May 25, 2003
Gophers and Fatboys
Before I get to today's topic, I need to address something that bugged me all weekend...
Hall of Fame second baseman and mediocre broadcaster Joe Morgan does a "chat" on ESPN.com every Friday. Over the years, Joe has become extraordinarily predictable in his opinions on things, to the point that I no longer read the majority of his chats (or listen to the majority of what he says).
Over the weekend though, I decided to check out what he had to say this week. As usual, most of the answers were what I would expect - cliches and old baseball knowledge. As he usually does, Joe provided one response that made me shake my head...
Maria (Wimberley, TX): Joe, enjoy your work. Have you read the new book "Moneyball" about Billy Beane? What do "insiders" such as yourself think about what the book says?
Joe Morgan: I read an excerpt in the NY Times. It's typical if you write a book, you want to be the hero. That is apparently what Beane has done. According to what I read in the Times, Beane is smarter than anyone else. I don't think it will make him popular with the other GMs or the other people in baseball.
"It's typical if you write a book, you want to be the hero. That is apparently what Beane has done."
There is, however, one slight problem with the above statement:
BILLY BEANE DID NOT WRITE THE BOOK!
Okay, now that I have that off my chest...
I have written about my Diamond-Mind "keeper league" teams a couple of times (here and here) in the past and I got a surprising amount of positive feedback each time. I haven't written about either of my two teams recently though and I have actually started to get emails from people wondering how they are doing. It truly amazes me that a) people remember that I have two Diamond-Mind league teams months after the last time I have written about them and b) people care enough about the teams to email me and ask for updates.
So, today's entry is for those of you interested in hearing about the progress of my two teams. For those of you that aren't interested, I appologize. You'll just have to bear with me for today. I promise it won't be a frequent thing and, at most, I'll give another update in a month or so.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Diamond-Mind, it is a baseball simulation game that allows leagues to replay entire seasons, using real stats that include lefty/right splits for pitchers and hitters, defensive ratings, ballpark factors and all sorts of other incredibly detailed stuff. The two leagues that I am in replay the season that just finished. So, right now we are replaying the 2002 season, using 2002 stats and ratings (in other words, Randy Johnson is really good and Esteban Loaiza isn't).
I took over the "Dallas Rustlers" of the "Three Run Homer League" prior to last season and immediately relocated the franchise to Minnesota and renamed them the Minnesota Gophers (real original, I know).
The team I took over wasn't a particularly good one, so I planned on a rebuilding year last season, with an eye towards seriously competing this season. Somewhere in the middle of that rebuilding, I actually won my division and my first round playoff series last year, before losing in the American League Championship Series.
This year, I expected to have a much improved team and to again compete for the division championship. So far, things are looking good. Here are the current standing in the American League Central of the TRHL:
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Team W L Win% GB RS RA
Minnesota Gophers 21 12 .636 --- 196 111
Mississauga IceDawgs 15 18 .455 6.0 107 130
Tennessee Tuxedos 12 21 .364 9.0 147 194
Springfield Homers 12 21 .364 9.0 145 174
Through the first 33 games of the year, I rank first in the 12-team American League in runs scored and first in runs allowed. With 196 runs scored and 111 runs allowed, my pythagorean winning percentage is .757, which is quite a bit higher than my actual winning percentage. The main reason for that is my horrible 0-5 record in 1-run games. Last year, I made the playoffs despite winning only 82 games and I was actually outscored during the season. So, this year's team is definitely looking a lot more promising.
As a team, the Gophers are hitting .277/.360/.475, which is about the same as the Yankees are hitting so far in 2003 (.273/.357/.460). I lead the league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, walks and runs scored.
The offense is led by and built around my first baseman, Jim Thome. Thome is currently hitting .342/.466/.769, with 15 homers and 45 RBIs in 33 games. That projects to 74 homers and 221 RBIs over the course of a full-season, so I'm guessing he'll cool down a little bit at some point. Aside from the 15 homers and .342 batting average, the reason for Thome's gaudy RBI total is that he bats #3 in the lineup and the first two guys are doing a great job getting on base in front of him.
