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.


Baseball Movies – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The late Roger Ebert and I were probably equally talented on the baseball fields of our youth. That is to say, we certainly both selected the correct career path.  If you are a true baseball fan, movies about your favorite sport are irresistible. There have been numerous “top-ten” and “best-of” lists of baseball movies, but someone’s opinion doesn’t matter if you fell in love with a movie the first time you viewed it on a screen. When Clint Eastwood’s “Trouble With The Curve” came out a few years ago, a baseball-loving friend of mine thought it was great. A mainstream baseball writer, however, took the film to task for its depiction of scouts and the less than realistic plotline. Which of them is correct? It doesn’t matter because for many of us, a movie about baseball is always worth the time.

For this visit, the Old Duck will ramble on about some of his personal favorites and delve into the archives for “Quacktoids” about the famous and obscure of the genre. Your favorites may be among them, but remember that opinions are like a part of your anatomy…everyone has one. The film review site “Rotten Tomatoes” has all of these in their list of top 35 baseball movies.    

> 4 Stars

According to Leonard Maltin’s comprehensive movie guide, only one mainstream baseball movie qualifies as “****” and that is 1942’s “Pride Of The Yankees”. This biography of Lou Gehrig impacts even the Yankee haters in the audience and certainly belongs in the top five of all time. When Gary Cooper gives the famous, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech, there’s not a dry eye in the house.

One interesting side note is that Lou Gehrig once appeared in a movie playing himself but it wasn’t about baseball. In 1938, just prior to being diagnosed with ALS, he starred in “Rawhide”, a “B” movie Western. The premise was that Lou had retired from baseball, moved out west and joined forces with a singing lawyer. Together, they worked against a racketeer who’s stealing money from ranchers. Sound corny? Of course! But watch a few 1930’s movies with John Wayne, Roy Rogers & Gene Autry and you’ll understand.

> Kevin Costner

This Oscar-winning actor, director and producer obviously has an affinity for baseball. He made two films back-to-back in the late 1980’s that show up on just about every top-five list you will find. The outrageous “Bull Durham” (1988), is a minor league story of the veteran Catcher “Crash” Davis mentoring the kid Pitcher “Nuke” LaLoosh. Worth watching over and over again if only to hear, “Why’s he calling me meat? I’m the one driving the Porsche”.  And who wouldn’t convert to Annie Savoy’s Church of Baseball?

A year later, “Field Of Dreams” was the complete antithesis of the previous film. Costner’s character hears voices that convince him to build a baseball field in the middle of his Iowa corn farm and the next thing you know, the 1919 Chicago Black Sox show up to play. As with many sports movies that depend on history, the audience must have some “suspension of disbelief”. After all, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson didn’t throw left-handed, but the movie is, after all, a fantasy. “If you build it, he will come”.

A decade later, the star returned to the baseball diamond with 1999’s “For Love Of The Game”. Not up to the standard of the first two, it still gets points for the realistic end-of-season baseball game that provides the backdrop of the story and the brilliant decision to have Vin Scully do the play-by-play.

> Based On A True Story

This term usually means that the screenwriter and producer had some level of poetic license in the depiction of true events. Movies are infamous for creating a “Hollywood” ending that might be a real stretch. With that caveat, there have been many baseball movies that didn’t need much fabrication because the stories stood the test of time.

One such example is “Eight Men Out” (1988), the story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox and their attempt to throw the World Series. Director John Sayles was meticulous in creating the era on screen and Eliot Asinof’s book was the basis for the film. A wonderful ensemble cast made the players believable and the movie easily belongs in the top ten.

Even though it wasn’t a theatrical release, “61*” (2001) was an amazing film directed by lifetime Yankee fan Billy Crystal. The story of Mickey Mantle & Roger Maris chasing Babe Ruth’s record in the Summer of 1961 was brought to life beautifully without a major star in the cast to detract from the story. How could you not love a movie that casts knuckleball Pitcher Tom Candiotti to portray knuckleball Pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm?

A heartwarming entry in this category is “The Rookie” (2002), which tells the true story of high-school baseball coach Jimmy Morris, who makes it all the way to the big leagues with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Be careful not to look through the bargain bin and accidently pick-up “The Rookie” (1990), the buddy-cop movie with Clint Eastwood & Charlie Sheen, as you’ll be very disappointed.

Speaking of heartwarming, don’t miss “The Stratton Story” (1949) with Jimmy Stewart playing White Sox Pitcher Monty Stratton, who lost his leg in a hunting accident. Major leaguers Jimmy Dykes & Bill Dickey appear in the film.

Turning a book about advanced baseball analytics into a mainstream success may sound like a stretch, but Director Bennett Miller, along with star Brad Pitt, put it all together in 2011’s “Moneyball” based on Michael Lewis’ bestselling book.

“A League Of Their Own” (1992) celebrated the professional woman baseball players who helped keep the game alive during the 1940’s. Lots of laughs and a few tears too, especially the final scene in Cooperstown. But, don’t forget, “There’s no crying in baseball”.

