Baseball’s Antique Roadshow

One of the great things about dealing with sports memorabilia is the “surprise”. From a picture frame with dozens of 1910 baseball cards inside to a 1955 autograph of Roberto Clemente to a 1933 Goudey card of Dizzy Dean, these are the moments we treasure. So, in honor of today’s long-awaited first Spring Training game, the Old Duck will return from sabbatical (for this week only) to share the latest surprise with you.

A few months back, a friend of mine from Massachusetts got in touch with an interesting story. In cleaning out the home of a relative who had passed away, he and his cousins came across something interesting. It was a slightly tattered envelope with more than 25 signatures on the front and back. The envelope had a Cooperstown Hall of Fame logo and had been mailed to someone at Fenway Park in June of 1939. Once I got to examine the envelope in person, it was clear that a unique collectible had been found. Some research at baseball-reference.com told us what we needed to know. The autographs belonged to members of the 1939 Red Sox!

Of course, in today’s age of collectibles, nothing is of value unless it is authenticated. I was thrilled to help the family and sent the item off to an authentication company with a stellar reputation in the hobby. After sitting on pins & needles for a number of weeks, the results came back. Not only were all the signatures valid, there were at least eight (8) Hall of Fame members included.

Now that the item has been authenticated and encased, the next step will be for the family to sell this one-of-a-kind item through an auction house. The envelope will be in an upcoming catalog from Heritage Auctions out of Dallas and bidding will begin in late April. It was an honor to help the family and to have this marvelous artifact pass through my fingers.

Let’s check out the Hall of Famers on the ’39 BoSox, who finished 2nd in the AL with a record of 89-62.

  • Ted Williams – The greatest hitter to ever play the game was in his rookie season at age 20. How did he adapt to the majors? Would you believe a .327 BA and a league leading 145 RBI’s?
  • Jimmie Foxx – One of the great sluggers in the history of the game, “Double X” led the AL with 35 HR’s and finished 2nd in the MVP voting.
  • Lefty Grove – The ace of the pitching staff at age 39, he went 15-4 with a 2.54 ERA. He pitched two more seasons in Boston and finished with 300 career wins.
  • Bobby Doerr – In his 3rd campaign with the Sox at age 21, he hit .318. Eventually made nine All-Star teams in his 14 seasons.
  • Joe Cronin – Was the Manager of the team at age 32 and one of the best contributors on the field with a .308 BA and 107 RBI’s.
  • Herb Pennock – One of the team’s coaches, he pitched in the AL from 1912-1934 and posted 241 victories.
  • Eddie Collins – Another member of the coaching staff, he was one of the greatest players of the time and his 25-year career included 3,315 hits and a .333 lifetime BA. His WAR rating of 124.4 is the 12th best all-time.
  • Tom Yawkey – The owner of the club from 1933 – 1976, he was voted into Cooperstown by the Veteran’s Committee in 1980.

What will the final price be? As with all collectibles, the market will make the decision. A lucky Red Sox fan will cherish this incredible piece.

A Duck Sabbatical

You probably know that ducks migrate but did you know that they also take sabbaticals? So, after visiting with you for over 500 consecutive weeks, this old duck is going to take a break.

If you’ve read even a few of my commentaries, it should be obvious that baseball is my passion. I find, however, that my enthusiasm is waning thanks to what is happening off the field. The millionaires & billionaires who play and administer the game are creating an atmosphere that sours even a die-hard fan. Here we are in the middle of what should be the “hot stove” season and there are no trades or free agent deals or rumors or notes of any consequence. Opening some of the better baseball sites to find out who just signed a deal to play in Korea or who the new assistant hitting coach of a team might be just doesn’t cut it for me. MLB has even taken down the pictures of players from their website! Are these a bunch of 12 year-olds?

In all the reports of the lockout and the negotiations there hasn’t been even the slightest mention of the fans. While I was paying for my Spring Training tickets last week, the two sides pissed away December with no meetings to address core issues. Now, if they don’t reach an agreement in January, Spring Training may be impacted. As if the last two years haven’t been bad enough for fans, there seems to be no urgency on the part of the two sides.

Think about this…

  • One member of the union’s 8-player executive sub-committee is Max Scherzer, who signed a contract (under the old guidelines) to become the highest paid player in history at $43M per season. He’s been quoted as saying that a new agreement must include substantial raises for players in the first three years of their career. Where exactly does he propose that money come from? Certainly not any donation from his contract.
  • In addition to Scherzer, the Mets have an obligation to pay Robinson Cano $24M each of the next two seasons even though he was suspended last year for PED’s. How about the union agreeing that a PED suspension should automatically void a contract?  
  • The arbitration system (for players in years 4-6) is a joke. It puts teams and players in an adversarial position and rewards players for seniority instead of performance.
  • The owners are also to blame for the chasm between the two sides, as they’ve manipulated the system to gain an additional year of contract control and consequently not put their best product on the field. 
  • Fixing the June Draft to discourage “tanking” is easy. In my 12-team Fantasy Baseball league, six teams receive a monetary payout. So, the 1st Draft pick for the following year goes to the 7th place team. In the real world, the non-playoff team with the best record should get the 1st pick. To the non-educated, this is known as incentivizing.
  • Free agency eligibility needs to be a compromise of years and age…maybe 5-6 years or 30 years old (whichever comes first).
  • Some people criticize the “millionaire-billionaire” cliché, but consider the fact that in addition to Scherzer, the committee includes Gerrit Cole ($36M), Francisco Lindor ($34M) & Marcus Semien ($25M). As for the teams, Forbes estimated that even the least valuable team (the Marlins) has a valuation of $990M, while the Yankees are worth over $5B. Are you feeling any sympathy yet?

