Getting My Dux In A Row

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In 30+ years of playing auction-style Fantasy Baseball, winning over 30 championships can make you feel like an “expert”. The real test, however, is when you compete in a league full of experts. That has been a yearly challenge for The Old Duck and it presented itself once again as the 15 owners in the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL) gathered in Phoenix last week for their 17th annual draft.

 

As a quick refresher, the XFL is the only experts keeper league within the fantasy industry and many of the owner’s names are familiar to those who have viewed the landscape of fantasy sports over the years. These brilliant guys produce websites, magazines, newsletters and blogs that help guide you in becoming a better player in your league. The league is a 5 X 5 format (with on-base percentage replacing batting average), a 23-player live auction draft in early November with a $260 budget and a supplemental snake draft in late March to round out the 40-man rosters (23 players are active each week during the season). Donald’s Dux (my squad) has captured four championships and holds the top overall performance record encompassing all 16 seasons of the league.

 

After finishing 1st, 1st, 2nd & 2nd from 2011-14, the Dux  struggled with 7th place finishes in 2015-16 and then a more respectable 5th place spot last year. The 2018 season, however, was a disaster, especially in the 2nd half and the Dux finished 11th. Starting pitching was the culprit as injuries to Jeff Samardzija, Michael Wacha & Steven Matz derailed the Wins & ERA categories. Of course, less than stellar seasons from position players like Odubal Herrera, Willson Contreras, Jonathan Scoop, Domingo Santana & Eduardo Nunez didn’t help either. Even though the squad was in the top five around the All-Star break, strong performances from Anthony Rizzo, Gleybar Torres, Yasiel Puig, Shin-Soo Choo, Didi Gregorius, Patrick Corbin & others couldn’t make up for the negatives.

 

So, as we approached the November Draft for the 2019 season, the strategy wasn’t easily defined. My Fantasy DNA doesn’t allow for giving up early to approach a rebuild, but reality can’t be ignored.

 

Here’s the keeper list for the Dux that was frozen on October 19th –

 

C – Willson Contreras $10

C –

1B – Jose Abreu $16

3B –

1/3 –

2B – Yoan Moncada $7

SS – Willy Adames $4

2/S – Gleybar Torres $4

OF – Yasiel Puig $19

OF –

OF –

OF –

OF –

U –

P – Patrick Corbin $8

P – Vincent Velasquez $6

P – Brad Hand $11

P –

P –

P –

P –

P –

P –

P –

Farm – Royce Lewis

Farm – Michael Baez

 

The six hitters had a salary total of $60, while the three pitchers equaled $25 leaving $175 to buy 14 players at the draft table. The basic allocation would be $109 for the eight hitters and $66 for the six pitchers. So, the draft strategy was as follows…

 

> In the days before the Draft, reality indicated that this keeper list wasn’t strong enough to assume the team could contend, despite the available dollars. Five other teams had similar budgets and the talent pool was shallow, so too much money would be chasing limited assets.

 

> The logical approach seemed to be 1) overpay for two star players who could be used as trade-chips in June if the team wasn’t competitive and 2) concentrate on filling other roster spots with younger players who might have reasonable enough salaries to still be keepers for 2020.

 

> Find a solid 3B for $20 or less, a 2nd Catcher for less than $10, a 1/3 for $10 and four OF’s for a combined budget of about $70.

 

> On the pitching side, allocate $40 for four starting pitchers, $25 for two additional Closers (also possible trade assets) and one end-gamer for the final pitching spot.

 

> My advice to players has always been to not “chase” any particular player. Find a group of players that fit your need and focus on getting one of them. This was the biggest challenge because so many of MLB’s star players were already rostered.

 

> The four best hitters in the player pool were J.D. Martinez, Paul Goldschmidt, Charlie Blackmon & Anthony Rizzo. On the pitching side, the four were Zack Greinke, Stephen Strasburg, David Price & Kyle Hendricks. The initial goal was to get one hitter and one pitcher from this group.

 

Before reviewing the results of the draft, there’s one other important league rule for readers to understand. Even though the word “list” is being used in this discussion, the really unique aspect of the XFL is that team owners can bring nothing to the table…no lists, no projections, no research, no draft software, no laptops, no tablets and no smart phones. When you sit at the table, major league depth charts are handed out with the names of keepers crossed off and that is your only reference material during the auction. Even the depth charts are as neutral as possible with players listed by position and alphabetically. You don’t get any help as the typical MLB team could have 12 relief pitchers on the sheet and you need to know which one might get (or be next in line for) Saves.

 

The actual approach at the draft table needed to be somewhat aggressive as the eight “stars” would probably come out early. And, of course, never forget the words of a world-class poker player who once told me, “If you sit down at the table and don’t spot the pigeon, it just might be you”.

 

One of the keys in a keeper league environment is to  determine what the inflation factor might be on player salaries. You can do the math prior to the Draft, but until you actually hear the bids, you can’t really be sure. Every Fantasy league is basing their valuations on projections but when you’re bidding in November, knowing what a player actually “earned” the previous season can give some insight into inflation. For the eight players mentioned, all expect Strasburg had a season uninterrupted by injury, so their 2018 stats were a reasonable baseline.

 

The first player nominated would tell us much of what we wanted to know. Last November, Goldschmidt went for $65 at the table and ended up earning $29 in our statistical format. This time, he was bought for $45, which still represented a 50% inflation factor. That percentage was now in the front of my brain for the remainder of the Draft.