Even though it is in the documentary category, don’t miss finding “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” (2000). It tackles two difficult historical topics…prejudice in the sport and how World War II impacted the lives of baseball players and fans.

Even if you’ve seen “42”, find “The Jackie Robinson Story” (1950), where Jackie plays himself. It was a “docudrama” before the term was invented.

Jimmy Piersall wasn’t a superstar player but his story was unique and you get a dramatic glimpse into an athlete recovering from a mental breakdown in “Fear Strikes Out” (1957).  Three years before “Psycho”, Anthony Perkins portrays the Red Sox outfielder.

> Consensus Classics

These next three movies seem to pop-up on just about every top-ten list. “The Natural” (1984) tells the story of Roy Hobbs, who goes from obscurity to stardom in the twilight of his baseball years. Bernard Malamud’s novel was written in 1949, the same year major leaguer Eddie Waitkus was shot by a deranged female fan. Some say the event inspired the book, but no matter the back story, the film has some of the best cinematography and set pieces in any sports film. And, of course, Robert Redford chose #9 as a tribute to Ted Williams.

“The Sandlot” (1993) is a charming little film, essentially for younger viewers, that follows a 1960’s sandlot baseball team through their trials and tribulations in the neighborhood of their small town.

“Major League” (1989) followed closely on the heels of Bull Durham and took the characterizations to a comic-book level. Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, Dennis Haysbert and especially Bob Uecker, created the necessary atmosphere to make the rag-tag Cleveland Indians a pennant-winning team.  Haysbert also played a baseball player in Tom Selleck’s “Mr. Baseball” (1992).

> Under The Radar

If you first became aware of Robert DeNiro’s acting chops in his Oscar-winning performance as young Vito Corleone in 1974’s “Godfather II”, you may have missed “Bang The Drum Slowly” (1973). Michael Moriarty plays the star Pitcher of a mythical New York baseball team (patterned after Tom Seaver?) and DeNiro is his slow-witted Catcher with a terminal illness. While accepting the actor’s skills as major leaguers might be difficult, the story is true to the sport.

I’m always surprised at how few baseball fans have seen “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Movie Kings” (1973). This homage to the barnstorming days of Negro League players includes Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones & Richard Pryor in the cast. Look for former Angel slugger Leon Wagner as the 1B.

While not really a baseball movie, “The Naughty Nineties” (1945) must be included on the list for one reason. It contains the best recorded version of Abbott & Costello doing their “Who’s On First?” comedy routine. This is the film clip shown at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

> Light-Hearted

“The Bad News Bears” (1976) gives Walter Matthau a chance to shine as the profane and grumpy Little League coach. “Damn Yankees” (1958) brings the smash Broadway musical to the screen with Tab Hunter playing the mythical ballplayer who changes the fortunes of his team. “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” (1949) has Gene Kelly & Frank Sinatra choosing baseball over vaudeville because Esther Williams owns the team.

> Rock Bottom

Every movie category has its clunkers and baseball in no exception. Stay away from sequels including Major League II & III as well as any of the Bad News Bears follow-ups and Sandlot 2 & 3. “Ed” (1996) is about a chimpanzee playing 3B in the minor leagues and “Talent For The Game” (1991) would have us believe a scout could put on catching gear and sneak into a televised major league game without anyone noticing.

Was one of your favorites missed? Maybe some modern examples like “Sugar” (2008) or “Everybody Wants Some” (2016). Or Dizzy Dean’s biography, “The Pride Of St. Louis” (1952). Or either version of “Angels In The Outfield” (1951 & 1994). How about Tommy Lee Jones as “Cobb” (1994) or John Goodman’s version of “The Babe” (1992). As a Red Sox fan, I’d be remiss not to mention “Fever Pitch” (2005).

Whatever you decide to watch, save me an aisle seat.

Unexpected WAR

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

They could fall into a number of categories. There are prospects that 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 2021 is no exception. We’re not talking about established guys like Bryce Harper or Jose Ramirez who continued to produce outstanding numbers or top prospects such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Juan Soto.

To indentify 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 40 players who provided at least 4 Wins to their team with Shohei Ohtani leading the way at 8.1. In that top 40, we’ve identified a few who would certainly qualify as a pleasant surprise. Let’s take a look at the list with their overall ranking and WAR contribution…

> #12 Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox (5.6 WAR) – The BoSox best starting pitcher, his 182+ IP were more than his last three seasons combined… and he made the All-Star team!

> #15 Bryan Reynolds, Pirates (5.5 WAR) – The Bucs had a lousy year but this OF hit .302 and led the NL in Triples.

> #16 Brandon Crawford, Giants (5.5 WAR) – Had his best season ever at age 34 and was rewarded with a contract extension.

> #19 Tyler O’Neill, Cardinals (5.4 WAR) – Emerged at age 26 with a 34 HR / 15 SB season.

> #21 Cedric Mullins (5.3) WAR – 30 HR’s & 30 SB’s after never having even having 200 AB’s in a big league season.

> #28 Buster Posey, Giants (4.9 WAR) – At age 34 after skipping the 2020 season? Wow!

