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Tuesday 25th Apr 2017

In last month's MLB Draft, the sons of Mariano Rivera, Kirk Gibson, Craig Biggio, Roger Clemens and Mike Matheny were among the players chosen. In our last visit, we talked about current major leaguers with obscure family lineage and also touched on some family ties of players from the 50's and 60's.

On this visit, we'll move up the timetable to the 70's and 80's and while you'll probably recall most of the players from that era, remembering their dads might be a little more difficult.

> Buddy Bell, Indians and Rangers 3B (1972-89) - Gus Bell was a very productive outfielder in the 50's and 60's with over 200 home runs and 1,800 hits.

> Bob Boone, Phillies and Angels C (1972-90) - Ray Boone was an AL third baseman from 1948-60, made two All-Star teams and led the league with 116 RBI in 1955.

> Jim Campanis, Dodgers C (1966-70) - Al Campanis only had 20 at-bats for the Dodgers in 1943 but was the Scouting Director for the team from 1960-68 and the GM from 1969-87.

> Joe Coleman, Tigers P (1965-79) - The dad, also named Joe, pitched in the AL as a rookie in 1942, then again after World War II from 1946-55. He made the All-Star team in '48.

> Terry Francona, Expos OF (1981-90) - Tito Francona was a major league outfielder from 1956-70 and made the All-Star team as a member of the Indians in '61.

> Jerry Hairston Sr., White Sox OF (1973-89) - Sam Hairston was a catcher in the Negro Leagues from 1945-48 and played four games for the White Sox in 1951. His lifetime BA was .400 (2-for-5).

> Terry Kennedy, Padres C (1978-91) - Bob Kennedy was another big-leaguer who missed three years during the War. A 3B/OF, he played from 1939-1957.

> Matt Keough, A's P (1977-86) - Marty Keough was a major league outfielder from 1956-66 and still works in the game as a scout.

> Hal Lanier, Giants IF (1964-73) - Max Lanier pitched in the big leagues from 1938-53, mostly with the Cardinals.

> Vance Law, Expos IF (1980-89) - Vern Law pitched exclusively for the Pirates from 1950-67 and missed two seasons while in the military during the Korean War. He won the Cy Young award in 1960 when the Bucs won the World Series.

> Mel Queen, Reds and Angels P (1966-72) - The older Mel Queen pitched in the big leagues from 1942-52. The dad's lifetime ERA was 5.09. The son's was 3.14.

> Dick Schofield, Angels SS (1983-96) - The father, also named Dick, was a major league infielder from 1953-71 and long before NCIS, his nickname was "Ducky".

> Joel Skinner, White Sox, Yankees and Indians C (1983-91) - Bob Skinner roamed NL outfields from 1954-66 and had his best season for the champion Pirates in '60.

> Steve Trout, White Sox and Cubs P (1978-89) - Paul "Dizzy" Trout was a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher for the Tigers and his career spanned from 1939-52. He won 27 games in 1944.

> Mike Hegan, AL 1B and OF (1964-77) - Jim Hegan was a major league catcher for 17 seasons starting in 1941 and missed three full years during World War II. He made five All-Star teams in the late 40's and early 50's.

Die-hard fans also know that a few of the father-son combinations on our list also represented three generations of major leaguers. Buddy Bell's sons, David and Mike, appeared in the major leagues. Bob Boone's sons, Bret and Aaron, had productive careers. The third Coleman pitcher was Casey, who broke in with the Cubs in 2010. Jerry Hairston had Jerry Jr. and Scott become big league players.

Maybe we'll get to see Mariano Rivera Jr. pitch for the Nationals someday. Keep your eye on the bullpen.

With the emergence of the first Triple Crown winning thoroughbred in 37 years, the term "bloodlines" has been showing up on sports pages with regularity. Interestingly, during the same timeframe, MLB's 2015 amateur draft included 34 players who are the sons of former major league players.  

