2002 SSL Yearbook Another year, another yearbook. Well, sort of. This year‟s version has captions for all 30 teams, as well as some additional fun with numbers. There‟s also a bit more context to look at, as some of the top teams weren‟t quite so intimidating this year even as others rose to new heights. Also, some “new elites” have risen from mediocrity, and a few teams are doubly depressing after losing lots of games for the second straight year. Last year‟s season was a beginning, whereas 2002‟s results can be analyzed either independently or as part of a larger picture. I‟ll be doing both in the captions. Since I haven‟t had access to boxscores for all of these captions, there will be a bit less in the way of hard statistical analysis…but I hope to make up for that with a full complement of team reviews! I‟ve also added two extra features: an article on the follies of putting too much stock in the rookie draft, and Nghia‟s excellent season review of all things strange and Bonds. I hope you find something interesting in each team‟s story. Part of that comes from familiarity, but part also comes from simply looking a bit closer. A baseball season, even a simulated one, has huge amounts of lore, trivia, hilarity, and heartbreak, if we‟re willing to look for them. On that note, enjoy this second (and thankfully, longer) installment of your SSL Yearbook. -Jonathan Adelman Black River Blast Owner: John Cebelak Record: 61-101 The Blast were a viable playoff contender a year ago, and barely managed to eke out 80 wins. No one expected a similar performance this year, with expected off years from Johnny Damon, Edgardo Alfonzo, and especially Brian Bohanon. This begs the question, where does the team go from here? Damon and Alfonzo will rebound, but is it enough to challenge for a playoff spot any time soon? And if not, is there a plan in place to get the Blast into postseason play one of these days? Observe the 2003 ages of some key players: <21: Wilson Betemit 21-25: Michael Barrett, Aubrey Huff, Jason Jennings, Byung-Hyun Kim 26-29: Edgardo Alfonzo, Johnny Damon, LaTroy Hawkins, Jacque Jones So the team is pretty young, despite the established stars. They have time to develop, improve, and wait for the current AL hierarchy to topple. That being said, the biggest new of the season for John‟s team happened after the last game was played, when the San Francisco Giants signed Alfonzo to play 2b for them. This is wonderful news for the Blast; Huff looks like a 1b/dh, but could end up at third base, and Betemit is on the shortstop track but could also be put at the hot corner – Fonzie would quite possibly have been superfluous at 3b for the Blast. Not so when he‟s a middle infielder; not only is there an unfortunate lack of talent at 2b and ss in baseball, but the Blast certainly have no one else to turn to. 2002 was a lost season, but if Betemit ends up playing shortstop for the Braves in 2004, the Blast will quite possibly have a stacked lineup with no holes. In other words, we could see John depart from Cebelak family tradition and stock up on pitchers in the next rookie draft or two! Regardless, remember that this past season was indeed a stressful one for the team – not because of boxscores or losses, but because their top hitter was on the verge of becoming positionally less valuable. John owes Brian Sabean a thank-you letter, for sure. A final caveat: even if things work out right, the best hitters are already in their prime. The Blast may be developing someone else‟s veteran hitters, should the team decide to start from scratch and focus on Betemit, Barrett, etc. So, just as last year‟s W-L record was overshadowed by real-life baseball decisions, next year‟s results could be less important than the decisions ownership makes. Carolina Crawdads Owner: Bruce Wallace Record: 124-38 That record is just obscene. 38 losses. That‟s downright historic, folks. Some of it comes from playing in a division of one lion and many mice; the Crawdads were 73-11 in their division. The next best divisional record belonged to the Goldeyes, who went 53-23 in the AL East…not even close. Carolina went 106-5 in games they led after 7 innings. That‟s pretty amazing, but think about this – the team went 9-30 in games they trailed after 7 innings; almost a quarter of the time, the „Dads came from behind in the final two innings! We can talk about their SSL-best 3.09 ERA, 7.3 hits allowed per 9 innings, 124 wins, or just about any other pitching statistic, and you‟ll be able to see how good the arms were. We can talk about their sickening lineup, in which only three regulars batted under .300 (A.J. Pierzynski: .299/.345/.440; Alex Gonzalez: .298/.342/.534; Rafael Palmeiro: .274/.387/.545). We can even talk about the player moves that got Carolina to this point: draft picks and middling prospects for Hideo Nomo and Pierzynski; excess (but quality) pitching and outfielders for Jamie “The Magician” Moyer; Sean Casey and extras for Palmeiro. Very nice trades, all of them. In the end, however, the playoffs serve as the ultimate litmus test, and the Crawdads came up short. One might argue that the Devil Dogs had slightly better starting pitchers, a slightly better bullpen, a better bench, and a lineup to match the might of Carolina‟s…but the “slightly betters”, even if true, weren‟t enough to guarantee anything. They certainly weren‟t enough to account for how each team fared: Devil Dogs .266/.370/.497 Crawdads .235/.308/.350 I have a different answer, although it probably won‟t hold water for some. Namely, the playoffs are a crapshoot. You get in, you have a halfway decent team, then you‟ve got a pretty nice chance of going places. Last year‟s champion – the Minnesota Mashers (now Rochester Raiders) – was a wildcard with huge pitching holes, going up against the might of the American League. That didn‟t stop them from hitting the tar out of opposing pitching staffs that should have at least somewhat contained the Mashers‟ bats. Bruce Wallace has left the league, but his legacy remains – a regular season record that can‟t be overlooked due to its sheer hugeness. Even the lack of a World Series title can‟t mar the luster of those numbers. 124 wins. 38 losses. Cascades Barista Bears Owner: Michael Johnson Record: 95-67 The Bears snuck into the playoffs a year ago, and many people said at the time that they‟d have a better chance of going far in 2002. That sentiment proved right to a point, as the team won 95 games, good for the 4th best record in the AL, and the 9th best record in the SSL. They played in the wrong division, though; the Raiders beat up on a weak AL Central, and the Stallions eked out the wildcard by a game. The archrival Mothmen not only took away the Bears‟ crown, but helped push them out of the race by winning 2 of 3 in the season‟s second to last week, just as the Stallions were going on a roll to jump ahead in the wildcard standings at the last moment. On September 26, Jarrod Washburn couldn‟t find a way to hold off the Mothmen bats; the Bears lost 5-3. On September 28, the Rainbow also beat the Bears 5-3, as 16-game winner Ryan Dempster was roughed up by the usually weak Magic Valley hitters. Even in the regular season‟s final moments, though, this team held to its Cinderella reputation. Stallions owner Rollin Shank was worried that despite his easier schedule for the month, the Bears would hold their wildcard lead; Mothmen owner Bob Cebelak wasn‟t sure whether he wanted to face the Stallions hitters or the Bears pitchers less, but either case involved difficulties. Indeed, Cascades has become one of the league‟s models for winning while staying relatively young, and that might help foster the Cinderella/underdog image that stays with the Bears. Take note – the Stallions are old, the Goldeyes are wretchedly old, and most of the other teams in the junior circuit have gaping holes. It‟s so easy to forget the ages of those young guns in the Cascades rotation. Let‟s take a moment to squash that underdog image, now. Repeat after me: Kerry Wood (24-7, 3.30), 25 years old. Jarrod Washburn (13-13, 4.28), 27 years old. Ryan Dempster (16-14, 4.36), 25 years old. Danys Baez (6-6, 2.57), 24 years old. Baez may not be long for the rotation, and Dempster‟s stock will probably fall, but a 1-2 punch of Wood-Washburn is devastating, and it won‟t be going away any time soon. I thought of this as “Bobby Abreu‟s team” when the league first started, but at this point the Bears reek of young pitching. As the other top teams get older, remember that we aren‟t looking at an underdog to root for. Michael Johnson‟s team is dangerous, and not to be underestimated or taken lightly. Well, at least not unless the arms fall apart, as arms sometimes do. Regardless, 2003 will likely be the third straight 90+ win season for the team. It‟s past time we gave the Barista Bears their due! Champaign Bubbles Owner: Michael Wingo Record: 101-61 Last year, the Greenbrier Bellhops won 98 games and failed to reach the postseason. I lamented at the time that such a travesty would hopefully never be repeated. Indeed, it was surpassed, as the juggernaut Bubbles fell short by a game despite winning a whopping 101 games! Two contributing factors are immediately apparent. The first was the shape of the NL itself: the Bubbles were one of only five “elite” teams, and only three other teams finished with records above .500. So, as the big boys got to beat up on the weaklings, 100+ wins wasn‟t as difficult a feat to attain this year. And, a second factor bears noting. The Bubbles were 41-40 at home. 41-40; a 100-win team played .500 ball in half of its games!! Can you guess my explanation? I‟ll give it to you in one word – Coors. I said last year that the Bubbles looked to have a good team for their difficult stadium – lots of durable relievers, a group of starting pitchers that give up lots of ground balls, and an offense that made good contact. It didn‟t work out that way, however, as the bullpen got shelling at home, and the offense – made weaker by the lack of available platoon or utility players in the second half of the season – did markedly worse. All of this begs the question – how can a team win at Coors? Furthermore, as Michael Wingo would definitely point out, how can a team do it while at the same time dealing with unusually harsh usage conditions? I‟ll present a different plan for success this year: ignore specifics, and gather as many good players onto the roster as possible. The team that plays at Coors needs a superb bench and, even more importantly, a well-stocked bullpen – when the starting pitcher tires after 110 pitches and five innings, the usual 3-man relief effort may well fall short. Along these lines, I remain convinced that Coors could, in the hands of a top team that is built specifically for high-altitude play, be a tremendous advantage. Yes, an advantage! Imagine a 7-game series in which one team has a “normally-built” roster, with 11 or possibly 12 relief pitchers. Now imagine our Coors team, with a strong-but-flexible bench in favor of strict platoons, and a 