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July 26, 2006

AL-Kings July Update

Entering the Fantasy Home Stretch

by Ben Murphy and Jared Weiss

We've talked about the Scoresheet baseball league, AL-Kings, twice now, starting with introductions in March and an early season update in May. This time around, we're going to take a look back at the first half, and determine how each team's draft strategy has worked out in practice.

Kaline Division

Kaline Standings               W   L   pct. GB
 4  las vegas red sox          52  40  .565  -
10  Page 42s                   49  43  .533  3
 1  STL Golden Bears           46  46  .500  6
 7  Inwood                     40  52  .435 12
 

In March, Dave Cokin suggested he constructed his team in the same fashion as the Texas Rangers. Grab big bats, and the pitching will come from...um...somewhere, right? But a quick glance at the leaderboards suggests that the Las Vegas Red Sox's season isn't quite going to plan. None of Dave's hitters are among the leaders in slugging or on base percentage, although he does have four players slugging over .500. His pitching, however, has held the team together, with John Lackey having a stellar Scoresheet year. Cliff Lee and Vicente Padilla have been adequate, and Dave's short relief has been lights out, helping Dave to first place in his division.

Rob Neyer claimed, "I don't know what the hell I'm doing." But with a little help from his friends, Rob's Page 42s are three games out of first place. His excellent starting pitching has more than weathered the loss of Rich Harden, with Roy Halladay, Danny Haren, and Chien-Ming Wang all picking up the slack. The bullpen has also more than done their fair share, as four relievers have pitched about 125 innings of sub-4.00 ERA. The Page 42s offense is led, perhaps oddly, by the trio of Jim Thome, Frank Catalanotto and Gary Matthews, Jr., while seven different players have hit at least nine home runs. Rob has, somehow, managed to avoid AAA Player, a feat that should be applauded. (For those not familiar with Scoresheet, a AAA Player or Pitcher subs in for your team when your players haven't played enough games or innings that week, and plays at a level that makes Neifi Perez and Russ Ortizfeel good about themselves.) That said, the team has a bunch of veterans teetering on the edge of the slippery slope of decline, and a bench that can only support so many starters tumbling down that hill. Plus, a team with A.J. Pierzynski and Shea Hillenbrand must always be said to be near the point of explosion.

King Kaufman's strategy centered around "winging it", but he finds his STL Golden Bears at .500, a modest 6 games back. King's biggest weakness has been his pitching staff, which has allowed the second-most runs in the league. Nineteen starts by Scott Elarton and a bullpen full of Orioles will do that to you. But in the coming weeks, King's biggest problem may be a lack of depth in his starting pitching. It is the reason that the now-injured Elarton has so many starts, and unless Erik Bedard's recent dominance continues, King may find he needs some pitching to stay afloat. The STL Golden Bears have a solid middle of the lineup with Jermaine Dye, Justin Morneau, and Alex Rodriguez. But Scott Podsednik, Chone Figgins, Ron Belliard, and Alex Gonzalez are costing the team the precious runs it has needed to compensate for the shaky staff.

Though Joe Sheehan said he was looking for defense and playing time, it is likely that he assumed his players would hit as well. Alas, 'twas not to be. When Gregg Zaun is outslugging the rest of your team, something has gone horribly wrong. Inwood's lineup is littered with players having disappointing seasons: Brad Wilkerson, Casey Kotchman, Eric Chavez, and Bobby Crosby. Almost 200 ABs have gone to Joey Gathright, enabling him to put up a downright scary .202/.254/.307 line. Understandably, the team is in last in runs scored. Joe's pitching so far has been pretty decent, although he has sometimes fallen short of innings. However, with Francisco Liriano out of the bullpen for good, if Joe can avoid injury, some sort of comeback is not out of the question; although making up twelve games is never easy, even in Scoresheet.

Fox Division

Fox Standings                  W   L   pct. GB
11  Street Walkers             51  41  .554  -
 2  Tutankhamun                45  47  .489  6
 8  Wolfcastle Rainiers        40  52  .435 11
 5  KG                         39  53  .424 12

Sam Walker is a newcomer to Scoresheet, and in March, quoted his co-owner's description of their strategy: "we're going for more of a 'team' concept here than trying to find value in all the right spots." Something must be working, as the Street Walkers (How about some originality here? We could have sworn we saw that name in a book somewhere) are in first place. They've been successful thanks mostly to the highest-scoring offense in the league. That offense has taken a recent hit with the loss of Alexis Rios due to infection, but Paul Konerko and Manny Ramirez have been great, and Juan Rivera's breakout has helped the team weather the loss of Hideki Matsui. The scary part is thinking where this team could be if Jorge Cantu was hitting. The pitching staff is nothing to sneeze at, with Curt Schilling and Jeremy Bonderman having the second- and third-most strikeouts in the league, respectively. However, the back half of the rotation has struggled. Mark Redman is no Scoresheet all-star, and Joe Mays has an ERA a run and a half greater than a computer generated minor leaguer, in the same number of innings.

Ben Murphy came into the draft focused on pitching, but his team now has the highest ERA in the league. Johan Santana has certainly lived up to expectations, and Mike Maroth was a pleasant surprise before going down with injury. But while a rotation that also included Esteban Loaiza and Bartolo Colon may have been fearsome heading into the season, they've done little for Tutankhamun except push more innings to a questionable bullpen. Yet Ben finds himself only five games back, thanks to a rather potent offense that has overcome the loss of Gary Sheffield. Vernon Wells and Frank Thomas have spearheaded the attack, but Ben has seen a surprising number of players produce solid numbers, with Ian Kinsler, Chris Shelton, Jorge Posada, and Marcus Thames all hitting well.