If you feel fed up, join the club. Neither side deserves our support. They just can’t seem to decide how to split up the money that comes from our pocket. Maybe they should have at least one baseball fan at the table? What do the fans really think? A well-respected baseball site has been running a survey and there have already been over 16,000 responses. Here a few takeaways…

  • If any regular season games get cancelled, 70% indicated that their in interest in baseball will be reduced
  • 54% believe that players are fairly compensated and another 16% feel they’re paid too much
  • Only 26% are against the NL DH
  • 75% think that the playoff field should be 10-12 teams
  • 57% are in favor of a minimum salary of $600K or less
  • 87% believe changes are needed to incentivize winning / reduce tanking

If the CBA farce cancels Spring Training games, this old-school fan will not spend one penny on major league baseball in 2022. No game tickets, no official merchandise, no satellite fees for additional games, no purchases of products advertised on mlb.com and no blogs extolling the virtues of the game. While this mini-boycott won’t impress the millionaires & billionaires, it will make me feel better.

On a positive note, thanks so much for all the kind words over the years…they are most appreciated.

Ballplayers Remembered

Are you a real baseball fan? A true baseball fan? Don’t reply too quickly because membership in this exclusive club requires certain criteria. Can you answer “yes” to most of the following questions…?

> Do you still have a vivid memory of that Home Run you hit in Little League?

> Does it take you back in time when you remember that first autograph from a major leaguer?

> Did you study statistics and do you still know the lifetime batting average of your favorite player?

> Is there at least one big league jersey hanging in your closet?

> Do you have a T-shirt that shows an outline of the state of Iowa and says, “Is This Heaven?

> Does a 3-2 count with the bases loaded still put you on the edge of your seat?

> Is there a Bill James publication somewhere on your bookshelf?

There are dozens more on the baseball SAT, but you get the idea. This marvelous sport we love is part of the fabric of our lives. If you’re a baby boomer or a millennial, the history of the game speaks to you and you’re always ready for a baseball-themed conversation…or debate. You can probably name most of the 32 players who have reached 3,000 hits but a football fan wouldn’t even know some of the 31 players with 10,000 career rushing yards if you gave them the names. If you doubt that, ask some of your Fantasy Football buddies about Thomas Jones or Corey Dillon.

So, as we celebrate the history of the game and try to get past the lockout, let’s take a look at who the sport lost in the past year…

> Henry Aaron, Braves OF 1954-1976 – No matter what the official record book says, this is the greatest Home Run hitter of all. From his humble beginnings in Mobile to the Hall of Fame in 1982, “Hammerin’ Hank” was the epitome of style, grace & class.

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> Bobby Brown, Yankees Of 1946-1954 – After winning four World Series titles with the Bronx Bombers, “Doc” went on to become a cardiologist and the President of the American League.

> Del Crandall, Braves C 1949-1966 – Made eight (8) All-Star teams after serving in the military during the Korean Conflict in 1951 & ’52.

> Ray Fosse, Indians & Athletics C 1967-1979 – Won two (2) Gold Gloves in Cleveland and went on to be a long-time broadcaster for the A’s.

> Bill Freehan, Tigers C 1961-1976 –11 All-Star teams and five (5) Gold Gloves, he spent his entire career with the Bengals and hit 200 HR’s.

> Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Indians & Twins P 1958-1971 – Won 145 Games in his lengthy career including 21 victories for Minnesota in their 1965 pennant-winning season.

> Tommy Lasorda, Dodgers Manager 1954-1956 – A short playing career but a Hall of Fame Manager for the Blue Crew from 1976-1995. One of the game’s great ambassadors.

> Mike Marshall, Expos & Dodgers P 1967-1981 – Accumulated 188 Saves in his career and won the 1974 NL Cy Young Award with 15 Wins & 21 Saves pitching 208 innings.

> Jeremy Remy, Red Sox 2B 1975-1984 – Was an All-Star in ’78 and went on to be a beloved broadcaster in Boston for the rest of his life.

> J.R. Richard, Astros P 1971-1980 – Unless you saw him pitch, you wouldn’t understand what greatness was taken from us by illness. Won 74 games from ’76 – ’79.

> Eddie Robinson, AL 1B 1942-1957 – Passed away at age 100 and his career really didn’t flourish until after he served three years during World War II. A four (4) time All-Star in the late 40’s and early 50’s.

> Don Sutton, Dodgers P 1966-1988 – One of the most durable starting pitchers in history, he won 324 Games and was inducted into Cooperstown in 1998.

> Bill Virdon, Pirates OF 1955-1968 – NL Rookie of the Year in ’55, he had over 1,500 Hits in his career. Went on to become a big league Manager for 13 years.

98 former big-leaguers died in 2021 and if you’re a real fan, you’ll remember many of the others. There were guys who played in the late 40’s and early 50’s like Wayne Terwilliger, Paul Foytack, Art Ditmar. Joe Cunningham & Johnny Groth. Also guys who played over 10 years like Rheal Cormier, Don Demeter, Doug Jones, Julio Lugo, Juan Pizzaro, Rennie Stennett & Dick Tidrow. And, a few who played in only one season like Mike Bell, Hy Cohen, Don Leppert, Tom Simpson & Duane Wilson.

They’re all part of the history because they were all in the “Show”.

2021 Rookies Go To WAR

Baseball fans have always been intrigued by Rookies. They bring hope during Spring Training to those franchises that have been floundering. Every team is undefeated until opening day.

The last 30+ years has changed the perception of rookies for two reasons…1) baseball cards and 2) Fantasy Baseball. Starting in the 1980’s, baseball card collectors became baseball card investors and their focus was on RC’s (Rookie Cards). Scores of collections come across my desk that have 50 Candy Maldonado cards from 1983 or 75 Gregg Jeffries cards from 1989. Hopefully, there might also be a smattering of 1984 Don Mattingly cards along with a few Ken Griffey Jr. cards from 1989. All of these collectors were scouting rookies of the day, and most of the time, they were wrong.