Johnny Damon leads off and is hitting .256/.357/.414. Those numbers are below his actual performance last season (.286/.356/.443), so I am expecting him to improve a little bit. Still, he's getting on base 36% of the time in front of Thome, which is great.
My #2 hitter, Mark McLemore, is hitting .319/.404/.516 in 27 games. McLemore is my starting second baseman, but only against right-handed pitching, because he hit just .152/.348/.273 against lefties last year. When southpaws are on the mound, Mark DeRosa plays second base. DeRosa is hitting .324/.366/.351 so far, which is a little more OBP and a little less SLG than his real-life numbers (.297/.339/.429). McLemore's .404 OBP ranks 5th in the AL (Thome's .466 ranks first).
Aside from the table-setters (Damon and McLemore) and the table-clearer (Thome), I am also getting good performances from a few other hitters. Ellis Burks hits #4 (behind Thome) and is currently hitting .326/.366/.545, with 6 homers and 9 doubles. My centerfielder and #5 hitter, Andruw Jones (Damon plays LF), is hitting .252/.333/.521. That's a little below his actual 2002 numbers (.264/.366/.512), but it's definitely solid from a CF. He is second on the team in runs batted in, with 26. My third baseman, Mark Bellhorn, is hitting only .241, but has drawn 21 walks in 30 games, giving him a very nice .374 on-base percentage. He also has 5 homers and 5 doubles in only 102 at bats, which works out to a .442 slugging percentage.
Aside from Thome, Damon, McLemore, Jones, Burks and Bellhorn, I am not getting a whole lot of production from anyone else. My catching tandem of Ramon Hernandez (.228/.299/.329 in 79 at bats) and Greg Myers (.233/.333/.467 in 30 ABs) has been okay, but nothing special. And the rest of my guys (Placido Polanco, Andy Fox, Gary Matthews Jr., Moises Alou) have all performned below their actual 2002 levels.
As good as the hitting has been, I think the pitching has been even more impressive. I have a team ERA of 3.22 and the staff has a combined 286 strikeouts in 288 innings pitched. Of course, most of that comes from one pitcher: Randy Johnson.
During the off-season, I needed a #1 starter and I had quite a bit of salary cap room to spend. I decided that I would trade for Randy Johnson and take on his gigantic $98 salary, which took up exactly 24.5% of my $400 total salary cap. I am sure some of the other owners thought I was crazy and I definitely had my doubts, but so far I think it is working out great.
Here are Johnson's numbers:
GS CG IP ERA W L K BB HR
7 6 61 1.62 6 4 88 9 5
Not too shabby, huh? Randy has made 7 starts and has completed 6 of them. And 2 of the 6 complete games were shutouts. He has 88 strikeouts in only 61 innings and has a 88/9 K/BB ratio. The only real "human" number on that pitching line is the 5 homers he has allowed. In case you're wondering, his DIPS ERA is 2.30.
Here are his game-by-game performances:
IP ER SO BB
9 0 10 0
9 4 12 2
9 0 15 1
8 3 12 2
8 2 13 3
9 1 12 1
9 1 14 0
As amazing as Johnson has been, he doesn't even have the lowest ERA among my starting pitchers! No, Ryan Rupe (yes, I said Ryan Rupe) has a 1.43 ERA in 37 2/3 innings pitched. He is also 4-1 with a 33/6 K/BB ratio and has allowed only 21 hits.
The other three starters have been pretty good too. A.J. Burnett, my #2 starter, is 5-1 with a 3.78 ERA in 7 starts. Rick Helling is 3-2 with a 4.29 ERA in 6 starts and Andy Ashby is 3-3 with a 3.95 ERA in 6 starts. I have also gotten two decent spot starts so far, one each from Johan Santana and Tony Fiore.
