Rough off-season. Lost a lot of focus after a strong 1999. Flamed by Bob for making overtures that I might not return for SL 2000. Shared an obnoxious email with Chris and Greg after the divisions were announced at the Winter Meeting (don't recall who the email's author was). Though my role in the email was a potential embarassment, the email's subject was prophetic.
I regret not being able to scout as much as I wanted to. I don't think it would have gotten me that many more wins, but it could have helped me right some situations where I did myself wrong.
The lineup often was:
1. Lofton LF
2. Ochoa RF
3. McGwire 1B
4. Everett CF
5. Jaha DH
6. Rolen 3B
7. Lampkin C
8. Durham 2B
9. Perez SS
With a bench of:
Damon started way too much. Rolen batted 5th too often, Damon 6th too often. For anyone who cares, here were their 1999 MLB #'s:
AVG OBP SLG Rolen 268 368 525 Damon 307 379 477
First, let me talk about Rolen. He had great secondary numbers in MLB; moderately high walks, good power and extra-base hit numbers, a good steal success number. I've read how 5th hitters should be your second lead-off men, as they lead-off innings on average 2nd only to 1st place hitters, and maybe as I was constructing my lineup, I saw the walks and steal success and envisioned such a role where Rolen could thrive. In reality, Rolen was put in a position where he left a ton of guys on base because he could not get base hits. Add to that how he did not approach his MLB extra-base hits, his high (SA-4) platoon rating (most of the best teams had nearly all-righty staffs) and how his low MLB steal totals made his basestealing benefits negligible, and you basically have a hole in the lineup.
Damon was another lineup hole. An .856 OPS in the MLB is not good enough in this league. Definitely not for a 6th hitter or an average defensive wing outfielder. I don't think I envisioned him batting 6th all that often, but with the inordinate number of games missed for people who were to bat ahead of him (Lofton, Ochoa, Everett, Rolen all were J-2s, Jason Kendall, on the team for the first 40 games, was a J-3, and John Jaha could only play 141 or so), I should have seen that he would have to hit 6th. I took him plenty early, mostly based on decent offensive numbers and excellent stolen base potential. But that stolen base potential was better served coming off the bench, and decent offensive numbers don't deserve 400+ plate appearances.
Couple all this with a generally weak 7-8-9 of part-time catchers Tom Lampkin (.840 OPS in MLB in '99) & Mike DiFelice (.815 OPS), Ray Durham (.808 OPS) and Neifi (.710 OPS), who was probably the worst hitting non-catching regular in the SL since Chris played Deivi Cruz for part of '98.
And finally, Carl Everett should have had better numbers for me. Jaha and McGwire may have "stolen" some of his home runs, so I won't gripe too much about his lack of production, but I wonder what my home run production would have been (248, 2nd in SL, 5th all-time) if he had produced a number more congruous to his '99 MLB total.
My staff was:
Smoltz 12 Z
Saberhagen 11 Z (J-4 who did not get injured, bless his heart)
Moyer 11 Z
Radke 11 Z
With a pen of:
TravMiller 16 Z
Mantei 16 W
Wetteland 13 Z
Cormier 11 Z
Brian Anderson, 6 Z, was my 6th starter, who did well in 3 starts.
I invested heavily in a moderate staff. Another bad decision.
Started off 17-23, which tied me for last place in the league after 40. I picked up Canseco in the FA Draft, who was adequate as a 5th hitter vs. lefties. Of course, he was less than adequate as a left fielder, but having Canseco gave me the opportunit y to put Damon in the better role of PR/Defensive Replacement, and Rolen better served the team in the 6th slot.