Those of us who began playing Fantasy (Rotisserie) Baseball at about the same time were also possessed about rookies. With no Internet and no real experts, we spent most of the off-season waiting for the next issue of “Baseball America”. After all, this publication actually gave us the top ten prospects in each organization and we enthusiastically took it all in to get an edge on our competitors.

These days, card collectors and Fantasy Baseball aficionados are ahead of the curve. They’re looking for cards of an 18 year-old player who has only had 206 professional at-bats (Jasson Dominguez) or trying to add a 21-year old (Bobby Witt) to their roster hoping he’ll be in the opening day line-up for 2022.

The 2021 season was different in a myriad of ways and one of the most unique was the presence and performance of rookies. Did the Covid dominated landscape and the injury plagued season give more youngsters a chance? Let’s look at the top rookies of this past season as determined by WAR (Wins Above Replacement). First the position players…

  1. Jonathan India, Reds (3.9) – Only a top 50 prospect in ’19, he turned in a great season and won the NL ROY with 21 HR’s, 12 SB’s and a .376 OBP.
  • Randy Arozarena , Rays (3.3) – Followed up a sensational 2020 post-season with a solid 20 HR & 20 SB campaign to claim the AL ROY.
  • Adolis Garcia, Rangers (2.9) – A 28 year-old rookie who must still prove himself after a spotty second half. However, 31 HR’s & 16 SB’s shows the potential.
  • Dylan Carlson, Cardinals (2.8) – May have just touched the surface of his upside at age 22, he posted 18 HR’s and a .780 OPS.
  • Wander Franco, Rays (2.5) – The fact that Tampa Bay signed him to a 12-year contract after half a season in the majors tells you how he’s perceived.
  • Patrick Wisdom, Cubs (2.3) – Another late-bloomer at age 29, he hit 28 HR’s with a .823 OPS
  • Frank Schwindel, Cubs (2.1) – The Cubbies cornered the market on older rookies, as this 29 year-old contributed 13 HR’s & 40 RBI’s in only 56 games.
  • Tyler Stephenson, Reds (2.0) – Catchers who add offense are like gold and this youngster looks like the real deal. A .797 OPS is impressive for a first-year backstop.
  • Daulton Varsho, D’Backs (2.0) – Made up for a slow start with a solid second half. He’s a Catcher and CF who shows power and speed.

Now for the Pitchers…

  1. Trevor Rogers, Marlins (4.2) – A casual fan might not know the difference between Taylor, Trevor & Tyler but this 23 year-old started 25 games for the Fish and had a 2.64 ERA.
  • Luis Garcia, Astros (3.1) – This 24 year-old helped Houston to the Fall Classic by going 11-8 in 28 starts.
  • Shane McClanahan, Rays (2.5) – Another 24 year-old, he stepped right in to the rotation and went 10-6 in 25 starts.
  • Logan Gilbert, Mariners (2.2) – Began the year at AAA but made 24 starts for Seattle’s over-achieving squad.
  • Tanner Houck, Red Sox (2.2) – A 1-5 record may not look impressive but 87 K’s in 69 IP gives you a hint of the upside.
  • Emmanuel Clase, Guardians (2.2) – The WAR calculation isn’t always kind to Closers but at age 23, he’s already a force in the bullpen. How about 24 Saves and a 1.29 ERA?
  • Cole Irvin, Athletics (2.1) – Had 10 Wins and didn’t miss a start. The K rate is somewhat suspect but he’s a solid member of the rotation.
  • Alex Manoah, Blue Jays (2.0) – 9-2 with a 3.22 ERA in 20 starts. Nothing but upside in this profile.

17 rookies who produced at least 2 additional Wins for their teams…quite impressive.

Now, where are those Brandon Wood Rookie Cards?

Remembering Roland

Baseball Hall of Fame executive Roland Hemond passed away yesterday at age 92. Five years ago, this tribute to him appeared on my blog. It seems appropriate to re-visit those words today as we remember this generous and legendary member of the baseball community.

                    Riding With Roland

One of the great things about baseball is that it still brings excitement to fans whether they’re 7 or 70. And, no matter when it happened, you’ll always remember that time you got to meet an icon of the game. For some, it’s that autographed baseball you got from your favorite player. For others, it was the chance to talk with a player, coach or manager during Spring Training or at a sports function. Or maybe you had the unique opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with someone whose plaque hangs in Cooperstown.

My retirement community has a very active Sports Club filled with some of the most knowledgeable baseball fans you’ll ever meet. We attend a number of games at Chase Field in Phoenix each season and also gather at local ballparks for Spring Training and the Arizona Fall League. In addition, at least a dozen times each year, we are privileged to have guest speakers who give of their time and come talk with us about the national pastime. Over the years, we’ve been fortunate enough to host Fergie Jenkins, Matt Williams, Josh Hamilton, John D’Acquisto, Peter Magowan (former owner of the Giants), Jeff Idelson (HOF President) Bernie Pleskoff (MLB.com writer), Daron Sutton, legendary scouts Art Stewart & Mel Didier as well as many others.

Of all our visitors over the last decade, the most frequent and most accommodating has been Roland Hemond, Special Assistant to the President & CEO of the Diamondbacks. He has made multiple presentations to the Club, has attended numerous functions and has also used his influence to bring in other speakers. At our recent holiday party, Roland was a featured guest and received a plaque from the group in thanks of his contributions over the years. I had the enviable task of picking him up at his Phoenix home for the 45-minute drive out to our community, which allowed me to talk baseball with one of the most famous executives in the history of the game. Of course, a few detours would have helped because his first big-league job was in 1952.

