97 wins gets you nowhere

The China Cat Sunflowers Season Review

By Greg Nims


China, TX (AP) - As the sun rose on SL2006, the franchise was coming off 3 straight sub-.500 seasons. Three straight years outside the playoffs, after 10 straight postseasons. Change was needed.

The first change was going with a Grateful Dead team name, after 7 straight years of Widespread Panic. WSP served us well, with the 2000 Chilliwack Water winning it all and two other WSP teams making the finals.

We went with the China Cat Sunflowers, taking it's name, of course, from the song China Cat Sunflower. As I said in my China name announcement:

The lyrics of the song make as much sense as the last three years:

    Copperdome bodhi drip a silver kimono,
    Like a crazy quilt stargown through a dream night wind.

The Draft

The season began with the draft on 1.18.2006. Bob had left the league, which was a big loss, but we thought we had a solid replacement in Gregg. It has gone well so far.

I drew the 2nd pick of the draft, and it didn't take long to decide on Derrek Lee, assuming Keith took Clemens. If Keith went for Lee, I think I would have taken Clemens, even though I was sort of looking to take a position player. Every first round pick we made from 1998 to 2004 was a pitcher. We took Adrian Beltre 3B5 last year, and Lee made it two in row.

After Lee in the first, I had to fend of Steve's 2nd round negotiations in an attempt to convince me to trade up in the 2nd for 14Z Pedro. I successfully fought him off and took Colon P13Z+3 and Garland P13Z+3 with the swing. At this point my team closely resembled Ken's 2005 Kersey Bambinos, who won 88 games. He also had the #2 pick and took 1B5 Todd Helton in the first followed by his first swing with two 13Zs. I figured following the blueprint of an 88 win team couldn't be too bad.

My next two swings cemented our league-leading offense. With the second to last pick in the 4th round, we selected franchise favorite SS9 Derek Jeter 7.3. I felt it was a little early for him, but I wanted his 9 and he was a nice leadoff hitter. Coming back around, I snagged CF3-31 Jim Edmonds 8.1. His 142 games were a concern, but he was a J1 so he wouldn't miss any possible playoff games, and it gave me another good bat at a central position. I think I wanted 2B7 Chase Utley here, but Keith took him on the swing.

The following swing, we took 3B3 David Wright 8.3 and 1B3 Carlos Delgado 9.8. I took Wright before heading out to lunch, and emailed Ken that I wanted either Delgado or Giambi for my next pick, and if Keith took one of them, I'd take the other. I returned from lunch to find that Keith took Giambi and Ken announced my Delgado selection. I didn't know which of the two I would have taken if they were both available, so I'm sorta glad Keith took Giambi. They both had good years, but my offense worked well with Delgado and probably just wouldn't have been as fortunate with Giambi.

So after 7 rounds, the Sunflowers had two starting pitchers and the five position players that were the offensive core of our league-leading offense. This included our SS9 and CF3.31, so it's wasn't like we drafted pure offense.

To round out the rotation, we found value in Towers 11ZZ+0 in the 8th, Cliff Lee L12+1 in the 17th and Joe Blanton P12+0 surprisingly still around in the 20th. We finally got started on the bullpen with Politte P*20X+1 in the 9th, GordonT P*17+0 in the 10th, Isringhausen P*18G+0 in the 13th, Fuentes P*L14G+1 in the 19th, and Thompson P*14Z+1 in the 22nd. We made mistake picks with Taverez P*11Z+1 in the 23rd and Wickman P*17L+0 in the 26th.

China also seemed to get good value on the offensive side. Biggio 2b7 5.9 was perhaps a mistake in the 11th, although he did supply 20 HR and 42 2B. We went a little early for pinch running stud Carl Crawford OF3-33 6.3 D33 with 81 SL SBA. Matheny c9+4 4.4 in the 14th and ValentinJ c7+0 7.8 in the 15th combined for a great catching platoon, even if Valentin did get lit up on the bases.