13-man bullpen. I think the latter team is perhaps capable of wearing out even a superior opponent under those conditions. In any event, the Bubbles get to try again next year under better conditions: they have a new stadium, and the National League may not be quite so top-heavy. Third time‟s the charm! Chesapeake Crabs Owner: Lee Van Koten Record: 76-86 The Crabs scored only 685 runs in 2002, and it showed in the W-L record. The batters knew how to take a walk (Troy Glaus had 109, and Trot Nixon was close behind with 101), but there was little power to speak of, and the team average was a woeful .241. Some folks were expecting better things from Chesapeake, although Lee swore up and down that his team wasn‟t ready to run with the elite clubs. There‟s enough young talent to give Crabs fans hope for the long-term, and his plan remained the same – build a good young team, and don‟t commit to a playoff run until the core is in place and going strong. That being said, the season had to have been something of a disappointment in a more specific sense. Troy Glaus is a monster talent. He has mammoth power, extraordinary patience, and the ability to hit .300 or better. In 2001, he paced the Crabs‟ offensive attack with a 1.026 OPS. Last year, that number fell to .889, and his projected 2003 OPS could be in the low .800‟s! Are we looking at a team-threatening problem? Glaus‟s World Series showing with the Angels this year really shouldn‟t count as hopeful evidence unless you really think he‟s somehow lost the ability to put up 1.000 OPS seasons, but it does serve as a beacon of optimism during what might be a long 2003 season. Of more importance is the supporting cast. Mark Buehrle could arguably be called the best player on the team at this point, and that‟s not a bad thing at all. Oh yeah – he‟s 23. Then there‟s Carlos Hernandez, with a ton of potential. He‟s 22. Glaus is only 25. Livan Hernandez, the elder statesman of the pitching staff, is 28; so is Trot Nixon. Mike Cameron is the oldest “core” player, a ripe old 29. Brad Fullmer is 27, and ready to break out. Eli Marrero is 28, and could finally be the answer for the Crabs catching woes. Lots of 20-something talent in this mix, and much of it has yet to reach prime producing years. Optimism aside, Glaus needs to return to form. It didn‟t happen in 2002. It won‟t happen for the Crabs in 2003. By the time 2004 roles around, the supporting cast will be in an optimal position. If Glaus is there with a 1.000 OPS year, the Crabs could finally snatch the AL East title away from one of the veteran squads. If Glaus can‟t meet his potential, however, it may keep the Crabs‟ “high point” on their Success Cycle from being high enough to matter. Death Valley Devil Dogs Owner: Al Gwizdala Record: 119-43 Let‟s trace the path that led to a championship. *October 3, 2001: Recent import Rick Ankiel gives up 4 hits in 6 innings against the Kalamazoo Golden Spikes, but Death Valley loses the playoff game thanks to his 6 walks and 6 runs allowed. *October 6, 2001: Scott Elarton, also a newly-acquired young pitcher from the Shrikes, allows 11 men to reach base in 5.2 innings. He takes the loss in an 8-2 debacle. *October 9, 2001: In a deciding Game 5, Ankiel gives up 4 runs in 5.2 innings. Gil Meche (coincidentally, Young Pitcher #3 from the Shrikes) enters in relief and promptly blows the lead, and the game. Lasorda lashed out at the youngsters after the game, and Gwizdala promised changes. *January, 2002: Ankiel, Meche, Elarton, and others are shipped to Myrtle Beach for Randy Johnson. The Big Unit would go 23-6 with a 2.16 ERA for the Dogs. This marked the beginning of a frenzied offseason in which the team acquired veterans Nevin, Andy Pettitte, Mark McGwire, and Kevin Brown, among others. Jeff Bagwell is among the departees, and a furious Barry Bonds gets into a screaming match with Gwizdala. *April 1, 2002: Bonds says that he‟s going to break his own SSL record for home runs. *June 23, 2002: The Devil Dogs are 52-21, and climb ahead of the Bubbles in the NL West. The lead is never relinquished for the remainder of the season. *September 30, 2002: The regular season ends; Bonds‟ final average was .364, and he finished with an amazing 110 home runs. *October 3, 2002: A 3-run shot by Phil Nevin in the 9th gives Death Valley a 6-3, come- from-behind win against the Expos in Game 1 of the NLDS. The Devil Dogs will win Game 2 in extra innings, and go on to sweep the series. *October 10, 2002: The mighty Crawdads win Game 1 of the NLCS, and for the first time all year, Death Valley looks vulnerable. The Devil Dogs rebound, however, winning the next three games by scores of 10-2, 5-0, and 9-2. They win the series 4-2. *October 20, 2002: The Holland Mothmen can‟t find a way to beat Randy Johnson, and the Devil Dogs win 6-2 in the World Series opener. Shawn Green, whose electric season was overshadowed by Bonds, hit a home run. It would be his first of 5 dingers in the Fall Classic. The rest of the SSL owners shake their heads in dismay, and plan to extend their rebuilding timetables. If there‟s a Billy Beane in the SSL, we‟ve found him here. Dort Highway Demons Owner: Kevin Gillis Record: 74-88 The Demons were one of several ho-hum 70-win teams in the American League this year. They didn‟t even have a neat backstory, as they did the year before when Derek Bell flirted with .400 for much of the year, and Pudge Rodriguez finished in the high .300‟s. This year‟s offensive attack was at bad as Chesapeake‟s, however, and the pitching wasn‟t that great either. The Demons remain one of the strange and unique teams in the SSL, however, for a single reason that has partially defined the team since its inception – roster depth. To be more precise – hitting depth. Observe. c: Mike Lieberthal c: Jason Varitek 1b: Mo Vaughn 1b: David Ortiz 2b: Todd Walker 2b: none 3b: Russell Branyan 3b: Fernando Tatis ss: Derek Jeter ss: Rafael Furcal lf: Rickey Henderson lf: Chuck Knoblauch cf: Carlos Beltran cf: Carl Everett rf: Steve Cox rf: Raul Ibanez Enough regulars to stock nearly two lineups, but here they all are in Dort Highway, looking for new homes and more playing time. And, of course, there‟s still Nick Johnson looking for a job. Some of these guys will play their way out of the Demons‟ long term picture (Knoblauch, Everett), some will just get too old to be useful (Henderson), and some will have injury problems that would really hurt teams with less depth (Varitek, Tatis). And of course, Kevin had, at the time of this writing, already traded Cox (who was sold to Japan in real life) and Varitek for…oh. For another hitter. If Kevin can find a way to develop a few good pitchers to go with Jason Schmidt in the rotation, he won‟t need to trade his excess, and can simply pick and choose the successful bats as the worthless ones become recognizable. The pitching hasn‟t come yet, though, and it may not be long before the team takes a more risky approach, and starts shedding a few of their top “extras” for bona fide arms. Regardless, it‟s neat to have oddities like this in a league. The fact that we‟re 30 strong makes this crowded roster an even rarer sight. Hoboken Hitmachine Owner: David Dietzel Record: 77-85 A year removed from the NL East title, the Hitmachine are in full rebuilding mode. Some key events along the way: *In 2001, Ellis Burks had a 1.066 OPS for the Hitmachine. He was traded at midseason this year after Hoboken was clearly out of the race. *Alex Ochoa and Ken Caminiti had OPS above .900 in 2001; both stunk last year. *Rafael Palmeiro was traded in the offseason for Sean Casey. Casey had already stopped hitting for power; this year, he stopped hitting, period. Palmeiro is still great. *Mike Mussina, Chuck Finley, Tim Hudson, and Paul Abbott all had ERA‟s under 4.00 in 2001 – a year noted for high offensive output. Mussina was dealt for Jeff Weaver, who did well this year but fell short of Mussina‟s level; Finley was sent with a high draft pick (gotten by trading Hudson) for Barry Zito – a superb trade, and perhaps the lone bright spot on this year‟s team. Paul Abbott plain stunk this year. Some of these trades were great, and some were bad. It doesn‟t matter; the Hitmachine weren‟t going to contend this year even if they had stood pat after last year‟s NLCS loss to Kalamazoo. In fact, Enrique‟s Golden Spikes are a good team to compare with David‟s Hitmachine: both were coming off of playoff appearances, both were now cycling down toward mediocrity, away from “elite-hood”. The Golden Spikes took the plunge into rebuilding mode with one fell swoop, whereas Hoboken kept several of their aging stars in the hope of a quick turnaround. Now, a year later, the Hitmachine are where Kalamazoo was at the start of 2002, only they don‟t have quite as many veterans with quality numbers to throw at contending teams. Don‟t get me wrong; David is a good buddy, and has given me sound baseball advice on many occasions. Maybe that makes it easier for me to be critical. In any case, the team can now serve as context for what many analysts are calling “The Success Cycle”. The concept behind the Cycle is that teams aren‟t static entities; they improve or decline over time. If you imagine a circle, the Hitmachine v2001 might have been near the top, perhaps slightly to the right of center, already heading downhill thanks to the team‟s relative old age, but still a powerful opponent. Hoboken v2002, before trades, looked like a team somewhere on the right edge of the circle, well into decline. It would have been the right time to recognize that a simple retooling wouldn‟t be enough to get younger AND stay competitive. So remember, even the best teams can fall hard and fast. The Hitmachine made the right choice at midseason, and with luck they‟ll save a year or two of rebuilding because of it. Holland Mothmen Owner: Bob Cebelak Record: 104-58 I would have voted for Bob as GM of the Year in 2001, despite his team finishing around .500; the pieces were all there for a dynasty, and it would start to unfold soon. “Soon” turned out to be a mere season later, as the Mothmen went all the way to the World Series behind some powerful hitting, tremendous depth, a very good bullpen, and a patchwork pitching staff that somehow managed to finish second in the AL in ERA (3.74). We can talk about big hitters like Pat Burrell or Juan Gonzalez, but that‟s not what really defines this team. If you want to see what makes the Mothmen tick, look at the bench and the bullpen. *The reserve hitters had several things in common. They walked. A lot. They also hit lots of dingers. There were a lot of them on the bench. And, even more unsettling, most of them were youngsters. Examples are Erubiel Durazo, Jeremy Giambi, and D‟Angelo Jimenez (who was used exclusively against righties with great success). *The relief pitchers were a mix of young and old, lefties and righties…but all except Jay Powell had a common theme: good K/IP and K/BB ratios. Examples are Todd Van Poppel, Octavio Dotel, and Jose Nunez. The Mothmen couldn‟t get past the Devil Dogs in the World