  • #40 Dylan Cease, White Sox (4.6 WAR) – Didn’t miss a start and led the AL in K/9 with 12.3.
  • #41 Mike Zunino, Rays (4.5 WAR) – Don’t let the .216 BA fool you, he hit 33 HR’s and was outstanding behind the plate.
  • #48 Nicky Lopez, Royals (4.4 WAR) – Hit .201 last year and then became an everyday player to post a .300 BA and swipe 22 bases.
  • #49 Logan Webb, Giants (4.3 WAR) – Had started 19 games prior to ’21 with an ERA over 5.00…11-3 with a 3.03 ERA along with an impressive post-season performance.
  • #53 Austin Riley, Braves (4.2 WAR) – The “post-hype” poster child, he hit .226 & .239 his first two seasons and then produced 33 HR’s & 107 RBI’s…and he’s still only 24.
  • # 60 Willy Adames, Brewers (4.1 WAR) – Turned it all around after joining the Crew…20 HR’s in 99 games.

If you had these 12 players on your Fantasy squad, apply for the Mets GM opening now.

The Best OPS

50 years ago, if a baseball fan was asked who the best hitters were, the only significant resource would have been the sports section of the Sunday newspaper. Somewhere in the back pages, there was a long, slender list in very small type showing all current major league players. And those players were ranked by their BA (Batting Average) because that had historically been the benchmark for position players.

Looking back at 1971, we find that the top five BA’s belonged to Joe Torre (.363), Ralph Garr (.343), Glenn Beckert (.341), Roberto Clemente (.341) & Tony Oliva (.337). Fine players all, but were they the five best hitters in baseball? Not when you consider that Sal Bando finished 2nd in the AL MVP voting to a Pitcher (Vida Blue) and hit .271 while Willie Stargell was the runner-up to Torre in the NL while hitting .295. Beckert had 2 HR’s & 42 RBI’s while Garr contributed 9 HR’s & 44 RBI’s.

As modern baseball analytics have evolved, one of the most accepted statistics has become OPS (On-Base % + Slugging %). Not only does it prioritize getting on base, it also adds the concept of moving more runners around the bases. After all, Slugging Percentage is defined as Total Bases /At Bats. Old school fans might question the veracity of the stat but baseball history tells the tale. The five highest lifetime OPS numbers belong to Babe Ruth (1.16), Ted Williams (1.12), Lou Gehrig (1.08), Barry Bonds (1.05) & Jimmie Foxx (1.04). There are only three other hitters with a number over 1.00… Hank Greenberg, Rogers Hornsby and Mike Trout.

With our 2021 regular season now in the books, let’s see who the best hitters in baseball were according to the numbers.

1) Bryce Harper, Phillies OF, 1.044 OPS – Fans have a tendency to feel that he’s overrated and overpaid. The actual results disagree, as he had 35 HR’s, 101 Runs and 84 RBI’s. In today’s game where plate discipline is a forgotten art, he also walked 100 times. This was his best OPS since the MVP season of 2015.

2) Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Blue Jays 1B, 1.002 OPS – Only 22, he led the AL in HR’s with 48 and OBP with .401

3) Juan Soto, Nationals OF, .999 OPS –Arguably the best of the game’s great young players, he’s putting up historic numbers. Also only 22, his .465 OBP is off-the charts. And, how about 145 BB and only 93 K’s? His lifetime OBP is the same as Ty Cobb!

4) Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres SS, .975 OPS –You guessed it, he’s 22 years old. Led the NL in HR’s (42) despite missing over 30 games.

5) Shohei Ohtani, Angels DH, .965 OPS – 46 HR’s & 28 SB’s would be impressive enough even if he didn’t also post a 9-2 record on the mound.

6) Nick Castellanos, Reds OF, .939 OPS – 100 RBI’s and his first All-Star appearance.

7) Joey Votto, Reds 1B/OF, .938 OPS –No one saw this coming at age 37, it was his best number since 2017. His lifetime OPS of .937 is second to Trout among active players.

8) Kyle Tucker, Astros OF, .917 OPS –Doesn’t match the hype of Correa, Altuve and Bergman but this is an outstanding young player (he’s 24).

9) Aaron Judge, Yankees OF, .916 –He’ll be a free agent in 2023…how big is your wallet?

10T) Bryan Reynolds, Pirates OF, .912 OPS –When you play for a lousy team, it’s easy to be under the radar.

10T) Tyler O’Neill, Cardinals OF, .912 OPS –Entering his prime at age 26, just a little less “swing & miss” will make him a star.

Did your favorite player get left off the list? The next three are all over .900… Matt Olson, Trea Turner & C.J. Cron.

As for 1971, the two players who exceeded 1.000 OPS were Henry Aaron and Willie Stargell.

Field of Dreams

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 this 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 $9 (or $7 for Seniors) 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 a dozen of the MLB.com top 100 prospects will be on rosters including Spencer Torkleson & Riley Greene (DET), Marco Luciano (SF), CJ Abrams (SD), Triston Casas (BOS), Nolan Gorman (STL), Gabriel Moreno (TOR), Brett Baty (NYM), McKenzie Gore (CLV) and Nick Gonzales (PIT).