Rany Jazayerli said he was focusing on playing time and on players up the middle. He's found moderate success on both fronts, as he's only lost about 120 at bats to replacement level players; and Derek Jeter, Ramon Hernandez, and David DeJesus have all been decent. Of course, the "up the middle" strategy led the to the unfortunate pick of Jhonny Peralta in the first round, forcing his team to make room for two marquee shortstops. The team is also missing a power source, as only Eric Hinske and Joe Crede are slugging over .470. The pitching staff has been a relative bright spot for the Wolfcastle Rainiers, keeping the team only eleven games back. Mike Mussina and C.C. Sabathia have had strong showings so far, and with A.J. Burnett rounding into form and a mishmash of 4th and 5th starters with the potential to break out in the second half, Rany is looking at some strong starting pitching. He has also managed to cobble together a bullpen filled with innings eaters that don't give up exorbitant amounts of runs.

In March, Kevin Goldstein said his early- to mid-round draft strategy revolved around taking guys he thought had a good chance to have breakout seasons. After that, the plan was to fill holes. Call it a Future Shock twist on the classic strategy of taking the best player available, regardless of other factors (such as position or playing time). Obviously, this strategy relies upon multiple players having breakout seasons. Unfortunately for Kevin, the hitters he landed have largely been busts, other than the white hot Joe Mauer and sturdy Miguel Tejada. The rest of his starters have either failed to break out in a big way (Curtis Granderson, Nick Markakis), or have failed to garner enough playing time (David Dellucci, Dallas McPherson). While Kevin's bench seems like a decent bet to make up a third of the AL All-Star team starters in 2011, they are not helping this non-keeper league team. Kevin's pitching staff is pretty well-built, so with the return of David Wells and a little luck (Adam Loewen or Jeremy Sowers panning out this year, for example), KG might be able to embark on its climb out of the cellar.

Ruth Division

Ruth Standings                 W   L   pct. GB
 3  montclair red sox          54  38  .587  -
 6  Royale with Ortiz          47  45  .511  7
12  RotoWire                   45  47  .489  9
 9  Jonah Keri                 44  48  .478 10

In March, Peter King suggested that if he finished higher than 12th he'd be happy. Hopefully 1st place is OK, as he currently has the best record in the league. The Montclair Red Sox have vaulted to that position largely on the back of its pitching, which has given up the fewest runs in the league. Although the recent loss of Tim Wakefield will hurt, Jon Garland, Joe Blanton, and Kenny Rogers have demonstrated the value of capable innings-eating in Scoresheet. The bullpen has shown flashes of brilliance, with wild J.C. Romero the only weak link. The offense, however, has been nothing to write home about, as Grady Sizemore is the only regular slugging over .450. The lineup does contain a few holes, in the form of the 3rd outfielder and the DH, but the Montclair Red Sox have done a great job avoiding AAA Players, and so could see an offensive surge with a little luck and the return of the real Mark Teixeira.

Nate Silver followed through with his plan of avoiding scrubs for positions on the right side of the defensive spectrum and ended up with Mike Young at SS and Kenji Johjima at C. Both have been decent, if unspectacular, this season, though Young's poorly rated defense certainly isn't helping out the team. Royale with Ortiz's offense has been very solid on the whole, the only real weaknesses being the 200 ABs given to Brian Anderson and the struggles of Placido Polanco. Justin Verlander, Jose Conteras, and Kelvim Escobar have been a rather impressive troika. But the good news ends there, as Nate has seen about 250 innings thrown by pitchers with ERAs of 5.75 or greater. While Royale with Ortiz has used less Scoresheet-generated pitching than any other team,, it seems likely that Nate will need to acquire some pitching help and/or have some players turn things around before he can make up the seven games that Peter King has on him.

In third place in the division is Jeff Erickson, who was more or less aiming to build the best team possible. While his team has been successful, Rotowire has had the worst luck so far, in terms of Pythagorean record, finding themselves 2 games under .500 (and 9 games back) despite scoring 30 more runs than they've given up. Maybe it is the curse of the unimaginative team name. Jeff's starting pitching has performed fairly well, and while some might say Bronson Arroyo, Paul Byrd, and Ted Lilly are pitching over their heads, Javier Vazquez and Felix Hernandez certainly could be considered to be underperforming. The bullpen is also well-stocked both with innings eaters, and with Jonathan Papelbon, who has given RotoWire 45 innings of pure dominance. The hitting is led by Jason Giambi, Victor Martinez, Mike Lowell, and Carlos Guillen, providing a subtly intimidating heart of the lineup. Dan Johnson and Mark Kotsay have struggled as much for RotoWire as they have for the A's, but the imminent return of Jay Gibbons should at least partially remedy that situation.

Jonah Keri noted the collective brainpower of the league and how it was likely no sort of fancy strategy would fly. He instead looked for top-flight power and solid platoon candidates on offense, aces on the pitching staff, and a second half surge from top rookies. While he struck gold with Travis Hafner, Jonny Gomes, and Nick Swisher, Richie Sexson has not had the power stroke Jonah had thought he was drafting. Meanwhile, platoon players Mark DeRosa and Ty Wigginton have supplanted Jonah's early season regulars. Randy Johnson, Josh Beckett, and Jake Westbrook made for a trio of failed aces, but in a sweet combination of youth and experience, Jered Weaver and Jamie Moyer have been helping Jonah Keri's season so far. The bullpen has been mediocre, owing mostly to the 100 innings of 6.00+ ERA provided by Francisco Cordero, Scott Baker, and the dreaded AAA Pitcher. While the team is last in its division, hope remains, as B.J. Upton and Andy Marte await their callups. However, each day the young stars remain in the minors is a day the team does not have its optimal lineup to cut into the ten game deficit. He has to hope for a pair of quick callups as his team, and the BP Kings league, enters the second half of the season.

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