Talking with Roland is akin to attending a class in baseball history. In 1949, he was in the Coast Guard and stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Along with 68,000 other people, he was in Yankee Stadium on October 2nd for the one-game playoff for the American League Pennant between the Yankees & Red Sox. In the car last week, he gave me a virtual play-by play of the game from Ellis Kinder’s tough luck loss (allowing only one run in 7 innings for the Sox) to Jerry Coleman’s 3 RBI’s in the bottom of the 8th that put the game out of reach for the Yanks. We also came to the realization that “small world” moments are always part of the game. Roland’s first big league job was with the Boston Braves in 1952 and he admitted that occasionally, he would sneak over to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox and the great stars of the American League. There’s a good chance that a six-year old boy was also in attendance, as that’s the same year my Uncle first began taking me to the ballpark.

So, for the casual fan, who is Roland Hemond? The resume is impressive…

> 1952-60 – Worked in the front office of the Boston/Milwaukee Braves (Eddie Mathews’ rookie year was ’52, Hank Aaron’s was ’54).

> Scouting and Farm Director of the expansion Los Angeles Angels from 1961-70.

> Became the Assistant GM of the White Sox in 1971 was the GM from 1973-85.

> General Manager of the Orioles from 1988-95.

> Senior Executive VP for the Diamondbacks from 1996-2000.

> Executive Advisor for the White Sox from 2000-07 and then back to the D’Backs in 2008.

> Considered the architect of the Arizona Fall League, which began in 1992 and is still recognized as the premier developmental program in baseball.

His success and reputation in the game can be measured by the awards he has received….

> Selected as MLB’s Executive of the Year three times (1972, 1983 & 1989).

> The New York baseball writers presented him with the prestigious William J. Slocumb Award.

> The Honors Award from the Baseball Coaches of America.

> In 2011, the Baseball Hall of Fame selected him as only the second recipient of the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award for his extraordinary efforts to enhance the game’s positive impact on society. Presented in Cooperstown, the honor is bestowed upon an individual whose efforts broadened the game’s appeal and whose character, integrity and dignity are comparable to the late O’Neil, the former negro league player who passed away in 2006 at age 94.

You would think that a person with this history might be slightly full of himself, but if you meet Roland, you find that the exact opposite is true. During our visit, he told a little tale on himself from the 1970’s. One of the other AL teams was attempting to get a pitcher through waivers late in the season, so they could trade him to a contender. Sometimes teams will put in a claim in these situations in order to block the prospective deal and then the original team will just pull the player back. Roland put in the waiver claim and then the team didn’t pull back the player. When he informed his staff, the first thing they said was, “where are we going to get the $20,000 for the claim?” If that doesn’t show you how the business of baseball has changed in the last 40 years, nothing will. Of course, they found the money and the Pitcher won 20 games in both of the next two seasons.

Roland’s mlb.com bio also tells you about what it was like to be a GM in during that 25+ year span. The stats say that he negotiated 135 trades involving 428 players. In just the first few years in Chicago, there were deals including Ron Santo, Dick Allen & Goose Gossage. During his Orioles tenure, trades show the names of Brady Anderson, Curt Schilling, Fred Lynn & Harold Baines. The best piece of trivia, however, might be that in 1976, Roland traded Tony LaRussa.

The history of the game comes in many shapes & sizes…and people. It’s nice to know that even men who didn’t wear the uniform can still be baseball treasures.

Defending The Duck Pond

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 on-line last week for their 20th annual draft. Our first 18 drafts were all done in-person but circumstances have created changes the last two years.

As a quick refresher, the XFL is the only expert’s 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 auction draft after the World Series 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 five championships (including 2021) and holds the top overall performance record encompassing all 19 seasons of the league.

 The 2021 season was magical in many ways. The squad looked promising and projections had them finishing in the top 3-4 spots but there were other teams rated higher. However, a pitching staff with Kevin Gausman, Zack Wheeler, Brandon Woodruff & Joe Musgrove never waivered or got injured. On the offensive side, solid seasons from Jose Abreu, Randy Arozarena, Pete Alonso, Marcus Semien & Teoscar Hernandez helped the overall balance and the Dux finished with 134 of a possible 150 points and won by nine points

So, as we approached the December Draft for the 2022 season, the good news is that we still had many of the same players…but at higher salaries.

Here’s the keeper list that was frozen on November 19th –

C – Willson Contreras $19

C –

1B – Pete Alonso $10

3B –

1/3 –

2B – Marcus Semien $29

SS – Gleyber Torres $13

2/S –

OF –

OF – Randy Arozarena $11

OF – Teoscar Hernandez $11

OF – Dylan Carlson $7

OF –

U –

P – Kevin Gausman $11

P – Brandon Woodruff $21

P – Tyler Mahle $8

P – Logan Webb $6

P –  Emmanuel Clase $6

P – Gregory Soto $6

P – David Bednar $4

P –

P –

Farm – Triston Casas

Here’s a quick review of the salary structure…

> November/December Draft – Player salaries are determined by the winning bid at the table and increase $5 each season. So, unless a team finds a break-out player in the end-game, there’s a reasonable chance that expensive veterans will only be on your team for one season.

> March Supplemental Draft – A 17-round snake draft gets all the squads up to a 40-man roster from which you determine 23 active players each week. All players chosen in this phase have a $1 salary. For current major-leaguers, the increase each season is $5 so the annual keeper lists have a smattering of $6 players that were great choices the previous year. Minor-leaguers taken in this phase also have a $1 starting salary, but once they get to “the show”, their salary only goes up $3 per year. This is what might be described as the “dynasty” component in this particular league. An example would be Pete Alonso, who was taken as a free agent by my team in March of 2019 and now enters his 4th season on the roster at a salary of $10.