 Today, we’ll take a retrospective look at the last decade of the league (2010-19) and some of the players who made it to “the show”.

> 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 hit 6 HR’s

* Roman Quinn swiped 14 bases in 24 games

* 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

* Frankie Montas allowed one earned run in 17 innings


> 2017

* Ronald Acuna JR. led the league with 7 HR’s

* Austin Riley had an OPS of 1.021

* Victor Robles had a .389 OBP and swiped 7 bases

* Max Fried was 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA

> 2018

* Pete Alonso tied for the league lead in HR’s

* Keston Huira’s 33 RBI’s led the league

* Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit .351

> 2019

* Royce Lewis hit .353 with 20 RBI’s but missed all of 2021 with injury

* Brandon Marsh batted .328 with a 909 OPS…in 2021, he was the Angels CF

* Joey Bart posted a 1.290 OPS with 4 HR’s in 10 games

* Jonathan India hit only .133 but he might be the 2021 NL ROY

* Tanner Houck registered 26 K’s in 23 IP…in 2021, he helped the Red Sox to the post-season

The season begins on October 13th and finishes with the Championship Game on November 20th. Hope you can join us sometime at the ballpark in Arizona…you’ll recognize me as the one person sitting behind home plate without a radar gun.

Taking The Fifth

Over the last few decades, the increased popularity of high stakes poker has created numerous opportunities for “amateur” players to end up at the final table of the annual World Series of Poker. Despite their calm demeanor and purposeful “poker face”, you can’t help but wonder what is going through the mind of one of these home-game players as he faces the professionals who utilize their reputations to intimidate their opponents.

The Old Duck has the answer…they’re scared spitless!

How could I know? In November of 2002, I faced the same daunting task as I looked around the table at the first XFL (Xperts Fantasy League) Draft and realized what I was up against. My opponents weren’t Amarillo Slim or Doyle Brunson, but they were the Rotisserie equivalent including Alex Patton, Ron Shandler, Steve Moyer, Lawr Michaels, Todd Zola and others. As a successful home-league player since 1984, I was lucky enough to be invited as one of the “challengers” (aka amateurs) to participate in this first industry expert’s keeper league. And, that first year, I held up my part of the bargain by finishing 8th in the 12-team league. As the old poker saying goes, “If, after the first twenty minutes, you don’t know who the sucker is at the table, it’s you.”

Then in our third season (when we expanded to 15 teams), I won my first title. The self-deprecating comment I used at the time was that we should have a trophy and call it the Orville Moody Cup, in honor of the 1969 U.S. Open golf winner who never won another PGA tour event. Once I won another title in 2009, it seemed like this was no longer a fluke and maybe I was really more like Ernie Els than the aforementioned Moody. It is, however, wise to remember the old Swedish proverb, “Luck never gives; it only lends.”

Back-to-back championships in 2011 & 2012 solidified my place in the very small realm of Rotisserie lore and I’m still humbled to be in the company of these very nice men and worthy opponents. Jesse Owens said, “Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust.”

In the ensuing years, the Dux remained very competitive with two 2nd-place finishes and the league’s best overall record but winning that elusive 5th title was never quite within the grasp. Then, despite the advancing years and declining grey matter, the Old Duck had everything fall into place in 2021. Of course, we’ve discussed in this space many times that reading about someone else’s Fantasy team is a cure for insomnia but let’s paraphrase Lesley Gore’s 1963 hit record and say, “It’s my blog and I’ll brag if I want to”. And there’s always the rationalization that some of the strategies will be helpful to those of you who also play this silly game.

> Donald’s Dux…15 team, Mixed, 5×5 (w/OBP), 40-man rosters with 23 active each week, $260 budget for 23-player Draft in November (or occasionally in December), maximum of 15 keepers including Farm players, Supplemental Snake Draft in March for 17 additional players ($1 salary), monthly in-season free agent additions ($5 salary). The salaries of players drafted increase $5 each year, salaries of Farm Players increase $3 each year (once activated), established 2003

* Smart Keeper Decisions (November 2020)

1) Jose Abreu $22 – Some refer to this format as a “Dynasty” league because you can keep inexpensive, young players for many years. This consistent slugger was taken with the #1 supplemental pick back in 2014 and continues to produce at a high level including 117 RBI’s in 2021.

2) Randy Arozarena $8 – Liked him as a Cardinal prospect and picked him up in September of last year just before his incredible post-season performance. A ROY candidate, he produced $22 worth of value.

3) Teoscar Hernandez $6 – Another player who seemed to have upside, he was added in the 2020 supplemental phase. In that power-house Toronto line-up, he had more RBI’s (116) than Vlad Jr.

4) Pete Alonso $7 – Acquired in the March 2019 supplemental draft before he had a major league AB. He’s belted 106 HR’s in 2+ seasons.

