Mystic Rhythm

SL '97


After 1996's World Series collapse against Chris, I couldn't have been lower. Kristin and I were considering a move to Oregon during the Winter of '96-'97, but had pretty much given up that thought by the time Spring rolled in. When Spring arrived, I was taking lunchtime walks on some frontage road near Alliant Foodservice's Deerfield HQ, contemplating the first few rounds of the Summer League draft. Most of my thoughts were on the Continuous League, though, as I assembled a fantastic Casper Clutch squad, and a decent, overachieving Newport News Paper Boys team. When we stopped playing the CL, my teams were atop each of their divisions. I spent the last part of the Spring in Oregon, sunbathing in 65 degree weather and studying for the SL draft. When the league was ready to roll and I was in position to take Pudge Rodriguez, I couldn't have been higher.

By the way, I took my team name from the Rush song from Power Windows. Mystic is a coastal town in Connecticut.


I was amazed that no one else valued Pudge as much as I did. It was his best offensive year to date, he caught more than 150 games, and his +6 allowed me to shut down the whatever hyper-stealing rule we had in effect. I could also draft a pitching staff without giving a second thought to moves-to-first. Also, Pudge's combined hitting/defense/games played meant I could save a roster spot by not having to get a third catcher. His perfect stealing (G36?) was serious gravy. And with catchers collectively having a terrible year, Pudge was the way to go, I thought.

After taking Pudge, I grabbed a bunch of other pretty good hitters, and kept away from pitchers. Mostly the hitters I was taking were also top defensive players and stealers, and the weave of these talents with Pudge's talents made the Rhythm one of the fastest and certainly the best defensive team in the league.

The lineup was:
1. Lankford CF
2. Larkin SS
3. Belle DH
4. Higginson LF
5. Palmeiro 1B
6. Salmon RF
7. Brosius 3B
8. Pudge C
9. McLemore 2B

Hudler 2B-OF
Walker CF
Giambi 3B-1B-OF
Hayes 3B
Girardi C
Nilsson C-1B-OF
Grudzielanek SS-PR

Lankford and Higginson were SA-5s, so super-sub Larry Walker always played against lefties. I would either lead off Brosius or Salmon against lefties. If I got off to a big lead in the first and was playing Giambi at 3rd, I'd often take him out right away and put in Hayes. More than in any other season, this team blew people out, and on a dozen occasions, I pulled half of my lineup to avoid injuries, but I'll tell you more about that as I go over the season. Factoring in their defense, this was a good lineup, with a pretty strong bench. I was last in the league in batting average, 7th in the 8 team league in homers, yet still 4th in runs per game. It's interesting how the Rhythm compare to Steve's Bohunks:

          ave  obp  slg   2b  3b   hr   r  r/g  k    bb  lob  sb cs  %
Bohunks  .243 .312 .420  318  37  200  703 4.3 1082 527 1039 174 47 78.7
Rhythm   .236 .311 .422  349  37  200  775 4.8 1045 577  978 238 79 75.1

The Rhythm are thought of as a good offensive team, the Bohunks not so good. Yet their numbers are eerily similar. The only big difference is the runs per game, in which the Rhythm are a 1/2 run better. The small differences must not be so small, I suppose. I hit 31 more doubles, struck out a little bit less, and drew a few more walks. The stolen base differences would seem to cancel each other out and have a little explanation on the left on base difference, but I think this is where the difference lies -- my team was faster and could move around more on the bases, and my higher stolen base runs (a Palmer-Thorn stat that weighs amount of steals and sb percentage) did have a moderate impact in my ability to score.

I'm not a trader by nature, and because I see the player's I draft as role players, it's hard for me to envision comparable trades — but I did have such a vision for the Rhythm. I had heard that many, if not all, players had one less 7 than they normally would have on their APBA card to compensate for the league's worsened cumulative pitching grade. Because of all the vaguaries of baseball wizard and the computer game — and how to incorporate the whole APBA system into wizard and the computer game — I didn't put too much into this when I took Salmon (in Round 6?). He was probably a little bit of a bargain for a 6th rounder, since the player he matched up the best with, let's call him player x, was considered very overvalued as the last player taken in round 3. Salmon had his worse MLB season to date, but compare his numbers with player x:

          ave  obp  slg  g  2b 3b hr bb sb cs plat def arm
Salmon   .286 .386 .501 156 27 4  30 96  4  2 SA-1  3   36
X        .271 .369 .557 150 29 0  44 84  0  1 SA-2  3   38