After my slow start, the standings were:
Thief River Falls Arctic Cats (Ken) 21 19 .525 ---- Cuba Road Rage (Bob) 19 22 .463 2.5 Corsica Red Devils (Keith) 17 23 .425 4.0
A serious low point came during the FA Draft, where I interpreted actions one way based on the previous season's FA Draft, and Greg's document about our league rules (still in infant stages, nothing close to being official) suggested a different interp retation. Ken took the document as more than it was, and the flames flew. It didn't help matters that I didn't realize two J-3s were being dropped, which was without question a rules violation.
Joe and I made our big trade at this point, swapping Kendall, Swindell, Alvarez and Boehringer for Wagner, Nilsson, Clemens and Anderson. People like Bob tell me I raped Joe on that one, because Wagner was so awesome. I think it was pretty fair, but wi th Wagner having not been used all that much for Joe, that's about the only place where I can see an advantage. Bob, just like me, may not be the know-it-all Wile-E-Coyote-super-genius of the SL.
Anyway, after about 80 games Ken lenghtened his Frank-a-palooza lead:
Thief River Falls Arctic Cats (Ken) 43 37 .538 ---- Corsica Red Devils (Keith) 37 42 .468 5.5 Cuba Road Rage (Bob) 31 40 .437 7.5
Approaching 120 games, Ken faded fast, while Bob and I got ourselves close to .500:
Corsica Red Devils (Keith) 66 68 .493 ---- Thief River Falls Arctic Cats (Ken) 56 59 .487 0.5 Cuba Road Rage (Bob) 65 70 .481 1.5
Bob, Ken and I met for our last 6 against each other Sunday night September 17th at Twin. Bob and Ken went first. Bob (down 3 games at beginning of the evening) played his 6 vs. Ken (down 7 games at the beginning) first. It was a battle of the bullpens , and Geoff Jenkins hit very well for Ken. Bob won the series 4 games to 2, pulling within two games of first place. I then played 6 with Ken. The Cats won the first game, and Ken was up by a run with two outs in the bottom of the eighth of game 2 when J ose Canseco hit a clutch two-run home run that won the game, which saved my division lead. I won 3 of the next 4 (somewhere in here, McGwire emerged from his HR draught to set the SL record) to extend the lead back to 3 games, holding serve as Bob would later say.
Bob needed to take 5 of 6 to win the division (with Randy Johnson pitching twice in the series and John Jaha injured until game 161). Bob won the first two, again trimming the lead to a single game. McGwire hit two home runs in the third game and Jamie Moyer pitched a complete game as I took that game something like 13-3. In game 4, Clemens and four relievers combined to shut Bob out 8-0 and clinch the division. Bob won the fifth game to ensure that he would win the season series between us and maintain his franchise edge over me, which is just slightly more important to me than winning a division.
Regarding the final series, Bob later commented, "at no time did Keith break out in a sweat. He had a quiet intensity, and was very humble when he captured the division." I say to that, instead of doing the Ickey shuffle after a touchdown, act like you've been there before and hand the ball to the ref.
My playoff outlook was quite murky, facing Greg, who had a very dominating Pedro. I lost 7-2 to Alex Fernandez in game 1, but Smoltz and Wagner beat Pedro 5-4 in a game 2 nailbiter. The bad part of this was that Greg's bullpen was unused to this point. Canseco and McGwire (bash brothers) home runs erased a 1-run deficit in game 3 and Billy Wagner saved a 5-3 win. So I was up 2-1, with supposed starting pitching advantages in 3 of the 4 possible remaining games.
In game 4, Rueter went two and a third and left a 1-1 tie. Greg's bullpen held me in check while he smacked around Brad Radke and my pen to win 9-3. In game 5's Alex-Saberhagen game 1 rematch, I jumped out to a 2-0 first inning lead, but Greg answered with 3 in the bottom of the inning. I tied it at 3, but Sabes and my pen gave up 7 unanswered runs, Greg eventually taking the game 10-4 and setting up a potential clinching performance by Pedro in game 6. But ... somehow ... someway ... I managed to best the Water in extra-innings, setting up a game 7.