> In-Season Monthly Free Agent Selections – Teams can choose free agents once a month and drop someone on their roster in a corresponding move. The salary is $5 with a $5 increase in subsequent seasons, so you’ll see a few of these players scattered on keeper rosters at $10 each year.

 The seven hitters on the Dux keeper list had a salary total of $100, while the seven pitchers equaled $62 leaving $98 to buy nine players at the draft table. The basic allocation would be $77 for the seven hitters and $21 for the two pitchers. So, the draft strategy was as follows…

> 30 Catchers will be rostered in this league and a significant percentage of them have negative value. Only eight were kept, so there will be a feeding frenzy for backstops. Yasmani Grandal & J.T. Realmuto are the best available but draft inflation will be significant. The Dux must be willing to overpay for a second-tier Catcher like Christian Vasquez, Carson Kelly, Elias Diaz or Sean Murphy but if that doesn’t work, taking Yan Gomes (Contreras’ back-up) for a single digit price will allow dollars to be shifted to another priority.

> Spend $25 to fill the 3B spot. The pool includes Manny Machado, Justin Turner, Nolan Arenado and Josh Donaldson. Or maybe roll the dice on Anthony Rendon coming all the way back from injury.

> Allocate $10 each for CI, MI and two OF spots. Just looking for everyday players with an eye towards a few SB’s.

> Look for one of those end-gamers in the Utility spot that could be productive…players like Austin Hays, Joey Wendle, Daulton Varsho, Brendan Rogers or Lane Thomas would all fit the bill. It is always easier to find an end-game hitter than an end game pitcher.

> One starting pitcher for $18-$20…Max Scherzer, Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom will all be too expensive. Hurlers like Joe Musgrove, Chris Bassitt & Frankie Montas are on the radar.

> Look for skills in the last pitching spot for a minimal cost… Huascar Ynoa, Michael Kopech or Adbert Alzolay all fit the type.

> 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.

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 down 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. With this year’s Draft again being done remotely, we’re all on the honor system.

The actual approach at the draft table needed to be somewhat aggressive for the positions needed, so money could be shifted later in the process. 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”.

Note – All of the previous paragraphs were written prior to our December 4th draft date.

One of the more interesting aspects in an auction league environment is the impact other teams have on your decisions. After all, 189 players were purchased but I only got to nominate 12 of those. So, not only do 14 teams get to bid against you, they also influence your decision-making by their nominations.

An obvious example took place early in the Draft. A team nominated Matt Chapman with the 3rd slot in Round 1. 3B was one of the Dux priorities and the pool wasn’t deep for a $25 budget figure. As the bidding started to slow down in the mid-teens, the Dux decided to be aggressive and added him with an $18 bid. Yes, he had the lowest OPS of his career in ’21 but still hit 27 HR’s and is not yet 30. Was it worth moving $7 to other slots? Time will tell but Machado, Arenado & Rendon all went for more than $25 later in the 1st Round.

The 1st round looked like this…

  • R. Iglesias $18
  • Scherzer $39
  • M. Chapman $18
  • Machado $39
  • deGrom $36
  • Castellanos $33
  • Goldschmidt $37
  • Hendriks $21
  • Realmuto $21
  • Arenado $26
  • Wheeler $30
  • Rendon $27
  • Grandal $23
  • Flaherty $26
  • Varsho $16

The Dux bid on a number of SP’s in Round 2 but found all of them too expensive including Musgrove at $30, Montas at $25 and Castillo for $24. We settled on Bassitt in the 3rd Round at $18.  

The Catcher situation became obvious when Murphy, Garver, Navarez & Vazquez all went for double-digit prices in Rounds 2 & 3. We took the fallback option at the start of Round 4, paying $5 for Gomes. It gave our budget an additional $5 and the worst-case scenario is that he’s the back-up for Contreras. If Contreras gets traded, we’ll have two starting Catchers.

With those priorities filled, we turned to the OF slots and rostered Nimmo for $15. The price is a little steep but if healthy, he could be an OBP asset in the lead-off spot of an improved Mets line-up.

At this point, the Dux had filled 3B, SP, C & OF for a total of $56…about $8 less than the amount budgeted prior to the draft. There was now $42 remaining for CI, MI, OF, U & P. It was a tough spot in the auction as three teams still had significant money available and bidding wars became the status quo.

The Dux got caught in one of these in Round 5 and paid $16 for Brendan Rodgers. He’s a post-hype player at age 25 but is penciled in as the Rockies SS. Next was Adolis Garcia for $9 and it was obvious that his 2nd half performance made others wary. He did finish with 31 HR’s & 16 SB’s and the Rangers line-up will be significantly better, so we’ll roll the dice. Then we filled the CI slot with Eduardo Escobar at $10.

The two end game additions were Alex Cobb at $3 and Nico Hoerner for $4.

The Dux spent $177 on offense (68% of budget) and $98 on pitching (32% of budget), which were the exact target numbers. With a solid core, we tried to add players who shouldn’t have too many question marks. The overall strategy was very similar to last year. The mindset was to avoid thinking about “bargains” or “fliers” for 2023. Of the nine players drafted, there’s a chance none of them will be keepers a year from now. Keepers will be the emphasis for the March Supplemental Draft.

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

> Reputations don’t matter as Dallas Keuchel, Zack Greinke, Justin Upton, Madison Bumgarner, Robinson Cano, Elvis Andrus, Kevin Kiermaier, Randal Grichuk, David Peralta, Wade Miley, Mike Moustakas, David Price & Eric Hosmer weren’t drafted.

  • Never ask the question, “Why did someone pay $31 for Byron Buxton” without clearly understanding that someone else bid $30.