The reasons for teams selecting these players are certainly varied. As Mark Kram Jr. points out in a recent Sports Illustrated piece, having a gene pool heritage that includes major league talent is a factor, but it also helps that the youngster probably had a higher level of instruction and grew up within the proximity of pro sports. The history of the game has a few players who eclipsed the accomplishments of the father such as Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Roberto Alomar and Prince Fielder. More often than not, however, the son ended up as an afterthought, like Pete Rose Jr., Dale Berra, Tony Gwynn Jr., Kyle Drabek, Eduardo Perez and Bump Wills.  

For today's visit, we'll look at some obscure facts surrounding this phenomenon. First, a list of current major leaguers who are sons of former ballplayers, but not the obvious ones like Scott and Andy Van Slyke or Dee and Tom Gordon. These will be connections even a trivia expert might find challenging.

> Peter Bourjos, Cardinals OF - Chris Bourjos had five hits in 22 at-bats and one home run for the Giants in 1980...he is also the nephew of Otto Denning, who played two seasons with the Indians in 1942-43.

> Michael Brantley, Indians OF - Mickey Brantley played with the Mariners from 1986-89 and hit .259 with 32 lifetime home runs.

> Robinson Cano, Mariners 2B - Jose Cano was a pitcher who appeared in six games with the Astros in 1989...he had a record of 1-1.

> C.J. Cron, Angels 1B - Chris Cron had 25 major league at-bats for the White Sox in 1991 and 1992...he accumulated two hits for a lifetime BA of .080. He is also the cousin of former big league outfielder Chad Moeller.

> Jason Grilli, Braves P - Steve Grilli pitched for the Tigers from 1975-77 with a lifetime record of 4-3...he also had three saves and a 4.51 ERA.

> Chris Johnson, Braves 3B - Ron Johnson was in the Majors from 1982-84 but only had 46 lifetime at-bats with zero homers and two RBI.

> Joc Pederson, Dodgers OF - Stu Pederson was also a Dodger...in 1985, he went 0-for-4 in eight games and never played in the big leagues again.

> Neil Walker, Pirates 2B - Tom Walker was a big league pitcher from 1972-77 with a lifetime record of 18-23. He is the brother-in-law of Chip Lang (Expos P, 1975-76) and father-in-law of current Marlin Don Kelly.

Not to leave the Baby Boomers out, here are a few familiar names from the 1950's and 60's...the question is, did you know about their fathers?

> Tom Tresh, Yankees IF (1961-69) - Mike Tresh was a catcher for the White Sox in the 1930's and 40's and hit .249 with only two home runs in over 3,000 at-bats.

> Ray Narleski, Indians P (1954-59) - Bill Narleski was a Red Sox infielder in 1929 and 1930...he hit .265 in 358 at-bats with zero home runs.

> Don Mueller, Giants OF (1948-59) - Walter Mueller played in the outfield for the Pirates in the mid-1920's...he hit .275 with two homers in 345 at-bats.

> Doug Camilli, Dodgers C (1960-67) - Dolph Camilli had a very productive career as a first baseman with the Phillies and Dodgers in the 30's and 40's...won the NL MVP in 1941.

> Fritz Brickell, Yankees IF (1958-61) - Fred Brickell was an outfielder for the Pirates and Phillies in the 1920's and 30's...hit .281 over eight seasons. They are not related to Edie Brickell and therefore are not connected to Paul Simon.

> Earl Averill, Angels C (1956-63) - The dad, also named Earl, was an outstanding centerfielder for the Indians in the 1930's...led the AL in Hits and Triples in 1936. His nickname was "The Earl of Snohomish."

In a future visit, we'll look at the baseball lineage of players you remember from the 70's and 80's.

Legendary baseball executive Branch Rickey once said, "Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late." For the last 20+ years, Fantasy Baseball pundits have essentially said the same thing every time they tell us to "sell high and buy low" when it comes to players on our roster. My experience over that same timeframe, however, is that the vast majority of owners don't accept this advice. It just seems that we're blinded by an above average performance in a small sample size and don't approach the situation logically. If a veteran player with a lifetime .275 batting average is hitting .330 in mid-June, we can't seem to conclude that the last 3 1/2 months of the season will create a regression to the mean for that player. Instead, we think that he's found the magic bullet and will continue the onslaught on opposing pitchers.