Because the starting pitching has been so good, the bullpen has remained largely un-used. My closer, Joey Eischen, has appeared in only 10 of the team's first 33 games and has only 5 saves. He has pitched fairly well, but the staff has 9 complete games, so he hasn't had a chance to close much (which is fine with me). My main setup man, Mike Koplove, has worked even less. Koplove has appeared in only 5 games the entire year and has pitched a grand-total of 6 innings with a 1.50 ERA.
In fact, not one of my pitchers has pitched in more than 10 of the team's 33 games. I have a feeling Ryan Rupe isn't going to keep pitching like this and even Randy Johnson will slow down a bit from his current pace, so the bullpen will definitely be needed more than it has been at some point.
My general plan for Diamond-Mind keeper leagues is to always be working on both the current season and the next season. I generally try to stay away from planning for 3 or 4 years down the road, but I always have an eye on what I can do to improve myself for the next season.
As you may have noticed, none of my current starting pitchers - Johnson, Burnett, Ashby, Rupe, Helling - are having very good 2003 seasons. Randy Johnson pitched very poorly at first and has been on the DL for a while now. A.J. Burnett logged a total of 23 innings before his arm blew up. Andy Ashby has been demoted to the bullpen and has barely pitched the whole year. Ryan Rupe is in AAA. And Rick Helling is...well, Rick Helling.
So, my pitching staff for next year isn't looking real good. In fact, Rick Helling, who currently has a 6.63 ERA in 58 innings, was looking like the only starting pitcher I would have for next season. With that in mind, I decided to see what I could get in trade for A.J. Burnett, my #2 starter.
As you all know by now, Burnett suffered a season-ending injury a few weeks ago, underwent "Tommy John surgery" and is likely out until sometime next season, at least. However, during the season we are replaying right now (2002), A.J. Burnett is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Last year, he pitched 204 innings with a 3.30 ERA and had the 4th lowest OPS-against of any starting pitcher in baseball. In other words, he gave my team two legit "aces" - along with that Johnson guy. Burnett is definitely a big key to my current season.
On the other hand, I am always looking forward to next season and Burnett isn't going to be of much use then. He pitched a total of only 23 innings before going down with the injury, which means he could only pitch a total of 23 innings for me next season. I decided that it would be in my team's best interest to attempt to sacrifice some of the value that Burnett is going to be able to give this season and trade it for a pitcher that is less valuable right now, but will be more valuable next year.
I shopped Burnett around the league and got three interested owners. After trying unsuccessfully to get Bartolo Colon from one team and Russ Ortiz or Ted Lilly from another, I decided to trade A.J. Burnett for Vincente Padilla.
Here is what I am losing for the current season:
Pitcher IP ERA AVG OBP SLG
Burnett 204 3.30 .209 .302 .309
Padilla 206 3.28 .254 .312 .367
As you can see, both Burnett and Padilla were very good in 2002, but Burnett was significantly better. They both pitched right around 200 innings and Burnett limited hitters to a batting average about 50 points lower and a slugging percentage about 60 points lower.
I definitely downgraded my team for the current season, but I feel as though it is worth it, because Burnett will be essentially useless next season, while I expect Padilla to be a front-of-the-rotation starter for me. Plus, while the hit for the current season is a significant one, I think I have enough to win my division with or without Burnett.
The added bonus for me is their salaries. Burnett will make $20 next season, while Padilla will make only $9. The $11 difference may not seem like much, but that is 3% of the total team payroll, which is fairly significant. Of course, if Padilla gets injured this year or has a bad season for the Phillies, I will have worsened my current team for absolutely no reason. It's definitely a risk.
Here is what my 25-man roster looks like, after the completed trade:
SP Randy Johnson CL Joey Eischen
SP Vincente Padilla SET Mike Koplove
SP Andy Ashby LH Scott Eyre
SP Rick Helling RH Mike Fetters
SP Ryan Rupe MID Tony Fiore
MID Johan Santana
LINEUP VS RHP BENCH
LF Johnny Damon IF Placido Polanco
2B Mark McLemore IF Mark DeRosa
1B Jim Thome OF Moises Alou
DH Ellis Burks OF Michael Cuddyer
CF Andruw Jones C Ramon Hernandez
RF Gary Matthews Jr.