Jacobs 1B2 10.2 in the 16th provided great J4 power for Delgado and Lee's sits, and the crown jewel of our draft was Jose Guillen RF2-37 6.4 in the 18th. Guillen started out slow, but ended up with a tolerable hitting line. Of course his real value was in the field, where he led the league with 29 outfield assists, and his imposing presence prevented innumerable baserunners from attempting an extra base. We picked up Jose Cruz OF2.34 6.7 as an important swing outfielder with Edmonds missing 23 CF games, and Cliff Floyd OF1.31 7.3 was great value in the 24th. We capped it off with Eric Bruntlett in the 27th, who could play 2B, SS, 3B, and all three OF positions.

The Season

The Sunflowers jumped out of the gate hot, losing their opener to rookie Gregg, but finishing the night off with a schlitz. This pattern repeated itself, as numerous times in the first 40 we lost our opener, only to win via a schlitz. David Wright started the year in the 2 hole, barely edging out Jim Edmonds, and responded with the hottest bat in the league. We hit the 40 game mark with the league's top record at 24-16.

We entered the free agent draft with two concerns: Cliff Floyds OF1 and the poor pitching by relievers Wickman 17L and Tavarez 11Z. We probably stunned the league by making three moves despite our record, and took OF2.34 Austin Kearns to shore up the OF defense, and J4 relievers 18H Juan Padilla and 17H Clay Hensley to fix the pen. At the break, our pen was 6th with a 3.30 ERA and last (9th) with 1.93 HR/9, where 8th place was 1.40. In contrast, our season-ending numbers were first in ERA at 2.83 and 3rd in HR/9 at 1.03. Obviously the two new relievers didn't make up all that difference, but they were a big help.

The rest of the regular season went well, without much threat. Dave kept within shouting distance in the Panic Division, but never really made a move. The Sunflowers played steady all year, and we rode to the division title, best record, and #1 seed. We picked up Brad Penny to start our last game, and our rotation was set for a Semi-Finals matchup with Dave's Wild Card winning Festus Miracle.

                AVG  OBP  SLG
Jeter SS9      .257/.335/.487  24 HR, 19 SB, 119 R, 64 RBI, Gold Glove, 14th in MVP
Edmonds CF3.31 .281/.380/.567  45 2B, 31 HR, 101 RBI, 95 R, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, 5th in MVP
D-Lee 1B5      .277/.362/.561  67 2B, 35 HR, 110 RBI, 109 R, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, MVP
Delgado DH(1B3).242/.329/.561  42 2B, 38 HR, 108 RBI, 79 R, 11th in MVP
Wright 3B3     .228/.299/.450  59 2B, 26 HR, 92 RBI, 92 R, 17 SB
Cruz OF2.34    .182/.276/.334  22 2B, 9 HR, 29 RBI, 26R, 384 PA
Biggio 2B7     .194/.246/.379  42 2B, 20 HR, 63 RBI, 61 R
Guillen RF2.37 .213/.268/.371  24 2B, 16 HR, 67 RBI, 39 R
Matheny C9+4   .198/.238/.323  24 2B, 8 HR, 37 RBI, 45 R, 3rd place in best Stolen Base Runs allowed (-3.48)

Mike Jacobs was a great J4, hitting .237/.293/.588 with 10 2B and 10 HR in 123 PA. He drove in 25 and scored 19, which ain't bad for 30 games. Crawford (OF3.33) was huge off the bench, compiling 57 SB/15 CS, 56 R in 123 games and 162 PA. He hit poorly, only going .176/.190/.281, but his defense and should've been OK offense allowed me to use him as a pinch runner early and often. Bruntlett turned out well, his flexibility was great, and we used him in 84 games to go 9 for 9 stealing. Kearns was mostly a bust as a 4th outfielder, hitting .146/.267/.238.

Garland 13Z+3  18-7, 4.19, 232 IP, 11.5 BR9, 5th in Cy Young
Colon 13Z+3    7-13, 4.31, 206.2 IP, 11.7 BR9
Towers 11ZZ    7-7, 3.97, 172.1 IP, 11.1 BR9
Lee L12        2-9, 5.43, 131 IP, 14.2 BR9
Blanton 12     6-8, 4.39, 133.1 IP, 11.9 BR9
Garland and Colon performed similarly, but Garland got the run support, so his won/loss record is much shinier and got him 5th place in the Cy Young balloting. Towres performed very well for his draft slot, leading our starters in ERA, BR/9 and R/9. Lee underperformed, but Blanton overperformed, so they evened out as acceptable 4th/5th starters. As a group, they finished 3rd in the league in BR/9, ERA, and R/9.

