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Tuesday 17th Oct 2017

It certainly is that time of year. We are deep enough into the season that if we have a competitive team, things are beautiful. If we are in a throwback league, however, and are not in the running, it means football season could not come soon enough.

But, those of us who play in Dynasty and Sim leagues are busy trying to plot for 2018 as I write. The trade wire in my keeper leagues has already kicked into gear, and I have tried to be active, save in the MidWest Strat-O-Matic League, where I am having a miserable 2017 in anticipation of a fantastic 2018.

Just based upon the 2017 totals of many of my players, I will actually have not just good starters at every slot, but a full rotation with the amazing surplus of two extra starting pitchers, and in a 30-team league with strict usage issues, the existence of Luis Perdomo and Jesse Chavez is tantamount to manna from heaven.

I do have a decent starting eight, and enough starters that I can rotate around to ensure that usage rules are not abridged. We are allowed 20% over a player's AB/IP the previous season, but with no injuries. Overuse reduces the number of freezes a team can retain.

With a core of Travis Shaw, Marcell Ozuna and Yonder Alonso in a very deep, 30-team league where usage is indeed enforced, that is a golden troika of hitters. Throw in Zack Greinke, Ervin Santana, Jimmy Nelson and Alex Wood as my pitchers and next year is looking so good.

The problem is, if you remember the numbers of those guys, you can see just how rugged last year (remember, we sim the previous season) was and how fine 2017 looks to be.

 Player  2016 Stats  2017 Stats  2016 WHIP/OBP  2017 WHIP/OBP
 Alonso .253-7-56 .273-21-45  .316 .373
 D. Santana .256-11-32 .290-16-51 .345 .381
 Shaw .242-16-71 .295-25-61 .306 .363
 Greinke  13-7, 4.73  11-4, 2.97  1.273  1.047
 E. Santana  7-11, 3.38  11-6, 2.99  1.219  1.108
 Wood  1-4, 3.73  11-0, 1.56  1.260  0.877
 Nelson  8-16, 4.62  8-5, 3.43  1.517  1.227

So, I will have to muddle through 100 or so more games this year plugging the gaps with Jordan Pacheco, Xavier Scruggs in the outfield, Erik Kratz at catcher, and Rob Refsnyder.

In fact, my team is just off an eight-game losing streak wherein we could muster no more than four hits off Larry Dierker. Larry Dierker, you ask? Well, to alleviate those tight usage rules, we are allotted two each of hitters and pitchers. All are set up for the worst fielding, baserunning, and skills as the game will allow, meaning the players represent bad placeholders to save us from ourselves.

Well, in the throes of my losing streak--during which I should mention Lord Zola's team swept me for the second time this year, here-to-fore unheard of--I faced Larry Dierker (we are allowed to name these players whatever we like). The Dierker Strat card reflects a pitcher with a 7-35 mark, a 7.50 ERA and a WHIP of 2.00, meaning even a guy like Kratz, with an .094-1-5 line last year, should be able to at least work a walk, right?

Afraid not, for all we could muster was four measly hits and it is only by the grace of Travis Shaw's two-run tater that we were not shut out.

I do like to play games, and though I try to avoid any kind of killer competitive instincts, I still like to play hard and to win, so biting in over seven or eight really offensive games is tough to swallow no matter how delicious 2018 might appear right now.

At this point, my goal is to ensure that like it or not, Kratz, Pacheco and Scruggs get all the playing time they can donate to keep the really good fun core of my squad together for next year.

That means facing a pitcher better than the Dierker set up will make the path forward a very tough 100 games. It will be a tough row to hoe. And, I gave Diane very strict instructions should my kidney fail or an airplane fall out of the sky and crash into me between now and next year's Opening Day.

But I think I can make it, know what I mean?

I will almost always respond if you track me down @lawrmichaels.


If you read my stuff, or follow me on Twitter because you want to see my thoughts on baseball, football, rock and roll, and I suppose now golf, and are sometimes irritated or put off by my writing about politics or social events, I need to write three things here.

First, I am sorry but this will kind of be another one of those. Second, I would appreciate your indulgence in continuing to read. Because third, I want to explain my reasoning.

As a prelude, I vote to the left. I supported Bernie Sanders, am seriously pro-choice and believe climate change is a serious issue all of us Earthlings need to collectively attack.

It is no secret that my parents fled the Holocaust. My father was pushed out in 1936, at age 19, from his home in Leipzig and the rest of his family that did get out settled in London. In fact, my grandfather and uncle were arrested on "Krystalnacht," and it was only due to money and political influence that my grandmother was able to secure their release.

My mother, conversely, was 14 when her family fled from Stuttgart, also in 1936, paying a fortune to be able to leave and drag some possessions with them (my folks met in San Francisco in 1939). And, again, they had money, but were forced to spend it for their passage to America was on the Queen Mary, believe it or not. And, for the archives, both my grandfathers served loyally in the German Army just 20 years earlier in WWI.

