2021 DTBL All-Stars

July 11th, 2021 by Kevin

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After a one year hiatus, the DTBL All-Star Game will take place later this week.  The game will be played at Cougar Coliseum, making the Cougars the first franchise to host the Mid-Summer Classic for a fourth time.  The last time they played hosts was in 2010, when the National All-Stars prevailed 4-1.  For this year’s game, Jay and David are the designated managers for the American and National squads respectively, on the strength of their teams finishing in the top two spots a year ago.  They were responsible for breaking ties in the votes and for selecting the player for the final roster spot.

With the the All-Star Game not having taken place a year ago, it is unsurprising that there are a large number of first time All-Stars this year:  20 in total and 13 on the National roster alone.  On the other end of the spectrum, Mavericks pitcher Clayton Kershaw is the All-Star veteran, making the National squad for an eighth time.  However, this is his first selection since 2017.  Similarly, Choppers catcher Buster Posey is making his seventh appearance and first since 2017.  It will also be his first appearance with a team other than the Demigods.

Perhaps most notable of the players who will not appear in this year’s game is Mavericks outfielder Mike Trout, who had made the All-Star roster every season of his DTBL career prior to this one.  Of course, he probably would have made it once again if not for getting injured back in May and not having played since.

The National Division has won the last four All-Star Games, but will have their hands full in their attempt to extend that streak.  The American roster appears to be exceptionally strong, particularly among hitters.  Vladimir Guerrero, Shohei Ohtani and Ronald Acuna highlight a loaded American lineup.  The National squad will be able to counter with some of the league’s best pitchers though, including Jacob deGrom, Kevin Gausman and Max Scherzer.

Here are the 2021 DTBL All-Stars.

 

American Division

Starters:

  • Pitcher – Brandon Woodruff, Choppers (1st All-Star appearance)
  • Catcher – Buster Posey, Choppers (7th)
  • First Base – Vladimir Guerrero, Moonshiners (1st)
  • Second Base – Jake Cronenworth, Komodos (1st)
  • Third Base – Rafael Devers, Moonshiners (2nd)
  • Shortstop – Trea Turner, Beanballers (3rd)
  • Outfield – Ronald Acuna, Jackalope (2nd)
  • Outfield – Whit Merrifield, Choppers (3rd)
  • Outfield – Shohei Ohtani, Moonshiners (1st)

Reserves:

  • Catcher – Gary Sanchez, Jackalope (4th)
  • First Base – Jared Walsh, Jackalope (1st)
  • Third Base – Jose Ramirez, Komodos (2nd)
  • Shortstop – Bo Bichette, Beanballers (1st)
  • Outfield – Jesse Winker, Jackalope (1st)
  • Outfield – Yordan Alvarez, Komodos (1st)
  • Pitcher – Trevor Bauer, Choppers (2nd)
  • Pitcher – Walker Buehler, Komodos (2nd)
  • Pitcher – Gerrit Cole, Jackalope (4th)
  • Pitcher – Yu Darvish, Moonshiners (2nd)
  • Relief Pitcher – Josh Hader, Beanballers (3rd)
  • Relief Pitcher – Craig Kimbrel, Choppers (7th)
  • Relief Pitcher – Raisel Iglesias, Jackalope (2nd)
  • Relief Pitcher – Mark Melancon, Komodos (3rd)

National Division

Starters:

  • Pitcher – Jacob deGrom, Darkhorses (3rd)
  • Catcher – Salvador Perez, Cougars (3rd)
  • First Base – Freddie Freeman, Demigods (5th)
  • Second Base – Ozzie Albies, Mavericks (2nd)
  • Third Base – Manny Machado, Mavericks (4th)
  • Shortstop – Fernando Tatis, Demigods (1st)
  • Outfield – Nick Castellanos, Mavericks (1st)
  • Outfield – J.D. Martinez, Demigods (3rd)
  • Outfield – Randy Arozarena, Kings (1st)

Reserves:

  • Catcher – Willson Contreras, Demigods (2nd)
  • First Base – Matt Olson, Kings (1st)
  • Second Base – Jose Altuve, Demigods (6th)
  • Shortstop – Marcus Semien, Kings (1st)
  • Outfield – Aaron Judge, Mavericks (3rd)
  • Outfield – Austin Meadows, Demigods (1st)
  • Pitcher – Kevin Gausman, Cougars (1st)
  • Pitcher – Max Scherzer, Kings (7th)
  • Pitcher – Zack Wheeler, Kings (1st)
  • Pitcher – Clayton Kershaw, Mavericks (8th)
  • Relief Pitcher – Matt Barnes, Kings (1st)
  • Relief Pitcher – Liam Hendriks, Darkhorses (1st)
  • Relief Pitcher – Freddy Peralta, Demigods (1st)
  • Relief Pitcher – Ryan Pressly, Cougars (1st)