3B Mark Bellhorn
C Greg Myers
SS Andy Fox
While the Minnesota Gophers have had their plans for next season changed by some injury problems (Burnett, Johnson), they look like the healthiest team in the history of the world when compared to my second Diamond-Mind squad...
Last year, in the middle of my first season playing Diamond-Mind, I was having such a good time with the Gophers and the Three Run Homer League that I decided to join a second keeper league. There was a mid-season opening in the "Long Ball Baseball League" when a manager quit in the middle of the season. The team I took over was in last place and had no prospects of improving during that season, but they had a lot of good players on the roster and a lot of players in the middle of very good 2002 seasons. I took over the team, moved them to Minnesota, renamed them the Fatboys and made some blockbuster trades.
And now, it's 2003, we are replaying that 2002 season and I have myself a very good ballclub.
Here are the current standings in the LBBL American League "Kaline Division":
AMERICAN LEAGUE KALINE DIVISION
Team W L Win% GB RS RA
Minnesota Fatboys 32 18 .640 --- 329 205
Dayton Dynasty 28 22 .560 4.0 250 230
Durham Dogs 19 32 .373 13.5 206 256
Mississauga Redbirds 18 32 .360 14.0 193 259
Duluth Dukes 8 42 .160 24.0 168 309
As you can see, things are looking pretty good for this season, but it's next season that I am worried about. Here are the injured players I have on the roster:
Some of those players' injuries are more serious than others, but all of those guys have missed and/or will miss significant time with an injury this year and a lot of those guys are superstar players. For example, even if Jeter stays healthy for the rest of this season, I will not be able to use him as my everyday shortstop for a full season in the LBBL next year, because he won't have a full-season's worth of playing time in real life. Same with Sosa, Giles, Garcia, etc. And Mo Vaughn stunk when he was healthy and is now out for the year, so I have lost my starting first baseman for next year.
But, like I said, things are going well this year, so I can't complain too much. With 329 runs scored, I rank 2nd in the entire 20-team league and am one of only two teams with 300+ runs so far. In fact, only 5 out of the 20 teams have scored even 250 runs. My 205 runs allowed ranks 5th in the 20-team league and 2nd in the 10-team American League.
Like the Gophers, the Fatboys have a very good record and a very good pythagorean record, but they stink in 1-run games, where they are just 5-10. Both teams are good, but have horrible 1-run records. Hmm...maybe it is the manager...
Also like the Gophers (with Jim Thome), the Fatboys have a hitter in the middle of a monster season offensively: Sammy Sosa. Through 49 games, Sosa is hitting .344/.425/.749 with 25 homers, 60 RBIs and 47 runs scored. Projected over a full season, that comes out to about 82 homers, 155 runs scored and 198 runs batted in. Unfortunately, the LBBL plays only a 154-game schedule, so he won't get those extra 8 games to pad his stats. Sammy is driving in all of those runs because he constantly has guys on base for him.
Derek Jeter plays shortstop and leads off and, even though his numbers (.269/.350/.453) are down from his real life performance from 2002, he is still getting on base at a good clip. The #2 hitter, batting right in front of Sosa, is Brian Giles, who is also having a monster year. Giles is hitting .331/.465/.731 with 15 homers and 13 doubles in 145 at bats. Any time you get a guy batting in front of Sosa and he's on base 47% of the time, Sammy is going to drive in a ton of runs.
After Jeter, Giles and Sosa, I get to what I call the "hacking portion" of my lineup. Those first three batters walked a total of 311 times between them last year. The next four hitters - Alfonso Soriano, Aubrey Huff, Torii Hunter and Ivan Rodriguez - walked a total of 120 times.