It has always been ironic to me that my parents, who claimed to be and embrace left-wing liberal ideals, though, still remained bigoted in so many ways. A lot of this was their German roots, but both my grandfathers were orthopedic surgeons and my folks grew up relatively wealthy and they retained those sensibilities even though upper middle class--which was actually quite remarkable--was the best they could really claim in America.

For example, my Jewish parents, who fled Germany with their lives because of that quirk of how and when they were born, looked down their noses at our fellow Jews who spoke Yiddish instead of "Hoch Deutsch" (meaning "high German," or that of the elites), something that puzzles me in so many directions my head spins.

Even as a kid, I knew that was wrong for some reason, not that I too don't have my snotty side from time-to-time, that judging others as you were judged either had to be filled with objectivity and understanding, at least to start for each of us, or it was simply bigotry. In fact, our temple proudly boasted "Love thy Neighbor as Thyself," words I bought into. And, I need to add we are all bigots of one kind or another, depending upon the circumstance. But, the challenge is acknowledging this and trying to move forward as humans if we want to be a successful species and planet.

Somehow, through all this, I seem to have come through with a sense of justice and my country of birth as a first generation American, in a kind of Superman way, if you know what I mean.

I believe, above all, in our freedoms of speech and thought and movement, and I believe all men, as in humans, are created equal and should be treated acccordingly unless they give us as society a reason to be isolated. And, for some reason, it is important to me to speak out when I feel these basic human rights are being abridged or taken for granted. For, they do not just belong to a place or time, but must always be defended even if speaking out is uncomfortable (which it usually is as people don't want to move out of their comfort zone) or even seems contrary. After all, there are indeed always two sides.

In sharing some of the thoughts above with friends, in columns, and even on Twitter, I have often got the response, "I know, but I hate politics and I just want to live quietly," which is something I understand, to be sure. On the other hand, that is what my Great Uncle Leo said to my grandfather as to why he was staying in Germany while much of the family was exiting. 

Uncle Leo and his family were arrested a short time later and sent to Brikenau, we all believe, their possessions seized, never to be heard from again. Sadly, they were not the only members of my family to be exterminated, for that is indeed what it was.

As a result, I try to speak out on what I see as statements or thoughts that are bigoted or ignore the fact that there could be another side to a story. I try to be neutral when I do this, trying to frame my thoughts to "I think", noting that my thoughts do not represent anything other than mine. But that is the point, for most of the bigoted statements spoken would take on a different sheen if we all just paraphrased with something being our opinion.

Second, I do like facts. If you read me, you know I like statistics, even if I am not a math guy. So, reading things like "all the immigrants want to do is come here and overthrow us" (not quoting anything or anyone in particular) is not true until someone shows me the numbers to back this up. Similarly, especially if you like baseball, you live by stats, so ignoring those that don't seem favorable does not make them go away, or any less true.

I don't believe in censorship. I will never block someone on Twitter, though I accidentally hit the wrong button once and did and was then blocked on the other end. That made my trying to apoligize for the mistake even more crazy, right? But, I can always unfollow or just ignore someone if I choose.

So, I try hard to be objective and even-keeled.

If you are a reader, or follower, or hopefully both, and this stuff clogs your timeline, or causes grief when you really want to read about the Eloy Jimenez/Dylan Cease for Jose Quintana swap, I am sorry for these occasional divergences.

But, unfortunately, at least to me, sometimes our freedoms and thoughts and speaking out about and against what is wrong is a lot more important than baseball, or football, or god forbid, even golf.

Thanks for indulging me. I try to keep it to a minimum.


You can publicly disagree with me @lawrmichaels. 

Yesterday we honored The All Star Break by looking at the roto dogs of the year, so today, let's look at those underpriced guys who are delivering big seasons.

Note that for dollar value purposes, I used the Tout Wars auction prices which can be checked here. Obviously, depending upon your league and rules, results could be a lot different, but I used the leagues with experienced players using pretty much standard formats as a barometer. The values listed were from the AL/NL only drafts.

C Caleb Joseph $1: It is kind of tough finding a star catcher since the best, who were the most expensive, are either producing pretty well or are Jonathan Lucroy. But, in the realm of $1 backstops, Joseph and his .282-3-14 line over 142 at-bats is exactly what I hope for out of a $1 catcher. Honorable mention to Robinson Chirinos, also a buck, who is hitting only .224, but has 12 dingers over 116 at-bats.

1B Justin Smoak, $2: It is tempting to throw Yonder Alonso here, but for two bucks less Smoak has four more homers, 14 more RBI, and 15 points in batting average. (Note just that difference is better than Alex Gordon has managed to hit all year.)

2B Scooter Gennett $0 FAAB: Gennett, a $0 FAAB acquisition of Grey Albright in Tout more than deserves the props beyond his four-homer game since he has a .317-14-46 line over 202 at-bats.

3B Jedd Gyorko $10: Second most productive third sacker, who hit 30 homers with 59 RBI last year, has 13 dingers and 42 knocks to go with a .305 average.

SS Zack Cozart $5: .316-9-35 with a .946 OPS for five bucks? Seriously?