 

Martinez came out soon after and he had earned $40 for his spectacular ’18 season. The Dux bid aggressively and rostered him for $56…a 40% inflation factor. Last November, he was $55.

 

Blackmon ended up costing $45 (73% inflation) and Rizzo $42 (90% inflation).

 

Greinke was my next target and I stayed in until $30, finally letting him go to another team at $31. You can never beat yourself up at these moments because there’s no guarantee that $32 would have been enough. The inflation factor on the $31 bid was 48%. Soon after, the Dux paid $30 for Strasburg…taking a reasonable chance on his health due to his potential. Eventually, Price went for $23 (53% inflation) and Hendricks for $17 (21% inflation).

 

The targeted 3B were Mike Moustakas, Eduardo Escobar & Wil Myers. We opted for Myers due to the SB potential and got him for the $20 allocated in that spot.

 

Next was a Closer and Sean Doolittle was the choice for $15. His injury during the season was not arm-related and the peripheral stats were off the charts.

 

Wellington Castillo for $9 was probably the worst pick of the day, but in a league with 30 Catchers needing to be rostered, it helps to have two with some sort of positive value.

 

Next up was Brandon Woodruff of the Brewers for $6…let’s hope he gets a rotation spot ahead of Freddy Peralta and/or Corbin Burnes.

 

Arodys Vizcaino filled the 3rd third Closer spot at $10 and then we still ended up with Eduardo Escobar at 1/3 for $10.

 

At this point, it was almost “end-game” territory but too many teams still had too many dollars, so targeting any player in particular was a fool’s game. The Dux heard “crickets” on their next bid, as we added Giants OF Steven Duggar for $1. If the season started today, he might just be the starting CF and lead-off hitter. If not, the position flexibility of the roster can put him in the Utility spot, where he is easily replaced by someone in the March Draft.

 

Then $4 for Steven Matz… he looked healthy at the end of the season and his 5-11 record was not aligned with the numbers. Next up was D’Backs OF Steven Souza for $9…injured most of ’18, he had 30 HR’s & 16 SB’s in 2017.

 

Kole Calhoun was our last OF at $1, Sandy Alcantara our final pitcher for $1 and then Tigers 3B Jeimer Canderlario in the Utility spot for our last $3.

 

The Dux spent $169 on offense (65% of budget) and $91 on pitching (35% of budget), which were the exact target numbers. As for the other aspect of money management, it looked like this…

 

> C – $8 allocation, $9 actual

> 3B – $20 allocation, $20 actual

> 1/3 – $10 allocation, $10 actual

> OF $69 allocation (4), $67 actual

> U – $2 allocation, $3 actual

> SP – $42 allocation (4), $41 actual

> RP – $24 allocation (2), $25 actual

 

Just to keep your mind percolating during the off-season, here are some random thoughts from the Draft…

 

> November is much too early to evaluate injured pitchers…Jimmy Nelson went for $1, as did Danny Salazar, Michael Pineda, Sean Manaea & Garrett Richards.

 

> Reputations don’t matter as Yu Darvish went for $9, Jay Bruce for $2, Jake Arrieta for $6 & Brandon Belt for $3…and Felix Hernandez wasn’t taken.

 

> Never ask the question, “why did someone pay $25 for Jesse Winker” without clearly understanding that someone else bid $24

 

> Other big contract players included Justin Upton for $34, David Dahl for $28 & Justin Turner for $27

 

> $1 players the Dux wouldn’t mind having included Chris Ianetta, Jordan Hicks, Yonder Alonso, Zach Britton, Marcus Semien & C.J. Cron

 

> And, of course, the annual exercise of listing players who were not even drafted…Nick Ahmed, Dansby Swanson, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, Matt Harvey, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Starlin Castro, Gio Gonzalez, Jeremy Jeffress, Todd Frazier, Asdrubal Cabrera, J.P. Crawford, Josh Harrison, Kolten Wong, Jedd Gyorko, Dexter Fowler, Joe Panik, Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Ian Kinsler, Jason Kipnis, Josh Reddick, Alex Gordon, Albert Pujols (again), Zack Cozart, Brett Gardner & Kevin Pillar.

 

You can review additional league information at fantasyxperts.com

 

 

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Updating The Bucket List

Little League 2018

For those of you under the age of 50, the name George Plimpton might not be that familiar. If, however, you were coming of age in the 60’s, the late author and editor was consistently in the limelight of pop culture and sports. Long before the idea of “Fantasy” sports, his books and articles were unique in that he invented a genre known as “participatory journalism”. He used his connections and celebrity to take part as an amateur in professional sporting and entertainment events and then shared the experience with his readers in books and magazines. For old-school Rotisserie Baseball players, we even have him to thank for “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch” written for Sports Illustrated in 1985.

 

A few years ago, PBS aired a wonderful documentary on his life and it brought back so many memorable moments from his career. In the final segment, however, his son read a list of items from Plimpton’s “Bucket List” including one about learning to throw a knuckleball. That exercise struck me as a little strange because if there was ever someone who spent their life living out a “Bucket List”, it was George Plimpton. After all, he got in the boxing ring with Light-Heavyweight Champion Archie Moore, he pitched to Willie Mays at the All-Star Game, he played Quarterback in training camp for the Detroit Lions (creating the best-selling book “Paper Lion”), he was in goal for the Boston Bruins in an exhibition game against the Flyers (stopping Reggie Leach on a penalty shot) and suited up for the Boston Celtics. As if sports weren’t enough to fill his life, he was also close friends with most of the great writers of the era and part of the inner circle of the Kennedy family. The one participatory event in his life that he never chronicled in print was the fact that he pried the gun from the hand of Sirhan Sirhan after Robert Kennedy was shot.