5) Kevin Gausman $6 – Young starting pitchers usually take a while to develop. 2020’s breakout campaign led to this season’s elite results that will have his name on many Cy Young ballots. A top-six SP in this format with a $25 value

6) Brandon Woodruff $16 – Top-tier SP’s in this league can cost $25 or more…his stuff made this an easy call. Only won 9 games but had 211 K’s.

* Dumb Keeper Decisions (November 2020)

1) Gleybar Torres $10 – It was easy to write off his 2020 results as an aberration…turns out that it was the new normal.

2) James Karinchak $4 – Seemed to be a lock for the Closer job in Cleveland, but the early season success wasn’t maintained and he ended up with a trip to AAA.

* Smart Draft Decisions (December 2020)

1) Marcus Semian $24 – This was the case where ignoring the 2020 stats worked. He was 3rd in the MVP voting in 2019 and still in his 20’s. 45 HR’s later; he produced a $30 season

2) Zach Wheeler $25 – The staff needed an ace and he turned out to be an excellent choice. Along with Gausman & Woodruff, the Dux had three top-ten SP’s.

3) Rasiel Iglesias $16 – One of the most unheralded of the top-tier Closers, he produced an outstanding season.

4) Tyler Mahle $3 – Liked the way he finished up in 2020 and despite the trap of a hitter’s park, his stuff came through with 210 K’s.

* Dumb Draft Decisions

1) Cristian Javier $15 – Betting on him to be in the Astros rotation was a bad decision. He didn’t start and didn’t pitch in high-leverage bullpen situations.

2) Brandon Nimmo $18 – As usual, he got injured and played less than 100 games.

3) Drew Pomeranz $1 – The last pick in the end game, thought he might get some Save chances. Instead, he was ineffective and then injured.

* March 2021 Reserve Draft (All players start with a $1 salary)

1) Ramiel Tapia – Had the #3 pick in the 1st round and needed some speed. When Garrett Hampson went at #2, he was the best available. He provided exactly what was expected…69 Runs, 20 SB’s and a .328 OBP.

2) Logan Webb – The pitching staff held together so well that this 2nd round pick wasn’t really needed, but he’s a keeper for next year.

3) Gregory Soto – Chosen in the 3rd round, he filled in for Karinchak on our roster and should close for the Tigers in ’22.

4) Yandy Diaz – The 4th round pick, he proved to be a valuable back-up at 1/3 with a .362 OBP.

5) Emmanuel Clase – Remembering his stuff from the short stint with the Rangers in ’19, he was grabbed in round 7 as an insurance policy for Karinchak. He’ll be closing for the Guardians in ’22.

* In-Season Moves

1) The nature of this league is that teams in the bottom half of the standings start re-building very early in the season. And, if you’re contending, the offers come at you from all directions. It is a very difficult process because the league is unique and evaluating these deals is very difficult. The Dux resisted most overtures and only made one trade of consequence that was effective May 31st. My team sent Yoan Moncada ($13 salary), Miguel Amaya (Farm) & the 2nd round pick in 2022 for Max Scherzer ($33) & Manny Machado ($28). Moncada is an OBP monster in this format (.375) and only has a $3 salary increase, Amaya is the Cubs #4 prospect and young Catchers are like gold in this league & the pick will end up being the 16th player next March. So the other squad got three potential keepers in exchange for two players they would throw back.

The end result was 134 points (out of 150) and a 9 point margin over former champ Trace Wood. The Dux had no weak categories finishing with at least 11 points in every column.

Next week, we’ll gather in Phoenix for Baseball HQ’s First Pitch conference and spend four days talkin’ baseball and watching Arizona Fall League games. Then we freeze our rosters in November and do an on-line draft in December to prepare for next season.

This last quote belongs to Martina Navratilova, but it just as easily could have been said by XFL member Perry Van Hook, “Whoever said it’s not whether you win or lose that counts…probably lost.”

You can review the league’s history at fantasyxperts.com

Fastball John

Baseball is a game of history and tradition, but also a game of infinite changes. The current debate over young starting pitchers and their workloads is a perfect example. From pitch counts to innings limits following the shortened 2020 season to bullpen games, the topic continues to percolate with baseball fans of every age.

People of my generation consider themselves “old school” and like to point out that Pitchers of the 50’s & 60’s toiled in four-man rotations and sometimes exceeded 300 innings. Robin Roberts went over that threshold for five consecutive seasons from ’51 to ’55 and Warren Spahn was over 290 IP twice in the late 50’s when he was 37 & 38 years old. In the 60’s, 300+ innings were normal for Don Drysdale, Juan Marichal, Sandy Koufax, Jim Bunning & Denny McLain. In 1971 & ‘72, Mickey Lolich totaled 47 Wins and pitched over 700 innings! Going into the last week of the 2021 season, only Zack Wheeler & Adam Wainwright had pitched 200 innings.