OF Avisail Garcia $3: .313-11-51 with a couple of steals on a young team without a lot of pressure is helping Garcia realize his potential.

OF Ben Gamel FAAB $101: Gamel spent the first month of the season in Tacoma, making him a FAAB pickup in most leagues. All he has done is return the acquisition by delivering .328-4-28 totals with 42 runs scored.

OF  Aaron Judge $3: .330-30-66 with six swipes? Truly, no one saw this coming.

SP Jason Vargas $1: Wow, a 12-3, 2.63 ERA mark from a $1 hurler. The only issue with Vargas is his whiffs are low at 78 over 104 IP. Honorable mention to Ervin Santana who for $5 has a 10-6, 2.99 mark with 91 strikeouts over 108 frames.

RP Greg Holland $5: Major League Leader in saves (28) to go with 43 whiffs over 33.3 innings with a 1.62 ERA.

If you disagree, let me know @lawrmichaels.

The All Star Break is here which means a few days to chill from stats (if that is possible), ideally some time to spend with the fam (and especially taking the squeeze out for dinner), along with either taking stock of our baseball teams for the grueling second half (or starting to seriously plot one's Fantasy Football teams for the coming drafts).

Well, since we are indeed at some down time, and since Zach is on vacation tomorrow, let's look at the guys I think are the Roto Dogs today, and tomorrow the low-priced gems who are indeed helping push to a pennant for our teams.

Note that for dollar value purposes, I used the Tout Wars auction prices which can be checked here. Obviously, depending upon your league and rules, results could be a lot different, but I used the leagues with experienced players using pretty much standard formats as a barometer. The values listed were from the AL/NL only drafts.

C Jonathan Lucroy $22: After being one of the strongest offensive catchers let alone hitters in the game the last few years (2016 line was .292-24-81), Lucroy going to hitting friendly Texas with a nice gaggle of hitters around him meant the numbers could kick up a little. .255-4-25 is the return in a season when Kurt Suzuki, who was an afterthought in most leagues has seven homers. 

1B Adrian Gonzalez $19: With 11 straight seasons of 18 or more homers to go with 90 or more RBI, AGone has been one of the steadiest producers on the planet for the last decade in Major League Baseball. But this year the bottom didn't so much fall off as it was disintegrated as injuries, and apparently age, have caught up to Gonzalez to the tune of .255-1-23

2B Jonathan Villar $29: .209 with 16 steals and a .279 OBP for a nearly $30-player says it all.

3B Manny Machado $35: Machado's year really isn't so terrible at .224-18-45, though his OBP of .279 is pretty wretched, but from a guy who hit .294-37-96 last year with a .343 OBP, that is a tough regression for $35 dollars worth of salary cap.

SS Brandon Crawford $15: This was tough with Trevor Story ($26) and Dansby Swanson ($15) both delivering, or should we say not delivering anything close to numbers at least desired. Add in I really like Crawford who has improved his hitting so much, giving us back-to-back 84 RBI seasons leading up to this years .221-7-40 line with a paltry .260 OBP. At least that could make him a bargain next year.

OF Alex Gordon $15: Another tough one as I dropped $9 on Tyler Naquin for literally no production, but the fall-off in Gordon has been so severe it is almost disturbing. But, the former All Star has just a .198-5-26 mark thus far making him barely worth a buck in just about any league anywhere.

OF Kyle Schwarber $24: We have all been over this enough, and Schwarber has hit 12 bombs, but with a .170 average. I think the problem is we all assumed he was the can't miss kid and we were right: he misses pitches on a more than regular basis.

OF Byron Buxton $21: The power numbers were what owners were salivating over with 12 hit over 138 big league games leading into this year for the then 22-year old. The conventional wisdom was now a vet, in his third year, Buxton would kick it up a notch. .214-5-16 is what the "notch" replied.

SP Justin Verlander $24: Another Cy Young potential season was thought all around after Verlander's strong 2016, but the results are a sorry 5-5 mark with a 4.96 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, and a dozen dingers surrendered over just 98 frames.

RP Sam Dyson $11: 0-4 with four blown saves and a 10.80 ERA was the reward for owners who went the Dyson route. As the Rangers dumped him, probably so did most roto players. And, though Dyson hooked on with the Giants (for whom he has three saves) it is hard to imagine owners picking him back up no matter how stellar Dyson's performance is.

Feel free to argue with me @lawrmichaels.

Last weekend, during a thread where Larry Schechter noted he was happy I turned down an offer of some FAAB $$ for Jesse Hahn (I needed Hahn to cover injured arms), Yahoo's Scott Pianowski noted that the days of the pitchers with the 4.00 ERA and 1.30 WHIP were not only here, but that most of us would be thrilled with this.

The general consensus of the Tweets, however, was that pitching sucks. Surely there is truth to that it seems, but I also had to consider if pitching was worse, or if hitting had gotten better, since that is the logical other side of the equation.

I have been pretty vocal about what, to me, seems to be the lack of strike zone skill empolyed by hitters, for the three true outcomes--homers, whiffs, and walks--seem to be what the game entails and what the next generation of fans like.

