2020 West Division Pre-Draft Power Rankings

With the shuffling of divisions this year, we’ll take some time between now and the March 7 draft to preview the teams in each of the three divisions, assessing where they stand going into the draft. Today: The West Division.

What makes the West Division so interesting is the potential for the draft to really impact the season more than the other divisions, so the final standings of this division stand the best chance of looking a lot different from these pre-draft power rankings. That’s because one club has 8 draft picks in the first five rounds and another club has 7. How they will spend those picks (stockpiling future talent or loading up for a 2020 run) will tell the tale of the West Division. But as the calendar flips to March, here’s how the West stacks up seven days before the draft.

1. Applegate. Trying to be as objective here as possible, it is hard not to see the Paperclips as the division favorite as of today. On the offensive side of the ledger, they boast four 30-home run hitters in Josh Bell (37), Eduardo Escobar (35), Xander Bogaerts (33) and Yuli Gurriel (31) and three more 20-home-run hitters in Aaron Judge (27), Willson Contreras (24) and Brian Anderson (20). And that septuplet isn’t just all-or-nothing mashers; they all boast good average/on-base numbers and/or slugging numbers overall, as well as decent defense. Applegate was blessed by the Strat gods who gave 1s to corner infielders Escobar and Gurriel after they were a 2 and 3 there respectively a year ago, and Judge and Byron Buxton are 1s in RF and CF. There aren’t that many platoon or limited at-bat situations to have to worry about either. The last two spots in the order belong to serviceable Adam Eaton, a good two-way on-base hitter recently acquired from Tatooine, and whatever the Clips end up doing at second base.  A draft pick, a trade or even moving Escobar to second (3e5) and playing Anderson at third (2e10) while adding an outfielder are all possibilities. On the mound, Applegate already has more than 1,100 innings of pitching, with quality starters in Stephen Strasburg, Kyle Hendricks and newly acquired Patrick Corbin leading the way. Mike Fiers’ propensity to allow homers to righties must be managed in the fourth spot, while Dakota Hudson and Yonny Chirinos duke it out for fifth-starter/long relief roles. Will Smith is lefty closer-capable but more ideally suited to a LOOGY role due to a high HR count against righties. The Clips head into the draft with five picks in the first five rounds and no screaming needs other than an eventual second baseman, so they have the luxury of waiting to see if any of the Super Four (Vlad Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., Yordan Alvarez and Pete Alonso) somehow fall into their lap at No. 5. Continue reading

2020 South Division Pre-Draft Power Rankings

With the shuffling of divisions this year, we’ll take some time between now and the March 7 draft to preview the teams in each of the three divisions, assessing where they stand going into the draft. Today: The South Division.

The South Division represents the complete competitive Strat spectrum; clubs loading up on offense who will just try to outslug teams; clubs banking on superior pitching to carry the day. Clubs that are building with youth; clubs that treat draft picks like Monopoly money, merely cluttering up the front office when actual talent could be soaking in the whirlpool instead. It’s a tough call to delineate between the top two clubs as we sit here on Feb. 29, a week from the draft, but we’ll give it a shot.

1. Boulder. What you see on the Huggers going into the draft is what you gonna get. The Huggers have dealt away all of their original picks in the first five rounds and have gained one (pick 53), so the odds of acquiring a difference-maker in the draft is slight. And yet, what Boulder has on hand is formidable, albeit slightly flawed. An already-beastly lineup against righties became even more fearsome with the recent acquisition of slugger Jorge Soler, who joins a murderer’s row of high-average, high-on-base sluggos that seems to have the potential to average 7 runs per game. The infield features Max Muncy, Whit Merrifield, Trevor Story and Rafael Devers, while the outfield has Mike Trout flanked by Soler and Michael Brantley. With Shin-Soo Choo at DH, that’s eight bats that cannot be pitched around. Yes, they are weaker against lefties. Yes, that lineup against righties features 4s at 1B, 3B and RF. And no, there’s no catcher on the roster, and the draft pool there is thin. After drafting Chicago’s AL stadium that discriminates against right-handed power hitters, Boulder may be lining itself up for a repeat of its 2019 strategy to fill the back end of its rotation with random middling left-handed starters. It boasts an ace in Jacob deGrom and solid No. 2s and 3s in the Chris Brothers (Bassitt and Sale), but with no early pick to have even a prayer at a good starter, Boulder may be thinking of playing the ballpark odds and laying in the weeds for unwanted southpaws like Brett Anderson and Jason Vargas, who might be effective enough against righties to get by when backed by big bats. And, Boulder already has the makings of a stout bullpen with Ken Giles, Aroldis Chapman and Josh Hader, three of the most wicked strikeout artists — particularly against lefties — in this year’s set. Continue reading

2020 North Division Pre-Draft Power Rankings

With the shuffling of divisions this year, we’ll take some time between now and the March 7 draft to preview the teams in each of the three divisions, assessing where they stand going into the draft. Today: The North Division.

The North Division promises to be the most fascinating division to watch over the next four years, as the division features never-sit-on-the-fence Margaritaville and boom-or-bust New New York. Will those two teams take turns leapfrogging each other each year? Here’s the North Division’s power rankings as of Feb. 23, 13 days before draft day.