While Hunter (.335/.375/.665) and Huff (.310/.368/.520) are doing very well, Alfonso Soriano is struggling big time. Soriano, who hit .300 last year, is hitting just .237 and has a horrible .299 on-base percentage. He has only 27 RBIs in 46 games, despite batting behind Jeter, Giles and Sosa the entire time.
As bad as Soriano has been though, it is nothing compared to the ridiculously awful play of my starting first baseman, Mo Vaughn. I am not a big fan of Mo's, but he had himself a decent season last year (.259/.349/.456) and, as my #8 hitter, I thought he'd do well enough. Boy was I wrong. Mo is currently hitting a completely putrid .194/.262/.335. The strange thing is that he is actually doing okay against lefties (.216/.293/.486), but has been absolutely useless against righties (.188/.253/.293).
The sad thing about it is that, on a team with Sosa, Giles, Soriano, etc., I don't have a decent option to play first base besides Vaughn. So, he's basically stuck there, sucking up outs at the bottom of an otherwise awesome lineup. Unless I make a mid-season trade for a first baseman that is, which I may try to do.
The high-scoring offense has actually been able to hold up a pitching staff that has performned a lot worse than I expected. My starting rotation includes the top 3 vote getters in the AL Cy Young balloting from last year, so I just figured I'd have one of the better pitching staffs in the league. Not so, at least not yet.
AL Cy Young winner Barry Zito is just 3-5 with a 4.12 ERA in 11 starts and has served up 12 homers in only 74 innings pitched. Derek Lowe has pitched well and is 6-1 with a 3.52 ERA, but even that is slightly below his actual stats from last year. Pedro Martinez has held up his end of the bargain. He's 7-2 with a 2.91 ERA in 10 starts and has racked up a 75/14 K/BB ratio in 68 innings. My fourth starter, Al Leiter, has been awful (4-5, 5.43 ERA), but my fifth starter, Jason Jennings, has been awesome (7-0, 2.49 ERA).
All in all, not a bad rotation, but I expected better from Zito and Leiter. Strangely enough, the bullpen has been much better than the rotation.
Reliever IP ERA SO BB
Steve Reed 13 0.67 9 2
Braden Looper 14 2.51 9 5
Damaso Marte 10 2.70 13 3
Brendan Donnelly 17 2.65 18 9
Mike Williams 15 3.52 18 5
TOTAL 70 2.44 67 24
Actually, the worst of the bunch is Mike Williams, who is the closer. He is 9/11 on save chances and has an 0-2 record.
Here's what my current 25-man roster looks like for the Minnesota Fatboys
SP Barry Zito CL Mike Williams
SP Derek Lowe SET Braden Looper
SP Pedro Martinez LH Damaso Marte
SP Al Leiter RH Brendan Donnelly
SP Jason Jennings MID Steve Reed
MID Jeremy Affeldt
LINEUP VS RHP BENCH
SS Derek Jeter IF Ramon Martinez
DH Brian Giles OF Karim Garcia
RF Sammy Sosa OF Moises Alou
2B Alfonso Soriano OF Ron Gant
3B Aubrey Huff C Todd Pratt
CF Torii Hunter
C Ivan Rodriguez
1B Mo Vaughn
LF Mark McLemore
So there you have it, the state of the franchise(s). If you enjoyed today's entry and actually have an interest in hearing about my two teams in the future, make sure to email me and let me know, so I don't feel like I bored everyone to death today.
Ben Jacobs of the "Universal Baseball Blog Inc." has a really good entry about the Hall of Fame candidacy of Barry Larkin. I have been doing a lot of entries lately about guys and their Hall of Fame prospects (Palmeiro - McGriff - Williams) and, after seeing Larkin say that he is probably done being a full-time player, I was actually sort of planning to do one on Larkin, but Ben has done an excellent job on his, so there's no need for me to do it too!
Go head over there...
Montreal (Vargas) -110 over Florida (Pavano)
Boston (Wakefield) +160 over New York (Clemens)
Total to date: + $1,390
W/L record: 99-95 (5-2 on Friday for +330)
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****