But, just in perusing the stats, it did indeed seem to me that OBP was down all over Major League baseball these past few years, so that is why I puzzled at pitching being that much worse than hitting.

So, I went to the Baseball Reference for reassurance, and I was surely surprised by what I found, that OBP this year was its highest since 2010. 

In fact, here are the pitching and hitting numbers since 2010.

Note that numbers below are per nine innings. *=season in progress

2017* .324 3.27 8.23 1.26
2016 .322 3.11 8.03 1.16
2015 .317 2.90 7.71 1.01
2014 .314 2.88 7.70 0.86
2013 .318 3.01 7.55 0.96
2012 .319 3.03 7.50 1.02
2011 .321 3.09 7.10 0.94
2010 .325 3.25 7.06 0.95

The corollating pitching numbers, for the season. *=half-season, roughly.

Year WHIP Total BB Total K Total HR
2017*  1.339 7654 19286 2962
2016  1.325 15088 38982 5610
2015  1.294 14073 37446 4909
2014  1.275 14020 37441 4186
2013  1.300 14640 36710 4661
2012  1.309 14709 36426 4552
2011  1.316 15018 34488 4613
2010 1.347  15778 34306 5042

I was indeed surprised by some of these totals. First, over the past 50 years, the Strikeout-Per-Nine total was 4.84, and that number has essentially been moving up since 1951, when the average crossed the "4" line for good, although this was still a decade before expansion.

Second, despite the fact that whiffs have steadily increased, essentially since the beginning of statistical time, homers-per-nine and walks-per-nine still seem to fluctuate.

Next, between 1992 and 2010, the league OBP never dropped below .330, while this season's 1.339 WHIP is lower than any league WHIP from 1992 until 2010.

All of which suggests that in general, both hitting and pitching are not only not worse than they have been, but the combo might actually be a bit better than we anticipated.

Of course, this season is still in progress, as noted, but as we manage our teams, maybe that context of "maybe things are not as bad as we perceive them" is worthy of embracing. 

I certainly am trying to.

Hit me up @lawrmichaels, and play the monthly Fantrax game against me for bragging rights. Sign up here.

It is not much of a secret that I am a big fan of Strat-O-Matic, the delicious sim game created by Hal Richman. Strat, which I began playing in 1977, was indeed the game that whetted my appetite for Fantasy Baseball and all the craziness that has ensued both in my life, and that of the development of Fantasy Sports over the 40 years since.

Similarly, I like to play in tough leagues. Surely AL Tout and LABR are some fairly stiff leagues, and the mixed XFL might be the toughest roto format of all, a league in which I struggle to finish sixth no matter how many years or angles I am willing to sacrifice. My Scoresheet League boasts 24 teams, allowing just eight freezes, and that can be difficult, but my two Strat Leagues are the ones that I love managing.

There is something about playing out the games, for though there are no actual dice the way my leagues play out, there is still an active punching of the enter key to force play, and thought before each "pitch" for me.

Of the two leagues in which I play, one, the MidWest Strat League is a keeper format that allows us to freeze up to 28 players from year-to-year. As the game sims the previous year, there are usage rules so penalties can be invoked for overage and other infractions that cut into freezes, something that can hurt in a league where every at-bat and player is needed.

That contemporary player league is a 30-team configuration where each of us plays in the home park of a Major League team, playing out that team's schedule. For example, I play in ATT Park, so my Berkeley Liberators play the Giants home and road games, accordingly,

It is good fun, and I am more than excited about the prospects for my team next year for it includes surprises like Leury Garcia, Ariel Miranda, Jimmy Nelson and Ervin Santana.

But, nothing is as wild and crazy as my other league, the Summer League of Champions (SLOC) that is comprised of 24 teams, with each rostering 10 players drafted from the Hall of Fame set, and the remaining HOF players go into a player pool of a specific year the league agrees upon. 

This year, our 10-man freezes were augmented by 1961, meaning the likes of Rocky Colavito, Norm Cash and Roger Maris got tossed into the draft pool (remember, Mantle, Mays, et al were in the HOF set, so they were already drafted and not eligible out of the 1961 set).

I have struggled hard in this league over my five years in, trying to figure out how to win when Ralph Kiner is a bench player and Eli Gerba can face and whiff the Pirates great.

There are a couple of things that work out funny in a league with such strange personnel as Elio Chacoan and Bill Dickey sharing roster time, for all 24 teams have similar constructs, and what that means is hitting is largely everything, and no one is really out of it.

For either of my league's games are usually due a certain day of the month, and since Di and I had some airplane time going to New York and back, I played my dozen remaining games in the air coming home from the FSTA.

Playing these games out can be exhilirating, depressing, hypnotizing, and generally a lot of fun, But, the thing about these games is no one is really out of it, and getting those last three outs is indeed so difficult.

At least twice during my 12 contests, which started brightly with a pair of wins, then a pair of losses, then five straight strong and satisfying wins, which led into a brutal sweeping by the Mayberry Bullet, who bested me 5-4, 20-4, and then 13-1 to take any wind out of any sails I might have had.