 

At a certain point in your life, creating a “Bucket List” will be a natural phenomenon. And, if you’re a sports fan, many of the items will be self-explanatory. “Visit Augusta in Early April” might not mean much to some people, but it’s a clear goal to many. With all that being said, unless you’re Morgan Freeman and end up sharing a hospital room with multi-millionaire Jack Nicholson, you probably won’t put a check-mark next to a significant number of items on your list. In thinking about Plimpton’s list, maybe a better exercise is to review how many wonderful moments we’ve experienced up to now and not dwell so much on the ones not yet achieved. So, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to challenge each of you to make up a list of the items that already have that check-mark. And, to keep it light, utilize sports as your source for the project.

 

Being as I have the floor, the Old Duck will go first. Let’s hope yours is even better.

 

> Watching Ted Williams hit a historic home run at Fenway Park ( #400 July 1956). Crossing home plate, he spit in the direction of the press box.

 

> Playing Pebble Beach on a beautiful Spring day with my best friend (May 2006).

 

> Bowling a perfect 300 game (1964, 1965, 1972 & 1995).

 

> Receiving a Varsity letter in High School sports (Wheelchair Basketball, 1962). I was on crutches for a year due to hip surgery and attended a school for the physically handicapped.

 

> Traveling to Toronto and visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame (1994).

 

> Experience being “mooned” by rowdy fans at Yankee Stadium (1988). And I wasn’t even wearing a Red Sox cap.

 

> Seeing a rookie named Bill Russell change the face of the NBA when he scored only two points but completely dominated the Knicks at Boston Garden in a 114-78 Celtic victory (January 1957).

 

> Collecting over 200 autographed Sports Illustrated covers and getting to meet some of the greatest athletes in the world during the process. Ernie Banks was the nicest and Dave Parker was the rudest (1985-2005).

 

> Walking across the Roberto Clemente Bridge on a spectacular Summer night to watch the Pirates play at PNC Park (2006).

 

> Making a Hole-In-One twice (178 yard 7-Wood, June 2006 & 155 yard 4-Iron, August 2017). The first one was with my best friend and the second with my Son.

 

> Traveling to Kansas City and visiting the Negro League Museum (2006).

 

> Being in the crowd at the Forum in Los Angeles on the night Wayne Gretzky scored his 802nd goal to break Gordie Howe’s record (March 1994).

 

> Witnessing George Brett’s 3000th hit at Angel Stadium in Anaheim (September 1992).

 

> Traveling to St. Augustine, Florida and visiting the World Golf Hall of Fame (2008).

 

> Watching Sandy Koufax pitch a shutout at Dodger Stadium (1965).

 

> Attending MLB games at over 25 different ballparks (1959-2014).

 

> Completing a 1956 Topps Baseball Card Set (1990).

 

> Traveling to Cooperstown and visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame (2006).

 

> Doing volunteer work at the Los Angeles Urban League and having the thrill of meeting, and talking with, Ray Charles (1972). I know it’s not sports-related, but c’mon…it was Ray Charles!

 

> Attending the opening game of a World Series (1974).

 

> Meeting Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion and telling him how much I hated the Montreal Canadians when I was a kid growing up in Boston. He smiled and said, “We sure kicked their ass, didn’t we?” (1986)

 

> Spending the month of March watching Spring Training games every day (2006-    ).

 

> Traveling to Springfield, Massachusetts and visiting the Basketball Hall of Fame (1998).

 

> Attending a Rose Bowl game (Wisconsin vs. UCLA 1999).

 

> Watching the Rams “Fearsome Foursome” scare the daylights out of QB’s at the L.A Coliseum (1966).

 

> Sitting in a luxury suite at Camden Yards on a night when Cal Ripken Jr. hit a Home Run (1993).

 

> Competing on the same lanes with bowling legends Dick Weber & Earl Anthony (1985).

 

> Going on the court at Staples Center prior to a Lakers game and shooting free-throws to help raise money for charity (2001).

 

> Being a participant in the first-pitch ceremony on the field at Dodger Stadium (2006)…I was the Catcher. It was also “Old-Timers Day” and Maury Wills & Steve Garvey were not impressed with my skills.

 

> Witnessing Hall of Fame jockey Johnny Longden’s last race as he brought home George Royal in a stretch duel at Santa Anita Park in the 1966 San Juan Capistrano Handicap. At age 59, that brought his win total to 6,032.

 

> Capturing a Fantasy Baseball Championship in competition with some of the best experts in the industry (2005, 2009, 2011, 2012). Honestly, just being in a league with these guys would have made the list.

 

> Being in Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus the night Lew Alcindor played his first collegiate basketball game (1965).

 

> Looking out over the rocky coastline along the Pacific while playing Poipu Bay Golf Club in Kauai (1996).

 

> Crossing the frozen tundra to tour the Packers Hall of Fame in Green Bay on a perfectly bleak Winter afternoon (1994).