Series, and they lost Gonzalez in the 2003 redistribution draft. This team may not be quite as good next year, but the long term outlook is still very good, and the team‟s core – already young – is continually being upgraded. As older players begin to falter, the young hitters that get quietly grabbed each year (ex: Bobby Kielty in Round 3 of the 2002 rookie draft) replace them. Gonzalez becomes Giambi; Jose Valentin becomes Jimenez. The bullpen keeps getting stocked with pitchers with high K/BB ratios. The signs are all there – this Dynasty hasn‟t been halted by Devil Dog Al; it has merely been delayed. If there‟s one thing that can keep the Mothmen from a title, it‟s starting pitching. No resource is as highly valued by the masses, and yet no resource is as fragile. Pitchers get hurt more than hitters do; arms aren‟t meant to throw baseballs at high speeds. Bob‟s reluctance to invest his high-quality bats in such a speculative area may well hurt in the long run. Or, it may not. Here‟s the unsung 2002 Mothman poster child: Pat Rapp‟s real-life stats: 5-12, 4.78; .261/.333/.403 Pat Rapp‟s SSL stats: 15-5, 3.69 If Bob can find a Rapp every year (poor real-life W-L record and ERA, good peripherals, played in a hitters‟ park), we‟re in trouble. Kalamazoo Golden Spikes Owner: Enrique Temes Record: 59-103 That‟s an ugly record from any team, but the reigning NL Champs are hanging their heads especially low after a 50+ game downswing in one year‟s time. I mentioned the Golden Spikes in Hoboken‟s caption, and said that Enrique made the right decision when he started the rebuilding process days after losing to the Mashers in our first ever World Series. Is it really such a simple issue, though? Can we give the team a grade after one year of rebuilding? Let‟s try. The critical decisions were, in no specific order: *Keeping Carlos Delgado. Most of Enrique‟s other veterans didn‟t have a lot of trade value, although guys like Denny Neagle and Shane Halter would have netted some good stuff…but Delgado was prime hitting material, and could have fetched a boat load. *Trading Phil Nevin for A.J. Burnett. Nevin is a good 3b, but he‟s not doing as well after two great years for the Padres, and he may be moved to a less valuable corner. Burnett looks like an ace. *Selecting Odalis Perez in the redistribution draft. A lot of Portland pitchers have crashed and burned after leaving town, but this one did fair enough in 2002, and is poised to have a tremendous breakout year in 2003. *Acquiring Denny Stark, Jorge Julio, Michael Cuddyer, Juan Rivera, and Corky Miller. The team‟s rookie draft was a busy one, and at least some of the talent (Julio, Stark, Cuddyer) will help in 2003. If we add it all up, I see a lot of either smart of lucky (or both!) decisions. If Burnett blew his shoulder, or if Perez didn‟t dominate MLB hitters last year, or if fewer rookies took big steps forward, the decision to keep Delgado may well have been a bad one. As it stands, however, the Golden Spikes still have their big slugger, and he might even still be in his prime when the team is soon ready to make another World Series run. It‟s risky to speculate after only a year, and I‟ll probably eat crow for a lot of these comments, but as it currently stands, Enrique has done a great job. It‟s one thing to say “Time to rebuild!” and quite another to do it well…and quite another to do it quickly! I‟ll check back in another year to see if the good ship Kalamazoo is still on course. Lakewood Thunder Owner: Todd Harshman Record: 69-93 Richard Hidalgo slumped badly, Edgar Renteria hit like Rey Ordonez, and the team finished near the bottom in most offensive categories. Kris Benson wasn‟t even in uniform, and won‟t pitch for the team until 2003. Shawn Chacon‟s expected stat line wasn‟t nearly as good as the park-adjusted real-life totals hinted at, and Tomo Ohka had an ERA near 6. It was not an ideal year for the Thunder. When Todd drafted his team back in early 2001, he managed to bring together a good mix of young players and capable veterans. The team wasn‟t an expected contender, but general consensus was that Lakewood would hold around .500 or so until the kids came into their own. It would have been an ideal situation – moderate success right off the bat, and long-term success thanks to the youth. After two years, the team is mired in .450 Land, and the playoffs don‟t look so near. There are lots of good young players who had off-years this past season, however, and Todd claims that he may be ready to compete for a playoff spot in 2004. I was doubtful, and decided to take a closer look. I‟m going to cheat in order to dig a bit deeper, and peek ahead at the 2002 season disk. Below are SSL 2002 results, along with “projected” 2003 stats, disregarding park effects: Cliff Floyd, lf: .305/.375/.514 in 2002; projected .288/.388/.533 in 2003 Richard Hidalgo, rf: .276/.362/.419 in 2002; projected .235/.319/.415 in 2003 Paul Konerko, 1b: .261/.332/.419 in 2002; .304/.359/.498 in 2003 Edgar Renteria, ss: .250/.288/.362 in 2002; .305/.364/.449 in 2003 Mark Mulder, sp: 3.88 makes him look better than he pitched in 2002; 3.47 ERA in 2003 Tomo Ohka, sp: 5.63 in 2002; 3.18 ERA in 2003 …and that‟s ignoring the return of Kris Benson to mediocrity from the DL. Lots of improvement – sure looks like the 2002 season was a lot of bad luck right now. That being said, if we continue our crystal ball gazing session, we can look at the five lineup slots that haven‟t yet been covered. Here they are, with “projected” 2003 numbers: Bengie Molina, c: .245/.274/.322 Jose Macias, dh: .249/.293/.379 Brent Abernathy, 2b: .242/.288/.311 Tsuyoshi Shinjo, cf: .238/.294/.370 Jeff Cirillo, 3b: .249/.301/.328 Ugh. This team is going to stink next year, possibly worse than in 2002…and it won‟t be because of a lack of talent. No, folks, it‟s because guys like Cirillo are artificially depressing the team‟s offense. And that means, when the Thunder get around to filling these holes with real talent in 2004, the team‟s projected totals will jump. Maybe it won‟t be a playoff-caliber jump, but enough to help a lot. Todd, I‟m a believer! Magic Valley Rainbow Owner: Nite Mahan Record: 77-85 Practically everything I‟ve ever written about Nite‟s team has eventually turned to that bullpen. Hoffman. Percival. Setup men galore. A bullpen good enough to give the team a 4.04 ERA last year, despite having three starting pitchers with ERA‟s of, respectively, 5.68 (Joe Beimel), 5.82 (Brandon Duckworth), and 6.34 (Nick Bierbrodt). Well, I won‟t do it this time. There‟s more to the Rainbow than a dominant pen, after all! For example, when you think of the Rainbow, do you think of one of the toughest divisions in the SSL? All four teams finished at .500 or above in 2001, and only Magic Valley slipped below that mark last year. They played like a .500 team, in fact; part of the problem was a tough schedule that pitted them against the Mothmen, Barista Bears, and Wallabies more than one would want. Do you think of „The K Konnection‟? Probably not; Jason Kendall‟s injury turned him from star into scrub last year, and Jeff Kent had a very sub-par season as well. Kent, at least will rebound, but it remains interesting to think of those two as the cornerstones of the franchise back in the beginning of 2001. Do you think of NL-style “speed ball”? The Rainbow were one of only four AL teams to have over 100 stolen bases last year, and only two teams had a better SB%. This is all with a team that had only two major base-stealing threats (Orlando Cabrera and Doug Glanville), neither of whom could get on base very well. Well, Jason Kendall probably thought he was a threat as well, but Nite kept him stationary this year, which was a good thing: a real-life 13-27 success rate looks much worse than Kendall‟s 2 SSL stolen bases in 5 attempts. Do you think about three – count „em! – THREE closers in one bullpen?? That‟s just unfair. It‟s worse than unfair, because two of them are two of the best closers in the game, and the third (Juan Acevedo) just had a great season. It‟s mostly unfair, though, because one year ago I made a trade with Nite, sending Ryan Rupe and his plethora of starts to him for a backup catcher (Chad Moeller), a utility infielder (Randy Velarde), and my choice of either Acevedo or Kane Davis. I thought I was being slick when I chose Davis – he was younger, he pitched in Coors that year and still had a semi-decent stat line, while Acevedo looked mediocre and – at 30 years of age – old, for my tastes. Oops, I did it again – more bullpen talk. As much charm as the Rainbow have, it‟s hard to look beyond that scary bunch of relievers. If the team trades one of Hoffman/Percival, I won‟t be that sad – after all, there‟s work to be done with this roster – but I‟ll miss being able to go on and on about the two- or sometimes even three-headed closer the Rainbow trot out each year. Middle Earth Hobbits Owner: Jim Condon Record: 70-92 Jim was one of many owners to take control of this franchise. The original owner, James Huang, dubbed the team “Las Vegas Diamondbucks”, and until he left the league at midseason of our first year due to health concerns, most people thought he‟d built a championship caliber ballclub. Mike Younkman took the team, moved them to Maine, and lost the NLDS series with the underdog Hitmachine. He promptly sold the team, and after much searching we found Jim, and the Hobbits were born. They lasted a little less than a year, and the current incarnacion – Bob Estabrook‟s Exeter Red Stockings – hopes to shake the „Curse of the high NL Central owner turnover rate‟. Where in all of this chaos is there something to point at and write about, and designate “Hobbit lore” (as opposed to “Diamondbucks” or “Marauders”)? Did Jim have time to put a stamp on the team? He most certainly did! Faced with an aging club, a depleted farm system, and a lack of depth, Condon made a daring move – he traded Manny Ramirez, the team‟s only star. This was indeed a move born of desperation! After the first three months of play, the Hobbits were 39-41. After trading Ramirez, they were 31-51. The Hobbits also finished the season with a very different face; dozens of players changed hands in a midseason trading whirlwind, and poor James Huang would probably have trouble recognizing his ex-team. Perhaps the next question, then, is this – were the moves necessary? Could the Hobbits have retooled, or even rebuilt their roster, without trading Ramirez and the other veterans? In the end, I don‟t think it mattered. It‟s not easy to inherit a team that was built by someone else; the successes aren‟t yours to gloat over, and the failures are just as relevant. By season‟s end, the Hobbits had over a dozen talented players in their early to mid 20‟s, and it felt like a different roster. This was suddenly the kind of team that many fans of the lumbering old behemoths in real baseball would love to inherit – young, scrappy, with lots of room for improvement. Jim traded for Vernon Wells, and Brad Wilkerson, and Juan Cruz, and Jay Gibbons, and many more besides, but