Lava Flow for March

After 2018’s “Dream Season,” there were a couple holes to patch in Margaritaville. We said good-bye to David Ortiz’s MVP season of 45 HRs and 136 RBIs, and Wilmer Flores’ 17 HRs in 151 lefty-mashing at-bats. We also penciled in greatly reduced roles for Jon Lester (76 IP, 2.45 era after his trade-deadline pick-up) and Wilson Ramos (34 HRs and 95 RBIs).

The draft filled some holes in the outfield (Chris Taylor, Mitch Haniger), in the starting staff (Dinelson Lamet) and the bullpen (Mike Minor, Mychal Givens, Cory Gearrin). How would the offense measure up to 2018’s 996 runs and 314 HRs? Is there enough pitching in Margaritaville for a 2018 playoff run?

March provided some optimistic answers to those questions. In winning 13 and losing 7, the Volcanoes led the league in runs scored (122), home runs (38) and fewest runs allowed (73). Leading the offense again was Joey Votto, slashing .392/.473/.658 while scoring 21 runs and driving in 11. Kris Bryant had 7 HRs and 16 RBIs while Gary Sanchez (now a full-time catcher after his rationed 2017 at-bats) hit 6 HRs and led the team (and the league) with 19 RBIs.

While the offense continued to produce runs, March’s biggest surprise was the effectiveness of the Volcano pitching staff. It is still a bullpen-led group (3.83 ERA for the starters, 2.82 ERA for the relievers) with its 73.1 IP second only to Superior’s 75 bullpen innings. Lamet was a nice draft-day pickup, going 2-1 in his 4 March starts, and on the front-end of Margaritaville’s first-ever no-hitter. Brandon McCarthy and Cole Hamels proved their trade-worthiness, going 6-0 in their eight March starts. After going 22-16 in one-run games in 2017, the Volcanoes played nine one-run games in March, going 4-5. In a league that has gone sac-bunt crazy (113 attempts for the league in March play), the Volcanoes were the only team NOT to attempt a sacrifice bunt. The Volcano defense continues to be a strength, converting 82% of their x-chances (third in the league).

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Gopher Holes for March

There was great joy throughout Bushwood in March as the Gophers posted a league-best 14-6 record in the opening month of the I-75 season.  The Gophers got started with an epic 3-2 series victory over the Paperclips face-to-face at the draft.  The season opener was a tense 15-inning affair won by Bushwood 2-1, followed by a 13-inning 7-6 loss in Game 2.  Lady Luck smiled on the Gophers for their next two series — 4-1 triumphs over Dyersville and East Cobb that truthfully could have gone either way.  Finally, the Gophers and Warriors split the first four games of the last series before Jacob deGrom pitched Bushwood to a 5-3 victory in the finale and a 14-6 ledger.

For the month, deGrom went 4-0 in four starts despite a so-so 4.34 ERA.  All-purpose reliever Yusmeiro Petit made a great first impression, going 2-1 with five saves and a 1.27 ERA over 21.1 innings.  At the plate, center fielder Kevin Kiermaier hit .367 for the month, catcher Buster Posey hit .338 with four homers and 12 RBIs, while new first baseman Ryan Zimmerman had 16 RBIs.  Zimm, Joey Gallo and George Springer shared the team HR lead with five.  Meanwhile, highly limited slugger Teoscar Hernandez expended 28 of his 88 ABs and hit just .179 with three homers, and second baseman Dustin Pedroia hit a sluggish .180.

In a surprising and troubling stat, the Gophers hit into a whopping 27 DPs as a team while turning just 15 for the month.  Given the fact that Bushwood often employs 1 fielders at second, third and short (Pedroia, Kyle Seager and Adeiny Hechavarria), one might expect to see the opposite DP differential.

After playing three road series in March, the Gophers are looking forward to three home sets in April.  The Bombers, Scorps and Titans will all visit Bushwood this month.  A five-game set at Satellite Beach against the fast-starting Brawlers rounds out the April slate.

Want to see notes like these about your team on the website? E-mail them to me.

 

2018’s Unconventional Convention a Hit Nonetheless

Mike Renbarger (red shirt) and Sons during the 2018 draft.

Mike Renbarger (red shirt) and Sons during the 2018 draft.

The new, (Joel) young blood that has been added to the league in recent years had its first significant impact on the outcome of a draft as we conducted the 2018 I-75 League convention, marking the start of our 39th season.

The Joel reference may be lost on the young whippersnappers, who are seemingly feeling their oats now that they have a couple of years of Strat play under their belts.

Incessant wheeling and dealing of draft picks continued right up to the moment before the first selection was called out, and even continued throughout the draft, primarily orchestrated by millennial managers like John Renbarger, Jason Renbarger, Ryan Renbarger and Nick Calderon, all of whom have joined the league in the last few years.

A total of 68 draft picks changed hands this year, leaving swaths of yellow splashed across the draft board, including 10 of the first 13 picks, keeping “mock draft” predictions a constantly moving target.