 

> Attending the Olympic Games (1984).

 

> Spring Training road-trips to Arizona with my baseball buddies, four games and eight teams in three days (1980’s & 90’s).

 

> Visiting the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame prior to a game at Great American Ballpark (2006).

 

> Taking in the unforgettable atmosphere of minor league baseball in places like San Antonio, Louisville, Buffalo, Jacksonville & Rancho Cucamonga.

 

> Getting to see both Bob Cousy and Magic Johnson pass the basketball (1958, 1985).

 

> Having lunch at Harry Carey’s restaurant before an afternoon game at Wrigley Field (1991).

 

> Being a speaker on the same convention program with Billy Beane and talking with him about “Moneyball” (2005).

 

> Getting the opportunity to write about baseball and other topics that I love (2012-     ).

 

> Becoming a member of the Dana-Farber Society, which raises money for “The Jimmy Fund”. It is the official charity of the Red Sox and is dedicated to saving the lives of children with cancer (2011).

 

Two new and significant items have been added this year…

 

> Sitting in the stands watching two of my Grandsons play on opening day of the Little League season (February 2018).

 

> Attending Game #5 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium with my Son (October 2018).

 

Reminds me of that great song by Marc Cohn called “Saving The Best For Last”. Hope your bucket list includes being somewhere you love with a person you love.

 

 

 

The Clutch Chronicles – 2018

Martinez RD

The Urban Dictionary defines Clutch as, “To perform under pressure”. For decades, baseball pundits and fans have extolled the virtues of players who supposedly had this trait. Their evidence, however, was only visual and anecdotal. Back in the 1970’s, most people considered Tony Perez of the “Big Red Machine” one of baseball’s best clutch hitters. After all, he had over 100 RBI’s in six seasons between 1967 & 1975. In fact, some would argue that his election to the Hall of Fame was based on this reputation.

 

Now that baseball is in the age of statistical analysis, our old observations may be called into question. Even a math-challenged fan understands that you can’t get a plethora of RBI’s without baserunners. And, boy, did those Reds teams have baserunners!

 

Statistics on RBI Percentage (RBI-HR/Runners On) now go back to 1974, so let’s see how our legendary clutch hitter fared in a season where he was an All-Star. Perez had 101 RBI’s, 28 HR’s & 489 runners on base for a RBI percentage of 14.93%. That didn’t even crack the top 50 for the major leagues in ’74! He finished behind household names such as Reggie Smith, Richie Zisk, Jimmy Wynn, Cesar Cedeno & Ted Simmons. The leaders were Jeff Burroughs at 21.18% and Sal Bando at 21.15%.

 

Our Hall-of-Famer improved considerably in 1975 as he accumulated 109 RBI’s with 20 HR’s and 489 runners on base (again). His percentage improved to 18.20% and he just snuck into the top ten for that season. The only hitters at 20% or higher were Willie Stargell at 20.48% and Thurman Munson at 20.00%.

 

As a fan, you certainly have an opinion on today’s clutch hitters but do the stats back you up? In 2018, there were 17 hitters who exceeded the 18.20% that Perez posted in ’75. We’ll only include players who had at least 200 baserunners during the season to eliminate the “small sample size” outliers.  These are “Quacker’s Clutch All-Stars” and we’ll see how well their performance aligns with their reputation.

 

1) J.D. Martinez, Red Sox OF, 19.82% – Helped the BoSox to 100+ Wins and was a free agent actually worth his contract.

 

2) Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox SS, 19.75% – Came all the way back from an injury-plagued 2017.

 

3) Gregory Polanco, Pirates OF, 19.73%- His OPS in ’17 was .695…in ’18, it was .839.

 

4 Yulieski Gurriel, Astros 1B, 19.30% – An unheralded contributor to Houston’s success, he provided 85 RBI’s.

 

5) Christian Yelich, Brewers OF, 19.16%- Another reason he’s a MVP favorite.

 

6) Jed Lowrie, Athletics 2B, 19.10% – Made his first All-Star team at age 34.

 

7) Jose Abreu, White Sox 1B, 18.97%- Slowed down by some injuries but he’s still a force in the line-up.

 

8) Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B, 18.88%- No surprise here, he’s the glue and veteran presence on a young Atlanta team.

 

9) Matt Kemp, Dodgers OF, 18.82%- Wasn’t even supposed to make the opening day roster but provided solid stats.

 

 

10 Gerardo Parra, Rockies OF, 18.80% – Critics wanted to see more of Dahl & McMahon but he produced…a free agent in 2019.

 

11) Wilson Ramos, Phillies C, 18.71%- Got a late start but did a good job of building future value as a 2019 fee agent.

 

12) Robinson Cano, Mariners 2B, 18.60%- “Cheaters never prosper” isn’t always true.

 

13) David Freese, Dodgers CI, 18.43%- If you recall, he has World Series experience.

 

14) Edwin Encarnacion, Indians DH, 18.38% – Still a professional hitter at age 35.

 

15) Robinson Chirinos, Rangers C, 18.36% – The .222 BA is misleading, as he posted a .338 OBP with 18 HR’s.

 

16) Mitch Garver, Twins C, 18.27% – A .749 OPS in over 300 AB’s is a plus at a defensive position.

 

17) David Peralta, D’Backs OF, 18.24% – A break-out year at Age 30…hit 30 HR’s.