I think his biggest acquisition was a much-underrated commodity: Hope. Minneapolis Maulers Owner: Paul Nascene Record: 83-79 A year ago the team was 75-87, but Paul changed his club‟s name (from the CMC, or Captain Morgan‟s Club) to its current tag, and improved by 8 games. No, the name change wasn‟t the secret to his success. Some might point to the midseason trade that brought Ichiro Suzuki into town (he hit .353 with 25 steals for the Maulers). The team had to part with Jermaine Dye and Vicente Padilla…but Padilla was only a middling reliever this year, and his “breakout” SSL season comes in 2003. So, one would think that Minneapolis should have helped their win total with that trade. Strangely enough, the team went 44-36 before Ichiro, and 39-43 after…so the cause of improvement lies elsewhere. Check out the Maulers‟ bullpen, in its entirety: Juan Moreno: 38 IP, 17 H, 24 BB, 27 K, 1.18 ERA Jack Cressend: 35 IP, 21 H, 13 BB, 33 K, 1.80 ERA Jeff Tam: 55 IP, 36 H, 23 BB, 33 K, 2.13 ERA David Weathers: 82.2 IP, 66 H, 25 BB, 60 K, 2.29 ERA Ben Weber: 47 IP, 41 H, 19 BB, 28 K, 3.45 ERA Jay Witasick: 87.1 IP, 88 H, 36 BB, 113 K, 3.50 ERA Eddie Guardado: 27 IP, 37 H, 7 BB, 37 K, 3.95 ERA Combine that with the starting pitching, whose ERA was in the mid 3‟s, and you‟ve got one hell of a good pitching staff! The offense wasn‟t half-bad either, and the Maulers quietly put together this nice little season…but in retrospect I wouldn‟t have been surprised if the team had won as many as 90 games. In fact, I‟d say that this club was pretty darn unlucky! Let‟s turn to the Pythagorean Theorem for a more definitive answer: Bill James‟s Pythagorean formula (or Clay Davenport‟s adjustment to it, depending on who you talk to) takes R and RA, and spits out a pretty accurate guess as to what the team‟s record should be. According to the formula: Win% ~= R^E/ (R^E + RA^E), where E = 1.5*Log ((R+RA)/G) + 0.45 And, plugging the Maulers‟ results into the equation, we find: Win% ~= 663^E/ (663^E + 607^E); E = 1.79 Win% ~= .539 …or about 88 wins. We were looking at a bona fide playoff contender without even knowing it! Monroe County Tractors Owner: Robert Herzog Record: 64-98 What do you do when your team‟s superstar suffers a severe wrist injury that limits him to 74 at-bats for the season? Well, if your Rob, you trade your aging #2 starter, invest very little in resources to fill the holes left by Nomar Garciaparra‟s loss, and suffer the humiliations of a bad, bad year for the Tractors. Some news and notes from the nightmarish season: *21-year old Luis Rivas started at 2b, and went .243/.302/.330, with perhaps the worst range of any second baseman in the SSL. *23-year old Donaldo Mendez started at ss, and went .165/.200/.255. It may have been the worst showing of any player with over 400 at-bats this past year. *23-year old Jared Sandberg tried to top Mendez, but failed; he only managed to post somewhat horrible stats, as he went .222/.270/.291 for the year. *26-year old Steve Woodard pitched in 12 games (10 of them starts), tossed 62.2 innings, gave up 103 hits, and had an ERA of 8.33. His record was 0-10. Only the Blast‟s former Cy Young contender – Brian Bohanon – had worse numbers among the starting pitchers in the SSL this year. If not for guys like John Olerud, Bernie Williams, Derek Lowe, and Eric Milton, this team would have ended up at the bottom of the NL Central dung heap. As it was, they finished fourth – a mere 60 games behind the Crawdads. If you‟re getting teary-eyed at this point, take heart! Unlike some of the teams that struggled last year, the Tractors‟ stay in the Land of Mediocrity will be blissfully short. Nomar returns next year, and the hitters look just as good. Derek Lowe will enter the rotation and likely post stellar numbers, and the rest of the staff looks improved as well after a collective off year in 2002. And for their one year of embarrassment, the Tractors get some great rookie picks in the draft. No, don‟t let Rob fool you. Don‟t feel sorry for his plight. It‟s a sham, I tell you; this team will contend in 2003, and likely beyond. Sandberg will learn how to hit, and hit for power at that; Mendez will be exiled to the bench; Rivas will be exiled to the 8th spot in the batting order. I‟m not sure who the Tractors found to kiss them out of their frog-like state, but 2002 will be looked back upon as an aberration, nothing more. The baseball gods have smiled upon Monroe County, and suddenly one year of .395 baseball doesn‟t seem like such a bad price to pay. Morristown Minutemen Owner: Mike Banker Record: 73-89 Two choices have helped define this team. We‟ll touch on both of them in this „Ode to Mike(s)‟. Let‟s turn back the clock to midseason, 2002. The Minutemen were 41-38, and one of three teams vying for the AL Central crown. The Raiders were 43-36, but Ryan Shannon looked as if he had no interest in trading future parts to plug present holes. The Rhapsody were 41-37, but their Pythagorean record looked much worse; the consensus was that the Rappers were a great young team that was simply playing over the head this year. The Minutemen were 2 games behind the Raiders, and a half game behind the Rhapsodsy. Mike Banker inherits the team. He looks at the playoff picture. He looks at his roster, and sees a ton of young players having great real-life seasons. Roy Halladay and Kip Wells were useful this year, but they‟d be downright nasty in a year‟s time. So, the question for the new owner – does he deal one/both of his young pitchers for a king‟s ransom and the chance to go far in the playoffs? As you can guess from the team‟s W-L record, he didn‟t do it. No trades were made, the Minutemen slipped in the second half, and the Raiders won the division. The team‟s newest owner is probably glad that Mike stood pat, as Halladay and the other young guns are big pieces in the new team‟s future. And what about the second choice I alluded to above? Before the season even started, I traded Halladay, Wells, and other youngsters to the team – then Mike Kroeger‟s Elkton Jackalopes – for a draft pick that turned out to be Roy Oswalt. Assuming Oswalt and Halladay are about the same, the team picked up Kip Wells essentially for free. To review, Mike Kroeger makes one of the best trades of the winter. He leaves. Mike Banker joins, and resists temptation to trade away some of the team‟s youth for a playoff run. He leaves. There you have it, folks. Two Mikes, two decisions, one franchise that survived ownership change after ownership change and still managed to retain its luster…and we‟ll leave new owner Jamie Nossal to figure out where the hell he‟s going to find an offense. Motor City Madmen Owner: Dave Youngstrom Record: 51-111 They were the worst team in the American League despite trading young Jeff Weaver for current ace Mike Mussina. The team‟s offense was sub-par but not awful…which means the fault must lie with the pitching. That‟s a scary thought, folks; Mike Mussina headed this staff, and it still ended up with the worst ERA in the league. Now I‟m interested; I‟ll divide the pitching into two categories (Mussina and non-Mussina), and see how bad that pitching really is: Name ERA W L GS CG SHO INN QS Mussina 2.72 13 11 27 8 2 205 18 non-Mussina 5.64 38 100 135 9 3* 1241.2 47 total 5.23 51 111 162 17 5 1446.2 65 *0 personal shutouts, 3 team shutouts. Ayayay. Mussina was indeed a life-saver last year! It begs the question, though; what was a 32-year old ace doing on a team whose ERA would otherwise have approached 6? More than anything, the Madmen suffered from a lack of direction. They were originally built to play better than .500, and top prospect Jon Garland was traded a year ago for bullpen help. The team‟s direction shifted a few months later, when the bullpen help was traded for a second round rookie pick. Another shift this past winter, when Mussina joined the club. And another, when Pudge Rodriguez was shopped last June for young impact players. Because Dave was a good talent evaluator, this schizophrenic philosophy didn‟t badly wreck the ball club. Nevertheless, the new owner has a challenge ahead of him, and the first step will be determining a direction – and sticking with it. Myrtle Beach Manatees Owner: Mark Wynne Record: 50-112 We‟re going through a rough stretch in the yearbook; writing about back-to-back teams with over 110 losses would bring just about anyone down. With many of the sub-.500 teams, there are bright spots to be pointed to, and the Manatees are no exception…but when I look back at the team‟s short history, I think of two defining trades. Mark inherited a team with a few exciting young players, as well as a few valuable veterans, and his big piece of bait was Randy Johnson. On January 4, the Manatees traded Johnson, Mark McLemore (who turned into a star leadoff hitter for the Devil Dogs), Jeff Conine, and Jose Paniagua (who would later be traded for Jeff Nelson) to Death Valley. In return, Mark got Rick Ankiel, Gil Meche, Scott Elarton, and Chad Bradford. This offer was chosen over some better ones, including a package heading by Bartolo Colon. The big reason? Youth! Ankiel and Meche were both in their early 20‟s, and Mark could just see his future rotation! Colon, on the other hand, was in his late 20‟s (if not older, according to reports), and didn‟t hold the same appeal despite his proven track record. Needless to say, the trade was a disaster. The Manatees had the most holes to fill of any team. While they got their men in Ankiel and Meche, neither pitcher would throw an inning in 2002, and the team needed immediate help – even if only scrubs who could provide plate appearances and innings. Again, the glitter of youth helped shape the team‟s decision; on January 23, the Manatees traded star pitcher Barry Zito to the Hoboken Hitmachine for C.C. Sabathia, Chuck Finley, and cash considerations. The big reason? C.C. was several years younger than Barry, and was viewed as an upgrade. None of this is meant to bash Mark‟s intentions. He recognized that The Big Unit had to be traded for youth if his team were to emerge as a contender in a few years, and I applaud him for coming to that painful (but correct) decision. He got caught up in one of deadliest lures in baseball, though – young starting pitching. So, consider the Manatees an object lesson. If you‟re looking for a young hitter, age is one of the most important statistics you can use. If you‟re looking for a young gun, however, age should be complemented by injury history in your analysis. This isn‟t just a reference to Ankiel or Meche and their injured ilk; I‟ll be surprised, for example, if Sabathia survives the next five years without getting injured. Be warned, and beware! Nashville Funkadelic Owner: Steve Osborne Record: 93-69 The NL West was a tough place to play last year, and no one knew it better than Steve; his Funkadelic finished a distant third place – 26 games behind the Devil Dogs, and 8 behind the Bubbles. The team certainly had playoff hopes, and many had picked the Funk to win the wildcard. That alone is enough to make the