I thought he was pretty similar to player x — granted that 12 more walks,15 more batting average points, 6 more games, a slightly lower platoon rating and a marginal ability to steal don't quite equate with 14 more homers and 2 more arm points, but it's close. When player x — okay, everyone knows it's Jay Buhner — was benched in favor of slap-hitting John Mabry against righties because his manager was worried about the gray-area of platoon rating, Buhner for Salmon suddenly became an incredibly fair trade. But Steve (Buhner's GM/Manager) held onto a few notions that negated any chance of this trade being consumated — (1) he thought Buhner's platoon rating meant he was drastically better against lefties than Salmon would have been, and (2) he heard me mention the one less 7 thing when I was talking about Salmon and he took it out of context and thought Salmon was not one of many players with one less 7, but one of few. With Salmon starting out the SL in very rocky shape, struggling to maintain a .220 average, .300 on-base, and .400 slugging, Steve would not be convinced otherwise. The Bohunks had a severe catching shortage, so I offered to throw in Nilsson or Girardi to give him much needed depth, but still he was rigid. Looking at his team through his perspective, it didn't make sense for him to not make the trade. I guess this is just more proof that making fair trades in the SL is sometimes next to impossible.

The staff was:
Glavine L 14
Clark R 12 Z
Mussina R 11 Z
Valenzuela L 11
Bielecki 10

with a pen of:
Franco L 20
Plunk R 18
Crabtree R 17 Z
BPatterson L 13
Osuna R 13 Z

with Mike Grace, a 9 Z, as my sixth starter.

A decent staff, not nearly as strong as Ken's, but my bullpen was second only to Greg's (Jim had a fair staff and a great pen, but it didn't show up in the stats). Still, pretty amazing that their ERA was second only to Ken's and I actually led the league in fewest runs per nine.


I started out pretty well -- after 40 games I had the best record. As I wrote in the Belle great game summary, Ken quickly put up a spirited chase after a slow start. Once he got Thome mid-season, he was putting things together while the Rhythm were going through a malaise. In this era of expanded playoffs, a pennant race isn't all that important in the SL, but when I see that I'm in a division with Ken, and he gets the benefit of the first pick of the draft, I'm hell-bent on beating him and winning the division.

There weren't a lot of memorable games other than game 162. Near the end of the season, Steve and I played an extra-inning thriller. Grudzielanek got the start for me so I could play Larkin every game against Ken in our final series, and he delivered with a late-inning steal and run scored that tied the game, then the game-winning hit in extra innings.

As I mentioned earlier, I blew out a lot of teams with big first innings. It seemed like once per series, I would bat around in the first. Many opportunities arose where I had huge leads and was able to empty my bench to keep my starters from getting hurt -- these big games explain Mike Bielecki's great winning percentage despite his high ERA. But about mid-season, these blow outs slowed to one in ten games, then one in twenty, then not at all. When Ken had his 2 game lead with 6 (head-to-head) left, I optimistically said I could win the division, but I don't think I truly felt this team could do it. That's why I hold Belle's game 162 performance in such high regard. The team struggled in the final game as I thought they would, but he was a warrior bringing my many hopes and dreams of SL glory to bear. Of course, he had been that warrior all season, leading what was now becoming a huge power league in RBI.

My late season slump was over headed into the playoffs, so I was again hopeful. I thought fate would bring me another title, but Ken's might would not be denied in the playoffs. I faced his ace Kevin Brown down three games to two in game 6, and got a spark of hope - and still a sinking feeling - when I realized he was playing all the J-2s and J-3s and J-4s that he'd been playing all series. We hadn't been clear on the rules before the series, but I figured this was some breach, and I surmised that if I could get past Brown, he would have to sit half his lineup.

He had a 8th inning 2-run lead, and I went against the philosophy I dreamed up sunbathing at my in-laws on those cloudy Oregon late-May days and pinch hit for Pudge with Dave Nilsson. Nilsson didn't do anything worthwhile, but I did get to within a run. In the top of the ninth, with Nilsson and his -4 arm in to catch, Ken ran himself back to a 3-run lead with double steals and a Nilsson throwing error. A Scott Brosius 2-run homer in the ninth could have tied or put me in the lead if not for Nilsson's futile efforts in the field, but instead, I was still down a run. Someone doubled for me with stll nobody out, and I pinch-ran my burner Grudzielanek. But after Nilsson hit a fly out to center, I thought my odds of tying the game would be drastically better if Grudz was on third, so I again did something I hadn't done all season and tried to advance to third on a flyout to center. Grudz was out. After my next batter was retired, the Rhythm were done.


I could take this defeat better than my House of David loss to Greg because the circumstances were a little different in terms of my being "wronged" in the playoffs, and because I had made many mistakes along the way. I still can't call Pudge a mistake, but I realize I would probably have been better served if I had taken Bonds or Griffey or someone with more clout.

Still, because of Ken's taking advantage of me by playing guys he should have been sitting, I was pretty vocal in the next off-season about setting playoff rules. Also, I re-learned it was so important come playoff time to have a pitching advantage, as Ken did with Brown and Guzman and his staff. I took that to heart in the '98 draft and forced myself to take pitchers in rounds 1-5 (well, nobody had to force me to take Pedro J).

Just like the rest, the failures of the Rhythm hurts less every day, but it still hurts. The song must relate to the SL:

mystic rhythms...
capture my heart, carry them away