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)

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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.

Slugger Adam Wainwright provides ‘silver’ lining for Hypno-woes

Wainwright

New New York pitchers racked up 173 at-bats in 2017 as the team absorbed a 103-loss season, 37 more losses than in 2016.

That’s 173 at-bats more than Bushwood, Destin, Margaritaville, Satellite Beach and Springfield pitchers had combined. Those NNY pitchers hit just .133. But there’s reason for optimism in … wherever New New York is located.

Pitcher Adam Wainwright won a Silver Slugger award. Adam Wainwright is 36 years old. He had a 1.50 WHIP in 2017. He is two years past his expiration date. But will his bat (.262 average, .731 OPS) keep him with the Hypnotoads for 2018 as they ponder their retention list??? In a league that uses the DH?

Wainwright could be a valuable bat off the bench in a key at-bat-saving situation. He joins Jose Ramirez to form a pair of Silver Sluggers on the Hypnotoads, making New New York one of seven I-75 League clubs with two such honorees. The others are West Atlanta, Margaritaville, Destin, Bushwood, Savannah and South Grand Prairie.

Landing one Silver Slugger each was Applegate, Tatooine, Superior and Satellite Beach.

Four players — West Atlanta’s Eric Hosmer and Marcell Ozuna, South Grand Prairie’s Paul Goldschmidt and Savannah’s Nolan Arenado — have both Silver and Gold on their mantels, having won Gold Gloves in addition to their Silver Slugger.

Destin can brag that it made a deadline deal to land one of its Silver Sluggers in Justin Upton, stripping him from Boulder, which was blanked in the selections. Bismarck and Springfield also failed to rack up a Silver Slugger winner.

Pos. Player I-75 team Player I-75 team
1B Eric Hosmer WATL Paul Goldschmidt SGP
2B Jose Altuve SATB Daniel Murphy TAT
3B Jose Ramirez NNY Nolan Arenado SAV
SS Francisco Lindor MARG Corey Seager SUP
OF Aaron Judge APPL Marcell Ozuna WATL
OF Justin Upton DES Giancarlo Stanton SGP
OF George Springer BUSH Charlie Blackmon SAV
C Gary Sanchez MARG Buster Posey BUSH
DH, P Nelson Cruz DES Adam Wainwright NNY

For the Love of Glove: Here’s who owns the finest fielders

The Rawlings Gold Glove awards were announced Nov. 7. Here’s a look at I-75ers who have players who brought home the hardware, making those players likely to earn a 1 rating at their Gold Glove position when ratings come out in December. Once again voters failed to recognize any designated hitter.

Springfield and West Atlanta snagged three Gold Glovers each, while Bismarck, South Grand Prairie and Savannah landed two players each.

One player, catcher Martin Maldonado, is a free agent available to the highest bidder in the 2018 I-75 League draft.

Pos. Player I-75 team Player I-75 team
1B Eric Hosmer WATL Paul Goldschmidt SGP
2B Brian Dozier BOUL D.J. Lemahieu SGP
3B Evan Longoria WATL Nolan Arenado SAV
SS Andrelton Simmons SUP Brandon Crawford SPR
LF Alex Gordon SPR Marcell Ozuna WATL
CF Byron Buxton APPL Ender Inciarte SPR
RF Mookie Betts MARG Jason Heyward BSK
C Martin Maldonado FA Tucker Barnhart DYER
P Marcus Stroman SAV Zack Greinke BSK

Obtuse playoff pairings set

The 2017 six-team playoff field is set after Tatooine defeated Destin 3-2 in 11 innings in a Game 161 tiebreaker tilt.

The oddity of a division champion with a losing record results in a playoff matchup in which the team with the better record does not have the homefield advantage. The matchups:

No. 6 Tatooine (86-75) vs. No. 3 South Grand Prairie (78-82)
Winner takes on No. 2 Boulder (91-69)

No. 5 Superior (88-72) vs. No. 4 Springfield (93-67)
Winner takes on No. 1 Margaritaville (106-54)

The other oddity is fourth-seed Springfield entering the playoffs with a better record than second-seed, bye-earning Boulder. Instead it must duel with Superior, the league’s hottest team and the team it lost to for the World Series last year.

Eight of the 10 teams in the West and North Divisions posted better records than the playoff-bound Warriors, including three who didn’t make the playoffs.

Everyone starts the playoffs with a 0-0 record though, so watch this space for the exciting outcomes!

Not enough at-bats, but plenty of PAs

It’s time for our annual list of players who fall short of the minimum 550 at-bat requirement to be considered unlimited in the I-75 League… but gain unlimited status for 2018 by virtue of the clause in which they earned 600 or more plate appearances. There’s 14 of them — exactly the same number as a year ago.

  1. Josh Bell, 1B, Applegate (549 AB, 620 plate appearances). Clips are hoping the switch-hitter continues to develop and improves enough defensively to play a position other than DH.
  2. Kris Bryant, 3B, Margaritaville (549, 665). Another studly year from one of baseball’s superstars.
  3. George Springer, OF, Bushwood (548, 629). World Series MVP elevates his national visibility.
  4. Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Bushwood (544, 636). Lefty swinger offers power vs. righties, on-base against lefties.
  5. Aaron Judge, OF, Applegate (542, 678). 52 homers and a Gold Glove finalist. As if he’ll beat out Mookie Betts.
  6. Corey Seager, SS, Superior (539, 613). Lefty hitter has reverse splits, but still has an .826 OPS vs. RHPs.
  7. Travis Shaw, 3B, free agent (538, 606). Breakout year for 27-year-old makes him attractive first-round pick.
  8. Jake Lamb, 3B, New New York (536, 635). A waste of unlimited status as he’s unplayable vs. LHPs (.144 / .269 / .288).
  9. Eugenio Suarez, 3B, Bismarck (534, 632). Solid performer brings a Fangraphs War of 4.1 to the Bombers for next year.
  10. Domingo Santana, RF, Savannah (525, 607). Breakout 30-homer, 15-steal season at age 25. Hit .278.
  11. Steven Souza Jr., RF, Springfield (523, 617). Breakout 30-homer, 16-steal season at age 28. But hit just .239.
  12. Logan Morrison, 1B, free agent (512, 601). Breakout 38-homer year that he’ll never, ever, ever replicate.
  13. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Satellite Beach (508, 605). Good luck finding another .300 / .400 / .500 guy in the majors. OK, Jose Altuve. Find another. OK, Justin Turner, Bryce Harper, Mike Trout. Still pretty special.
  14. Matt Carpenter, 1B, Boulder (497, 622). Gotta love an unlimited guy who doesn’t even get to 500 ABs. 109 walks will do that for you.