"Would George Harrison Have Been Proud?"
I was 60-70 at one point, and ended up an out away from a Spit Cup. That is my season in a microcosm. Even that Game 7 could sum up my season. Three different times I thought I had it won, only to lose it in the end. I could sit here and argue all day that I had a much better than a .500 team. And the evidence certainly seems to suggest that. But it doesn’t matter what I "should" have done. I was 81-81, and lucky to make the playoffs.
In the absence of a Draft Notes this year (Keith, your service over the years has been such a pleasure to look forward to, I hope you will be in a position to do it again next year), I am now forced to analyze my own team (yuck). This will definitely be a bit more boring and long-winded than Keith’s usually is, but that will be mostly because it is all about my team, and I tend to be quite biased.
Like Keith’s team from a few years ago, my beginning season, and end of season lineups were quite different:
Obviously the trade made a big difference in my team offensively, mostly for the better. Also, I made some managerial changes that were based mostly on the trade, but also somewhat on my players’ performance. Immediately after getting Giles, he became my leadoff man. I knew he wasn’t the proto-typical leadoff man, as he wouldn’t walk quite as much as most, and had much more power than most. Over the next 75 games, I started to realize how bad Cameron and Dye were, and gave them a lot of sits, as I shuttled in Lawton, Dunn and Javier for them. This lineup was much better for depth, as I would then have Ramirez, a very decent hitter in the 6th or 7th spot (depending on if I was playing Dunn or Dye). Keith had actually made an offhand remark to me that had sparked this change. Also, Dye became out of steals before the season was halfway over, thereby, in my mind, losing about half of his offensive value. This later lineup gave me the flexibility of bringing in Cameron to pinch-run and stay in for defense for either of the corner outfielders, and allowing Giles to then move back to left, a position he is much better suited for (2-of, 30 arm).
My backups were all there to serve a purpose. Polanco ended up starting 58 games, at various infield positions, but may have been a "Top Five Worst Pick" in the whole draft. Javier was a pinch-stealer. Cross was the sub catcher who literally got half of his starts during Johnson’s injuries. Segui was my starting DH for 1 of every 5 games, and otherwise relegated to a pinch-hitting role.
Four of my first seven picks were on pitchers, and I considered that to be a heavy investment. Then I traded Rivera, my fourth pick, and my pitching started to landslide. I knew that my pitching would suffer some when I made the trade, but I hadn’t counted on dropping from 4th to 7th. Here is what the trade got me, although I am not sure you can look at this way, due to a smaller sample. My team ERA went up about .5, while my runs per game went up about .4. Fair trade? It is really hard to say. Looking back, I can not put a price on the flexibility of having Giles play centerfield, so, it was something I had to do.
Anyways, Mendoza was a big surprise. Karsay didn’t do as well as I thought he would, but his innings added to his value. Zimmerman was a HUGE bust (more on that later). Rivera was not so good for me, having 5 losses and 3 blown saves before the trade at game 40. Shaw was consistently mediocre. Groom had a poor first 60 games with me, then a pretty decent final 60. He was the only lefty in my bullpen, and it seemed like whenever I brought him in to face a lefty, he struggled. Lowe ate up a lot of innings, and was basically cannon fodder, but somehow managed to not lose a game.
I can’t really complain at all about Washburn. He was probably the league’s top lefty starter for the year, and in the post-season he continued to perform, going 3-1 with an ERA under 2.00. During the season he had a 10 start run where he walked only 8 batters. Moyer was consistently solid, giving me complete games in half of his starts, and going less than 6 innings only twice all year. But he will be known in this season for pitching that masterpiece that will forever be known as Game 7. Radke, Hunt and Williams had very forgettable seasons, and really the only good that came out of them, was Woody Williams leading all pitchers in at bats, runs, and offensive games played (I really tried hard to get him hurt, but he did not cooperate).
It was a roller coaster. We started off good, then struggled. After the trade, we came back good, only to fall back down again. Then I had that 2-8 series against Ken where I was lucky to get the two wins. Everything that could go wrong did in that series. Charles Johnson couldn’t pick a worse team to get hurt against. That put me at 60-70, and I was sure the season was over. But I finished strong, going 21-11 the rest of the way, to climb back up to that .500 barrier, and earn a spot in the playoffs.
It could probably be argued that this is the nature of an offensive team. Pitching, speed, and defense are the kinds of things that you can have every game. Offense, unless it is unusually deep, will not be enough to support a team on a consistent basis. (When this will get through my head, I do not know). This is where the trade hurt me. Rivera is a much better pitcher than Groom, and can pitch more innings. Rolen and Burks stole 27 bases, to 17 for Ramirez and Giles. Defensively you could say it was a wash, but I did end up playing Giles more in CF, which hurt my defense some. What did I get out of it? Well, my guys created 25 more runs on the season. I got a lefty in the pen, and I got a little flexibility in CF. I still would have to say I would do that trade again, but I can not speak for Keith.