2018 Draft Grid

And John and Jason Renbarger in particular weren’t making those deals to put themselves in better position to select great players. They were putting themselves in better position to select great unproven players, leading to a major run on prospects among the very earliest picks.

Tatooine’s Nick Calderon gave away present-day talent for prospective superstars, acquiring Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies with the second pick and Cincinnati pitcher Luis Castillo with the seventh pick. John Renbarger’s Boulder team maneuvered its way into the fourth and fifth picks, selecting prospects Rafael Devers and Yoan Moncada. And New New York’s Jason Renbarger jumped up to the sixth spot to take all 24 at-bats offered by Washington outfielder Victor Robles.

Steve Hart, left, dealt the No. 1 pick to Steve Nieroda, right, who selected Cody Bellinger

Steve Hart, left, dealt the No. 1 pick to Steve Nieroda, right, who selected Cody Bellinger.

The No. 1 “prospect” though went as expected to Satellite Beach, where Manager Steve Nieroda snagged slugger Cody Bellinger (following a trade with Savannah) as expected to kick off the six-hour festivities, which began in the 3 o’clock hour, as there were no spring training games locally to attend that normally would have had us starting in early evening.

Twelve of the league’s 15 managers made their way to Florida for the league’s 39th draft, although three made their selections unconventionally from a Draft Central annex five miles away, connected to Draft Central via cell phone and Google doc draft grid. Three other managers drafted remotely from their home locations.

The 15-round affair was at times tense, at other times jovial. There were the usual faux pas of a couple of picks being spent on players already drafted or who had been retained. But there seemingly was something for everyone, as an abundance of attractive cards seemed to be available whether you were looking for offense, or relief pitching, and there were even a handful of starting pitchers worthy of first-round selection for a change.

Commissioner Dave Renbarger, left, makes award presentation to 2017 World Series winner John McMillan.

Commissioner Dave Renbarger, left, makes award presentation to 2017 World Series winner John McMillan.

We made our usual outings to spring training games in Lakeland, with bonus ballgames in Tampa and West Palm Beach for early arrivers or late stayers. We endured Kissimmee’s penchant for traffic backups and poor restaurant service. And we honored our 2017 champions during a pre-draft presentation of hardware (watch on our league Facebook page if you’re a member of the group).

Some wise guy suggested the B in Joe's Crab Shack be replaced with a P after it took more than an hour to get our food.

Some wise guy suggested the B in Joe’s Crab Shack be replaced with a P after it took more than an hour to get our food. We found ways to keep ourselves entertained however.

When it was over we also conducted video interviews with each of the nine managers who participated from Draft Central, and you can enjoy their thoughts on how things went either from this YouTube playlist, or by watching individual clips below.

 

Meet new manager Kevin Gergel

We may think of ourselves as the foremost Strat-O-Matic brains in the country, but none of us had actually played ball as a professional. None of us had walked the walk. None of us can say we had our own page on baseball-reference.com.

Well now we have someone who has.

As we start our 39th season, we welcome Kevin Gergel to the fold — son of Mark Gergel, sure to be confused with Keith Gergel, and a former draft pick of the Seattle Mariners.

Kevin Gergel and wife Teil

Kevin Gergel and wife Teil

Kevin will be skippering the East Cobb Juice, the team that will replace Dave LaMont’s Springfield Isotopes for the upcoming season. Kevin, 36,  is a business development manager for ITA Group, and lives in Marietta, Ga., with his wife Teil, daughter Maris (10) and son Kellan (7).

Growing up in Livonia, Mich., Kevin played Little League baseball on teams coached by his dad. He went on to play baseball at Georgia Tech and then Kennesaw State in Georgia, earning status as an all-American catcher, leading to being selected by the Mariners in the 24th round of the 2005 amateur draft. Batting left and throwing right, playing catcher and first base, he hit a combined .307 / .365 / .503 / .869 in rookie ball and in a brief stint with Class A Inland Empire of the California League.

Other notable picks in 2005: 1. Justin Upton. 2. Alex Gordon. 4. Ryan Zimmerman. 5. Ryan Braun. 7. Troy Tulowitzki. 10. Cameron Maybin. 11. Andrew McCutcheon. 12. Jay Bruce.

In 2006 he played for an Independent League team, the Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums, from whom the Destin Beach Bums draw their name.

His I-75 League team name is pulled from two elements of his past: East Cobb is a reference to the Georgia travel ball program Kevin played on that won the AAU Junior Olympics; and Juice is a reference to three years of playing in the Orlando area for a youth travel program, Chet Lemon’s Juice,  coached by the former Tigers outfielder.

“Thank you for accepting me in the league, it’s a privilege to take over a world class organization in the Springfield Isotopes,” Kevin wrote in December 2017 following his selection. “Though we are relocating and renaming the team to the East Cobb Juice, we will look to build on the foundation of success that Dave LaMont leaves behind and honor Homer’s legacy.”

We welcome Kevin to the league, and if we ever manage to have another league softball game at our annual draft, there’s a new favorite as to who the No. 1 pick is likely to be.

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)

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.