Wrong Way!” honors for its 90-85-82-60 slate, while Satellite Beach captures the Consistency Award for always winning 81 games, plus or minus three (82-78-83-84).

 

Here’s how close we came to a four-way tie for the last playoff berth

We’ve had three-way ties for playoff spots before. This year we came within an eyelash of a four-way tie for the sixth and final playoff berth.

West Division rivals Applegate and Satellite Beach were locking horns in the fifth and final game of their October series with Applegate up 3-1 in games and 6-5 on the scoreboard in the eighth inning. But the Brawlers, still chasing their first taste of postseason glory in the I-75 League, were not to be denied, tying the game in the bottom of the 8th off Applegate’s Will Smith and Adam Ottavino with three singles, and then winning it in the ninth as Ottavino issued two walks, induced a force play at second and chucked one to the backstop for a walkoff wild-pitch, 7-6 win for Satellite Beach.

Including a victory by forfeit issued before October play, Satellite Beach racked up 84 wins. Take away that Game 5 victory and give it to 82-game winner Applegate, and both of those teams finish with 83 wins. Bushwood and Superior also finished with 83 wins. Voila, a four-way tie and a nightmare tiebreaker to ponder.

Instead, the Brawlers and manager Steve Nieroda make their first appearance in the I-75 League playoffs, checking in as the sixth seed. And yet, their accomplishment doesn’t rank as the year’s most remarkable…

  • No. 1 seed New New York captured the Northbound Division and “league’s best record honors” with 102 victories, a mere 66-win improvement from its historically inept 36-win total of the 2018 season. That’s a climb from a .225 winning percentage to .638, or an improvement of .413. The biggest one-season leap in MLB history is owned by the Arizona Diamondbacks, who went from .401 in 1998 (65-97) to .617 in 1999 (100-62), a gain of just .216. Jason Renbarger’s Hypnotoads nearly doubled that.
  • No. 2 seed Boulder also went from worst to first in the Westbound Division, soaring from 50 wins and a .313 winning percentage in 2018 to 99 wins and .619 winning percentage in 2019. That difference (.306) would also be better than anything MLB has ever seen.
  • But there’s more! Southbound champion Tatooine, with 91 wins, also climbed from the abyss of the Southbound Division, where it won just 60 games in 2018. That winning percentage improvement of .244 is also better than the real-life Diamondbacks’ mark. Tatooine claims the No. 3 seed.
  • Dyersville secured the No. 4 seed despite having to cough up two victories as forfeits for player overuse in September. The forfeits, as it turned out, did not make any difference in their seeding, and with 91 wins, manager Ryan Renbarger joins Nieroda in making his first playoff appearance, after the Treblemakers suffered a play-in Game 161 loss a year ago.
  • None of those four teams made the playoffs last year; the only repeat entrant is No. 5 seed Savannah, which qualifies with 89 wins this year after 90 a year ago.

That sets up these playoff pairings:

No. 3 Tatooine vs. No. 6 Satellite Beach; winner faces No. 2 Boulder.
No. 4 Dyersville vs. No. 5 Savannah; winner faces No. 1 New New York.

That action will highlight a busy Strat month, as we also will be setting the 2020 draft order soon, picking a 2020 draft date and location, and engaging in the ever-popular process of debating rule changes, which per the Constitution must be enacted by Nov. 30 in order to take effect for the coming season.

Stay tuned.

40th draft just the icing on the cake for milestone convention

At Strat Central in Scottsdale, Ariz., eight of the league’s 15 managers gather around a cake marking the start of the I-75 League’s 40th season.

The I-75 League kicked off its fourth decade on March 2 with an annual convention that not only featured an action-packed player draft, but also commemorated the staying power of a league that is blasting into its fourth decade.

One of the oldest continuously operating Strat-O-Matic baseball netplay leagues in the country, the I-75 League begins its 40th season with five managers who were there on Day One back in 1980, and three more who are second-generation managers.

Eight managers convened at Draft Central in Scottsdale, Ariz., for this year’s festivities, which have included golf, spring training games and some incredibly good fortune at the gaming tables.

Seven more managers participated via the Internet for the six-hour draft, which was paused halfway through for a pizza break and was celebrated afterward with cake and accolades.

The level of scouting and analyzing and mock drafting has escalated to the point where the first round came off just about as predicted, with Destin manager Mark Gergel selecting Ronald Acuna Jr. with the first pick and many other predicted picks immediately following suit.

Gergel earlier in the day had played a winning hand at a local casino that netted four figures in payout, then kindly treated the group to our mid-draft pizza.

League officers and founding managers Dave Renbarger, Mike Renbarger and Gary Kicinski were on hand for the occasion, while fellow originals Steve Hart and Steve Bizek participated remotely.

Former manager Ken Crawford helped moderate the draft, keeping time, tracking time outs and helping Gergel’s Beach Bums make the more difficult choices after the Acuna no-brainer.

Divergent strategies quickly became apparent, with teams like defending World Series champion Margaritaville, rebuilding West Atlanta and newcomer Greendale snapping up prized prospects.

Meanwhile, the second generation of Renbarger managers — John, Ryan and Jason — as well as several other strong teams, went all-in on efforts to complete the puzzle pieces that they hope will lead to postseason glory right here, right now.

There won’t be room at the postseason party for all who hold those aspirations, however, but just about every manager is eager to get the 2019 season underway to see exactly who’s got what it takes to capture our treasured trophy in our milestone 40th season.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Divisions drawn for 2020-2023

On the eve of the 2019 draft, divisional alignments were drawn for the 2020 through 2023 seasons.