> $1 players (“crickets”) included Trevor Bauer, Austin Nola, Miguel Cabrera, Dylan Bundy, Joey Wendle, Jameson Taillon, Andrew McCutchen, Patrick Corbin, Didi Gregorius & Yadier Molina.

You can review additional league information at fantasyxperts.com

Do You Have A Literary Agent?

Seemingly, sportswriters must always wonder if anyone enjoys, or even reads, their work. If a book is published, sales can be tracked but for newspapers, magazines and this new-fangled Internet thingy, the level of interest can remain a mystery.

This humble column, however, doesn’t seem to have that problem. Every weekend, readers send comments about Friday’s article and most are complimentary. Then there are others who take issue with an opinion or position, but that means they’re interested enough to take the time to disagree. Beyond those two categories, however, there is another group known as the “literary agents”. The lead character wants to know when all of these stories will turn into a book because he thinks it would be a best seller. Another reader, who is only a casual baseball fan, regularly asks “non-expert” questions that suggest general topics for future pieces. One other fan only sends comments less than a sentence like “Didn’t know that” and “Willie Mays was better”. If he was Native American, he would be called “Man Who Speaks Without Punctuation”. Seven years ago, a young Rotisserie player ramped up the discussion by requesting a specific topic. After reading a previous offering about baseball card values of that year’s hot prospects, he suggested looking at the cards of the top prospects from 10 years ago because he would “be intrigued to see how the value holds up as players reach the majors and either succeed or fail”.

The answer, of course, was “ask and you shall receive”. We reviewed the 2004 top prospect list and found “hits” (Joe Mauer, Prince Fielder, Zack Greinke & David Wright) and “misses” (Delmon Young, Greg Miller, Andy Marte & Dustin McGowan). Now it’s time to re-visit the topic and see how the youngsters from the 2011 list have done…and if their baseball cards were a good investment.

1) Mike Trout, OF Angels – A generational player. If he retired tomorrow at age 30, he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer. Three MVP’s and a lifetime WAR of 76, he’s also the only active player with an OPS over 1.000. His 2011 Bowman Chrome Rookie Card books for $300+.

2) Jeremy Hellickson, P Rays – Never lived up to the hype with a 76-75 lifetime record. He retired in 2019.

3) Bryce Harper, OF Nationals – His 2nd MVP season has put him on a Hall of Fame career path. At age 29, he’s already accumulated 1,200+ Hits, 267 HR’s and a WAR of 40. Some of his 2011 Bowman cards are still reasonable but an autographed version will set you back $250.

4) Domonic Brown, OF Phillies – Card collectors and Fantasy Baseball players know all about the failures of this “can’t miss” prospect. In six big league campaigns, he hit only .246 with a .710 OPS.

5) Dustin Ackley, 2B Mariners – Another complete bust, his six seasons produced a .241 BA and .671 OPS. Last played in the majors in 2016.

6) Aroldis Chapman, P Reds – Has been a highly-rated Closer for the last decade compiling over 300 Saves. Even now at age 33, he still averages 99 mph on the radar gun. His rookie cards are very inexpensive, as collectors don’t gravitate to one-inning players.

7) Mike Moustakas, 3B Royals – Has a World Series Ring but a very average career. Three All-Star appearances and 196 HR’s are on the stat sheet.

8) Eric Hosmer, 1B Royals – Another member of the ’15 World Series winners, his big free agent contract hasn’t panned out. In the first four years of an eight-year deal, he’s totaled 61 HR’s.

9) Jesus Montero, C Yankees –The poster boy for collectors who speculate and lose. One of the hottest cards in the hobby and now you can use them to wallpaper your man cave. Played 18 games with the Bombers and four seasons on the Mariners with no success.

10) Julio Teheran, P Braves – Was a decent Pitcher for Atlanta over a half-dozen seasons but never a star. His lifetime record sits at 78-77.

Reviewing the next ten prospects on our 2010 list gives you get a clear insight into just how difficult it is to scout young players. Only #17 qualifies as a real star…

11) Desmond Jennings

12) Kyle Drabek

13) Michael Pineda

14) Mike Montgomery

15) Jacob Turner

16) Wil Myers

17) Freddie Freeman

18) Jameson Taillon

19) Zach Britton

20) Shelby Miller

You might wonder if there were any big misses by the well-informed baseball experts that put this list together. Let’s allow you to decide, as we look at prospects inside the top 50.

24) Manny Machado

25) Chris Sale

26) Brandon Belt

If you play Fantasy Baseball, you might look a little deeper and find these six players who didn’t make the top 50…

  • Anthony Rizzo
  • Zack Wheeler
  • Craig Kimbrel
  • Nick Castellanos
  • Kenley Jansen
  • Christian Yelich

And, of course, how about those in the top 50 whose names are barely recognizable…

  • Casey Kelly
  • Jarrod Parker
  • Jon Singleton
  • John Lamb
  • Manny Banuelos
  • Tanner Scheppers
  • Brett Jackson
  • Christian Friedrich

The good news is that Montgomery will never have to buy his own drink in Chicago, Singleton made $3.5 Million to hit .171 and Kelly has won 42 games during the last three seasons in Korea.

As for baseball cards, collect but don’t speculate.

Sharing The Wins

With the Winter Meetings on the horizon, let’s take a look at the relative value of the players in the game. In a sport awash with money, old-school fans often have difficulty wrapping their heads around the new levels of salaries and budgetary guidelines. With the average MLB salary above $4 Million, how do we really know what a player’s contribution is worth? And do these contributions really make a difference in the standings?