 

Just outside the top 17 was Shohei Ohtani with a clutch number of 18.06…yes, he’s for real.

 

For everyday players, JaCoby Jones was the worst in baseball at 8.21%. Others under 10% included Adam Engel, Carlos Gomez, Michael Taylor, Hernan Perez, Billy Hamilton, Mike Zunino, Lorenzo Cain & Mike Kingery.

 

Hope all your fantasy players came through in the clutch. For more information on RBI Percentage, go to baseballmusings.com.

 

Ugly & Historic – 1955 Bowman Baseball Cards

 

Morgan 9

Those of you under the age of 60 can’t possibly imagine the impact that Television had on America in the 1950’s. It changed our personal habits as well as the way business advertised their products, the movie industry (3D is nothing new) and how we viewed the world.

 

The Bowman Gum Company first issued baseball cards in 1948 and was the dominant player in the marketplace for a number of years, producing some of the most beautiful collectibles ever conceived. However, once Topps entered the fray in 1952, Bowman found the competitive environment changing dramatically. In the early 50’s, the two companies battled over player rights and court battles occurred between the two companies on a regular basis. In 1955, Bowman decided to capitalize on the cultural craze and issued their 320-card set with each player pictured on the screen of a color TV set. Looking back today, it was probably the death knell of the company. Compared to the products Bowman had issued in the past like the iconic 1953 “Color’ set, this was the ugly step-sister. While some collectors think the cards are attractive in a campy sort of way, others feel that the word “ugly” doesn’t even begin to describe the look. Whether you believe the cards didn’t market well due to the appearance or that Bowman just couldn’t survive the competition, the result was that Topps bought out the company in January of 1956 and the “TV” cards were their last product.

 

Of course, 50+ years later, the look doesn’t matter as much as the legendary players in the set and the scarcity of finding the cards in nice condition. A complete set of ’55 Bowman cards in near mint (NM 7) condition would be worth over $13,000 today. There are 24 Hall of Famers in this issue and, as with any baseball card set, every card has a unique story to tell. Let’s reminisce about some of those stories.

 

> #1 Hoyt Wilhelm, Giants P ($100) – This master of the knuckleball pitched in 1,070 games

 

> #4 Eddie Waitkus, Orioles 1B ($25) – The back of his card tells the story of how this obscure player was shot in the chest by a deranged female fan in June of 1949. He amazingly recovered well enough to play every game at 1B for the pennant-winning Phillies in 1950. In 1952, author Bernard Malamud fictionalized the story in his novel, “The Natural”…you may have seen the movie version with Robert Redford

 

> #10 Phil Rizzuto, Yankees SS ($90) – The “Scooter” was ending his career at age 37 and had hit only .195 in ’54

 

> #22 Roy Campanella, Dodgers C ($125) – “Campy” would earn his 3rd NL MVP award in ’55

 

> #23 Al Kaline, Tigers OF ($115) – The legendary Bengal was just beginning his HOF career

 

> #33 Nellie Fox, White Sox 2B ($75) – One of the most consistent players of the era, he was an All-Star selection every year from 1951-1961

 

> #40 Vic Wertz, Indians 1B ($25) – The player who will always be remembered for hitting the ball when Willie Mays made “The Catch” in the ’54 World Series

 

> #59 Whitey Ford, Yankees P ($125) – Went 18-7 in ’55 with a 2.63 ERA and 18 complete games

 

 

 

> #65 Don Zimmer, Dodgers SS ($65) – This is the rookie card of one of the most legendary baseball characters in the game

 

> #89 Lou Boudreau, Athletics Manager ($55) – With all the current managers employing defensive adjustments, we’re reminded that as a Player-Manager in the 40’s, he invented the infield “Shift” against Ted Williams

 

> #97 Johnny Podres, Dodgers P ($60) – The Worlds Series hero of ’55 who pitched a shutout in Game 7 versus the Yankees to give Brooklyn their first title

 

> #102 Bobby Thomson, Braves OF ($35) – Hit the “Shot Heard Round The World” for the Giants in the 1951 Playoff against the Dodgers

 

> #103 Eddie Mathews, Braves 3B ($100) – This Hall of Famer had just recently been the cover boy for the first issue of Sports Illustrated Magazine

 

> #134 Bob Feller, Indians P ($100) – Most modern baseball fans don’t realize that “Rapid Robert” lost four years to military service in the prime of his career and still won 266 games

 

> #168 Yogi Berra, Yankees C ($140) – Won back-to-back AL MVP awards in ’54 & ’55 and was just learning to take the fork in the road

 

> #179 Hank Aaron, Braves OF ($350) – Hit 13 HR’s in his rookie year of ’54 and would more than double that in ’55 on his way to 755

 

> #184 Willie Mays, Giants OF ($350) – The “Say Hey Kid” was coming off his MVP season in ’54 when he put up 41 HR’s, 110 RBI’s and a .345 BA

 

> #202 Mickey Mantle, Yankees OF ($1,400) – Already a three-time All-Star, he would post his first of eight campaigns with a 1000+ OPS in ’55

 

> #242 Ernie Banks, Cubs SS ($450) – After a rookie season of 19 HR’s in ’54, “Mr. Cub” would hit 44 dingers in ’55 and establish himself as one of the greats of the era

 

> #303 Jocko Conlon, Umpire ($110) – Interestingly, Bowman included umpires in the set and he was one of four to make the Hall of Fame – the others were Al Barlick, Nestor Chylak & Cal Hubbard