The draw was handled by random selection by former league manager Ken Crawford and witnessed by four current managers.

This 2019 season will be the last season for the current alignment. After that the following alignment will kick in:

NORTH SOUTH WEST
Satellite Beach South Grand Prairie Tatooine
New New York Boulder Applegate
Margaritaville West Atlanta Dyersville
Bushwood Savannah Superior
Destin Greendale Bismarck

The Big 4-0: Arizona convention to kick off milestone season

Well, we’re about to officially turn 40.

On March 2 the I-75 League will conduct its annual convention and draft that will precede the start of our 40th season of Strat-O-Matic baseball. Thirty-nine years after we held our first draft over a telephone hookup between a kitchen in Detroit and a newspaper office in Tampa, I-75 League managers will convene in Scottsdale, Ariz., for a face-to-face draft among eight managers and via an internet connection to seven more. This time around, the stars being sought are Acuna, Soto and Ohtani, instead of Seaver, Ryan and Winfield.

Five of our current 15 managers weren’t even born yet back in 1980. Another five — Dave and Mike Renbarger, Steve Hart, Steve Bizek and Gary Kicinski — are still skippering squads as they were in 1980.

We’re no longer rolling dice in a box, no longer keeping score by hand, no longer using “stooge” managers, no longer enduring 10-game series and having to mail results back to our opponents.

Now we click a mouse to roll dice, a computer keeps score for us, all 1,200 of our games per season are played mano-a-mano over the internet, and we celebrate our ability to play a five-game series in the shortest time possible.

Managers assemble for 1981 draft at Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge in Knoxville, Tenn.

But the amazing thing is merely that we have persevered, through job changes and family raising and expansion and format shifts. As best we can assess, our little league is no worse than the seventh-longest-running active Strat Netplay baseball league in the country.

Oldest active Strat Netplay baseball leagues (year founded):

1. Greater United States Strat-O-Matic Organization (1971)
2. Fly-By-Night Baseball Association (1974)
3. Capital Baseball League (1975)
4. United States Baseball Association (1977)
5. Strat-O-Matic Baseball Ivy League League (1979)
6. Delcal Strat-O-Matic Baseball League (1979)
7. (tie) North American Strat-O-Matic Association (1980)
7. (tie) I-75 League (1980)
7. (tie) Ferndale (Mich.) Strat-O-Matic League (1980)

Source: Strat-O-Matic baseball league registry research

As we embark on our 40th season, we could be seeing a changing of the guard. After a season in which four of the league’s wily veterans advanced to the Final Four, this year the league’s younger crowd is jockeying for position among the league’s anticipated elite teams. With returning strong teams, high draft picks and a freewheeling front office, teams like Boulder, Tatooine, Dyersville and New New York could be setting stakes in the ground.

Destin dealt ace Chris Sale to move into the No. 1 pick, presumably to select Brave fave Ronald Acuna Jr. Juan Soto, two-way star Shohei Ohtani, and young pitching studs Walker Buehler, Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas are expected to soon follow.

The draft will likely then quickly descend into a free-for-all for relief aces, setup stars and lefty mashers. St. Louis pitchers and Tampa Bay hitters will be prized acquisitions.

It’s only our second visit ever to Arizona for this group of Florida lovers, but it presents a chance to check out some teams we don’t usually see, with so many camps bunched around the Phoenix area. The convention will also feature the drawing of teams for the divisional realignment that will take effect in the 2020 season.

Let’s draft!

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)

2018 Non-Mock Draft: It’ll be the Year of the First Baseman

Justin Smoak is hitting .298, has 26 homers and a .960 on-base-plus-slugging average.

Logan Morrison has 26 homers and a .936 OPS. Eric Thames has 23 homers and a .371 on-base average. Even Yonder Alonso is getting on base at a .373 clip and has 21 homers.

All of those first basemen will become hot commodities in the 2018 I-75 League draft.

In the second round. Or maybe even the third.

The problem is, a plethora of relatively comparable available players at an already stacked position, most of whom are not going to be great fielders, affords drafting teams time to lay in the weeds and focus on other needs, biding their time until the talent pool thins and then snagging a still-big bat.

Which begs the question — so who will go in the first round?

Well sadly, this upcoming draft doesn’t shape up to have much more young talent than the grim 2017 draft, unless a whole lot of studs come up in the next two months. (Thank you Chicago White Sox; Yoan Moncada won’t make this list now but certainly will be a high pick come March.)

Drumroll, please. In reverse order, here are the current top 15 available players for the 2018 draft:

15. Aaron Hicks, OF, Yankees, 27, S/R: Has been on the DL since June 25 with an oblique injury, but he already has 200 ABs, during which the switch-hitter hit .290 and posted a .398 on-base number plus a .513 slugging number. Always a good fielder, plenty of speed, Hicks’ biggest problem competing for playing time is a crowded Yankees outfield. Still, he’ll make an awesome fourth outfielder for a team drafting 15th.

14. Trey Mancini, OF, Orioles, 25, R/R: As reported by Orioles fan site Eutaw Street Report, Mancini “would lead AL rookies in wOBA, wRC+ and slugging percentage, and rank third in fWAR” if it weren’t for a guy named Aaron Judge. Mancini is hitting .305 with an .881 OPS, which looks even better when you check out his splits vs. RHPs: .330/.381/.570/.951. Continue reading