I was first in the league in the somewhat meaningless category of Pythagorean of runs scored. Unlike the last few years, I scored a lot of runs in blowouts, rather than having other teams blow me out all the time. I scored 10 runs or more 25 times. Seven of those times, I won by 10 or more runs, and I only lost one game by that big of a margin. Eighty times during the season I scored 6 runs or more--almost half the time. I went 60-20 in those games. So I went 21-61 in games that I scored 5 runs or less. Obviously it is a good thing that I built my team as an offensive team, as if I wasn't scoring so many runs, there is no way I would have made it to a .500 record.
In somewhat of an unrelated issue, I lost a lot of one-run games during the first half of the season. I was 5-17 at the halfway point. Keith later sent me the article saying how the teams that usually win one-run games, are the teams that are built on speed, and do not rely so heavily on their bullpens all of the time. Well, I countered by going 15-9 in close games the rest of the way, but that article may have been somewhat prophetic if you look at Game 7 between Ken and I, as he obviously had a better team for that particular scenario. I was not afraid to tell people all season long that I had built my team for the three-run homer, and many times I played that way. But, often enough, it worked to my advantage, so I had to continue to do so.
I wasn’t feeling very good about my chances vs. Greg. My two good pitchers were lefties, and he had virtually no lefties in his lineup. Johnson was hurt, so I had to play Cross, and Greg had pretty much a free-reign on the basepaths against him. I also had Lawton hurt for Game 1, which he would have played otherwise, and Dunn also had to miss most of the series. I was pretty much going into the series saying to myself "I am just happy to be here". Without ChuckJ, I lost 2 of the first 3 (although Greg was 0-2 stealing off Cross in my only win). Now, he was back for Game 4, but I had Hunt on the mound. I managed only 3 hits in the game, but won 2-1. It turned out to be a huge turning point for me. My offense exploded for 12 runs in Game 5 to put me one win away. In Game 6, my 4-5-6 hitters combined for 2 doubles, 3 homers and all 6 RBI, and my six relievers combined for a win, a save, and 3 holds, as I advanced to the finals.
Most of the finals are a blur to me. I only managed 6 runs in the first 3 games, losing 2 of them, and winning on a Washburn shutout. I won the next two (both two-run games), as I scored 13 runs, and my pen held Ken to 2 runs in 14 IP. That put me just one win away, but it turned out to be something I just couldn’t do. I got a run in the first in Game 6, then didn’t score again for 14 innings. Finally, in the bottom of the 8th in Game 7, I had a 3 run lead, Moyer had a no-hitter, and I only needed six more outs. It just wasn’t to be. Once again, Zimmerman was the goat. After sucking up the regular season, he had pitched great in the playoffs, only giving up no earned runs in 8.1 IP before Game 7. Well, he blew my one-run lead in the 12th, and my two-run lead in the 13th, and then we couldn’t hit Hampton, and lost. I can only say that it was a pleasure to a part of such a classic series.
WHERE DID I ERR?
When I drafted this team, I had envisioned them being in the middle of the pack for stolen bases. I finished 6th. I also finished 6th in sacrifice hits, and sacrifice flies, both of which are categories that somewhat indicate speed. I talked about this a lot during the season. We just seemed to be living (and dying) by the three-run homer. Something that I seemed to overlook was how "slow" my team was. The starting lineup featured a 3,5,9,9,10,10. Mostly not snails, but not the track stars that help you score runs, in a league that sometimes requires that.
Having Polanco as my only backup infielder hurt too. The 42 times that Relaford had to sit, left me with no choice but to let Polanco bat with runners on, in close games, as if I pinch-hit for him, I would be forced to go through the whole scenario another time.
I also drafted some luxuries that I probably couldn’t afford. Javier, as the extra outfielder for pinch-running only. Segui as the DH-PH. And these things cost me an extra infielder, and an extra catcher.
I also once again drafted a bunch of non-descript 11Z relievers, who, in Greg’s words, "the only good thing about them is that they aren’t 7s or 8s.
I made a bunch of what I thought were good picks, and heard from others in the league that they were really good picks. Helton, Aurilia, Zimmerman (yes, at the time, I and some others thought he was a steal), Edgar,and Segui. Not necessarily great picks, but even before the season started, they looked somewhat like "steals". But what hurt me was that I countered those good picks with the bad, or questionable ones. Cameron, Radke, Relaford, Dye, Polanco, Shaw, or practically my whole middle of the draft. And that is where I always say teams are made or not, in the middle of the draft.
Once again, I hope I can learn from my mistakes, and come back stronger next year. Somewhere, I think George is smiling.
Writer's note. Sorry if I bored you. This was kind of a labor of love for me. I started writing this before the winter meeting, and now here it is more than a year after last year's winter meeting, meaning in my mind that last season endured for more than a year. But I forced myself through this, as I vowed not to start scouting until I finished this! It was not nearly as funny as Bob's, and not nearly to the point as Ken's, but it is my team, and how I remember them. Good chance that it is the most thorough review ever! It is one of my regrets that we don't have more SL things in print, and to the dismay of people like Cousin Chad! Anyways, it is time for a new season, and I am ready. Like others, I hope to correct my mistakes from last season, and see you in the playoffs next year!