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

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Lava Flow for March

After back-to-back 106 win seasons and I-75 World Series Championships, the Volcanoes entered 2019 with high hopes. Reality for 2019 is perhaps best summed up in this comparison: in 2018 Kris Bryant had 6 ballpark diamonds on his card vs righties, and Kenley Jansen had 0 ballpark diamonds on his card vs righties – in 2019 Kris Bryant has 1 diamond on his card vs righties, and Kenley Jansen has 8 ballpark diamonds on his card vs righties. Offensive home runs down, home runs allowed up is never a good recipe for winning baseball. That recipe played out in March. While the Volcano offense scored 107 runs (good for 4th in the league), Volcano pitchers allowed a league-high 125 runs and 42 home runs. Highlights in March play included Francisco Lindor breaking out of his season-long 2018 slump to bat .354 with 8 HR’s and a 3rd in the league 20 RBI’s and Freddy Peralta’s 1.80 era and 2-0 w/l record across 9 relief appearances.

With the Volcano pitchers determined to play “home run derby” through the 2019 I-75 season, perhaps more interesting for Volcano fans is following their potential talent for the 2020 I-75 season. With “Three Up / Three Down” we can report on three Volcanoes who are performing well in their 2019 MLB stats, and three Volcanoes who are lagging behind expectations in their 2019 MLB performance.

Three Up:
Julio Urias – The Volcano’s second round draft pick in the 2017 draft had his future put on hold with shoulder surgery in the 2017 MLB season. Urias pitched 4 regular season innings in the 2018 MLB season (earning him the coveted “double void” card), and 7 postseason innings for the Dodgers. Facing an innings limitation entering his age-22 season in 2019, Urias appeared destined to begin the season in the Dodgers’ bullpen. With Urias pitching as perhaps the Dodgers best starter in spring training, and with injuries to Hill and Kershaw, Urias found himself in the Dodgers April starting rotation. Urias responded with a gem in his first start, shutting the Giants out on 3 hits (in 5 innings) with no walks and 7 strikeouts. Perhaps most encouraging of all, Urias’ velocity hit 98 mph – higher than his velocity pre-2017 injury. The ace-level ceiling for Urias is back “on.”

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Lava Flow for October

Joey Votto

Votto

With 13 wins in October, the Volcanoes reached 106 wins for the second consecutive year.  The matching 106-win seasons invite comparison between the 2017 and 2018 Volcano versions.  Each team led the I-75 league in runs scored – the 2017 team with 996 runs; the 2018 team with 971 runs.  The “new” Volcanoes were better at preventing runs – the 2017 team allowed 756 runs; the 2018 team allowed 678 runs.  By “Pythagorean” math (a team’s won-loss percentage is approximated by the formula runs scored squared divided by the sum of runs scored squared and runs allowed squared), the 2017 team exceeded their forecast by five games (101 forecast wins, 106 actual), while the 2018 team lagged their forecast by one game (107 forecast wins, 106 actual).  David Ortiz led the 2017 team with 130.9 runs created (and won the mythical I-75 league MVP award voting).  Ortiz’s void was more than filled by Joey Votto, who led the 2018 team with 162.7 runs created (and who also won the mythical MVP award voting).  Both teams led the league in home runs: 314 for the 2017 version; 272 for the 2018 version.  Over two seasons, the Volcanoes have hit 586 home runs.

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Lava Flow for September

Ah September …

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
(The Volcanoes beat the Bombers (4-1) and the Paperclips (5-0); the Volcanoes lost to the Gophers (1-4) and to the Treblemakers (2-3))

it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
(The Volcanoes scored 28 runs against the Bombers and 42 against the Paperclips; the Volcanoes scored 10 runs against the Gophers and 25 against the Treblemakers)

it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
(Charlie Blackmon had 7 RBI against the Bombers and 7 against the Paperclips; Blackmon had 2 RBI against the Gophers and 4 against the Treblemakers)

it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
(Alex Claudio had an ERA of 3.38 against the Bombers and 0.00 against the Paperclips; Claudio had an ERA of 13.50 against the Gophers and 13.50 against the Treblemakers)

it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,
(The Volcanoes outhomered the Bombers 9-5 and outhomered the Paperclips 7-4; the Volcanoes were outhomered by the Gophers 6-1 and outhomered the Treblemakers 7-6)

we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
(The Bombers batted .238 against Ervin Santana and the Paperclips batted .176 against Santana; the Gophers batted .286 against Santana and the Treblemakers batted .571 against Santana)

we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way
(The Volcanoes converted .700 of their fielding x-chances against the Bombers and .963 of their chances against the Paperclips; the Volcanoes converted .682 of their fielding x-chances against the Gophers and .679 of their chances against the Treblemakers)