Of course, those days are long gone and the reasons are many. Obviously, the long-term health of a Pitcher’s arm is a consideration, but to be honest, that didn’t seem to be a big concern in those earlier decades. It seems more than a coincidence that the uncontrolled usage of the bullets in a Pitcher’s arm started to change with the advent of free agency in 1976. Players and their agents could now see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and it all depended on longevity. In today’s game, if you can stay healthy for six years, even an average Pitcher can become a rich man. Gone are the days of Managers and GM’s being allowed to go “all in” on player’s careers in order to keep their job secure.

The examples of Pitcher’s careers being short-lived are many, including Koufax, who was forced to retire at age 30. A classic case study is that of John D’Acquisto in the 1970’s. He was drafted in the first round (17th pick in the country) out of High School by the Giants in 1970 and was blessed with an electric arm that could throw triple digits before radar guns were the rage. To help you understand the mentality of major league teams at the time, let’s look at his minor league progression…

> 1971, Class “A” Decatur of the Midwest League – 29 starts, 233 IP, 244 K’s & 124 BB…at age 19.

> 1972, Class “A” Fresno of the California League – 26 starts, 209 IP, 245 K’s & 102 BB…at age 20.

> 1973, Class “AAA” Phoenix of the Pacific Coast League – 31 starts, 212 IP, 185 K’s & 113 BB…at age 21. And if that wasn’t enough, the Giants brought him up in September to pitch another 27 2/3 IP in the big leagues.

Now think about today’s young hurlers like Julio Urias & Sean Manaea and their agent, Scott Boros. What kind of reaction might there have been if the Dodgers or Athletics suggested that even one of those statistical lines was reasonable for their top pitching prospect? The obvious answer is a coronary for Boros, but can you also imagine the media scrutiny?

In 1974, John came up to the Giants and pitched his first full big league season…

> 36 starts, 215 IP, 167 K’s & 124 BB…at age 22. That’s over 850 innings before his age 23 campaign. And innings don’t tell the entire story because when you look at the strikeouts and walks, you can start to imagine the pitch counts.

Not surprisingly, arm trouble was the result and after two injury plagued years with the Giants, John was traded to the Cardinals and eventually got healthy enough to emerge as the Padres Closer in the late 70’s before retiring after the 1982 season. He now works for MLB in the Phoenix market monitoring games for the pace-of-play project and you can see him at Chase Field, Spring Training ballparks and the Arizona Fall League. When you meet him, you can’t help being impressed by his warmth and friendliness to everyone at the ballpark. And being an old-school guy, he’ll be honest and tell you that he never wanted to come out of a game because he knew he’d get the next guy out. However, maybe that attitude would be different if the bullpen had Craig Kimbrel and Liam Hendricks pitching the 8th & 9th innings. In 1974, the Giants were 72-90 and the bullpen included Randy Moffitt, Elias Sosa and Charlie Williams…Moffitt was the Closer and his ERA was 4.50!

As with all former big league players, John D’Acquisto is proud to have worn the uniform and happy to tell you great stories about his years in the game…but you can’t help wondering what might have been.

As a hobby, John has also developed his artistic side and produces beautiful artwork. Here’s a sample that has a prominent spot in my baseball-themed office.

A few years ago, John put out his biography titled “Fastball John”. It was very well received and sold so many copies that the publisher has now made the book available in hardcover through Amazon books. It is a great read for a baseball fan.

Pacific Coast League Circa 1957

In a recent visit, we explored the category of “Quadruple A” (AAAA) ballplayers and how AAA teams can be a stepping stone to the majors for young players and the last chance for glory when it comes to veterans. This time, we’ll look deeper into one of the most famous AAA leagues in the history of the game…the Pacific Coast League.

The PCL has been in existence for over a hundred years and was the breeding ground for many all-time greats. Joe DiMaggio played for the San Francisco Seals from 1933-35; Ted Williams was a San Diego Padre in 1937 and Joe’s Brother Dom was also a Seal in 1939 before becoming the Red Sox CF for over a decade. In 1952, the league was given the classification of “Open”, a plan to have it become a tier above AAA with the hope of becoming a third major league. That dream faded when Walter O’Malley & Horace Stoneham moved their teams to the West Coast in 1958 but during those few years, the best baseball west of St. Louis took place in cities like Portland, Sacramento and Vancouver.

For this visit, we’ll take the baseball time machine back to 1957 and look at the last true glory year of the PCL. There were eight teams and they played a 168-game schedule. The Seals won the pennant with 101 victories, while the Vancouver Mounties were a close second with 97 and the Hollywood Stars chipped in with 94 to finish third. Utilizing the help of baseball-reference.com, let’s look at the top hitters & pitchers from that historic season…