Izzy 18G       15-3, 16(3) sv, 1.32, 88.2 IP, 7.9 BR9, 20.3 IRSP, 6th in Cy 
Padilla 18H    4-0, 0(4) sv, 2.48, 36.1 IP, 9.2 BR9, 33.3 IRSP
Gordon 17      9-7, 6(2) sv, 2.53, 121 IP, 8.9 BR9, 22.7 IRSP
Politte 20     9-5, 17(4) sv, 2.85, 101 IP, 8.2 BR9, 25.5 IRSP
Thompson 14Z   5-2, 0(0) sv, 3.01, 68.2 IP, 10.2 BR9, 25.9 IRSP
Fuentes L14G   11-0, 5(0) sv, 3.28, 104.1 IP, 10.0 BR9, 31.4 IRSP
Hensley 17H    4-3, 2(2) sv, 3.86, 35 IP, 11.3 BR9, 18.8 IRSP


Wickman 17L    0-0, 0(0) sv, 4.70, 15.1 IP, 14.1 BR9
Tavarez 11Z    0-0, 0(1) sv, 6.75, 14.2 IP, 14.7 BR9
Isringhausen performed awesome, with his numbers even more impressive once you know he pitched in the most difficult, high-leverage situations on the team. Gordon and Politte did very well as the other two big guns. Politte was the second in line for high leverage or closing situations, while Gordon's high game and IP limits allowed me to use him to fill in all the late inning cracks. Fuentes had the greatest "perfect season" in SL relief history, going 11-0 with 5 saves and none blown. Thompson had great back-of-the-pen fill-in numbers, while Padilla and Hensley both pitched well with limited appearances.

As a group, the bullpen led the SL in ERA and lowest R/9, with the 2nd best BR/9 and 3rd best HR/9. Considering the first reliever we selected was Politte in the 9th round, we are ecstatic with their combnied season.

What Went Wrong?

Well, everything, as the above shows. Some key points that were critical, IMNSHO, were the prepondurance of whiffs in my lineup, and the bullpen construction. Since I had limited appearances and innings, and some guys I was trying to pitch 2 innings each appearance, I may a majority of moves for usage reasons rather than game reasons. Grant Roberts had a relatively bad year in H/IP, and I think that was due to his low ratio of "first batter ratings bumps".

What Went Well?

Thats a hard one to answer. Larry Walker had a relatively good year, hitting .285/.351/.585 for a 935 OPS, with 47 doubles, 35 homers, 88 runs and 91 RBI in 133 games. He also went 10 for 11 stealing, with his E22 steal rating.

Soriano did have a good year at the plate, finishing with the 3rd most Runs Created by a middle infielder. ARod led with 120.2, Nomar finished with 91.4, and Soriano was right on Nomar's tail with 89.1, good for 20th overall in the league.


We finished with the worst record ever, so the season was obviously an incredible failure. To me, I had a bad team, but was also unlucky. 18-36 in one run games, and 5-15 in extra innings seemed to be unfortunate. Then again, you create your own luck.

I would be lying if I said I enjoyed the season. I mean, I enjoyed it as much as I think is possible considering the circumstances, but the pain was almost too much to endure. I think we had another strong season, games played quickly, everyone into it, etc. The playoffs were split half and half between the Klein/Nims axis of power and the "others". As of this writing, Steve will be playing Chris in the World Series for a chance at the first non-Klein/Nims Spit Cup champion. In addition to the Tunes having the worst record, Ken struggled all season but managed to slip past Graham to avoid last place in his division by one game. Bob's Shady Agenda had a strong second half that kept him in the Wild Card hunt and gave him his second consecutive finish above .500. Dave made his first playoff appearance and fought mightily before losing in controversial fashion. So, I'd say the State of the Summer League is quite good.

Just wait 'till next year.