season a disappointment. Let‟s go back a year, to the 2001 Yearbook – specifically, to my caption on the Alcatraz Breakers, who were about to be sold to Osborne – and see what I had to say then: >>Don‟t get me wrong; this team has an incredibly bright future, and could contend for >>the NL West crown as soon as next year, depending on what the Devil Dogs do with >>their offseason. The fact remains, however, that the 2001 Breakers serve as an >>excellent caveat for any team looking to do well with a makeshift bullpen headed by a >>closer with a deceptively good ERA. Well, all four of the bullpen losers I had catalogued in 2001 (Jose Mesa, Braden Looper, Ramiro Mendoza, and Jason Isringhausen) bounced back mightily last year. Not enough, on their own, to turn a 100-game loser into a contender, but a good start nonetheless. I had predicted a year ago that the team would improve a lot, but I had guessed that players such as A.J. Burnett, Javier Vazquez, and the player-soon-to-be-selected with the #3 overall rookie pick would be behind the surge. I was wrong; Steve traded Burnett for help on offense, traded Vazquez and Darin Erstad for the now-deceased Darryl Kile and Jim Edmonds, traded the rookie pick, and wasn‟t at all shy about sacrificing future value to win games immediately. The bullpen helped, but the Funk made their biggest strides by trading away much of their youth, as did the division-rival Devil Dogs. All of these moves make the end results of 2002 even more discouraging. A ton of good young players were deported, and the Funk had nothing to show for it at season‟s end. It‟s hard enough, in general, for a team to trade away their prospects for old, crusty veterans who could implode at any moment, and seeing what happened here may not help the resolve of the younger teams any. Steve fled the SSL for greener pastures, so it‟s up to the new owner to salvage the team‟s playoff hopes. New Jersey Stallions Owner: Rollin Shank Record: 96-66 I told Rollin a year ago that his roster reminded me of the Boston Red Sox: a few big stars, and a lot of holes. That statement looks just as valid after a season in which the Stallions finished second in the AL East, behind the Evil Empire of Winnipeg. What‟s that? Pedro Martinez has no equal? Red Sox win in a landslide? Well, I give you Exhibit A: Curt Schilling pitched a remarkable 302 innings, and went 28-4 with a 2.29 ERA. He won the Cy Young award AND the MVP. And in case you‟re wondering, the rest of the Stallions‟ rotation consisted of Doug Davis, Jeff Suppan, Paul Abbott, and whatever other pieces Rollin could scrounge up. Yes, I‟d say the New Jersey rotation was remarkably similar to Boston‟s. What‟s that? The Red Sox have Nomar and Manny? Can‟t top that? I give you Exhibit B: Jim Thome and Chipper Jones. Two of the best sluggers in the game, and both are in one lineup. Just as relevant is the lack of depth here; Kevin Millar was almost a star, but Geoff Jenkins and Randy Winn had bad seasons and still were the next best hitters on the team. That smells a lot like Boston‟s lineup, with Jose Offerman stuck at 1b with Tony Clark. And, like Boston, the Stallions couldn‟t get their coveted championship. In 2001, they made it to the ALCS before losing to the Mashers. This year, they made it to the ALDS and barely lost to the Mothmen. The similarities end there. Rollin has left us (and this makes the fifth caption in a row that I‟ve written involving an owner no longer with the league), but the team he left behind is primed for another big playoff push, and depth is a large part of that. Thome looks ready to have a career year, and Jones looks like his solid self. Winn‟s numbers jumped dramatically; Millar‟s held steady; even the ancient Ellis Burks looks like a solid DH. Junior Spivey will be the best 2b in the AL next year. And, if you‟re still skeptical, the bullpen looks dominant and Schilling looks like a repeat-CY candidate. The playoffs are a funny thing; a wildcard team can win it all, and an elite division winner can get knocked out in the first round. This team‟s newfound depth is no guarantee that a World Series appearance is in the near future. I‟ll submit, however, the suggestion that for the first time since the league‟s inception, Nghia‟s Goldeyes aren‟t going to feel like the Beasts of the East. Ogden Dunes Ox Owner: Jason Lindquist Record: 57-105 The good news – I finally get to write about a team whose owner is still with us! The bad news – that team stunk last year. They really stunk. Here are the specifics: *The offense whacked the ball to the tune of .236/.289/.349. Folks, that‟s bad. Even the Manatees weren‟t this bad at hitting. The Ox offensive “attack” may well be as bad as (or worse than?) the 2001 Portland Whiffers. *Mark Grace led the team in homers – with 18. Scott Brosius was second, with 14. No one else had more than 9 home runs. So, we‟ve isolated the problem, right? No power? Keep reading… *Only two starters (Grace and Brosius) had on-base percentages over .300; the offensive woes aren‟t confined to power hitting, it seems. *Third on the team in Runs Created (behind the big bats of Grace and Brosius) was Jason Tyner. His OBP was a hefty .329, and his SPC was .322. Fourth in RC was your favorite shortstop and mine, Rey Ordonez. Rey-Rey‟s batting line (.252/.286/.348) was buttressed mostly by his 6 home runs. The league is investigating potential usage of illegal substances. At this point, you may well be asking how the Ox won any games at all! The answer lies on the other side of the diamond; the team‟s pitching was solid, maybe even above- average. If we discount a brief cup of coffee given to prospect Adam Johnson (6.23 ERA in 17.1 innings), the hurler with the worst ERA was Ben Sheets (a semi-respectable 4.91 in this high-offense year). Jon Garland, Britt Reames, Todd Ritchie, and Bud Smith all performed well. Ogden Dunes isn‟t ready to contend. However, they‟ve managed to stockpile a good amount of pitching, most of it young. The next two rookie drafts may well be key; it Jason can find some high-ceiling hitters, he‟ll be on the right track. At this point, a staff led by Garland isn‟t a bad thing at all – time to accept pitching as a bona fide strength and address that offense. I think he‟ll do well – we‟re talking about the guy who grabbed Jon Garland for a reliever, and drafted Toby Hall before Hall found his top prospect label. I‟m going to check back in a year and see what‟s happened. We‟ll know by then if Bud Smith‟s injury is career-killing; we‟ll know how Adam Johnson looks as a young major league pitcher instead of merely a good prospect; we‟ll know if Hall is the power-hitting catcher I think he is. And, perhaps most importantly, we‟ll know if anyone besides Hall is on the team that has a future as a hitter. Portland Shrikes Owner: Jonathan Adelman Record: 87-75 The dismal 43-119 embarrassment of 2001 can finally be wiped from the memory of Portland fans, as the Shrikes won games while playing their kids. Let‟s compare the 2001 and 2002 lineups to see just how bad it was back in the day: 2001 Shrikes 2002 Shrikes Matt LeCroy, c (.119/.186/.240) Tom Prince, c (.236/.310/.392) Angel Echevarria, 1b (.199/.276/.293) Randy Velarde, 1b (.275/.348/.449) Kevin Jordan, 2b (.223/.251/.311) Marcus Giles, 2b (.248/.324/.465) Jeff Huson, 3b (.230/.299/.297) Eric Chavez, 3b (.288/.350/.569) Miguel Tejada, ss (.265/.336/.465) Miguel Tejada, ss (.260/.306/.450) Emil Brown, lf (.204/.281/.323) Corey Patterson, lf (.232/.284/.402) Glen Barker, cf (.210/.280/.306) Andruw Jones, cf (.259/.297/.495) J.D. Drew, rf (.352/.449/.596) J.D. Drew, rf (.306/.403/.535) The starting pitching – already good in 2001 – has several new faces but similar results. Only the bullpen kept the team from winning more games; the average ERA for the relievers was close to 5, and the group finished in the bottom fifth of the league in blown save %. The team looks ready to take another step forward, but with all of this gushing comes a caveat: the Shrikes have shown their tendency, several times now, to vastly overpay for “favorite” players. The Mothmen turned Corey Patterson into Erubiel Durazo, Eric Gagne, and Ben Petrick; the Expos turned Andruw Jones into Roy Oswalt, Joel Pineiro, Vernon Wells, and Juan Cruz (and the Shrikes were only able to get Oswalt after sending Roy Halladay, Kip Wells, and a bunch of other prospects to the Jackalopes). In short, this is a team with a dangerous streak to it. If Portland stands pat, they‟ll be in good shape for a long, long time. If they find yet another favorite to chase after, we could see yet another team made good by the Shrikes…and this time, there won‟t be any left-over depth from the inaugural draft to draw on – if another superstar joins the fold, the price could be a pennant. Pueblo Ploughmen Owner: Patrick Ferrington Record: 68-94 No other incoming owner has had so little to work with. Patrick grabbed the old Bellhops team upon arriving, and soon discovered that he had inherited a old dinosaur. The best players were all fading quickly, with the lone exception of Greg Maddux – coincidentally, one of Patrick‟s favorites! The roster had almost no depth, and many of the initial trades were designed to get younger while simultaneously filling a ton of holes. The team finished the season in third place in the NL Central, only two games behind the Hobbits…but that says more about the division than it does about this team. Patrick faced one big decision – whether to trade Maddux, and if so, for what? He ended up choosing Bartolo Colon as his replacement “star”; Colon was the weak link on an old Crawdads juggernaut, but he‟ll likely shine in Pueblo next year. He can‟t fix things alone, though; seven pitchers had an ERA of 5.80 or above last year, and things don‟t look much better this time around. Normally, when I see a team pull a rabbit out of a hat like Patrick did with Colon, I loudly applaud (and quietly remember not to trade with the slickster), but for once I‟m going to question this kind of team direction. Again, I can talk about the Success Cycle, and where upon it teams might lie. The Ploughmen are at the very, very bottom. No owner faces as challenging a task, period. Patrick has Colon; his next best player is Rob Fick (who looks, right now, like a league-average 1b type). It gets much worse after that. In circumstances such as these, Colon is risky. He‟s an injury risk, as all pitchers and/or large men are. He‟s also in his late 20‟s (or later, if rumors are true!). By the time the Ploughmen are ready to contend, Colon will be almost as old as Maddux was when he was dealt this past season…and Colon‟s effectiveness will no longer be assured. In other words, by the time the team reaches the top of the Success Cycle, Colon‟s value will have dropped quite a bit. So, I say trade the young pitcher while he still has enormous value. Yes, trade him! Get Carlos Beltran, or Pat Burrell, or some other hitter in his early 20‟s that will still be useful when the Ploughmen rise again. Take Joe Borchard in the upcoming draft, use the team money