  • Steve Bilko, Los Angeles Angels – was the Babe Ruth of the league with 56 HR’s, 140 RBI’s and 1.071 OPS. He got some big league stops with the Cardinals, Dodgers and others, but his glory days were in the PCL.
  • Preston Ward, Padres – hit .330 with 22 HR’s in his age-29 season. His best major league campaign was ’58, when he hit .284 with the Indians & Athletics. He had over 2,000 major league AB’s over parts of nine seasons.
  • Joe Taylor, Seattle Rainiers – was 31 at the time and contributed 22 HR’s and a .305 BA. He had less than 300 MLB AB’s and hit .249.
  • Bert Hamric, Angels – had 19 HR’s and 11 SB’s to go with his .291 BA. His big league career consisted of one hit in 11 AB’s.
  • Bob Lennon, Padres – a .309 BA and .885 OPS was impressive. In the majors, he was 13-for-79 (.165 BA).
  • Dave Pope, Padres – already 36, he was still playing the game well with 18 HR’s and a .313 BA. In 551 big league AB’s, he only hit 12 HR’s.
  • Ken Aspromonte, Seals – one of the younger players at age 25, he hit .334 with 73 RBI’s. The following season, he was the starting 2B for the Washington Senators.
  • Fran Kellert, Seals – at age 32, he hit 22 HR’s and batted .308. His major league career was over at this point with a .231 BA in parts of four seasons.
  • Spider Jorgensen, Mounties – a grizzled veteran at age 37, he still hit .291 with 16 HR’s. He was the Dodgers regular 3B in 1947, the year that Jackie Robinson debuted.
  • Earl Averill, Padres – the other 25 year-old on the list, he had 19 HR’s for the Friars. Went on to play seven big leagues seasons and was a teammate of Bilko on the 1961 expansion Los Angeles Angels.

As for the best starting pitchers… 

  • Morrie Martin, Mounties – at age 34, he went 14-4 with a 1.89 ERA. He was a member of the A’s rotation in the early 50’s and had a lifetime major league record of 38-34.
  • Red Witt, Hollywood Stars – at age 25, he went 18-7 with a 2.24 ERA. Got to the big leagues with the Pirates in ’58 but his lifetime mark was only11-16.
  • Jim Grant, Padres – at only 21, he was outstanding as he registered a 2.31 ERA with 18 Wins. “Mudcat” went on to play 14 seasons in the majors with 145 victories and two All-Star appearances.
  • Mel Held, Mounties – 10 Wins and a 2.71 ERA in 21 starts. He only got to pitch in four games at the big league level.
  • Erv Palica, Mounties – 15-12 with a 2.80 ERA at age 29. He pitched in the majors from 1947-56 and had a record of 41-55.
  • Bennie Daniels, Stars – posted a 2.95 ERA with 17 Wins. At age 25, he went on to pitch eight seasons with the Pirates and Senators with a career mark of 45-76.
  • Larry Jansen, Rainiers – still plugging along at 36, he won 10 games and had a 3.15 ERA in 25 starts. His glory days were with the Giants in the early 50’s and he led the NL with 23 victories in 1951.

Hope you can recall a few of these heroes from the history of the PCL…


Even the most casual fan understands that in minor league baseball, the AAA level is the stepping stone to the major leagues. This is where those top prospects in each organization prove their worth and make that final jump to “The Show”.

If you play Fantasy Baseball or are a rabid fan of a particular team, experience has shown you that being a success at AAA doesn’t always guarantee a similar outcome in the majors. Last week, a long-time Dodger fan lamented to me about the recent past where the team always seemed to have a minor-league player who made an immediate impact like Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger & Alex Verdugo. He compared this group with 2021 call-ups like Sheldon Neuse, Gavin Lux, Matt Beaty & Zack McKinstry and determined that the “cupboard is bare”.

This brings us to a category of players in every organization that scouts call “Quadruple A” (AAAA) players. These are the guys who very often excel at the AAA level but can’t seem to make that final jump. If a player isn’t considered a prospect after age 25, AAA rosters are filled with these “suspects”. Don’t kid yourself, these aren’t bums. Every single one was a stand-out player at one time but through injuries, lack of opportunity or inability to adjust, they are stuck. Interestingly, the 2021 season has seen a few of them break through like Adolis Garcia of the Rangers (age 28), Patrick Wisdom of the Cubs (age 30) and Tyler Naquin of the Reds (age 30).

Let’s look at some of the tops hitters & pitchers at AAA that are over 25 (stats as of 9/10)…

  • Henry Ramos (ARI, age 29) is hitting .371 and just got his first major league AB last week.
  • Jason Krizan (SFG, age 32) sports a .896 OPS and has played six seasons at AAA without ever being on a major league field. 
  • Jamie Ritchie (ARI, age 28) has hit .299 in three AAA seasons but has never gotten the call.
  • Austin Allen (OAK, age 27) has 20 HR’s and a .321 BA at AAA this year, but in 104 major league AB’s, his BA is .212.
  • Braden Bishop (SFG, age 28) is hitting .315 with 9 HR’s & 9 SB’s at AAA but in 90 big league AB’s, he’s hit .133.
  • Matt Lipka (MIL, age 29) has swiped 26 bases this season in the minors but he’s in his 11th pro season without ever being called up.
  • Aderlin Rodriguez (DET, age 29) has 25 HR’s at AAA Toledo but this is his 12th minor league campaign.
  • Mikie Mahtook (CHW, age 31) has 21 HR’s in 306 AB’s at Charlotte but has only 33 HR’s in 884 major league AB’s.
  • Josh Lindblom (MIL, age 34) appeared in eight games for the Brewers this year with a 9.72 ERA but he has the best ERA of any AAA pitcher this season at 2.81.
  • Raynel Espinal (BOS, age 29) just made his first big league appearance after posting a 10-4 record at AAA.