 In other words, what is their contribution to winning games? We’ve discussed WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numerous times in this space and that statistical outcome does impact decisions made by writers voting on awards and General Managers making deals. It has become a mainstream analysis over the last decade and can help clarify and justify some contract amounts. For example, if you believe in the WAR calculations, it confirms that Shohei was the best player in the AL (9.1 WAR) and Zack Wheeler was tops in the NL (7.7 WAR). The fact that Ohtani won the AL MVP and that Wheeler finished 2nd in the NL Cy Young voting adds to the credibility of the statistic. AL Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray (6.7 WAR) was the best Pitcher in the AL while the NL MVP Bryce Harper (5.9 WAR) also had an elite number.

 Most baseball stat-heads believe a player is worth about $6-8M per win to his team and free agent signings give us a window into that formula. So, when you see the early free agent commitments, the die has been cast for more $200-$300M players.

Each year at this time, we turn to another statistical measure in an attempt to gauge player value. The other stat that is team-result based is WS (Win Shares) as developed by the godfather of modern statistical analysis, Bill James. While trying to describe the formula is impossible (James wrote an entire book on the topic in 2002), it comes down to a system where each game a team wins during the season is meticulously analyzed and the three players most responsible for that win get a “win share”. So, if a team wins 80 games, there will be 240 win shares distributed on the roster. Position players will have a tendency to accumulate higher totals than pitchers, but it’s all about comparisons between players among positions. Only five position players had a number over 30 in 2021 and it’s difficult to take exception with the results. Ohtani led the way with a figure of 38 followed by Juan Soto, Aaron Judge, Brandon Crawford & Harper with who all had 31. The 26-30 category included numerous familiar names and a number of surprises…

> J.P. Crawford

> Ty France

> Freddie Freeman

> Paul Goldschmidt

> Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

> Max Muncy

> Matt Olson

> Salvador Perez

> Jorge Polanco

> Jose Ramirez

> Fernando Tatis Jr.

> Trea Turner

The highest-rated Starting Pitchers were Wheeler with 19 and Kevin Gausman & Walker Buehler with 18 each.

As always, there are some hidden tidbits in the rankings that impact both fantasy and reality baseball…

> Rookies of the Year contributed 21 (Randy Arozarena) and 22 (Jonathan India).

> How about the hyped free agent SS? Marcus Semien 24, Carlos Correa 23, Corey Seager 21, Javier Baez 20 & Trevor Story 16.

> Mike Trout has 319 in his career, trailing only Joey Votto (333) since the stat was introduced in 2008.

> And maybe a glimpse at potential…Jared Walsh (22), Dylan Carlson (20), Luis Urias (19) & Akil Baddoo (18).

Don’t forget, it’s the season for sharing…even if they’re Win Shares.

Hanging Around The Hot Stove With Bill James

Many baseball fans from the “Baby Boomer” generation haven’t really bought into the immense change in how statistics are viewed. They still look at the game with their eyes and are only concerned with the numbers on the back of the baseball card. For those of us more immersed in the details of the game, the man who guided us through the wilderness is Bill James. Starting in the late 70’s, he published an annual “Baseball Abstract” that began the task of analyzing data in new and different ways. By 1985, he wrote the first “Historical Baseball Abstract” and that 700+ page volume still sits on the bookshelf in my office.

For baseball fans in general and Fantasy Baseball players who can’t wait for the upcoming season, Bill also helps us get through the winter while we’re longing for box scores. Each November, The Bill James Handbook gives us a review of the season, lifetime stats of every major league player and numerous articles and lists to make the “hot stove” season tolerable. The 2022 version is available now and at 634 pages, offers just about something for everyone. The Old Duck has an annual exercise, where I take my initial cursory glance at the book and begin discovering information that surprises and enlightens me.

So, here are some random observations from my first time through the pages…

> In golf and tennis, fans can easily find current rankings on each player. The systems are set up so that the rankings move up and down based on performance and are not just for the current season. James has developed a similar idea for ranking starting pitchers. The current top five are Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler, Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole and Zack Wheeler. Scherzer is at the top of the heap for the first time since August of 2019. Wheeler had the biggest jump of the top five as he was #29 at the start of the season. The champion Braves had two SP’s in the top 10…Charlie Morton at #6 and Max Fried at #8. Brewer starters Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff came in at #9 & #10. Some of the biggest drops since a year ago were Yu Darvish (#9 to #29), Zack Greinke (#12 to #45) and Kyle Hendricks (#14 to #74). On the positive side, Robbie Ray (#55 to #7), Kevin Gausman (#33 to #12) and Julio Urias (#44 to #14) led the way.

> Fielding metrics are relatively new and not yet accepted by fans or even by many statisticians. The handbook’s “Defensive Runs Saved” chart shows how players can help their team even when they don’t have a bat in their hand. Paul Goldschmidt of the Cards led all 1B with 9 runs saved, but Lewin Diaz of the Marlins actually matched that number despite only playing 40 games. Whit Merrifield of the Royals topped 2B with 14; youngster Ke’Bryan Hayes of the Pirates led at 3B with 16 while Platinum Glove recipient Carlos Correa was dominant at SS with 20. There were great performances in the Outfield with Gold Glove winner Tyler O’Neill leading the LF with 11, Michael A. Taylor (another Gold Glover) in CF had 19 and Adolis Garcia topped the RF with 13…one more than Joey Gallo. Dallas Keuchel led all Pitchers with 12 and Jacob Stallings was far and away the best Catcher with 21. For all the cynical fans out there, we can’t leave out the worst fielders in the game and how many runs they cost their teams…