At least twice during the home series my teams held six-run leads going into the seventh inning, and neither time could they hold it, and that is with Al Hrabosky and the great Webster McDonald topping my bullpen. 

I do see that hitting is everything, but over the years, especially with Strat, pitching always trumps the batters, so I am having a hard time giving up old habits that tell me having Bob Gibson is more important than having Stan Musial. 

But figuring this all out, and in the end being successful with it, is quite a reward when there are 23 other guys trying to do the same, no?

If you don't know Strat, and love the nuance of the game--Strat accounts for stealing and baserunning along with range and arm skills, the ability to hold runners and hit in the clutch, and a myriad of other micro plays within the game. Give it a try. Strat is pretty tough to give up once it's in your blood!

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

As it was June, that meant the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) was holding its annual Summer Convention. Diane and I always attend this soiree--there are now over 600 companies within an industry that generated $7.2 billion last year--for it means a handful of days in New York in addition to seeing so many buds in the industry.

As it was this year, Diane worked as the event photographer while I was drafting in the Experts B-League (which I refer to as "Beleaguered") for the industry has grown such that there are indeed "A" and "B" leagues, and though A gets the hype, B is no easier. Also note, the teams Todd and I have driven over the past four years always make the playoffs, and generally die in the championships. Not this year!

There is a caveat, however, that the winner of B moves "up" to A, and the last place A team is relegated to B. The draft allowed for a standard PPR 16-player roster which includes kicking and defense.

For a look at the results of the drafts, both A and B are hosted by our friends at Real Time Sports. For the archivists, here are my picks and rationale.

And, before you check out the players, for whom the comments will be brief, I did take a different route for me, going hard after Wide Receivers and then Running Backs who can catch before thinking of much of anything else. That meant fading at Quarterback, but that actually worked itself into my larger plan. In a 14-team league, I picked in the 13th slot.

T.Y. Hilton (WR): As long as he stays healthy, Hilton should catch 80-plus to go with 1000 yards and whatever scores follow. That is a start.

Amari Cooper (WR): This was a tough choice between Cooper and Dez Bryant. I went Cooper partially because I love the Raiders and their top pass catcher, and partially because I feared Bryant getting hurt.

Michael Crabtree (WR): Not a homer pick by any means, If I draft in the 13-hole, again there was a long wait for my next pick and Crabtree is not only very good, he is John Taylor to Cooper's Jerry Rice. Well, maybe not quite that good, but it is an analogy, for a good defense cannot double-team both of them and with Derek Carr, they will both get ample looks.

Paul Perkins (RB): In what appears to be an evolving offense, Perkins seems to be growing into the #1 RB slot. The second-year runner averaged 4.1 yards per carry last year along with 15 catches for 162 yards.

Bilal Powell (RB): Powell rushed for 722 yards last season while catching 58 passes for another 388 yards and should continue to be a major offensive cog.

Theo Riddick (RB): A great complement to Powell, Riddick missed six games last year but still ran for 357 yards and caught 53 passes for another 571 yards.

Cameron Meredith (WR): Quietly caught for 888 yards last year on 66 receptions.

Martellus Bennett (TE): Should now be a formidable weapon with Aaron Rodgers slinging the ball his way.

Philip Rivers (QB): I focused hard on RB and WR knowing the professional and productive likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Rivers would be around when I needed them. Rivers is such a pro and now he has a bunch of fun new weapons, all very good. Big fun, and a lotta potential points.

Cameron Kupp (WR): #3 pick of the Rams is a speedy selection who should get a lot of chances to strut his stuff on a young, changing offense. Kupp set collegiate Football Subdivision Championship all-time scoring, reception, and yardage records.

Robert Woods (WR): Was a Bill last year, but this year is a handcuff to Kupp where Woods should get a chance to improve upon his 61 catches and 613 yards earned last year.

Tyrod Taylor (QB): Taylor, who can run and throw, has yet to realize his potential, but he will, and I hope this year. He can score with the ball and pass, and as a tie to Rivers, I am good. 

Evan Engram (TE): All-American first-round pick of the Giants should get every chance to succeed. 

Jalen Richard (RB): A perfect foil to big Marshawn Lynch, Richard averaged 5.9 yards a carry, ran one for 75 yards and a score, along with 29 passes caught and should also figure big in the Oakland offense.

Graham Gano (PK): At this point, all kickers are alike. I will stream, pick, and choose.

Jacksonville Jaguars (DEF): Hoped to bag the Steelers (they open against the Browns) but they were sniped, so will stream depending upon the matchup and ideally stumble into something. 

You can hound me @lawrmichaels. Well, not really, but kinda. 


Last Monday, the MLB First Year Player Draft commenced to much fanfare. The draft is indeed a lot of fun, whetting the appetites of fantasy owners far and wide in anticipation of the next Mike Trout or Aaron Judge. 