Of course, this is not unique to the players of today. In the days before the Dodgers & Giants left New York, the most popular ballplayer of the Pacific Coast League was a slugging 1B named Steve Bilko. Playing for the Los Angeles Angels from 1955-57, he hit 37, 55 & 56 HR’s while averaging 142 RBI’s. His major league career was intermittent during the 50’s & 60’s as he posted a lifetime BA of .249 with a total 76 HR’s.

More recently, Mike Hessman set the record in 2015 for lifetime minor league HR’s when he blasted his 433rd round-tripper for AAA Toledo. He was 37 at the time and it was his final season. He only had 223 major league AB’s over the years with 14 HR’s and a .188 BA.

These are the guys who deserve our respect for their fortitude and desire. No Boos…only cheers.

The Rookies Go To WAR

The truncated 2020 baseball season impacted players in a myriad of ways. Those possibly affected the most were the ones getting close to the major leagues. With no minor league season, limited access to facilities and the threat of the virus itself, nothing was normal. So, heading into 2021 what could we expect of prospects? Would their potential overcome the obstacles or would they fall behind on the road to “The Show”.

Looking at a top-100 prospect list published in January, it’s easy to find some poor results (stats are through 9/3)…

  • #4 Jared Kelenic has been up with Mariners twice this season and is hitting .158 in 240 AB’s
  • #24 Spencer Howard was traded from the Phillies to the Rangers at the deadline and has zero Wins with a 6.56 ERA.
  • #25 Christian Pache began 2021 in the Braves line-up but hit only .111 with 25 K’s and 2 BB. He’s now at AAA.
  • #30 Vidal Brujan got a “cup of coffee” with the Rays and went 2-for-26.
  • #71 Leody Taveras has played 24 games for the Rangers and is hitting .113.

OK, let’s not toss our ROY ballots in the trash just yet. With the help of “Wins Above Replacement” (WAR), we’ll get a feel for which rookies are really contributing to the success of their team.

First the offensive players…

  • Jonathan India (NR, 3.4 WAR) has been a force in the Reds line-up with 18 HR’s, 61 RBI’s and 9 SB’s.
  • Adolis Garcia (NR, 3.1 WAR) came out of nowhere as a 28 year-old with 29 HR’s, 77 RBI’s & 9 SB’s.
  • Patrick Wisdom (NR, 2.2 WAR) was a marginal prospect with the Cardinals in 2018, but his age 29 campaign with the re-building Cubs has been amazing…25 HR’s.
  • Randy Arozarena (#35, 2.1 WAR) had an over the top post season in 2020 for the Rays and most fans didn’t even realize that he was still rookie-eligible this year. Having a very solid 2021 with 18 HR’s, 60 RBI’s & 12 SB.
  • Tyler Stephenson (NR, 1.9 WAR) has taken over the catching duties for the Reds and has a .371 OBP.
  • Wander Franco (#1, 1.8 WAR) had to wait at AAA but has now made his presence felt with a 30+ game on-base streak.
  • Dylan Carlson (#13, 1.7 WAR) was somewhat over-hyped but has performed well with 13 HR’s and a .344 OBP…he’s only 22.
  • Ramon Urias (NR, 1.6 WAR) – This 27 year-old has been playing professional baseball since 2011 but you don’t really need great credentials to join the Orioles line-up. A .351 OBP in 265 AB’s has been quite good.
  • Ryan Mountcastle (#82, 1.6 WAR) has been another bright spot for the Birds with 25 HR’s.
  • Edmundo Sosa, Jazz Chisholm & Akil Baddoo have also contributed 1.6 WAR.

Now, for the Pitchers…

  • Trevor Rogers (NR, 3.3 WAR) has made 20 starts for the Marlins with a 2.45 ERA.
  • Luis Garcia (NR, 2.8 WAR) leads all rookies with 10 Wins and the Astros are very happy with his 3.23 ERA.
  • Shane McClanahan (NR, 2.2 WAR) is 9-5 in 21 starts for the league-leading Rays.
  • Cole Irvin (NR, 2.1 WAR) has been the most durable of the group with 149 IP in 26 starts for the A’s.
  • Ian Anderson (#20, 2.0 WAR) hasn’t disappointed the Braves with his 3.36 ERA.
  • Dane Dunning (NR, 1.9 WAR) came over the Rangers from the White Sox in the Lance Lynn deal and should be a long-term asset.
  • Emmanuel Clase (NR, 1.8 WAR) has emerged as the Guardians Closer with 20 Saves.
  • Logan Gilbert (#59, 1.8 WAR) is a bright spot for the Mariners at age 24.
  • Garrett Whitlock (NR, 1.6 WAR) has had 7 Wins and a 1.63 ERA out of the Red Sox bullpen.

With just a few weeks left in the season, the ROY Awards are still to be decided. Who do you like?