On the flip side, you'd think fantasy owners would also try to find proven players who haven't performed well so far and target them in trades. In the AL-only keeper league I've played in for 25+ years, my team is having a lousy season. The analysis is easy, as the three most expensive hitters on the squad are Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and Victor Martinez. It's clear that the team will end up in the second division and none of those three All-Star caliber players will be keepers next year, but not one contending team has approached me about a potential deal. Do they really think Cano will hit .240 for the rest of the year? Or that Martinez will continue to hit .216 when he comes off the DL before the end of June? Or that Ellsbury won't still be a .300 hitter when he comes back in a week or two?

If you're in the camp that believes selling high or buying low might help you win your league, one of the tools to utilize is "Batting Average For Balls In Play" (BABIP). This advanced baseball metric measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit. It eliminates strikeouts, walks and home runs to only include balls put in play by the batter. Three main factors influence this statistic: defense, luck, and talent level. When analyzing an experienced player, luck is the key component we're looking to find. It helps us determine if selling high on this player is a wise decision. Through games of June 13th, major league hitters have an average BABIP of .296, so let's look at the top 15 BABIP leaders for 2015 and see if their performance might be sustainable.

> #1 Dee Gordon .415 - The Dodgers silently said that Gordon overachieved last season when they essentially traded him for Howie Kendrick. Speedy guys usually have a higher BABIP figure, but his .353 BA in 2015 is fueled by this MLB-leading figure. His 2014 number of .346 seems much more in line with reality, so watch for regression.

> #2 Kris Bryant .412 - There is no MLB track record for this phenom, but his line drive rate of only 21% seems to say that this BABIP isn't sustainable, so don't count on a .300 BA moving forward.

> #3 DJ LeMahieu .409 - This seems to have the word "fluke" written all over it and his BABIP was only .322 last season. If you're an owner of this player, the good news is that his line drive rate (29%) is second-best in the Majors this year, so a big drop-off isn't necessarily in the forecast.

> #4 Paul Goldschmidt .404 - If you looked up "underrated" in the dictionary, Goldy's picture would be there. His BABIP last season was .368 before getting injured, so this guy is the real deal.

> #5 Anthony Gose .400 - Last season, his BABIP was .317 and his BA was .226. If someone in your league thinks he'll continue to hit .288, listen to their offer.

> #6 Nelson Cruz .384 - His BABIP the last four seasons was .288, .295, .301 and .288...this won't last.

> #7 Jorge Soler .383 - Currently on the DL, this young outfielder had a .339 BABIP last year in 189 at-bats. That stat, along with a 29% line drive rate, says he's the real deal.

> #8 Jimmy Paredes .383 - Maybe the most interesting case study on this list, it would be easy to write this off as a lucky two-plus month stretch. On the flip side, he's only 26 and has never been given regular at-bats in the past. In his rookie season of 2011 when he had 179 at-bats, his BABIP was also .383...hmmm?

> #9 Jason Kipnis .371 - Finally appears to be healthy and is having a great season. His lifetime BABIP of .316 tells you to temper your expectations slightly, but his line drive rate of 28% shows his skills are intact.

> #10 Miguel Cabrera .370 - A normal performance for the future Hall-of-Famer, he leads the AL in OBP at .439 and OPS at 1.014.

> #11 Bryce Harper .368 - It's about time he had a decent season. After all, he is 22 years old. Even in an injury-plagued 2014, his BABIP was .352.

> #12 Brandon Belt .368 - A somewhat forgotten player this spring as injuries limited him to only 214 at-bats in 2014. If you think this number is due to luck, understand that this 27-year-old has the best line drive rate (32.6%) in the Majors this season.

> #13 A.J. Pollock .368 - He just might be this good, as last year's BABIP was .344 while he fought through injuries.