However, it is indeed an arduous climb from the ranks of Top Prospect to everyday Major League play, so we should all remind ourselves it takes time for prospects to be big league ready, if they ever are. And also remember, the majority never will become full-time Major League ballplayers. 

It is, however, fun to speculate. So, here are ten names I have some hope for, and why. And, aside from Brendan McKay, they are in no particular order. (# in parens is overall draft number.)

Brendan McKay (#4, 1B, Rays): My favorite pick of the draft reminds me a lot of John Olerud, who was drafted by the Jays in the late 80's. Olerud played at Washington State for three years, hitting .443-33-131 while going 26-4, 3.17 over 241.3 innings. McKay, a lefty like Olerud, hit .327-28-131 while going 31-10, 2.15 over 310 Louisville frames. Olerud, who wound up a first sacker, hit .295-255-1230 over 17 years in the big leagues. Plus, Olerud made the Majors at the end of the year he was selected and he never went back. That is a pretty good profile, and is why I have the most faith in McKay making it.

Hunter Greene (#2, RHP, Reds): Hit .337-13-72 with 62 runs as a high schooler, while whiffing 145 over 121.3 innings, going 12-5 with a 1.62 ERA. He's a few years away to be sure, but at 6'4", 210 pounds right now, Greene should fill out all over.

Austin Beck (#6, OF, Athletics): A bit of a gamble as Beck hyper-extended his throwing arm in 2016, but he belted 12 prep homers his senior year while hitting .500 with a .700 on-base percentage. Apparently, he is a tools player, and a lesser first round name as Billy Beane is wont to grab. Remember Nick Swisher?

MacKenzie Gore (#3, LHP, Padres): Lanky lefty, throws hard with a fastball close to 95 to go with a solid curve and slider. He is just 18, so three-to-four years away anyhow. But, a hard-throwing lefty with control is hard to pass.

Jeren Kendall (#23, OF, Dodgers): We can expect a good pedigree from Jeremey Kendall's progeny, and Jeren hit .309-32-152 over three years at Vanderbilt with a .386 OBP. 193 whiffs, though.

Brian Howard (#231, RHP, Athletics): 25-5, 3,52 over 256 innings with 254 strikeouts at TCU and just ten homers allowed. Look at some of the arms the Athletics have drafted over the past years, and for sure they are good at the prospects. Whether the guys can stay healthy and have a career is another thing, but they for sure have been talented. 

Lamar Sparks (#158, OF, Orioles): This Texas High draftee can hit the high 80's with his fastball, and he has decent bat speed. But most important, he was a track star who ran a 6.5 100, which is pretty fast. Speed is what I look at first: how fast and fluid the guy is.

Heliot Ramos (#19, Of, Giants): The Giants nabbed the 17-year-old Puerto Rican as their first rounder, with speed akin to that of Sparks, plus power potential. And, the Giants have always done well mining Central America.

Keston Hiura (#9, OF, Brewers): What a great name for a ballplayer, so hard not to like. And, Hiura hit .375-22-135 over three years at UC Irvine, which makes another reason to love the kid who was an Anteater. Just 123 strikeouts as a collegiate to 93 walks, good for a .466 OBP.

Clarke Schmidt (#16, RHP, Yankees): The Pinstripes have been building within the Minors pretty well, so it is logical to look at the team's top pick this year. At South Carolina, Schmidt was 15-9, 3.21 over 230 innings with 254 strikeouts and a 1.23 WHIP. 

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I saw Edinson Volquez pitch as a member of the Reds in 2008, the year he won 17 games for Cincinnati. I was actually scoring the game for MLB.com, and Volquez made an impression upon me like two other young pitchers for whom I tracked every pitch. Johnny Cueto and Nathan Eovaldi were the other two, and the three had the most electric stuff I have ever seen in young arms.

As a result, it has been sort of disappointing, not that any of these guys has been bad; I just imagined Chris Sale-like totals from at least one of the troika. In fact, Cueto has been pretty good, Eovaldi has had flashes, but after 2008, Volquez switched from power pitching to nibbling corners, resurrecting himself into off-speed success in 2014. In fact, he was good enough for me to exploit that year and the next in deeper roto leagues, but last year I had to let go, with no thought of rostering under any circumstances this year. 

A lot of ESPN players were with me as Volquez is only owned in 26% of their leagues, and was acquired in 21.7% during the last week, after the Marlin tossed a no-no earlier in the week. Amazingly, Volquez rewarded his new owners with a second straight great start. In fact, Volquez has allowed just one run over his last 21 innings.

The real focus here is that a 33-year-old pitcher, on an iffy team, who has tried to reinvent himself, was just so in the zone on June 3 that none of the D-backs could hit him. And, for a wonderful nine innings, Volquez was among the best pitchers ever. 

Let's cut to last Tuesday, to the Reds, a team not unlike the Fish in that they have a lot of good and interesting young players, but are still in the process of defining themselves. Well, whatever else be said, 27-year-old journeyman/utilityman Scooter Gennett, with a career .281-42-191 line, had arguably the greatest single day at the plate, hitting four homers, driving in 10, and accounting for 17 total bases. 