1. Margaritaville. When you’re both lucky and good, what chance does anyone else have? The Volcanoes finished six games under .500, lucked into the No. 1 overall pick, parlayed that into the acquisition of best-card-in-the-set Christian Yelich, and now North Division foes will have to face Yelich for 15 games a year for the next four years surrounded by a cast of all-stars. Playing in Coors Field, the Volcanoes have some impressive thunder in their lineup, as well as a pitching core that will make them nearly impossible to topple this year. Yelich, Mitch Garver, Gary Sanchez and Joc Pederson all boast HR chances in the double digits vs. righties, while Luis Castillo, Mike Minor, Brandon Woodruff and Shane Bieber form a pitching quartet that few teams can match. Margaritaville’s draft needs are few; it likely can do better at second base than pedestrian-hitting 4e22 Ryan McMahon. It doesn’t pick until No. 20, but still has five picks in the first five rounds, and can afford to stockpile prospects that it will use as trading chips to round out an unbeatable roster come trade deadline. Continue reading

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

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

Lava Flow for June

June play continued the odd journey of the Volcanoes through their 2019 season. The Volcanoes posted their season-best 12-8 record, and at the end of the month found themselves tied for first place in the Northbound division. For the season, the Volcanoes have allowed more runs (436) than they have scored (399), yet have won more games (41) than they have lost (39). The Volcanoes have hit better against righties (.800 OPS) than against lefties (.764 OPS) yet have a better record against lefties (12-6) than against righties (29-33). The Volcanoes have batted with the bases loaded a league-leading 73 times and while their overall OPS is .792, with the bases loaded they have hit to a .914 OPS, leading to a league-leading 61 runs from bases loaded situations.

(The Hypnotoads lead the league in bases-loaded OPS with 1.012, but have only batted with the bases loaded 56 times, producing 52 runs).  Applegate’s (.608 OPS) and Bismarck’s (.545 OPS)  batters have turned to jelly with the bases loaded.

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.

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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).

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Gopher Holes for April

When Kike Hernandez was still on the board at pick No. 25 at the big March draft in Scottsdale, the Gophers were delighted. Judged by some predraft analysts as a first-round talent, the Dodgers handyman looked like a perfect fit for Bushwood. With 422 at-bats, outstanding power, tremendous versatility and a nicely balanced card, Kike was a no-brainer pick for a team that desperately needed help at second base and in the outfield. Forty games into the season, however, the Gophers are still waiting for the real Kike to show up. With a .174 average and a .591 OPS, the underachieving Hernandez ranks as one of the many reasons that the Gophers are just 16-24 at the 40-game mark.

Speaking of underachievers, don’t forget about ace pitchers Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander and slugging outfielders Joey Gallo and George Springer. DeGrom (2-4, 6.12 ERA) and Verlander (3-4, 5.75 ERA) have been roughed up so often it is almost criminal. And we figured that Gallo couldn’t hit any worse than he did last year (.174 with 32 homers), but we were wrong (.143 with 7 homers — on pace for 28). Springer is building on his career-long underachieving rep with the Gophers, hitting just .203 with only three homers. Even veteran catcher Buster Posey, a traditional overachiever, has slipped below the Mendoza line at .196, perhaps due to exhaustion. Posey has started all 40 games behind the dish this season for the Gophers.

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Gopher Holes for March

With three genuine aces in the rotation for the first time in 40 years, the Gophers, a team traditionally built around offense, has a different look for 2019.  Sadly, the results fell well short of the expectations for two of the three aces in March.  Jacob deGrom went 1-2 with a 4.76 ERA over five starts, and Justin Verlander was hit even harder, going 2-1 with a 6.99 ERA in his five outings.  Thankfully, Trevor Bauer held up his end, going 3-1 with a 1.61 ERA in four starts.  The Gophers, however, went only 6-8 in their aces’ 14 starts for the month, which ain’t gonna cut it.

The bullpen, which features solid arms but lacks a true closer, had a nightmarish opening month.  The pen routinely blew leads and completely imploded at least once per series.  Relievers with inflated ERAs include Ryan Pressley (11.05), Jordan Hicks (9.00), TJ McFarland (6.75) and Steve Cishek (5.25).  Long reliever Mike Montgomery bucked that trend, however, posting a 1.56 ERA over 17.1 innings and notching four saves (all of the nine-out variety).  Overall, however, the Gophers went 0-3 in extra inning games.

Offensively, the under-achievers outnumbered the overachievers.  There was George Springer at .167, second-round draft pick Kike Hernandez at .158, Joey Gallo at .143 and Isiah Kiner-Falefa at ,087.  SS Paul DeJong earned hitter of the month honors, with 7 homers and 15 RBIs, hitting .357 with a .905 slugging and a 1.254 OPS.  Ryan Zimmerman’s stats were even better in part-time duty:  hitting .393 and slugging .893 with an OPS of 1.326.  First-round pick Jesus Aguilar led the squad with 17 RBIs but hit just .200.

The Gophers finished in a dead heat on the monthly run-differential column, scoring and allowing 96 runs.

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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