A new twist this year. I planned it like this all along: Rather than pie-in-the-sky predictions at the beginning of the season, when so much is unknown about our rosters and the prospects of many players, my analysis this season arrives after two months of games have been played, and we can begin to learn something about our teams. The standings as of June 9 reflect a variety of factors, from Draft Day wisdom to injury plagues to strategic early-season moves to surprising luck, good and bad. Here is my take on each team’s first 1/3 of the season, current status, and potential for the rest of the year. Keep in mind: It’s A Long Season. (I just made that up.)
What’s gone right:
The trade of Blalock and Timlin
for K. Brown and Cuddyer is a good
trade, helping both teams, but especially
foresighted for the Cities, who got a quality contributor in Cuddyer in
addition to the ace we needed in Brown.
Our free agent pickups have been better than I ever could have
hoped: Sierra, Infante, Rowand. Not dumping Jose Jiminez,
when he had been lit up and then injured, was a smart
move, as Jiminez looks like he now has the closer job in
What’s gone wrong: Consistent problems with our pitching staff have been the biggest problem for the Cities so far, especially in the area of ERA. Terry Adams was a nice pickup for his brief closer duties, but at a high ERA/ratio cost. Even Brown has given up a lot of runs since joining the Cities. Gabe Kapler has been a disappointment after being handed the Red Sox’ RF job after Nixon’s injury. Coco Crisp has similarly punted his starting opportunity.
Nomar coming back any day, Brown due to
improve, the stabilization of Jiminez as a closer, and steady
the likes of Gobble,
2. Goldman Pets. Sometimes called the Bets, but never the Best, they might more properly be labeled the Bridesmaids, as this franchise is always in the hunt, but has never tasted ultimate victory. This year’s edition certainly has the Bats, but perhaps not the Balls to go all the way. On paper, you’d never expect that a pitching staff which boasts 4/5ths of what was supposed to be a killer Seattle Mariners rotation (Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, Joel Piniero, Gil Meche), as well as Jose Contreras, C.C. Sabathia, and Mark Redman would be at the bottom of the league in Wins and Ratio. But the Mariners themselves have fallen on hard times, and the Pets’ pitching has fallen with them. On the hitting side of the ledger, however, they’ve been tearing up the league. A lot of that is attributable to the spectacular season that Melvin Mora is having, along with solid contributions from Hideki Matsui, Javy Lopez, Jose Guillen, and the comebacking Jermaine Dye. Their especially strong at R+SB, currently well ahead of the field, with Carl Crawford and Mora among the league leaders.
What’s gone right: Many of the keepers that they retained from last season have paid off big time, including Mora ($3), Teixeira ($7), Crawford ($5), K-Rod ($5), and Ibanez ($10). Both Sabathia and Garcia have been among the league leaders in ERA and Ratio, but without the Wins to show for it.
What’s gone wrong:
On the other hand, several relatively high
priced draftees and keepers have not yet earned their salaries,
especially Aubrey Huff, and Corey Koskie. They are in
desparate need of Saves, as Arthur
Rhodes has been a disappointment so far in
Outlook: This pitching staff has got to do better than it has, possibly a lot better. With no major holes in the lineup, the Pets will be in a strong position to consider a variety of trade options to upgrade almost any position for the second half. Just enough for another run at second place.
3. Skid Rowes. The perennial Team to Beat is doing it again. Even with half a dozen hitters on the disabled list, they still have the best offense in the GoodIV League, thanks to the monster year that Manny Ramirez is having, along with All-Star caliber campaigns from Travis Hafner, Jorge Posada, and Matt Lawton. It seems that every hitter this team touches turns into Ty Cobb; they must have a great batting coach. On the pitching ledger, they’ve benefited from the breakout season by
What’s gone right:
Youkilis has opened eyes in both Skidville and
What’s gone wrong: Not much, since even all the injuries haven’t slowed them down. Rich Aurilia has been a bit of a washout for the Mariners and Skids. Luis Matos and Kevin Millar have gotten off to slow starts, but are picking up the pace. Johan Santana hasn’t had the breakout season that some (me) predicted for him.
Outlook: Like I say, these are the Skids, and they’ll be in the hunt for first place all season long. It will be interesting, and a bit scary, to see what they do when they start getting most of their regulars back, including Trot Nixon, who hasn’t played all season.