Greg and I have played in such pressure before, so neither of us claimed an advantage. But home runs by Jaha and McGwire staked me to a 3-0 first inning lead. With Moyer on the hill against Shane Reynolds, I thought the game was mine. So did Chris, who went into my fridge and grabbed a bottle of champagne. But Greg plated 4 in the 2nd and 3 in the 3rd for a 7-3 lead, and I could not muster another comeback as he went on the win 12-4.
What can I say about a team where the offense had the 6th most runs scored in SL history and was led by McGwire and his setting of the SL home run record, yet ninth-place hitting Neifi (and his ugly SL 2000 .610 OPS) was 3rd on the team in RBI, where t he pitching staff struggled all season to stay out of the bottom third in ERA, and where the defense was in the bottom third? This team just did not allow me very high expectations due to a talent level that I am not used to having, yet they managed to wi n a division and get themselves into the playoffs.
Despite comparatively meager accomplishments, I actually feel better about this team than some of my others. I imagine it's like if you have a bunch of great kids who are model citizens and straight A students, who disappoint you when they get 20s on t heir ACTs, and then you have a red-headed step-child who's constantly in trouble and barely maintaining a C average, who scores a 30 on the ACT. This team was red-headed most of the year, then when it counted, they played well enough to win the division a nd made a splash in the playoffs, though they could not get that 36 on the ACT and win the Spit Cup.
In retrospect, the summer of 2000 was very important to my growth. I learned that I am fallible and that circumstances can tear apart your best intentions. Many decisions I made were wrong, and all were infinitely more complicated than I ever imagined. Persevere, do your best to change as the situations do, and don't give up the belief that your wants, hopes, and desires need not be diminished.
My MVP ballot was:
|1. Chipper Jones||1061||1231||171.0|
|2. Jeff Bagwell||971||1054||135.1|
|3. Manny Ramirez||990||1058||128.6|
|4. Bobby Abreu||939||1082||148.6|
|5. Robby Alomar||880||1002||136.0|
|6. Sammy Sosa||932||928||117.8|
|7. Edgar Martinez||956||1052||133.8|
|8. Derek Jeter||833||863||114.8|
|9. Ken Griffey||895||929||114.1|
|10. Barry Bonds||973||1107||99.3|
My Cy ballot:
|1. Pedro Martinez||2.52||26-7|
|2. Mike Hampton||3.25||20-6|
|3. Armando Benitez||2.58||3-8||44 saves|
|4. Randy Johnson||3.56||18-12|
|5. Mike Mussina||3.69||17-9|
My Benevolent Yellow Tumbler (aka MOY) ballot:
|1. Steve Swinea|
|2. Chris Klein|
|3. Bob Taterka|
McGwire's 67 home runs were quite remarkable, but I suspect in a few years they will be a minor post script to the SL 2000 season. Plain and simple, 67 home runs is a record that will fall. 4 players in the last two SL seasons have hit over 60 home run s. Pitching in the MLB and SL (with some exceptions) is declining with each season. And considering how the talent pool for pitching may dwindle further if there is any SL expansion, I believe we'll see a player hit 70 home runs within 5 years.
What SL individual records will remain? From the list at http://www.hotstoveleague.com/sl/single.asp, in my opinion, there are 5 batting records that will stand for many, many years. They are:
1. Stolen Bases - 102 - Kenny Lofton, 1997 Mobile
The next closest in our league history is 18 away from Lofton's mark. Because different steal rules were enacted since the record was set (150% vs. '97s 200%), it's so very improbable that any single player will get close. Related to this fact is that MLB & the SL are seemingly much less dependent on stolen bases than they were at other points in their history, and as such, the number of players who even qualify for 102 SL attempts for any given season will be counted on one hand.
2. Caught Stealing - 31 - Kenny Lofton, 1997 Mobile
A lot of the same reasons as above, but what separates the two is that a few of the guys on the all-time caught stealing list had much fewer attempts than what's neccessary to break the 102 steals, making a larger pool available to break this record.