1B) Rhys Hoskins & Bobby Dalbec – 7

2B) Cesar Hernandez & Jed Lowrie – 11

3B) Alec Bohm & Rafael Devers – 13

SS) Jose Iglesias – -22

LF) Justin Upton – 11

CF) Jarred Kelenic – 16

RF) Jorge Soler – 11

C) Zack Collins – 18

> A consistently debated topic among fans and media is the dramatic increase in defensive shifts. In 2014, shifts were utilized over 13,000 times, in 2015 the number increased to over 17,000 and in 2016, it grew tremendously (+58%) to over 28,000. The 2017 numbers seemed to show that the optimum advantage had been reached, as the figure dropped slightly to 26,700. But 2018 put every number in the rear-view mirror with over 34,600 (a 30% increase). 2019 left that number in the dust with a 34% increase to 46,700. To the naysayer, the question becomes, would teams be shifting if it didn’t work? According to the “Runs Saved” statistic, shifting saved 196 runs in 2014, 267 runs in 2015, 359 in 2016 and 346 in 2017. Then in 2018, it increased to 592! 2019 came in at 622 runs! If you prorate the 2020 number to a 162 game season, there would have been 64,606 shifts, an increase of 31% from 2019. The shift lowered the Batting Average of shift candidates by 39 points. 25 of the 30 teams increased their shift usage, so don’t expect the strategy to go away. However, 2021 showed a slight reversal for the first time. This season’s number dropped to a little over 59,000 and it appears that teams are being more selective as to who they shift. Some hitters are “shift candidates” and others are not. Max Muncy hit .151 against the shift while Austin Meadows hit .160. Players of that category won’t see anything different unless there’s an eventual rule change.

> In the past, players were judged as good baserunners if they swiped a lot of bases. Not only were their other baserunning skills not considered, even their caught stealing stats were ignored. However, as Tom Boswell pointed out over 25 years ago, a caught stealing is equivalent to two outs because it not only removes a baserunner, it also causes an out. Now we have information that tells us how often a player goes from 1st to 3rd or 2nd to home plate on a single. The handbook grades baserunning on the net amount of bases a player gains in a given season. The top eight were Starling Marte (+50), Nicky Lopez (+42), Whit Merrifield (+41), Tommy Edman (+40), Myles Straw (+36), Fernando Tatis Jr. (+32), Ozzie Albies (+31 and Trea Turner (+30).  The Royals were the best baserunning team in the game at +86 and the Dodgers were second with +84.

> How often did the top five starting pitchers use their fastball? The “Pitchers’ Repertoires” section will answer that question by telling you that it was 47% for Scherzer, 52% for Buehler, 57% for deGrom, 48% for Cole and 61% for Wheeler. See a pattern here? Maybe the pitching philosophy of “Throw him the heater, Ricky” went out about the time of “Major League II”.

That’s just a taste of the information in this year’s edition and we haven’t even looked at the individual player stats. No wonder that “stathead” is now an accepted baseball term.

Who Is Clutch?

The definition of “clutch” seems to be somewhat elusive for many people. The slang dictionary describes it as “the ability to deliver when peak performance is needed” and your imagination can take that beyond the realm of sports. The urban dictionary concurs by saying, “the ability to perform well on a certain activity at a particular moment, despite external pressures, influences or distractions.” Of course, the term also has a tendency to fit other circumstances such as, “you are really craving a beer…you go to the fridge and there’s one left…so clutch.”

For long-time baseball fans, clutch has always been linked with RBI’s. After all, don’t the leaders in that statistical category come through in the clutch? The answer, of course, is never that easy. The folks who study baseball statistics have known since the 70’s that raw stats can be misleading. Batting in runs is a very important factor in a player’s success but that outcome is influenced greatly by where he hits in the line-up, whether he has protection in that line-up and, more importantly, how many runners were on the base paths when he came to the plate. To this end, baseballmusings.com gives you the historical data to determine “RBI Percentage”. It is a result of a player’s (RBI – HR) / Runners On, or in simplistic terms, what percentage of base runners did a player drive in during the season. In 2020, the stat told us that Freddie Freeman & Jose Abreu (the two MVP’s) finished 3rd & 4th in all of baseball with marks over 22%.

So, with the 2021 season in the rear-view mirror, let’s look at the best (and worst) clutch hitters in the game. The statistical information is for regular season games and includes players who had at least 175+ runners on base when they came to the plate.

1) Eddie Rosario 21.9% – Cleveland gave him a cheap one-year deal and the Braves picked him up at the trade deadline. Wonder how that worked out?

2) Jesus Aguilar 21.3% – His 93 RBI’s were a big part of the Marlins offense.

3) LaMonte Wade 21.0% – Acquired prior to the season for a Pitcher with an ERA over 8.00…hit 18 HR’s and posted a .808 OPS.

4) Manny Machado 20.8% – You should get something for $300 Million.

5) Austin Meadows 20.5% – 27 HR’s & 106 RBI’s in his age 26 season. And you wonder why the Rays win and the Pirates lose?

6) Adam Duvall 20.4% – Another Braves mid-season acquisition and another World Series ring.

7) Teoscar Hernandez 20.4% – A number of Jays are more well-known but this guy is a solid presence in the line-up.

8) Lourdes Gurriel 19.9% – The Toronto organization has a bright future.

9) Ozzie Albies 19.4% – A 3.4 WAR contributor for a $3 Million salary.

10) Bo Bichette 19.3% – Pitching to this line-up can’t be fun.

11) Jose Abreu 19.3% – Arguably the most consistent bat in the game.

12) Jared Walsh 19.1 – Albert going to the Dodgers was a nice story but this kid needed to play everyday.

Fernando Tatis Jr. shows up in the next level as do Franmil Reyes, Ketel Marte and Yadier Molina.  When it comes to everyday players, the bottom of the barrel looks like this…

> Carter Kieboom 7.3% – Has a .197 BA in 355 major league AB’s.

> Jake Bauers 7.4% – Now more of a suspect than a prospect

> Jackie Bradley Jr. 8.0% – Picked up his $12 Million option for 2022…smart move

Hope all your Fantasy players come through in the clutch.