4. Bomol-Sampson Die Hards. The hardest working GM in the league has little to show for his deal-making in the standings so far. There’s too much talent on this roster for them to stay down very long, however. Studs like Ichiro, A-Rod, Bret Boone, Johnny Damon, and Ken Harvey should be good for the upper echelons of the batting categories, not the near last-place in RBIs that this team currently faces. They did lost a couple of decent hitters to the D.L. at the beginning of the season: Ellis Burks and Travis Lee, but injuries haven’t been the culprit here, just slow starts by some of the big guns. Still, they’ve gotten more than could be expected from the likes of Ron Belliard, Chone Figgins, and Juan Uribe. Of course, it’s been the pitching staff where the real adventures have occurred. They’ve got a solid Cy Young candidate in Mark Mulder. Meanwhile, they traded away another one in Mike Mussina for questionable returns like Hasegawa, Olivo, and Greinke. They’ve also played musical chairs with Mike Maroth, Brian Anderson, Darrell May, and a host of others. Now they’ve taken on reclamation project Derek Lowe, and good luck to them. But by trading Urbina for him (and farmboy Mike Macdougal), they seem to have forsaken Saves.
What’s gone right:
What’s gone wrong: Too much shuffling in and out of half-decent pitchers has probably cost the team overall in ERA and Ratio. The Mussina trade looks bad so far, as he’s gone on to 6 Wins for the JJs, but Greinke has started strong, so the jury is still out. Joe Crede has been a major letdown up to now.
Outlook: If they can settle down the pitching staff, the ample bats will have a chance to carry this team back near the top where they challenged until the final week last season.
5. Hammerin’ Eggerts. Rising toward the money for the first time in recent memory, the HamEggs have obtained surprising pitching performances from a band of mostly bargain basement pickups. Justin Duchscherer has been excellent, Jason Frasor has won Toronto’s closer job, Cliff Lee, Rich Harden, and Kelvim Escobar have all been well above average: the combined price of all five of these contributors is $26. And with Mariano Rivera on board, the staff is set for Saves and solid in ERA and ratio. The grab-bag offense is less of a sure thing, however. Veterans Edgar Martinez, Bernie Williams, and Bobby Higginson have contributed numbers well below their traditional levels, and the likelihood is that these guys will decline further as the season wears on. Still, if the remaining studs on the roster, led by
What’s gone right: Frasor was a great pickup. Rivera has continued to look like the greatest closer of all time. Marcos ($33) Scutaro was a smart early season grab. Dumping Ponson looked like a mistake at first, but turned out to be prescient.
What’s gone wrong: A number of hitters have failed to produce as advertised, including the above-mentioned veterans, plus Toby Hall and Eric Munson. Jeter got off to a terrible start, and is only just recovering. Ponson was a bust.
Outlook: They will probably need to make a major pre-deadline deal, giving up cheap young talent such as Lee or Jody Gerut in exchange for some stud dumpees, to boost themselves into the top levels of the pennant race.
6. Legere Baby Boomers. This seems to be the quintessential “average” team: not too bad, just not that great, either. As such, they probably have plenty of room to move up or down in the months ahead. With Roy Halladay now on the D.L., their pitching staff reeks of mediocrity, anchored by the likes of Doug Waechter, John Halama, and John Lackey. For some reason, Jeremy Bonderman is still hanging around, too. Their bullpen is more impressive, however, with both Eddie Guardado and newly minted Royals closer, Jeremy Affeldt. The loss of Garret Anderson for most of the season so far has been a big blow. They’ve also been jinxed by less than stellar performances from Carlos Delgado, Alfonso Soriano, and Joe Randa, among others. With
What’s gone right: Tino Martinez has had a strong return to the A.L., and both Willie Harris and Laynce Nix have been welcome contributors. Both Affeldt and Scot Shields have been great $1 keepers, and Shields should get even more Save chances with Troy Percival out. Scott Schoenweis is having a surprisingly good season for the White Sox.
What’s gone wrong:
Outlook: Toss a coin: they could go up or down, or stay where they are. Health is crucial, but so is some kind of upgrade to the starting pitching. Their bats will probably get hot sometime soon, which might allow a hitter-for-pitcher trade with one of several teams.
7. Kess-Freedman Jay Jays. This team is quite an anomaly, which is no surprise of course. They lead the field in both ERA and Ratio, mainly because their pitching staff is made up almost entirely of wanna-be closers and other relief pitchers (Baez, Betancourt, Carter, Ligtenberg, Marte, Riske). Yet they are only in the middle in Saves. They’re second in OBA but dead last in R+SB, meaning their guys must get thrown out stealing a lot, or something. Actually, their guys who get on base the most, like Jason Giambi, Scott Hatteburg, and Erubiel Durazo, are the slow, lumbering type, not fleet leadoff hitters in the Rickey Henderson mold. There’s plenty of additional talent here, including Miguel Tejada, Gary Sheffield, and Mike Mussina, for whom they traded a couple more relievers (Quantrill, Hasegawa). Nevertheless, it is uncharacteristic of a Jay Jays team to be so far down in at least two hitting categories (they’re near the bottom in TB as well, although also near the top in RBI). The holes in their lineup are many: Melhuse, Enrique Wilson, Perry, Timo Perez. With their threadbare starting pitching, it’s going to be hard for this team to maintain its customary spot at the top of the league, let alone match last year’s unprecedented championship campaign.