 

> Many other outstanding players had their rookie cards in this set including Elston Howard ($95) and Charlie Neal ($80)

 

> Two of the greatest players in the history of the game are not in this set. Ted Williams signed an exclusive contract with Topps in ’54 and Stan Musial’s agreement with Bowman had expired and he didn’t sign with Topps until ’58

 

At this year’s National Sports Collectors Convention, the 1955 Bowman set was a hot topic of conversation. A dealer had acquired an unopened 20-card cello pack and sold spots to collectors who were hoping to get one of the HOF players on a card in “never been touched” condition. As the pack was opened and the cards slowly revealed one-by-one, some gems emerged including Junior Gilliam and Ernie Banks. Then, the 19th card was shown and the crowd roared with excitement. It was indeed the Mickey Mantle card in beautiful condition. The card was immediately taken to the booth of card-grading company PSA and they verified that it was in “MINT 9” condition…an unheard of find. According to people at the show, the new owner was offered as much as $50,000 for the card!

 

A friend of mine participated in the drawing and received a Yankee card that wasn’t Mantle. Card #100 is Pitcher Tom Morgan and it too was graded out as a “MINT 9”. With this type of card, no “book” value is valid. There have only been two other 9’s ever found and neither has been on the market in recent memory. Wonder what it will bring?

 

 

 

 

Unexpected WAR

'12 Muncey

Baseball fans and Fantasy Baseball Managers love pleasant surprises. Those players who weren’t on the radar in March and then turned out to be a very productive asset to your team.

 

They could fall into a number of categories. There are prospects who exceeded their ranking in the organization. Then there are those acquired in some insignificant trade who emerge with their new team. Or a post-hype player who disappointed in his first season or two and then figured it out. Every season, these players make a difference in the success of MLB teams and 2018 is no exception. We’re not talking about established guys like Javier Baez or Aaron Nola who took their game to another level or top prospects such as Ronald Acuna Jr. or Juan Soto.

 

To identify the best of these, we’ll once again rely on “Wins Above Replacement” (WAR) which is a statistic designed to answer the following question…if this player got injured and their team had to replace them with an available minor leaguer or a AAAA player from their bench, how much value would the team be losing? The value is expressed in a wins format, so we can compare each player’s actual value.

 

According to the rankings provided by Fan Graphs, there were about 100 major leaguers who provided 3 Wins to their team with Mookie Betts leading the way at 10.4. In that top 100, we’ve identified 11 who would certainly qualify as a pleasant surprise. Let’s take a look at the list with their overall ranking and WAR contribution…

 

 

> #26 Max Muncy, Dodgers (5.2 WAR) – Originally drafted by the A’s in 2012, he had short stints with the big league club in 2015 & 2106, hitting .206 & .186. Released in March of 2017, he hooked on with the Dodger organization and played at AAA hitting .309 with 12 HR’s. This season (at age 27), he gave L.A. a big boost toward their pennant-winning campaign with 35 HR’s & 79 RBI’s.

 

> #29 German Marquez, Rockies (5.2 WAR) – Traded to Colorado from Tampa Bay in 2016, he had a decent rookie year in 2017 with a 11-7 record and a 4.39 ERA. No one gets too excited about Pitchers in a high-altitude home park, but 2018 was off the charts with 14 Wins, a 3.77 ERA and 230 K’s in 196 IP. Won’t be a free agent until 2023.

 

> #42 Milos Mikolas, Cardinals (4.6 WAR) – A 29 year-old hurler coming back from three seasons in Japan doesn’t create much of an expectation, but he was “lights out” with a record of 18-4 and a 2.83 ERA. The Redbirds paid him $15.5 Million for two years and now it looks like a bargain.

 

> #44 Brandon Nimmo, Mets (4.5 WAR) – Never as highly regarded as Michael Conforto and other prospects, he took advantage of injuries to get into the line-up and produced a .263 BA with 17 HR’s & 11 SB’s. Even an analytically challenged organization like the Mets should be able to recognize the value of a .404 OBP & .886 OPS.

 

> #46 Zack Wheeler, Mets (4.4 WAR) – A former top prospect, he came back from injuries in 2017 but seemed done with a 5.21 ERA in 17 starts. This year, a record of 12-7 with a 3.31 ERA has made him relevant again at age 28.

 

> #55 Kyle Freeland, Rockies (4.0 WAR) – Another Colorado SP? Went from a .500 record with a 4.10 ERA to 17-7 with 2.85 and Cy Young Award consideration. Like Marquez, he’s not a free agent until 2023.

 

> #62 Joey Wendle, Rays (3.7 WAR) – Traded by the A’s last December for a Minor League Catcher, he turned 28 in April. The perfect example of a player on an over-achieving ball club, he hit .300 with 7 HR’s, 61 RBI’s & 16 SB’s. And, he also played 2B, 3B, SS & OF.

 

> #74 Harrison Bader, Cardinals (3.5 WAR) – The Cardinals paid Dexter Fowler over $80 Million to be their CF through 2021. Now it looks like this player may be the CF of the future. A 3rd round pick in 2015, he put up decent numbers at AAA in 2017 but was primarily thought of as a 4th OF. A .264 BA with 12 HR’s & 15 SB’s complimented impressive defense in 2018. Won’t even be arbitration-eligible until 2021.