Of all 17--six in the AL, and 11 in the NL--players who have hit four dingers in a single game, Gennett is the only one to have double-digit RBI, suggesting his day beat four-homer games by Willie Mays, Mike Schmidt, Ed Delahanty, Lou Gehrig and Chuck Klein, all Hall of Famers. But, it is not like some of the other guys who banged four big flies were slouches, for names like Bob Horner, Shawn Green, Gil Hodges, and Rocky Colavito also grace the list.

Like Pat Seerey, who hit four in a game in 1948 but only managed 86 for his career, or Bobby Lowe, who hit four in an 1894 game and totaled 71, though we do have to acknowledge he played in the dead ball era, Gennett is no more a star than is Volquez.

That, however, is one of the things that makes baseball so beautiful in my view, for guys like Volquez or Gennett can indeed rise to the occassion on a given day and turn in some eye-dropping numbers.

In my own time of witnessing the inexplicable, I scored Dallas Braden's perfect game, and witnessed Jose Jimenez' no-no, as well as the bizarre combined no-no Bob Milacki tossed, augmented by Marc Williamson, Greg Olsen and Mike Flanagan (Milacki was hit in the arm with a liner and had to leave the game).

In St. Louis a few years back, I saw Ryan Klesko hit two homers, coupled with a pair of doubles that banged off the center field wall at old Busch Stadium, finishing his day's work with a single on a day that with a little wind, Klesko might have made Gennett the 18th guy.

That means I have memories of those great moments from "lesser" players just like I saw Willie McCovey's final hit (a double off the wall at the old Stick), Ken Griffey Jr.'s first hit (also a double, off the Coliseum wall and Dave Stewart), along with Rickey Henderson setting the all-time base stealing record.

The beauty of baseball is that in my mental memory chest, all these performances swirl together, enhancing the wonder and magic of a game that is beautiful to watch, easy to understand, and impossible to figure out.

If you hate this, Tweet me: If you love it, Tweet me too @lawrmichaels.

Jim Bunning was one of the established MLB pitchers when I started seriously watching baseball in 1961. Like Whitey Ford and Warren Spahn and Robin Roberts and Don Drysdale, Bunning was just one of those stars, who managed to win 17 games for the Tigers that year, and another 19 the following season, and that suggested to me that he was a good player.

Certainly he was a great baseball card to get, having thrown his first no-no in 1958, and whiffing three Red Sox on nine pitches in 1959, then moving on to the Phillies where he tossed a perfect game in 1964 (interestingly giving Tracy Stallard, the same guy who allowed Roger Maris his 61st dinger in 1961, yet another losing end of a trivia question).

Bunning, as we know, retired from baseball in 1971, and moved on to have a lengthy career as a politician, going to Congress in 1986, then moving to the Senate in 1998.

It was in 1997, as Bunning was preparing his campaign for that move to the Senate the following year, that I met and had a brief exchange with the ex-pitcher.

As it was, when I started CREATiVESPORTS in 1996, working a fantasy job became a second career for me, so while I was at it, I joined the wonderful Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), attending the organization's summer convention in Kansas City that year, then a year later in Louisville, home to Bunning.

SABR offers a lot of good stuff over its three-day summer fetes, and that year we saw an Iowa Cubs game, and I walked around the old streets of the town that was pivotal to the South during the Civil War. To easterners, that might not be too interesting since the war was largely fought in the east, but for a Californian, whose idea of war was either Viet Nam or Peoples Park, I found the lovely old part of the city, with cobblestone streets, oozing with some quiet charm.

Pee Wee Reese, who passed away not long after the convention, was on a player panel along with Carl Erskine one night, and the next, Bunning delivered the keynote address to the group.

Mind you, politics was already changing a lot. In fact, even before Ronald Reagan ran for office in California, former actor George Murphy was appointed to the US Senate. And, by 1996 Jesse Ventura had already completed his term as Mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, and like Bunning's move to the Senate, things were gearing up for Ventura to challenge for the Governor's seat in his state.

At the time, there were gyrations around the presidential potential for 1998, although I don't think Bunning mentioned politics. But, when he finished his speech, the ex-hurler agreed to sign baseballs. Since I had a pretty good collection of Hall of Fame signed balls, I had brought one for Bunning to sign.

I went up to the podium, and waited my turn. And, before I continue, it is probably not much of a secret that my political beliefs, and those of the very conservative Bunning, would not be in synch. But as I handed my ball to him, I wistfully asked, "what do you think about the possibility of Jack Kemp winning the Republican nomination for President, and Bill Bradley winning the Democratic nod? Then the election would be between the NFL and the NBA?"

 Bunning sized me up--long hair, ripped jeans, high top Cons--and dismissively said, "That's ridiculous: nothing like that could ever happen."

I will acknowledge that I do not think and observe like the rest of the world, but I am pretty realistic, and the question did not seem nearly as preposterous to me as Bunning seemed to take it. For a year later, Ventura, a former professional wrestler, did win the top job in the state of Minnesota.