to get another good young hitter in the supplemental 1st round, keep drafting good young prospects with proven minor league performance records. Draft Teixeira next year, and let him be the cornerstone to build around. Or at least, that‟s how I‟d do it. I‟m almost envious of Patrick – if he ever turns the Ploughmen into a contender, he‟ll have outdone all of us, and it would be neat to call such an achievement my own. Almost envious… Almost. Rightcoast Rhapsody Owner: Gary Warner Record: 78-84 The Rappers are a lot like the Shrikes – they had a dreadful 2001 campaign, and turned things around quite a bit in 2002 behind some developing youngsters. Gary sealed his fate two years ago, when he traded Barry Bonds and some other great-but-old players to the Devil Dogs for Vladimir Guerrero; from that point on, he selected prospect after prospect, and finished the inaugural draft with a very different roster than what would have been, had Bonds stayed a Rapper. At this point, the team is one of the better bets to succeed in the American League, and it also has perhaps the youngest core group of players in the AL. All of this is well and good, but when will the Rhapsody actually start winning more ballgames than they lose? For that matter, will the youth lead to a pennant or two, or is this team merely a prospect-hunter‟s dream come true? Gary‟s midseason trade seems to answer at least one of those questions; he turned prospect Ryan Jensen and young slugger Jay Gibbons into more established, late-20‟s stars such as Brad Radke and Shannon Stewart. At the time, the Rhapsody were over their heads but only 1.5 games behind the division-leading Raiders – and everyone knew that while the team had a chance, they were likely to play worse in the second half. Well, even with the talent boost they played worse, but it bodes well for the future that Gary is willing to “take the plunge” and trade some kids if it means sniffing the playoffs. Who is untouchable on this roster? Guerrero, for sure. Pujols, almost certainly. The rest don‟t have guaranteed futures in Rightcoast. In fact, although I‟m cheating a bit by mentioning this (and I‟ll certainly be writing about it in next year‟s Yearbook!), Gary just turned star 2b Alfonso Soriano into new ace Barry Zito a few days before the time of this writing! So, the Rappers are like the Shrikes, in that they have a ton of young players. They‟re similar in that they trade often, and aren‟t afraid of the blockbuster. The only difference I can think of, in fact, lies in a slight digression in philosophy. The Rhapsody want a balanced team, with young stars both in the field and on the mound (hence their willingness to pay handsomely for a rotation of Zito, Hudson, Radke, and Park), while the Shrikes seem to favor hitting, and have even been called by one owner “The Texas Rangers of the SSL”. Comparisons aside, though, I still haven‟t answered my second question – when will the Rappers win something more substantial than praise? For an answer, check back here in a year‟s time; we‟ll know whether the team is still in rebuilding mode, or if they‟re ready to challenge the Terriers and Raiders for the AL Central crown. Rochester Raiders Owner: Ryan Shannon Record: 90-72 A year ago, the Minnesota Mashers were crowned kings of the SSL. Soon after, Chris Kaufman left the league, and Ryan inherited an unusual team. Jason Giambi and Sammy Sosa are a juggernaut on any roster, but in a 30-team league they can double-handedly assure a lot of success. That‟s how Chris got his ride in the championshipmobile, and that‟s how Ryan won the AL Central in his first year with the league. All was not in harmony for the Raiders, however. Besides Giambi, Sosa, team ace Tom Glavine, closer Armando Benitez, and solid 2nd starter Roger Clemens, there wasn‟t much else helping the team. Players like Jose Canseco, Bubba Trammell, and Danny Bautista held their own, certainly, but except for Bubba they were average. The rest of the offense was wretched; this really was a 5- or 6-horse show. In 2001, that was enough to make this team a champion; last year, they couldn‟t get past the Goldeyes in the ALDS. If anyone questions the value of a superstar or three, take a look at the Raiders. Without Sosa, they might still be an 85-win team. Without Sosa and Giambi, maybe they‟d be an 80-win team. Without the hitters and Glavine, they‟d probably have a win total in the mid 70‟s. However, if anyone questions the value of „wasting‟ resources on depth, consider this: the Raiders had the fifth best offense in the AL last year, despite the following performances from regulars: Alex Gonzalez, ss .254/.306/.343 Jay Payton, cf .251/.285/.341 Herbert Perry, 3b .260/.322/.367 Benito Santiago, c .267/.308/.337 B.J. Surhoff, lf .263/.305/.387 Eric Young, 2b .274/.326/.345 Designated hitter Bubba Trammell‟s low average was offset by his 32 dingers, so we can consider him “un-upgradeable”. That leaves six positions to partially or fully upgrade in a year‟s time. Ryan stood pat this year, making no trades to improve his team, and we haven‟t heard a peep from him thus far in this year‟s offseason…but make no mistake, the 2002 Raiders are a good example of just how deceptively close a good team can be to greatness. South Coast Sliders Owner: Eddie Sarussi Record: 102-60 The Sliders were on the edge of the wildcard hunt all year, but somehow managed to overtake the Bubbles in the final month. They also finished a mere game behind the NL East division winners – the Vermont Expos. This marks the second year in a row that Eddie has finished second in his division, and the first in which his Sliders found themselves in the playoffs, facing the dreaded Carolina Crawdads. After two extra- inning battles (one of them a 15-inning affair) and five games, the Crawdads emerged bloody but victorious. It would prove costly, though, as their playoff rotation was screwed up from the long series (whereas the Devil Dogs had a rested Big Unit to throw at the „Dads). I think a lot of the team‟s success comes from having a catcher in Mike Piazza who can hit 50 home runs (51, to be precise). I also think, however, that Piazza is a double-edged sword. The Sliders have some good younsters lying around in Mark Kotsay, Johan Santana, Rich Aurilia, and Mike Lowell, but the two big bats – Piazza and Gary Sheffield – are both 33 years old. While Sheffield can certainly remain productive for several more years, Piazza is already starting to buck the odds. Yes, folks, we‟re talking about having a catcher as your superstar. Piazza‟s batting line (.314/.380/.644) is even more amazing when you consider he did it at Brushback Field – a notorious pitchers park. Most catchers don‟t come within a mile of that, which makes Piazza a huge advantage for the Sliders. How much longer will he maintain this level of production, though? How long before he‟s moved to 1b by the Mets, thereby turning the Sliders‟ main weapon into merely another star first baseman? South Coast is a well-built team, but their time is now. Even with the youth, even with Sheffield still having productive years ahead, this team can‟t wait much longer. The club‟s high point may have already come in last year‟s NLDS, in fact. While Eddie has shown a willingness to trade draft picks, I don‟t know if he‟s ready to squander the team‟s future for a better shot at the title next year. The Sliders could be walking a tightrope; if Eddie trades his kids and doesn‟t manage to turn the deal into a title for the team, the team falls…but if he wisely keeps his future studs, only to find them less than advertised, he‟s missed his chance. I don‟t know if the Sliders best chance at a title was in 2002. None of us will know that for a few more years. Eddie‟s choices as GM will help clear the issue, but even he may not be the limiting factor…for the ravages of time are especially cruel to those who don the tools of ignorance. Vermont Expos Owner: Eddie Sarussi Record: 103-59 Question: What does a team coming off a 77-win season do to win a division title? Answer: Trade Andruw Jones. Well, at least that‟s how you do it if you‟re Bill Cleaver. His Expos turned Jones and top prospect Josh Phelps into the following players: *Roy Oswalt (16-6, 2.39 ERA in 24 starts), who assumes the mantle of team ace. *Joel Pineiro (7-0, 1.56 ERA in 12 starts), who not only provides the Expos with a dominant #2 starter (or #3, if Bill wants fellow star hurler Wade Miller ahead of him) for the future, but was an integral part of putting this team in the playoffs. *Vernon Wells, Juan Cruz, and Brad Wilkerson, who were the centerpieces of a subsequent midseason deal that brought the team superstar Manny Ramirez. And that doesn‟t include some of the other lesser goodies included in the deal. It could be argued that Oswalt alone has more value than Andruw Jones right now; convincing the Shrikes to add another ace and the main ingredients of a Manny Ramirez recipe was a coup. Not an easy one to make, though; Bill sweated for a while before saying yes to the deal, and his temporary indecision illustrates the difficulty owners have in letting go of young players, let alone young superstars. How did Andruw do for the Shrikes, you ask? He hit .259/.297/.495. Is there a lesson in all of this? Some will say yes, and argue that quantity can be better than quality, especially with young players. You just don‟t know which ones will do well and which ones will flop, but if you line up 10 or 12 promising kids, the odds are in your favor that some of them will become stars. I disagree. Chalking the Expos‟ success up to a matter of „quantity vs. quality‟ demeans the job Bill has done. He turned Jones into a lot of pieces, and then successfully chose which pieces to turn around and move for Manny Ramirez. After a half year‟s hindsight, it sure looks like he did the right thing in refusing to part with Oswalt or Pineiro. Time will tell. Regardless, although the Expos got steamrolled by the Devil Dogs in the NLDS this past season, I doubt the team has sniffed their last playoff action for the near future. West Oz Wallabies Owner: Dean Ashley Record: 79-83 After a heartbreaking near-entry into the playoffs in 2001, the Wallabies took a year off to retool. Alex Rodriguez and Lance Berkman are still in the fold, but Dean chose to replace immediately useful parts with youngsters such as Brian Lawrence and David Eckstein. In a very tough AL West, he may have made the right decision. The pitching remained the biggest ostensible weakness, although Brian Lawrence (8-8, 3.88) may well change that soon. The offense, however, was the hidden Achilles Heel. Designated hitter Frank Thomas was injured for much of the season and hit an awful .134/.224/.218 when he did play; five other lineup regulars failed to find their way to an OPS above .715. In short, we‟re looking at another version of the Raiders, but with more holes and younger superstars. How good were Berkman and A-Rod? Let‟s go to the numbers: *Lance Berkman hit .355/.445/.679, with 59 doubles, 9 triples, and 40 home runs. He walked 88 times, 8 