 

> #76 Marco Gonzalez, Mariners (3.5 WAR) – Seattle got him in middle of the 2017 season from the Cardinals for prospect Tyler O’Neill. Became a member of the rotation in 2018 and was 13-9 in 29 starts at age 26.

 

> #89 Johan Camargo, Braves (3.3) – Atlanta was rumored to be looking for a short-term 3B free agent to hold the spot for top prospect Austin Riley. Failing that, they turned to this 24 year-old who only had 4 HR’s in 241 AB’s in 2017. The result was 19 HR’s & 76 RBI’s for the division-winning Braves.

 

> #96 Jesus Aguilar, Brewers (3.1) – Hit 16 HR’s as a platoon option in 2017 but was never considered an everyday player at age 27. The Brew-Crew won the division this year thanks in part to his enormous production…35 HR’s, 108 RBI’s & .890 OPS.

 

If you had these 11 players on your Fantasy squad, congratulations on winning the championship.

Fields Of Dreams

AFL RD

OK, close your eyes and picture yourself sitting behind home plate at a beautiful ballpark, on a perfect day, surrounded by big league scouts, watching a game filled with prospects from ten different major league teams. Pretty nice dream, isn’t it? Well, without trying to rub it in, your fantasy is my reality because I’m fortunate enough to live in the Valley of the Sun.

 

An envelope arrived in the mail last week from the “Office of the Commissioner of Baseball”. No, it wasn’t my voting credential for the MVP & Cy Young Award…it was better! It was my annual  season pass for the Arizona Fall League.

 

The Arizona Fall League, which was the brainchild of Hall of Fame Baseball Executive Roland Hemond, brings together 180 players for six weeks every October and November. Utilizing six of the Spring Training ballparks in the Phoenix area for six weeks, local fans pay $8 (or less) to watch some of the top prospects in baseball compete against each other and attempt to impress scouts and team executives with their talent. Back in 2011, for example, Mike Trout & Bryce Harper patrolled the same outfield for the Scottsdale Scorpions. This Fall, at least ten of the MLB.com top 50 will be on rosters including Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Brendan Rogers, Bo Bichette, Forrest Whitley, Taylor Trammell, Luis Robert & Keston Huira.

 

Today, we’ll take a retrospective look at the last decade of the league (2008-17) and some of the players who made it to “the show”.

 

> 2008

 

* Daniel Murphy hit .397 with a 1.106 OPS

 

* Tyler Flowers led the league with 12 Home Runs

 

* An unknown prospect named Justin Turner batted .337

 

* Max Scherzer made four starts with a 3.38 ERA

 

> 2009

 

* Starlin Castro hit .376 and swiped 9 bases

 

* Grant Desme led the league with 11 HR’s but eventually retired at age 23 to join the ministry

 

* Mike Moustakas cranked five HR’s in only 75 AB’s

 

* Mike Leake made five starts and posted a 1.37 ERA

 

> 2010

 

* Brandon Belt hit .372

 

* A.J. Pollock hit .317 with 7 SB’s

 

* Charlie Blackmon only hit .264 but with more walks than strikeouts, his OBP was .372…maybe he’ll make a good lead-off hitter someday

 

* Marc Rzecpzynski was 4-0 in six starts with a league-leading 1.26 ERA

 

> 2011

 

* Forget about Trout & Harper, the leading hitter was Jedd Gyorko with a .437 BA and a 1.204 OPS

 

* There was also another .400 hitter…Scooter Gennett at .411

 

* Nolan Arenado batted .388 with 33 RBI’s in 29 games

 

* Dallas Keuchel’s 5.08 ERA gave you no clue as to his future success

 

 

> 2012

 

* Billy Hamilton stole 10 bases but only hit .234…sound familiar?

 

* Christian Yelich batted .301 but had zero HR’s…think he’ll ever develop any power?

 

* George Springer hit .286 and his 13 walks got his OPS up to 1.012

 

* Chase Anderson went 3-1 with 25 K’s in 23+ IP

 

> 2013

 

* Kris Bryant hit 6 HR’s in only 77 AB’s and posted an OPS of 1.184

 

* C.J. Cron was the leading hitter with a .413 BA and 20 RBI’s

 

* Mitch Haniger led the league with 24 RBI’s

 

* Mike Montgomery had a 2.57 ERA…three years later he got the last out of the World Series

 

> 2014

 

* Jesse Winker was the leading hitter at .338

 

* Greg Bird & Hunter Renfroe each it 6 HR’s

 

* Roam Quinn swiped 14 bases in 24 games…wonder if he’s still fast?

 

* Zach Davies was 3-0 in seven starts with a 1.75 ERA

 

> 2015

 

* Gary Sanchez was the top slugger with 7 HR’s & 21 RBI’s

 

* Jeimer Candelario showed off his skills by hitting .329 with 5 HR’s

 

* Jeff McNeil’s .230 BA didn’t deter his progress to the big leagues in 2018

 

* Josh Hader’s miniscule 0.56 ERA was a forecast of things to come

 

> 2016

 

* Gleybar Torres was the batting champion at .403

 

* Cody Bellinger posted a .981 OPS

 

* Tim Tebow hit .194 and struck out 20 times in 62 AB’s

 

* Drew Steckenrider had three Saves…he had five for the Marlins this season

 

> 2017

 

* A few position players on last year’s rosters have already made “the show”…Ronald Acuna Jr., Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Francisco Mejia & Steven Duggar.