> #14 Matt Holliday .367 - Another player on the DL, his 2015 start was generated by this unsustainable number. He's 35 years old coming off a season where his BABIP (.298) was just about league average.

> #15 Prince Fielder .366 - Good to see this popular player come back from injuries with a splash, but he's leading the AL with a .347 BA thanks to this number. Even in his last productive season (2013), his BABIP was only .301.

As for my "buy low" All-Stars, Cano's BABIP of .283 is over 50 points less than his first season in Seattle and V-Mart's figure of .230 is over 80 points below his lifetime figure. Regression to the mean works in both directions.

In a couple of weeks, the Old Duck will make a presentation to our local community sports interest group about Fantasy Baseball. As most of the attendees will be from the Baby Boomer generation, they'll need to be reminded that young baseball fans have always played some sort of game that simulated our national pastime.

In ancient times, before personal computers and the Internet, board games were an important part of American culture. As youngsters in the 50's and 60's, we had a number of choices when it came to baseball-themed games and each one has its aficionados. American Professional Baseball Association (APBA) was first introduced in 1951. Created by Dick Seitz, it was played with dice and player cards representing both hitting and pitching statistics. The game caught on immediately and allowed fans to pass time during the off-season. As Seitz refined the game, it continued to gain popularity and is still sold today. And now, the game is offered in baseball, football, golf, hockey and soccer.

During the same era, Hal Richman was also developing a baseball simulation game and Strat-O-Matic was introduced in 1961. While it took a little longer to catch on (Richman had to borrow money from his father in the 3rd year), the game survived and now has a cult following and is updated each year with current players.

The game that took me and my friends away from our homework was called All-Star Baseball and it has a long and interesting history. First distributed in 1941, it was never as intricate as APBA or Strat-O-Matic and didn't include pitching stats, but for the target audience of 9-12 year-old boys, it was the most fun we could have while also learning the history of the game.

Ethan Allen was a major league outfielder from 1926-1938 and had a lifetime batting average of .300. He later was the head baseball coach for Yale University, winning five Ivy League championships in his 23 years at the school. For Allen, however, all of these accomplishments pale in comparison to his creation of this famous board game. The key to the game were player disks where the individual player's statistics were represented. Power hitters would have a larger home run area while contact hitters were more likely to hit singles, so when you placed the disk in the game's slot and spun the dial, the outcome of each at-bat would be based in reality. Youngsters would put teams together and then by making up a batting order of the disks, play out a nine-inning game to determine the winner. Results of each play are recorded on the field using plastic pegs for base runners, while runs and outs are posted on a rotating scoreboard.

To understand the genesis of the game, here's Allen's recollection in a 1983 interview with The Sporting News - "I had this idea, even when I was playing, that you could put a man's playing record on a disk. While I was with the Cubs in 1936, I went to various manufacturers with the hope of selling the idea to them as a game, only to have most of them practically kick me out of their offices."

The moment of truth happened when Allen approached a Chicago company called Cadaco-Ellis in 1940. Donald Mazer was the principal owner and had marketed other sports board games such as "Elmer Layden's Scientific Football", "Touchdown" and "All-American Football'. Mazer made a quick decision to add All-Star Baseball to the company's products and 40 star players of the day were included in the 1941 edition. The following year, 19 of them returned and the rest were replaced by other stars, and that's the way it worked for the next 50 years.

For an old codger, the memories of playing this wonderful game as an 11-year-old come rushing back. Other than the recollection of putting a band-aid on my index finger to alleviate the pain from hours of hitting the metal spinner, the clearest memory is the disks and the players they represented. By the 50's, the game had evolved and not only had disks of current stars like Ted Williams, Duke Snider and Hank Aaron, it also had added legendary Hall-of-Famers. We didn't need a baseball encyclopedia when we could look at the disk and understand the player's statistical attributes. Some of the players who would occasionally be in the lineup included Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Bill Dickey, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Walter Johnson, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Pie Traynor and Honus Wagner.

You see, some of us were playing Fantasy Baseball before Fantasy Baseball was cool.