of them intentional, and was hit by 15 pitches. He had 123 runs and 140 RBI despite hitting in – aside from himself and Rodriguez – a miserable environment. *Alex Rodriguez hit .303/.378/.591, with 38 doubles and 48 home runs. He walked 62 times, 6 of them intentional, and was hit by a whopping 21 pitches. A-Rod had 113 runs and an amazing 164 RBI! *It pays to re-emphasize those counting totals. A combined 304 RBI from those two! And not just any old runners were batted in; we‟ve got David Eckstein (.269/.339/.335) with 100 runs, and Darin Erstad (.248/.312/.341) with 108. Eckstein and Erstad should be dropping to their knees in gratitude. *The next highest RBI total? Karros had 58. This team faces the same kinds of hurdles that the Raiders do. Can they craft a winner around Berkman and Rodriguez? If so, how do the Wallabies find the depth needed to contend? Trading Al Leiter for Lawrence was a good start, but Dean can‟t keep going in that direction unless he wants to continue his “time away” from competition. If not, what does the team trade for that will make them an immediate contender? Regardless, let‟s give a tip of the hat for Berkman and Rodriguez – the best under-26, 2- combination punch in baseball. Winger Whippets Owner: Kevin Nascene Record: 39-123 In 2001, the Shrikes had a plan. Draft kids in the inaugural draft, ignore useful veterans, and be bad. Be awful. Be awful and know that in a year‟s time, it would all be just a bad dream. The Whippets followed that same strategy in 2002. Kevin took over one of the most ordinary teams in the league; here‟s what I had to say about the Avon Lake Pirates last year: >The Pirates had very few holes in the traditional sense. Perfectly adequate players >manned all of the offensive spots, and the rotation was mediocre but passable. The >team was relatively young, meaning that few stars had reached their 30th birthday yet. >No superstars were present, but there were several “stars”, and plenty of good role- >players. No one expected the Pirates to make the playoffs, but some of these factors >might lead you to think that the team had a shot at .500. They fell far short of that mark, >and in the process demonstrate the folly of my mistaking a roster of average players for >an average team… He must have agreed with that assessment, because he promptly turned some of his stars into superstar Todd Helton, and focusing his remaining resources on getting lots of draft picks. Those picks turned into perhaps the best rookie draft class of the league, giving the Whippets hope for 2003…but the price was a steep one. Even the Shrikes of ‟01 weren‟t this bad. Gentlemen, it is my duty to record, for posterity‟s sake, just how awful these 2002 Whippets were. *The Whippets as a team hit .242/.302/.384; not good by any means, but not bottom in the league either. They finished 27th overall in team OPS. This merely serves as reference; after all, a team with only „bad‟ hitting should either win more than 39 games or… *…have record-setting pitching, in the bad sense of the phrase. The team‟s ERA was an embarrassing 5.72, and only two pitchers finished with sub-5 ERAs. The team‟s „#2 pitcher” – and I use that word loosely – was Jose Mercedes, who finished with a 4.69 ERA, 9 complete games, and a 5-25 record. The ace was Elmer Dessens, who finished with a 9-19, 5.24 mark. *It gets worse from there. Closer Matt Wise had a 6.75 ERA to go with his seven saves; three pitchers finished with ERAs in the 6‟s, two in the 7‟s, and two more in the 8‟s. I‟ll be able to write better things about the Whippets next year, when they burst onto the scene and win more games than they lose. Luckily (or unluckily, as the case may be), however, we keep track of lifetime records in the SSL. It will take Kevin several dominating seasons before his overall win total looks as respectable as his team will. Winnipeg Goldeyes Owner: Nghia Nguyen Record: 111-51 I remember two years ago, during the first phase of the inaugural draft, when former owner Lee Vieron told Nghia that his RiverKings wanted one of Nghia‟s draft picks, and were willing to trade some vowels for the owner‟s name. Nghia good-naturedly replied, “My name is pronounced Nghia, as in „cut it out or I‟ll “Knee ya” in the groin‟”. Lee promptly changed his team name to the Memphis Largemouth Bass, proclaiming that with his own large mouth, it would make a perfect mascot. Nghia smiled, and proceeded to make the playoffs for two straight years. The 2002 version of the Goldeyes won 6 more games, but it really wasn‟t that different. Take away Darryl Kile, Jim Edmonds, and Kevin Brown; add Tony Armas, Javier Vazquez, and some solid pieces on offense, and you‟ve made the switch from 2001 to this past season. A bit younger with the pitching, a bit older with the offense; Nghia jokes that his players are ancient, but the roster isn‟t that different from any of the elites – to be the best in this kind of league, you have to be old! Winnipeg‟s strength, as always, was their pitching. The team led the American League in wins (111), ERA (3.52), saves (64), fewest walks (446), and most strikeouts (1169). Leading the way were the young trio of Vazquez (16-11, 3.42), Armas (17-7, 4.12), and Russ Ortiz (23-8, 3.15). The bullpen was even better; aside from failed experiments such as Swindell (8 innings, 6.75 ERA) and Borkowski (16.1 IP, 7.16 ERA), the worst – the worst – reliever of the bunch was Rick White (4-2, 1 save, 3.18 ERA). The other bullpen arms had ERAs below 3. Indeed, the “Big 4” of Jason Isringhausen (1.49, 53 saves), Ramiro Mendoza (10 wins, 2.77), Mike Trombley (2.47), and the two-headed monster of ex-Goldeye Arthur Rhodes (1.89) and latecomer Pedro Borbon (0.90) were as good as it gets. All in all, a strange roster – not many top teams can boast of youngsters in the rotation and closing out games, after all! We‟ve reached Team #30, and by now the importance of a bullpen has been clearly established. It‟s almost like a calling card for the SSL elite – “Are you good enough to rumble with the big boys? If so, spend resources on your bullpen, and you might be able to win some more of those close games.” Not many of the rebuilding teams is willing to store their assets in the form of “bullpen guy”; not when said player has decent odds of regressing in a year. Well, Winnipeg has a pen. They‟re an elite team. Alas, they don‟t have any World Series trophies to show for their steadfast rendezvous with the postseason. The Goldeyes‟ time in the sun is drawing to a close; it won‟t be next year, and maybe not even the year after, but there won‟t be many chances left for that all-elusive ride in the championshipmobile. At that point, you‟ll stop reading about the bullpen, and start seeing words such as „Javier Vazquez‟, „Tony Armas‟, and „rebuilding‟. Wild Pitches and Useless Info Dept.: The SSL Edition By Nghia Nguyen SSL Disk Guru History, Thy Name is Barry What can we say about Barry? No, really, what can we say? Well, how about throwing some stats our way: Barry managed to hit 110 home runs this season. The next two slugging stars on the Devil Dogs, Shawn Green and Phil Nevin (no slouches themselves at 3rd and 13th in the SSL) combined to hit 101. In fact, playing a fun game here, his 49 HR-lead over runner- up Luis Gonzalez, who had 61, was the same lead that Gonzalez had on Jacque Jones, who had 12. Bonds had more HRs than Vladimir Guerrero, Albert Pujols, Jason Giambi and Geoff Jenkins put together (109). Barry‟s slugging percentage of 1.017 alone would have placed him 12th in OPS for the league. He beat the next best SLG (his teammate Green – can someone PLEASE break up the Devil Dogs?) by 309 points. In other words, the difference between Bonds and Green in slugging percentage was the same as the difference between Green and Travis Lee (at .399). Barry scored 200 runs and knocked in 216, outpacing the next highest guys in the league by 35 and 38 respectively. He had only 60 singles. Bonds was tied for only THIRD this year in intentional walks, with 22 (man, THAT will change next year). His OPS of 1.517 outpaced Jason Giambi by 378 POINTS (which was the same difference between Giambi and Juan Pierre, of all people). He had a unfathomable 301.2 Runs Created – the difference between Bonds and runner-up Lance Berkman, was the same as Berkman and Marlon Anderson. He had 145 extra base hits in 563 ABs, or roughly the same as Craig Counsell, Chuck Knoblauch, Pat Meares, Alex Ochoa, Adam Kennedy and Julio Lugo had (153) in THREE THOUSAND AND FORTY AT-BATS. Or one more than Richie Sexson and Carlos Delgado had together. Wow. I could go on and on and on, but you all get the point. If ANYONE votes for anybody other than Barry for MVP, their franchise gets immediately revoked. OK, But What About Interesting Stats From Other People? Glad you asked. The members of the always-interesting “Double Digits in Doubles, Triples, HRs and Steals” club this season were quite numerous: Roberto Alomar 46 doubles, 19 triples, 18 HRs, and 29 steals Cristian Guzman 27 doubles, 14 triples, 14 HRs, and 39 steals Luis Castillo 17 doubles, 12 triples, 11 HRs, and 23 steals Jimmy Rollins 22 doubles, 12 triples, 15 HRs, and 34 steals Orlando Cabrera 41 doubles, 10 triples, 16 HRs, and 36 steals Roger Cedeno 21 doubles, 10 triples, 17 HRs, and 86 steals No 40-40 men this year, but we came close, as the only 30-30 man, Bobby Abreu, got stopped slightly short: 40 HRs and 38 SBs Crazy-Ass Team Stats July 28 for the Madmen was the chance for the team to have batting practice twice – first, before the game, and secondly, DURING the game. The Madmen managed to eke out a 20-4 victory over the Demons, and did it by pounding THIRTY hits, for an SSL record. They sent 17 guys to the plate in the 12-run 2nd inning. Luis Castillo, Jose Vizcaino and Corey Koskie each had 5 hits. And the fun part. Not a single home run was hit. No to be outdone, the Devil Dogs and the Bubbles had a thumpfest on July 21, as they combined for 41 hits between them. Of course, the Bubbles‟ 16 hits only resulted in 5 runs, while the Devil Dogs‟ 25 hits resulted in 21 runs, which is the SSL record. Batting Line of the Year Sure, it was a 16-inning game, and sure, maybe I should focus on positive achievements during the year. But how can you not look at Madmen David Justice‟s performance against the Wallabies on May 20, and NOT smile. Here‟s how he did (or didn‟t do, to be more accurate): Madmen AB R H BI D T HR BB K SB CS IW HP SH SF Justice dh 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 7 0 0 0 0 0 0 I don‟t even know if there is a higher level than the Golden Sombrero, but Dave brought the fine art of whiffing to a new level. Pitching Line of the Year (Non-Whippets Division) Well, it may not be the best or worst line, but it‟s my favorite. The Manatees decide to test the endurance of the human arm, by allowing C.C. Sabathia to throw 173 pitches, and C.C. was more than up to the task, walking everything in sight, in an 11-3 loss: Manatees INN H R ER BB K PCH STR BF HR IW HP WP DP ERA Sabathia L 3-4 8.0 5 11 7 11 6 173 90 45 0 0 