Perhaps my curious prescience was a lot more on target than Bunning's cocky and rather self-righteous attitude? Interestingly, though I still have the ball Bunning signed, his signature has all but faded from it, and the truth for me is I don't really care.

The reason being that though my question might have seemed silly, I was onto something, and deserved at least an "I hadn't quite thought of that angle," and maybe even have elicited a chuckle. But, that little interchange made it clear to me I didn't really like the guy, no matter how many games he won or whatever else he did.

I have actually thought about that moment with Bunning more often than I wished over the 20 years since it occurred, especially as our politics have moved from at least somewhat concerted and thoughtful compared to the ignorance and that same self-righteousness driving both how we pick our leaders, and sadly, how the elected then "lead."

I do wonder if Bunning, who did pass away last week, ever flashed on our interchange and said to himself, "damn, that hippie in Louisville was right." In truth, I doubt that ever happened, but the possibility of such an "I told you so" does make me feel somewhat vindicated. But, I am indeed loathe to call the late pitcher much more than a small-minded human being at a time when we needed more.

If you are familiar with the "Three True Outcomes," you know that within baseball nomenclature, the phrase refers to the strikeout, the walk, and the home run: the three baseball play instances that involve only the pitcher, catcher, and batter. That is, there are no defensive aspects to the clarity of the play.

Clearly the strikeout and homer are those things that dominate the game and our interest these days, something that is a far cry from the game I watched as a kid, which, in and of itself, was a far cry from the game being played 50 years earlier.

As long as I have been able to understand and interpret statistics, I have felt that walks and strikeouts were indeed the key numbers that are important in determining the potential success of a hitter.

Now remember, I am not a mathematician or scientist like my mate Lord Zola, so there are not necessarily probabilities or algorithms that lie at the bottom of my wonderings about numbers. But I have always felt that hitters who do get walks, and and keep the whiffs down, will become better hitters and as a result, producers.

But, at least as a player of simulation and Fantasy games involving baseball, it has been strange for me to see the rise of the whiff and the fall of the walk, although surely in deference to the big fly.

I did wonder over the last century just how much flux there had been in the increase of whiffs, to those of dingers, to the expansion of the leagues, and the ostensible drop off of the walk. Or, at least that was the theorem--if that is the term--under which I was operatiing, that although the number of homers might indeed be up, hitter effectiveness is certainly way down.

But, in sticking with the three true outcomes, I was surprised to see that over the decades, the average number of walks per game has indeed increased, but nothing like strikeouts, which are up almost six, while homers are up one entire home run over the turn of the 20th Century. 

Year # of Teams #of Batters League BB League K's BB per Game K per Game HR per Game
1900 8 188 3034 2681 2.67 2.3 .22
1910 16 508 7838 9667 2.97 3.87 .14
1920 16 495 6820 7247 2.76 2.94 .26
1930 16 493 7654 7934 3.1 3.21 .63
1940 16 514 8273 9049 3.35 3.66 .64
1950 16 530 9955 9554 4.02 3.86 .84
1960 16 575 8384 12815 3.39 5.1 .86
1970 24 849 13727 22374 3.53 5.75 .86
1980 26 916 13190 20212 3.13 4.8 0.73
1990 26 1030 13852 23853 3.29 5.67 0.79
2000 30 1230 18237 31356 3.75 6.45 1.17
2010 30 1249 15778 34306 3.25 7 0.95
2016 30 1353 15088 38982 3.11 8.03 1.16
2017* 30 1006 4690 11441 3.35 8.13 1.22

*In progress

The thing is, at least to me, while I dig homers, doubles and walks seem easier to come by, and walks and doubles and singles, even easier. More important, regular runners on base similarly adds advantage to the offense, for it forces the defense into a formation that potentially opens the area for a fair hit to be placed.

Similarly, it seems to me that working the count, forcing pitches, and working walks--which does not necessarily mean being a passive hitter--was a fun way to win, for playing small ball is a lot like David whipping Goliath, and that appeals to my sense of the underdog. However, looking at say the Royals of the 70's, who had great teams playing small ball, I have to think that is the defense to the Whiff/HR game that dominates today.

I do love watching teams rebuild, assembling the parts that will lead to success in a fashion the front office thinks will be successful. By the same token, I admire coaches like Bill Belichick, who see the game as the masses approach it, and figure out how to exploit in a different way, and to a new level.

That was what made Bill Walsh, Don Shula, and Tom Landry great football coaches, but similarly, seeing the path to victory differently is also what made Bobby Cox, Earl Weaver, Whitey Herzog, and maybe now Bud Black, who seems to have figured out how to make pitchers successful in Coors.

I guess what I am saying though, and what I miss with the game as it is played today, is that I like when players think, and while I admire power, outthinking and outsmarting the opposition has always been way more satisfying to me. 

I do think, however, that there will be a renaissance of small ball, at least with some teams and managers, and that maybe the beauty of the walk, as it forces the pitch and subsequent play, will get some better respect. It might slow the game down again, but to me the game becomes chess instead of checkers.

Holler at me @lawrmichaels.


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