Despite being a pro football fan for over 50 years, the Old Duck is pretty much fed up with the NFL/ESPN "Hooker - Pimp" relationship that has evolved over the years. From the Brett Favre comeback to the Ray Rice elevator cage match to Tom Brady's deflation issues, one ugly perception emerges...instead of reporting the news, ESPN is very often attempting to create the news. The ultimate example is the annual NFL Draft, which draws a huge audience and generates lots of dollars for the league and the network. Maybe the most telling fact is that when they moved the draft to Chicago this year, people were paying scalpers $1,500 for a ticket to get inside the venue. Think about that for a moment. Paying an exorbitant amount of money to sit in an auditorium for a couple of hours to hear 64 names being called. If that is considered exciting, imagine going to your child's high school graduation with hundreds of names being called. And guess what? You'll recognize more names at the graduation. Seriously, after Winston and Mariota, the average fan would have been stumped by the other 62. So, in my small way, I've started protesting this school of sports reporting by boycotting the NFL Draft and any other ESPN football programming prior to at least one exhibition being played. It might not seem like much in the big picture, but at least the TV in my house won't add to the ratings.

These thoughts lead to baseball's "First Year Player Draft" held this week. While MLB certainly would like to have the same level of fan enthusiasm as the NFL, the harsh reality is that it never will because the players chosen won't have an immediate impact on a fan's favorite team. The advent of the MLB Network, however, has now made the draft a little more relevant and for Fantasy Baseball players, it has become worthwhile viewing. If you play a keeper league format, especially with deep rosters, the names announced could be important to your success. If you like shortstops, the names Brendan Rodgers, Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman could be meaningful to you in 2016.

Let's take a look at some picks from the recent past and how they've panned out for fantasy players.

2006

If your current pitching staff is based on this draft, you're in pretty good shape. First round selections included Clayton Kershaw (#7), Max Scherzer (#11), Andrew Miller (#6) and Ian Kennedy (#21). Of course, other hurlers taken in the first round included Greg Reynolds (#2), Brad Lincoln (#4) and Kasey Kiker (#12).

2007

David Price was the #1 pick and he's turned out OK. So has the #10 choice, Madison Bumgarner. Everyday players from the first round include Mike Moustakas (#2), Jason Heyward (#14), Devin Mesoraco (#14), Ben Revere (#28), Todd Frazier (#34) and Josh Donaldson (#48).

2008

#1 pick Tim Beckham is still trying to make it but Pedro Alvarez (#2), Eric Hosmer (#3) and Buster Posey (#5) are household names.

2009

All things considered, the top selections from this draft haven't been top-notch. Stephen Strasburg went #1 and after that, many of the names are forgettable...Dustin Ackley (#2), Donovan Tate (#3), Tony Sanchez (#4) and Matt Hobgood (#5). There was one fairly good player named Mike Trout, who was taken with pick #25.

2010

Starting a fantasy squad with Bryce Harper (#1), Manny Machado (#3), Matt Harvey (#7) and Chris Sale (#13) would make you smile.

2011

Some good results already with Gerrit Cole (#1), Anthony Rendon (#6), George Springer (#11) and Jose Fernandez (#14). The jury is still out on Dylan Bundy (#4) and Francisco Lindor (#8), but Danny Hultzen (#2) and Bubba Starling (#4) look like wasted picks.

2012

Carlos Correa (#1) and Byron Buxton (#2) will be knocking on the door soon enough but Addison Russell (#11) has already arrived along with Michael Wacha (#19).

2013

Kris Bryant (#2) is the first to emerge at the major league level but watch for Mark Appel (#1), Clint Frazier (#5) and Austin Meadows (#9).

2014

Only a year removed from amateur status, Carlos Rodon (#3) and Brandon Finnegan (#17) have already pitched in "the show". Who will be next to arrive in the big leagues? Maybe Kyle Schwarber (#4) or Aaron Nola (#7)?

Check the results for 2015 and target the prospects now for future success.

 

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