 

* Max Fried was 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA…in 2018, he had 42 K’s in 32+ IP for the Braves

 

The season begins on October 9th. Hope you can join us sometime at the ballpark in Arizona…you’ll recognize me as the one guy sitting behind home plate without a radar gun.

It Still Ain’t Over

56 Berra

Yogi Berra went 4-for-4 one night but when he looked at the box score in the newspaper the next morning, it showed him as 3-for-4. By the time Yogi arrived at the ballpark, he was significantly steamed and located the official scorer to complain. The scorer apologized and told him that it was a typographical error. Yogi’s response? “No, it wasn’t…it was a clean single up the middle.”

 

One of the few advantages of being a baseball fan of a certain age is that you have the memories of baseball tucked into a special compartment in your brain. This is especially true of players and games you actually witnessed in person and whenever a record is broken or a milestone is reached, you can bring up those mental snapshots from different decades and enjoy looking at them again. This photo album also emerges when a legendary player passes away and it reminds us to always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.

 

As a youngster who spent countless days and nights in the bleachers at Fenway Park, I admittedly hated the Yankees. My beloved Red Sox had Ted Williams and a few other decent players like Jimmy Piersall & Jackie Jensen, but the dreaded Bronx Bombers were a veritable All-Star team. Those old snapshots in my brain include Mickey Mantle hitting the hardest ball I’ve ever seen, Billy Martin getting his uniform dirty before the 2nd inning, Whitey Ford throwing a pitch that dropped three feet and Ryne Duren (wearing thick glasses) throwing his first warm-up pitch all the way to the backstop at 100 MPH. In the eight seasons from 1952-59, the Yankees won six AL pennants and four World Series titles. The Res Sox were also-rans and the crowds were sometimes thin because if people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.

 

The most unique Yankee player of the time was Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra. The most interesting aspect for a kid watching the game was that he didn’t look like the other ballplayers. At 5′ 7″ and 185 pounds, he certainly couldn’t be described as athletic but the results of his efforts were always amazing. Even Napoleon had his Watergate, but this player never seemed to strike out or not come through in the clutch. He also didn’t look like a matinee idol but it didn’t matter if he was ugly, because I never saw anyone hit with their face.

 

Even the most casual of fans know about Ted Williams and his military service during two wars, but most don’t know that a 19-year old Yogi Berra was on a rocket boat approaching Omaha Beach on D-Day. At that moment, he might have thought that the future ain’t what is used to be, but if the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be. At that moment, his professional baseball experience consisted of 111 games with Norfolk of the Piedmont League where he had a batting average of .253. Once he made his major league debut on September 22nd, 1946, he was 21 and he had already figured out that you can’t think and hit at the same time. Ironically, he passed away exactly 69 years to the day after that first game.

 

Of course, this column could be filled with famous “Yogi-isms”, but you can use your search engine to find those. It would sort of be like Deja Vu all over again. Or you could call the local pizza parlor and tell them to cut your pizza into six slices instead of eight slices because you can’t eat eight slices. Or you could just take a two-hour nap from 1:00 to 4:00 before you decide not to answer that anonymous letter. For the rest of our visit, let’s pair up in threes and look at the two peripheral items we discuss in this space most often…baseball stats and baseball cards.

 

 

Six Yogi Stats

 

> In 1948 and 1962, Yogi made the AL All-Star team…he also made the team every year in between.

 

> Yogi won three AL MVP Awards (’51, ’54 & ’55)…he also finished 2nd twice (’53 & ’56).

 

> In a seven-year span (’50 to ’56), he accumulated WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numbers between 4.5 and 6.3…in those same seven seasons, his OPS was never lower than .819 and as high as .915.

 

> In 1950, this infamous bad-ball hitter had 28 HR’s and only struck out 12 times…his HR’s exceeded his strikeouts in four additional seasons during the 50’s. For his entire career, he only struck out in 5% of his plate appearances.

 

> Yogi was not a first ballot Hall of Famer. He received 67.2% of the votes in 1971 before getting 85.6% in 1972 (75% is necessary for election).

 

> His highest salary was $65,000 in 1957…he hit 24 HR’s and had 82 RBI’s but he was cut to $60,000 the following season.

 

Six Yogi Baseball Cards

 

> 1948 Bowman #6 – This tiny black & white card is Yogi’s Rookie Card. In Near Mint (NM) condition, it is currently worth $1,100.

 

> 1950 Bowman #46 – This time the tiny card is in color and shows him in his catching gear…it books for $515.

 

> 1952 Topps #191 – This iconic set was the beginning of modern baseball cards…Yogi’s entry is valued at $1,000.

 

> 1953 Bowman Color #121 – One of the simplest and most beautiful sets ever, the front has nothing but a spectacular color photograph of the player…it could belong to you for $850.

 

> 1953 Topps #104 – This set utilized artist’s renderings of the players and is unique to the hobby. It even makes Yogi look handsome and has a price tag of $385.

 

> 1956 Topps #110 – The second of Topps’ horizontal sets, it features dual images on the front. The one you see with this article is from my personal collection and books for $165.

 

Well, that’s about it for today. I’d like to visit my favorite restaurant for dinner, but nobody ever goes there anymore because it’s too crowded. No matter where I go, my dessert will pie ala mode, with ice cream.