What’s gone right: The Jay Jays managed to grab Brandon Inge just in the nick of time, and he’s been a solid contributor. Omar Vizquel is having a surprising revival season. The trade for Mussina was a master stroke at the time, although if Greinke keeps it up, that assessment may change.
What’s gone wrong: They haven’t had quite the same magic touch for finding hidden closers as they’ve done in the past. Riske, Ligtenberg, and Betancourt have all flirted with closer roles, only to give them back. Both Torii Hunter and Mark Kotsay have not lived up to their expected performance levels. Giambi has been hurt a little, and also hasn’t quite delivered what you’d expect, so far.
Outlook: With all of their inadequacies, the Jay Jays are doing surprisingly well on the whole, but it’s entirely on the strength of their 1st place standings in both ERA and Ratio, as delivered by their middle relief corps. This is a tenuous situation, because we all know that such relievers can quickly go into the tank, and a couple of bad outings can crash those numbers rapidly. Hence, the outlook for the Jay Jays is more likely a downward trend than upward. But they are more than capable of dealing their way to a more formidable and durable position, so I’m not counting them out of the race by any means.
What’s gone right: Sanchez has been a $7 revelation, and Rondell ($8) White has been close behind. Meanwhile, Lew Ford may be the best in-season pickup of the year so far. Jake Westbrook has been solid if not spectacular. Raul Mondesi was a shrewd grab that may pay off.
What’s gone wrong: Besides the injuries, several hitters have not lived up to expectations, including Scott Speizio, Adam Kennedy, and John Olerud. Drafting the disabled Donnelly and Wickman for a buck each, in the hopes of activating them later, remains a dubious bullpen strategy at this juncture.
Outlook: Chances are that their current position, up in pitching and down in hitting, will reverse itself in the coming months, as the lineup gets healthier, while the fill-in pitchers do damage to the team’s ERA and ratio. It’s a team that requires delicate management to stay in the race for the long haul.
What’s gone wrong: The Ponson debacle is just the tip of the iceberg, along with the rash of major injuries. Billy Koch has been no bargain as a closer, either. Carlos Pena was awful until his recent 6-for-6 outburst.
Outlook: It’s early enough that, if they can get the roster healthy, they can rejoin the middle of the pack, but they need some luck on their side for a change.
10. Rowe-(Gambale) Mud Hens. This is a strange, unhappy team so far. Nearly leading in RBI, last in OBA. Terrible pitching numbers from a staff with 3 of the last 5 AL Cy Young awards in Pedro Martinez and Barry Zito. Their gamble on the other members of the Red Sox’ staff – Lowe (before they traded him), Arroyo, Kim, Mendoza – met the same fate as the Sox themselves are confronting: unreliable and ineffective. Traditionally foregoing the Saves race, the Mud Hens are now making a play, adding Uggie Urbina through a trade to Jorge Julio (UU + JJ). They’ve also taken stabs at recently (and perhaps prematurely) released Victor Zambrano and Darrell May, in the hopes that they can turn their ugly pitching results around. Fixing the hitting will be harder, with Troy Glaus out for most of the season, and a dearth of real studs outside of David Ortiz and the surprising Michael Young. At this point, it looks like Pedro’s record of never being on a GoodIV League winning team is not in jeopardy.
What’s gone right: Young’s excellent season has been one of the few bright spots. Paul Konerko seems to have returned to prominence, as did Glaus before he got hurt. Ortiz has proven he was no fluke. The trade of Lowe for Urbina may help both teams, but the extra saves should be a plus in the standings.
What’s gone wrong: All of the unexpected downturns by premium pitchers really hurt the Team That Knows Pitching. The mediocre hitting numbers can’t be blamed on bad luck, however, as this team didn’t have a very strong lineup from the beginning. Still, they’ve suffered sub-par performances from Rocco Baldelli, Eric Hinske, Angel Berroa, and others.
Outlook: It’s not too late to turn things around, especially with that core pitching staff. But they would need the aces to pitch like aces, and then probably to trade one of them to get back in the race on offense.
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