3. Doubles - 70 - Albert Belle, 1996 Evanston
In the all-time list, 1 person is within 11 of Belle's total, and no one is within 14 since '98. Since it's pretty irregular that someone hits 50 doubles in MLB, I have to say this is very, very safe. That being said, this is an amazing record, but not as safe the top 2 in this list because of what Belle himself did. He hit 52 doubles and 50 home runs in '95 MLB. Maybe it was his APBA card and the lineup he hit in, maybe it was exceptional SL pitchers and their home run allowance grades, but in the subseq uent SL, as his double totals jumped, his home run totals dropped to 33. Could this happen to a Todd Helton or Carlos Delgado in 2001? I doubt it, as positive home run allowance grades are much fewer and far between in the expanded SL (only 7 teams in Bel le's '96), but it is a possibility. The footnote to Belle's achievement is that he did it during the SL's lone abbreviated 144 game season, doubling once every 9 plate appearances ... simple amazing.
4. Hit By Pitch - 41 - Craig Biggio, 1998 Peace
As with Belle's doubles record, this is a huge number that I think is quite safe. And as MLB contemplates changing rules on batting armor, what Biggio used to set the record, you would surmise that fewer batters would be so willing to dive into balls -- a nd those that do will be injured more often than Biggio was in '97 (he played 162 games!). The corresponding question that the media seems to always ask, usually related what's wrong with today's MLB pitcher, is whether said pitchers are throwing inside l ess and less. If they truly aren't, yes, hit by pitches will drop accordingly. But the media is often wrong, and they only seem to offer anecdotal evidence, nothing quantitative, so maybe some guys like Biggio, Kendall and Frank Paul Santangelo will still be hit with alarming regularity. Why this feat isn't higher on this list of unbreakable records is because in the following SL, Kendall got hit 35 times. Last season, Carl Everett was hit once every 20 plate appearances. So conditions do/will exist where this record could be broken, but the conditions aren't all that prevalent, and they are possibly diminishing.
5. Intentional Bases On Balls - 30 - Mark McGwire, 1997 Shakopee
The next closest in our history is 13 away, or 57% of Mac's '97 total. That disparity between best and 2nd best is probably the most amazing of any of the numbers on the single season record list. The conditions that allowed this number? New Ulm, Minnesot a's Terry Steinbach batting 5th to Mac's clean-up. Steinbach pounded out a bunch of homers for the Schlitz, but he wasn't close to the hitter that Mac was. As MLB's offensive talent pool has become overflowing, it has led to more solid lineups in the SL, and as such, less chances that a McGwire will be followed by a Steinbach. But instead of making this #1 on the list, it's #5, mainly because the intentional walk is such a subjective strategy. While I think intentional walks are on the decline in our coll ective strategy, the strategy certainly is not without merit. And even though our lineups are getting more solid, there are still the Deivi Cruz's and Neifi Perez's who get playing time based on their glove -- an 8th hitter maybe is as good as a 5th hitt er from year's past, but those weak-hitting shortstop are still offensive liabilities. Maybe the clean-up hitter doesn't get the 31 intentional walks, but why not the 8th hitter? By this reasoning, combined with the chance that an expansion manager may ov erwhelmingly embrace this strategy, I have to think that the record is fallable.
Interestingly, the absolutely most unbreakable record I noticed on the single-season record page isn't an official record at all. At the bottom of the page on the 30-30 list, note Barry Bonds's 61.36 power-speed i n '97 for Mountain View. Power-speed is not an official category on the page, but I assure you, no one is close to Bonds's number. His 51 homers in '97 are 11th in the single-season category, and his 77 steals are 4th all-time. This mark is not going to approached any time soon. Nuf 'ced.
. . . and thanks for all that you all gave of yourself to the league in SL 2000, and to me personally. Peace!