First-round forecast: 12 DHs, 2 pitchers and Marcus Semien

Once upon a time in this league, when a good-fielding, offensive-mashing middle infielder who had a full season under his belt was available in the draft, the entire league would be salivating over the possibility of scooping him up as their first-round pick.

They had names like Morgan and Biggio and Trammell and Larkin.

Now, they’re lucky to get mentioned in the top five overall picks. Are we undervaluing Marcus Semien?

Marcus Semien

Semien

The ratings guide is out, and our worst fears were confirmed. The vast majority of projected first-round talent is not going to do you any favors in the field, either with their range rating, their ‘e’ factor, or both. (Perhaps a slight exaggeration on the DH assessment…)

But then there’s Marcus Semien, who hit .285, with 33 homers, 43 doubles and 7 triples! That’s 83 extra-base hits, two shy of homer-happy Pete Alonso for most XBH’s available in the draft in the upcoming card set.

And he’s a 2e12 at shortstop. With 657 real-life at-bats, or 690 allowable in our league. A nice 16 walk chances on each side of his card. Better on-base numbers vs. lefties; better power against righties. A star stealer to boot.

He’s only 29 years old, and was third in AL MVP voting, had an 8.1 WAR rating.

Those Morgan and Larkin days were back when the league did total redrafts each year. So it’s understandable if a 21-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr. or Vladimir Guerrero Jr., each having eight years of potential playing time on Semien, are valued higher.

Unless you’re in win-now mode.

World Champion Scorpions show young’uns how it’s done

The Savannah-Margaritaville alliance captured its third consecutive World Championship…

Hey now, don’t start with that stuff again.

OK, sorry. Lemme start over.

A whole bunch of fresh faces dominated the 2019 I-75 League playoff field, but when the dust settled, it was one of our league managers who’s been here since Day One who persevered in our 40th year.

Steve Hart skippered his fifth-seeded Savannah Scorpions to the World Series title in six games over third-seeded Tatooine and third-year manager Nick Calderon, giving Hart his fifth World Series crown and the Scorpions their second. Only Dave and Mike Renbarger, both with six, have more World Series champion plaques on their mantle.

Savannah’s last World Series crown came in 2010, when Hart’s heroes hammered Hickory in five games, and the club was led by the likes of Ryan Zimmerman (37 homers, 111 RBIs), Josh Johnson (18-6, 3.54) and Joe Nathan (45 saves, 2.42 ERA).

This year’s playoff field featured five teams who had failed to make the playoffs in 2018, plus the lone returning playoff participant in the Scorpions. Savannah’s entrance into this year’s playoffs was hardly assured, as all-World right fielder Mookie Betts was performing like a mere mortal through 100 games, and Savannah was on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, trailing Margaritaville for the sixth and final playoff spot with a record of 53-47 following a 9-11 July.

Continue reading

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).

 

Offense aplenty in 2020 draft

Make peace with it now.

Your pitching is going to suck in 2020. Your defense probably will too, unless you’re Superior, with four Gold Gloves in the lineup.

Your hitters will strike out a lot. Stolen bases? Forget about it. Bunting for a hit? That was a one-year trial that has to be re-proposed in order to be enacted for 2020.

But what you will have is offense. Homers. Doubles, triples. Oodles of them. Want to win? You’ll have to keep up at the plate. Hope to win a lot of 7-6 games.

Fortunately there’s plenty of such options available in the first round — and later — in the 2020 draft. And while we have extreme confidence in our predictions for the top half of the first round of this draft, there’s another dozen or so players not shown below who could make a case for consideration in the bottom half.

With that caveat, we present our Top 15. These picks make no attempt to match up players with the clubs holding that draft position, but rather are just a look at one view of the top 15 players available:

15. Bo Bichette, SS, Toronto, Age 21, Bats: Right. Only saw limited action for the Blue Jays (196 ABs), but hit impressively in that time, batting .311 with extra-base hit totals of 18-0-11. Raked against lefties in particular, to the tune of a .368 batting average, a .413 on-base average, a .667 slugging average and a 1.080 on-base-plus slugging average. He’s no Alfredo Griffin in the field, having booted seven balls in 171 total chances, but he is a highly regarded prospect who’s expected to hit and hit for power. Previous rank: Not ranked. Continue reading

Savannah Year in Review

The Scorps entered the year very excited to enjoy Mookie Betts‘ card after he hit .346 with 49-5-34 for the Red Sox in the 2018 MLB season.  Well, that didn’t work out as my dice were drawn to Mookie’s rather silent two column.  Resultingly, he hit .289 (57 points less than his actual stats).

We were pleased to get Blake Treinen in round one and Ketel Marte, the prospect we coveted the most, in round four.  We missed when we picked Tyler O’Neill as a prospect in round five.  Our worst miss was trading a second round pick for SP Kevin Gausman, who we thought would parlay his great second half for the Braves into a breakout year.  It didn’t happen.

Despite Betts’ relatively disappointing season, Savannah finished 89-71 and made the playoffs (as the third-place team in the very tough Southbound Division).  We finished second in the league in both runs scored (837) and homers (237) to overcome a below-average starting rotation.  The team that gave us the most trouble: the 72-win Greendale Zealots, who took seven of 10 from me (sigh). Continue reading

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.

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