— in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Lava Flow for August

In August play the Volcanoes matched their July record, reposting a 1- win month.  The Volcanoes were dominant against the Titans (5-0 record), very good against West Atlanta (4-1 record) and took series victories against Destin and East Cobb (3-2 against each).  A significant improvement for the Volcanoes in August play was their record against left-handed starters.  From March through July, the Volcanoes posted a record of 13-11 against lefties.  After adding Justin Turner, Charlie Blackmon and Rhys Hoskins at the trade deadline the Volcanoes were a sparkling 6-1 against lefty starters in August play.  Batting stars in August play were Justin Turner (.352 avg, 15 RBIs), Chris Taylor (5 HR’s, 16 RBIs) and Kris Bryant (.436 OBP, 18 runs scored).  Stepping down to #2 in the batting order (with Kris Bryant now manning the leadoff slot), Joey Votto led the Volcanoes in August with 18 RBIs.  The starting pitching was strong in August play, with Ervin Santana, Andrew Cashner and Michael Fulmer each posting 3-1 records, and Brandon McCarthy returning from a 3-month vacation to post a 4-0 record.  For the season, McCarthy has allowed 30 runs in 66 IP – with 10 runs allowed in one disastrous April start against the Hypnotoads (that team again!).

Emphasizing the “team” nature of this season, for a team that leads the league in home runs and runs, the Volcanoes do not have a player in the top 5 in either home runs or runs batted in, and for a team that leads the league in fewest runs allowed and wins, the Volcanoes do not have a pitcher in the top 5 in either ERA or in wins.

In September play, the Volcanoes face three road series, visiting Bushwood, Applegate and Dyersville while the Bombers of Bismarck make their first visit of the season to Margaritaville.  The Volcanoes are 10-10 in 2018 play against these teams, taking 3-2 series victories against Dyersville and Bismarck while posting 2-3 series losses against Applegate and Bushwood.

Lava Flow for July

In July, the Volcanoes posted a good month on the field – going 15-5 despite a surprising series loss to the New New York Hypnotoads.  The Volcanoes swept the Southbound-leading SGP Warriors, and added 4-1 series victories against the Savannah Scorpions and Boulder Tree Huggers.  Combined with the July swoon (4-16) of the Bushwood Gophers, the Volcanoes opened up a 14-game lead in the Northbound division.  After 100 games the Volcanoes have a record of 66 wins and 34 losses, a pace three games ahead of the 2017 Volcanoes’ record of 63-37 at the 100-game mark.

The bigger news of July happened off the field for the Volcanoes, as they traded Mookie Betts, Carlos Rodon, Joakim Soria, Joc Pederson and Khris Davis to add Justin Turner, Charlie Blackmon, Rhys Hoskins, Michael Fulmer and Colby Rasmus.  It’s difficult to trade a 25-year-old outfielder on the way to an MVP season, but the players the Volcanoes picked up position the team nicely to make another title run in the last 60 games and then postseason of the 2018 season.

Looking at card values via runs created vs. righties and vs. lefties, the 2018 Volcanoes compare nicely to the 2017 Volcano team.  Looking at the offense:

 

2017 Volcanoes 2018 Volcanoes
vs Right vs Left vs Right vs Left
Votto 0.404 Votto 0.278 Bryant 0.325 Santana 0.271
Bryant 0.286 Broxton 0.252 Votto 0.419 Votto 0.418
Ortiz 0.457 Bryant 0.410 Turner 0.245 Turner 0.657
Sanchez 0.408 Flores 0.418 Blackmon 0.320 Blackmon 0.307
Cano 0.330 Ramos 0.339 Sanchez 0.240 Bryant 0.343
Betts 0.276 Ortiz 0.322 Cano 0.256 Lindor 0.234
Pederson 0.237 Cano 0.202 Hoskins 0.366 Marrero 0.266
Davis 0.201 Lindor 0.137 Lindor 0.153 Sanchez 0.243
Lindor 0.194 Suzuki 0.247 Taylor 0.242 Hoskins 0.457
       
Avg RC 0.310 Avg RC 0.289 Avg RC 0.285 Avg RC 0.355

 

The 2017 Volcanoes – led by a trio of 40 runs-created cards from Votto, Ortiz and Sanchez – have the edge, but the offense for the 2018 team was certainly bolstered by adding Blackmon and Hoskins.  With the addition of Turner’s .657 RC card vs. lefties, the 2018 Volcanoes hit lefties better than the 2017 team.  While the 2017 team met two lefty starters (Cole Hamels and Rich Hill) starting four out of the six World Series games, the 2018 team is not likely to see the same playoff parade of lefties.

Pitching-wise the 2018 Volcanoes have an edge on the 2017 team:

 

2017 Volcanoes 2018 Volcanoes
T vs L vs R T vs L vs R
Lester L 0.039 0.047 Santana R 0.044 0.071
Santana R 0.058 0.077 Cashner R 0.060 0.058
Lewis R 0.067 0.079 Fulmer R 0.069 0.039
Ross R 0.155 0.045 Hamels L 0.014 0.076
Triggs R 0.108 0.044 McCarthy R 0.061 0.082
       
