W Laden Staff

Isn't it a good thing that the bulk of my "criticism" about Joe will center on his 24th round pick? I would think so ... though it's probably no consolation for Joe, who mid-season envisioned a Spit Cup, not a 78 victory total and 3rd place finish. His 24th round pick was John Rocker, and while I don't think he was at all a bad or inappropriate individual pick, he was the 3rd W picked for the Valhalla staff. That's going to be the point of this article, that you shouldn't put yourself in the situation Joe did, where he had almost as many W's as Z's, because it will make success all the more difficult to attain.

Joe started the draft well in terms of pitching. On the opening 1-2 swing, he got 2 solid starters in Glavine (14 Z) and Maddux (13 Z). On the next swing, he nabbed the best available reliever in Billy Koch (17 Z). He had the best staff in the league at that point, Pedro notwithstanding, in a season where pitching was thin and despite the usually unwanted 9th position in the draft. He had also avoided the trappings he found difficult to overcome in 1998 from the 9 position, where with the opening swing, he took good position players, but ruined his opportunity to have a noteworthy pitching staff.

The next set of picks sealed Joe's eventual second division fate, I think. He took Giles 4th, who should have had a great year, but for the 2nd SL in a row, grossly underperformed. Next came the gift from Chris, and with most of the ensuing picks, Joe took good but not great offense ... Alou had impressive numbers, but was very limited in games, Alomar was a great stolen base threat, but not an ideal top of the order guy, Ausmus great defense but little offense, Finley was marginal offensively. With these picks, what Joe might have been better off doing was solidifying his pitching strength. With the 8 pick and the 9-10 swing, he did get decent complementary relievers in Graves (16) and Leskanic (17W), and then a solid if not spectacular Schilling (9Z), but a safer-than-Leskanic pick was out there in Roberto Hernandez (14Z). Is it fair to suggest that Hernandez was a better pick because of his Z, and that Joe should have seen that there would eventually be a 2.03 difference in their SL 2001 ERA's? No, but I think that we should know when to make a gamble with a W ... and at that point, a Z would have been the better decision. Even so, taking the W didn't immediately point to trouble.

On the following swing, after relievers Hernandez, Mecir (15), Worrell (14Z) and Garces (13Z) were taken, Joe did well to pick up another complementary reliever in Jimenez (13Z). But by this time, there were very slim pickings regarding starters -- after Schilling was taken, Sele (8Z), Heredia (9Z), Pettitte (10), Williams (9Z), and Colon (13W) were taken. It was only the 11th round, but the only starter available of note was Robert Person, a 12 with a W. I again think Joe did well when he took him on the 13-14 swing. Person validated his worth with a decent 5.08 ERA for Joe, better than a lot of starters, and probably better than every pitcher taken after him, though he did give up a ton of baserunners.

But with the suspect offense Joe had at that point, and the fact that several position players he had at that point had troublesome game limitations (Alou, Larkin, Caminiti), Joe needed to have a better staff, not a staff with more questions than answers -- most of the questions related to the W's. And it was at this point that Joe had to pay back two picks to Chris for their earlier trade, so when he resumed his drafting in the 17th round, he reached to try to bolster his lineup, and could not adequately provide further complements to his staff. In the 23rd round he took Garrett Stephenson and his 7Z, but that came at the cost of an L. And in the 24th, knowing he desperately needed a lefty reliever (had none at this point), he took the best one available, John Rocker and his 15W, somewhat limited innings, and astounding MLB 8.15 walks/9.

Again, given the need for a lefty reliever, Rocker was not a bad pick. But given the big picture of Joe's team, he was another question, not an answer. Rocker wasn't a garden variety W -- like Person (4.93 bb/9) or even Leskanic (5.94) -- he was in the highest walks allowed category within BBW's hidden control ratings. As such, Rocker reduced his effectiveness in game situations ... if Rocker came into a game to take advantage of high platoon ratings for lefthanded batters, if those batters had decent walk numbers, they didn't cause the opposing manager to make reactive moves, as those batters could stay in the game and use their walk numbers to their advantage. Joe had to be more reactive and take Rocker out more often than you would want for your only lefty reliever, or worse, he often had to make the decision to face high platoon lefty hitters with righties rather than risk Rocker being ineffective at finding the plate.

So despite Rocker being Joe's only lefty in the pen, he only pitched 40.2 innings, and he only appeared in 31 games. And he didn't pitch effectively when he pitched, racking up a 5.60 ERA and 15.3 baserunners/9, including 6.4 BB/9.

Of course, Joe saw that there was a fundamental problem with his team and was able to address it, but it only came after Leskanic proved ineffective and he had to part with one bullpen question and welcome a larger question with less upside, Kazuhiro Sasaki (14 with an L). Still, Joe was able to address some lineup questions in the deal in getting Palmeiro at the cost of Casey, but in doing so, he also had to release his 17th round pick in Andres Galarraga. It's not what Joe had scripted, but he was incredibly resilient for most of this time, as he streaked to a Frank Division lead before faltering late in the season.

Now don't get me wrong, Joe's staff did not have generous walks allowed totals.

Team       W/9
Griswold   3.2
Homer      3.7
Gilt Edge  3.8
Valhalla   3.9
Golden     3.9
Honolulu   4.0
Denali     4.0
BRF        4.3
Bridgeport 4.5

A starter with a W and occasional relief appearances from a W earned both Joe (Person, occasionally Leskanic, occasionally Rocker) and Graham (Chan Ho Park and limited innings from Dan Plesac) a middle of the pack 3.9 walks/9 team total, good for a 4th place tie in this category. But in the grand scheme, both Joe and Graham had a ton of innings going to Z pitchers ... their 4 other starters were Z's and some of their top innings-eating relievers were Z's. Instead of control being a major plus for each staff, the W's turned the staff's into average control staff -- when both teams really could have benefitted from some pitching excellence.

The last team to pitch W's with any major frequency was Doug and his Gilmer Banana Slugs in 1999. Two of Doug's top starters that year were Chuck Finley and Kerry Wood. They combined for a 16-27 record, and a 5.36 ERA ... in a less offensive era. Wood was significantly worse than Finley, with a 6.41 ERA and giving up an awful 15.83 baserunners/9.

In Joe's first season in the SL in 1997, he too started two W's, Al Leiter (15W) and Ramon Martinez (13W). They combined for a 20-32 record, and again in an even lesser offensive era, averaged 13.83 baserunners/9, with Leiter yielding 6.06 walks/9. Joe wrote about that in his review of the 1998 Peace Frogs, saying he paid much more attention to W's when drafting the Frogs, because after a year of dealing with Ramon and Leiter (and Steve Traschel's L), he understood the significance of bad periferals. But circumstances in 2001 had Joe drafting 3 W's, a decision he likely regrets.

No great postscript or conclusion to this article. Just that W's suck. But we all knew that. :)

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