3 0 0 3.68 Of course, the fun part was that all the problems happened in the 8th inning (Manatees were only down 2-1 going into the inning): BB, 2B, BB, single, K, BB, BB, single, BB, error, SF, HBP, error, K. Wow. Fun inning. Pitching Line of the Year (Whippets Division) Well, the Whippets manage to have their own category here, as they were able to exploit and abuse TWO of their starters for the same amount of hits and runs. Sure – maybe there‟s something to be said about a pitcher having “Dead arm” after spring training. How else to explain Nate Cornejo‟s outing against the Ploughmen on April 6: Whippets INN H R ER BB K Cornejo 5.0 17 16 16 1 3 And, on August 15, the Shrikes decided to have batting practice with Amaury Telemaco, as Amaury managed to throw 163 pitches, before his arm mercifully fell off: Whippets INN H R ER BB K Telemaco 6.0 17 16 16 4 4 The Dangers of overvaluing rookie draft picks By Jonathan Adelman (Portland Shrikes) The title says it all. Each year, most of us drool at the young talent up for grabs in the rookie draft, and many of us eye the “top picks” enviously. Oh, the joys of getting a Mark Prior of our very own! Ah, what we could do with Austin Kearns in that lineup! Well, I‟m not an expert on prospects, and don‟t consider that area my strength by any means – but with that in mind, I‟ll spend the rest of this article trying to convince you why draft picks are some of the most overvalued commodities available – and why the “top 5” pick so many owners covet is usually not so much better a bet than other 1st round selections. My methodology involved finding several baseball leagues that kept records of old drafts (and had similar rules to ours – players who made their major league debuts are eligible; no one else), and using those records in a comparative analysis. I chose two drafts: the 1998 draft is, I believe, only now becoming old enough to critique with greater accuracy; it‟s also considered by many to be a deep one – and it‟s also the easiest one to find several sources on! The 1991 draft has long been hailed by fantasy baseball junkies as a “king of drafts”, with can‟t-miss studs such as Sandy Alomar (the consensus #1 pick at the time), as well as top prospects Ben McDonald, Kevin Appier, Alex Fernandez, Delino DeShields, and even a few current superstars (as well as other prospects who quickly dropped off the radar screens), so I wanted to include it as well. If I can demonstrate a similar trend in both of these “especially loaded” drafts, I‟ll have done well. I include player ratings as well; these are my own subjective rankings of how a player has done in baseball; it is not a rating of how that player has done compared to perceived value. If it were, Ben Grieve would be getting an F! Now, let‟s start with the easier nut to crack – the 1998 draft. I finally found a website that averaged picks from 20 leagues, so all I had to do was copy the order and write in comments: 1) Ben Grieve: Considered one of the best hitting prospects to come along in a while; Adam Dunn has had similar things said about him more recently. Grieve was chosen first overall in nearly every draft, but his performance is far from “#1 overall” expected quality. He‟s a below average right fielder at this point. RATING: C- 2) Matt Morris: A stud, well worth the #2 pick. RATING: A 3) Brett Tomko: Considered the second best pitcher out there, easily. He‟s with the Cards this year, and has yet to show himself as anything other than a league- average starter. Big disappointment. RATING: C- 4) Paul Konerko: Only “broke out” last year. Was originally considered the top prospect in baseball when he was with the Dodgers. Ah, back in the days when we still spelled Dennys Reyes‟ name “Dennis”! In any case, Konerko didn‟t become the perennial All-Star some thought, but he was league-average for a while, and is finally becoming a star. RATING: B 5) Jose Guillen: People see a teenaged outfielder with tools and drool. Oops. RATING: F 6) Jose Cruz, Jr.: He‟s a solid regular, but not the star everyone expected. RATING: C+ 7) Tony Saunders: Out of baseball. RATING: F 8) Jaret Wright: Soon to be out of baseball. RATING: F 9) Bartolo Colon: Aha! The fifth most sought after pitching in the draft is right next to Morris in quality. RATING: A 10) Kevin Millwood: See Colon, Bartolo. RATING: A 11) Derrek Lee: Solid regular, but not a star. RATING: C+ 12) Hideki Irabu: The Toad! RATING: F 13) Jeremi Gonzalez: Out of baseball. RATING: F 14) Todd Helton: Didn‟t get the initial hype that Konerko or Lee did, and many thought he‟d be a middling 1b. Surprise, surprise! RATING: A 15) Miguel Tejada: Miguel who??? Don‟t you know that Brent Butler is the best shortstop prospect in baseball? Ah, well; life‟s full of surprises. RATING: A 16) John Thomson: Moderate success, masked somewhat by Coors, but he‟s a 3rd or 4th starter right now. RATING: C- 17) Deivi Cruz: The “other” shortstop prospect. RATING: D- 18) Kevin Orie: He looked like a star, but he‟s out of baseball now. RATING: F 19) David Ortiz: Hasn‟t hit for the power that some promised, but once the Twins gave him a chance, he‟s done well enough. RATING: C 20) Mark Kotsay: Supposed star without amazing tools. Has done around what was expected. RATING: C+ 21) Magglio Ordonez: Considered a solid “b-rated” prospect; has shown much more. RATING: A 22) Derek Lowe: A year ago, Lowe would have gotten a good-but-not-great rating; goes to show you that 5 years may well not be long enough to judge a draft! RATING: A 23) Ricardo Rincon: Became a damn good reliever for a while. Brian Giles trade mars an otherwise decent career…but middle relievers are easy to find; rookie picks aren‟t. RATING: C- 24) Eli Marrero: Cancer slowed him down, now LaRussa‟s slowing him down. He would probably in the top half of catchers in baseball if he started. RATING: C 25) Tom Martin: You mean he wasn‟t always a reliever? RATING: D 26) Juan Encarnacion: Still tempting us with power, but can‟t walk, doesn‟t hit much, yadda, yadda. RATING: D+ 27) Richard Hidalgo: Suddenly, we all were predicting who would pull the next “Hidalgo”, hoping we‟d get the guy…and then suddenly, we were dreading who would accidentally choose the next “Hidalgo”. Who could have seen that one coming? Still, gave us one great season. RATING: C 28) Fernando Tatis: Came, then went. Still could surprise. RATING: C- 29) Brad Fullmer: Hits righties. RATING: C+ 30) Sean Casey: Forgot to hit for power, then just forgot to hit. Still, had good value for the first few years. RATING: C- 31) Jason McDonald: Useless. RATING: F 32) Chris Carpenter: Turned out ok, then got injured. RATING: C 33) Brian Rose: Former top prospect, a step below Pavano. Now he‟s done. RATING: F 34) Dennis Reyes: You see?? No “Dennys”! RATING: D- 35) Shigetoshi Hasegawa: Shiggy actually panned out ok as a reliever. RATING: C+ 36) Steve Woodard: Yuck. RATING: F 37) Enrique Wilson: Yuck. RATING: F 38) Glendon Rusch: Did well for a while, and still looks like a decent #3 or #4 starter. Sort of like…Brett Tomko! RATING: C- 39) Chad Fox: Reliever, has done well. Injured now. RATING: C- 40) Ken Cloude: Another failed pitching prospect. RATING: F Before moving on to the 1991 draft – which I consider a tougher challenge in some ways (very loaded), and an easier one in other ways (more time for the dead weight to show themselves) – I want to review the 1998 list. Out of 40 picks, here‟s how they ranked, with no names included: 1. C- 21. A x2. A x22. A x3. C- x23. C- 4. B 24. C 5. F x25. D 6. C+ 26. D+ x7. F 27. C x8. F 28. C- x9. A 29. C+ x10. A 30. C- 11. C+ 31. F x12. F x32. C x13. F x33. F 14. A x34. D- 15. A x35. C+ x16. C- x36. F 17. D- 37. F 18. F x38. C- 19. C x39. C- 20. C+ x40. F x denotes pitcher. Seven stars, picked at spots #2, 9, 10, 14, 15, 21, and 22. You‟ll notice that the “sure thing”, Ben Grieve, hasn‟t lived up to expectations. This is the norm, folks! We‟re looking at a deep draft, and I see seven stars in 40 picks. Also of note is the number of pitching prospects who bombed. 7 of the 11 “F” grades were pitchers. Compare this to the 4 of 7 “A” grades who are pitchers. It seems that pitchers from the 1998 draft were indeed crapshoots – a hitter was just as likely as a pitcher to excel, but the pitchers were almost twice as likely to flop. In any case, the average letter grade for a rookie in this draft is around a C-; in other words, a serviceable major leaguer, but not a star, and not necessarily a good quality regular. Will the 1991 draft be different? Let‟s see! I used a pair of old leagues for this one that seemed to emphasize statistical analysis. Top 20 only this time. 1) Sandy Alomar, Jr. Everyone wants a catching prospect. They just keep forgetting how few of them turn out useful. RATING: D 2) David Justice. Was a star for a while, then slipped some. Injuries were a problem. RATING: B+ 3) Ben McDonald. Looked a lot like Tomko did after 4 or so years. Never ended up being more than league-average…at best. RATING: C- 4) Kevin Appier. Great career, good pick. A 5) Frank Thomas. He was a superstar for a while there. RATING: A 6) Delino DeShields. Stuck out a lot, didn‟t hit for power, had a so-so career. RATING: C- 7) Juan Gonzalez. Superstar. RATING: A 8) Hal Morris. Started great, got worse, then worse, then worse. Sort of like Sean Casey. RATING: C- 9) John Olerud. Still a big star. RATING: A 10) Ray Lankford. Another big name that never found consistency or stardom. RATING: C- 11) Larry Walker. Superstar! Five years into his career they still didn‟t know what he‟d give them. RATING: A 12) Alex Cole. Speedster who bounced around for a while, never did much after all of those swipes for Cleveland. RATING: F 13) Travis Fryman. Became a star; very solid pick. RATING: B 14) Brian McRae. Willie Wilson wanna-be? Not even close. RATING: D 15) Mike Harkey. Horrible. RATING: F 16) Tim Naehring. Current Reds farm director, former Red Sox prospect, plagued by injuries. RATING: F 17) Steve Avery. Had a great start to his career, then got injured. Typical pitcher. RATING: C+ 18) Scott Erickson. His 1990 season was awesome, but things went downhill from there. RATING: D+ 19) Robin Ventura. A star. Not the superstar that everything thought he‟d be coming out of college, but a good one. RATING: B+ 20) Felix Jose. Had some decent years, some bad ones, then flopped. RATING: D- More “A” grades this time, almost all from the hitters. Keep in mind, this draft represents a superb offering of high-ceiling rookies that lived up to their potential…and there are still a ton of players that flopped. 7 of 20 didn‟t get as high as a C-! The picture remains the same, folks; rookies don‟t live up to their hype most of the time. Trading established stars for hopeful stars may seem like a great idea at the time, but it‟s a lot like pumping quarters into a slot machine at the casino – feels exciting at the time, and ends up hurting more in the long run. As you prepare for the upcoming draft, remember that no one is a sure thing. Not even Mark Prior or Austin Kearns. hing. Not even Mark Prior or Austin Kearns.