Jansen R 0.014 0.000 Jansen R 0.043 0.000
Chapman L 0.000 0.006 Chapman L 0.013 0.046
Reed R 0.013 0.020 Neshek R 0.043 0.013
Dayton L 0.003 0.047 Claudio L 0.000 0.054
Smith L 0.069 0.041 Minor L 0.008 0.041
Ottavino R 0.081 0.003 Givens R 0.039 0.037
Broxton R 0.077 0.051 Gearrin R 0.039 0.041
Maurer R 0.035 0.090 Delgado R 0.035 0.103

 

The 2017 team used a strategy of JBGE (Just Barely Good Enough) starters backed up by elite bullpen cards.  Jon Lester was the team’s “ace” (with the quotation marks added because of his left-handed pitching status).  Lester was the only starting pitcher to pick up a win in the 12 postseason games of 2018.  Lester’s 16.2 IP in 4 starts (just over 4 IP per start) and his 5.40 era show how short his playoff leash was in 2017.  Jansen, Chapman and Reed were 5-1 in the 2017 postseason, pitching 34.1 of the team’s 108 postseason innings.  At the bottom end of the bullpen, Broxton (5.00 era) and Maurer (11.42 era) pitched 14 non-elite relief innings in the 2017 postseason.  Joe Ross made two starts in the 2017 postseason, and posted a 15.88 era.

The 2018 team has better starters, with three good righties – Santana, Cashner and Fulmer – at the top of the rotation.  Cole Hamels and Brandon McCarthy are better options at the #4 starter slot than either Joe Ross or Andrew Triggs.  The 2018 bullpen also features elite cards at the top of the bullpen – Jansen and Chapman return and are joined by Neshek.  The ability of the 2018 team to throw lefty innings should be a big advantage – as Chapman, Claudio and Minor provide the potential for 21 lefty relief IP in a seven-game series.  At the bottom of the bullpen Givens and Gearrin are a significant upgrade over Broxton and Maurer.

While Margaritaville is sad to see Mookie Betts go (and we’ll be even sadder once the 2019 season kicks off), we look forward to the possibility of another Northbound division championship, and hope for another deep playoff run and a return to the I-75 World Series.

Lava Flow for June

If you played the Volcanoes in June, it might have seemed like Joey Votto was always on-base. For the month, Votto was 33 of 79 (.418 BA) with 14 walks and 1 HBP (.505 OBP) and 6 HRs (.722 SA). By Strat’s sabermetric calculations, Votto created 29.6 (of the Volcano’s total 110.9) runs in June. While the Volcanoes “created” 111 runs in June, they actually scored 101 runs. The Volcanoes left 155 runners on base in June, with 49 left on base in the Applegate series alone. Margaritaville won 12 games in June (4 against Tatooine, 3 against Bismarck and Satellite Beach, 2 against Applegate). The Volcanoes welcomed five new players in June: Andrew Cashner, Pat Neshek, Alex Claudio, Domingo Santana and Jarrod Dyson. The quintet of ex-Scorpions underwhelmed in their Volcano debuts. Cashner was 1-1 with a 7.25 ERA; Neshek was 1-1 with a 4.25 ERA (and 5 HRs allowed – 4 HRs to the Bombers); Claudio was 2-0 with a 4.91 ERA, Santana batted .183 (13 for 71) with a .326 OBP and .408 SLG. Dyson batted .290 with 2 HRs – a walk-off win against the Paperclips and a walk-off win against the Brawlers. The walk-off HR saved the Volcanoes in June play, as Chris Taylor added a 3-run walk off against the Rebels and Joey Votto’s 11th inning walk-off capped a comeback from 4 runs down in the 9th inning of game 5 against the Rebels. The walk-offs contributed to a 7-1 record for the Volcanoes in 1-run games in June play, offsetting a .260 team batting average, and a 5.05 team ERA in June play.

Disappointing so far has been Francisco Lindor’s batting. For the Indians in 2017, Lindor slashed 81 extra base hits (44 doubles, 4 triples and 33 home runs). For the Volcanoes in 2018, Lindor has slushed his way to 28 extra-base hits (18 doubles, 1 triple and 9 home runs). Lindor’s Volcano slugging is 132 points below his Indian slugging (.373 vs .505) and his OPS is 171 points below his Indian OPS (.671 vs .842). With his 2L card, Lindor has been surprisingly particularly pathetic against left-handed pitching. Against lefties, Lindor is 15 for 73 (.205 avg), with 2 doubles and 1 home run (.274 slugging) for a total OPS of .575.

With 51 wins at the halfway pole, the Volcanoes are on pace to win 102 games. In 2017, the Volcanoes had 49 wins through 80 games, and ultimately won 106. The 2017 team had scored 513 runs and allowed 433 runs through 80 games, the 2018 team has scored 435 and allowed 347. Through the first 80 games of 2017 David Ortiz hit .304 with 31 doubles and 27 HRs, scoring 57 runs and driving in 73. Big Papi’s bat is obviously missed, with the Volcanoes scoring 80 fewer runs. By deploying a deep bullpen the Volcanoes cut their runs allowed by 86 runs. So far in 2018 the Volcano bullpen has pitched 310 innings, and is on pace to pitch 620 bullpen innings. The 2017 team had a total of 522 bullpen innings pitched.