All-Stars per team:

  • 7 – Demigods
  • 6 – Jackalope, Kings
  • 5 – Choppers, Komodos, Mavericks
  • 4 – Moonshiners
  • 3 – Beanballers, Cougars
  • 2 – Darkhorses

 

The players who were selected for the 23rd and final roster spots by the managers were Jose Altuve and Jose Ramirez, both of whom were nearly unanimous selections in the vote anyway.  Here are the full voting results.  For the record, one person did not vote, so players who received nine votes were unanimous selections.  More All-Star Game coverage coming soon.

A Sticky Situation

June 18th, 2021 by Kevin

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Oh, hey!  It only took me two and a half months to write my first in-season post!  Obviously, I’m not going to be doing the monthly awards posts this season, but I will try to get back into a more regular writing schedule as the summer progresses.  It certainly hasn’t been a lack of potential content that has kept me away.  From the seemingly daily no-hitters of the spring, a rash of injuries like we’ve never seen before, the nose-dive in scoring across the league and now the pending implementation of punishment to pitchers caught doctoring balls, it’s been a pretty compelling 11 weeks.

I will list all of the weekly and monthly batter and pitcher honors that have been accumulated so far this season at the bottom of this article.  But first, let’s take a look at the leaguewide statistical trends, how they may have played a role into MLB’s decision to crack down on pitcher’s foreign substance use, and what effect that enforcement may have moving forward.

Since I will be using PAR numbers throughout this analysis, I should explain the slight differences in how these numbers are being calculated this year compared to years past.  Usually, the constants that make up the PAR formula are determined by taking the previous five seasons data.  So for our last normal full season of 2019, during the season, PAR was calculated using numbers from 2014-2018.  Then when the season ends, I do an across-the-board adjustment to include the recently completed season and remove the earliest season from the set.  So the post-2019 update included numbers from 2015-2019.  Those were also the numbers used during the shortened 2020 campaign.  The difference being that I did not perform a post-season update after last season.  Due to the extremely unusual nature of the ’20 season, I decided to exclude its season totals from my calculations, not only for 2020, but moving forward as well.  So heading into this season, I’m still using that same set of numbers from 2015-2019 to calculate PAR in 2021.  When the season ends, the adjustment will be to lump in 2021 and remove 2015, making the included years 2016-2019 and 2021.  Usually, the post-season adjustment has a very minor impact on the numbers.  However, I suspect the impact will be much greater this year, because unless things change dramatically over the next few months, the 2021 season totals won’t look anything like those from 2015.

As things stand today, PAR paints a pretty clear picture of what is going on in baseball in 2021.  Across the league, hitters have combined to accumulate just 14.57 PAR.  That is setting a full season pace well under 40 PAR.  Hitters accumulated 69 PAR last year in just a 60 game season.  The record for lowest total batting PAR for a 162 game season is 141 in 2014.  As mentioned in the previous paragraph, this year’s numbers will be adjusted after the season, which will certainly cause batting PAR numbers to increase.  But this is staggering stuff.  Compared to recent seasons, hitters are simply not putting up anywhere near the normal level of offensive production.  Meanwhile, pitchers have already accumulated 126 PAR and are on pace for around 300 for the season, well above the expected total of 225.

JUNE 21 ADDENDUM:

In retrospect, quoting mid-week leaguewide PAR numbers may have been a tad misleading.  One part of the PAR formula for all of the counting categories is number of weeks a player has spent on the active roster (as a ratio over 26, the total number of weeks in the season).  This value is incremented at the beginning of the week, causing the threshold needed to reach replacement level to increase in those categories.  I figured we were far enough into the season for this to be of little consequence.  And that is generally true for individual players, but not when looking at the league as a whole.  Following the completion of the past week, hitters have now accumulated a total of 42.74 batting PAR.  That’s still well below normal and on pace to break the full season futility record.  But not to the same degree as the 14.57 number I mentioned above.  Another factor I neglected to mention is that the abundance of injuries to position players so far this season has caused far more teams to have injured players occupying active roster spots than we would typically see at this point in the season.  And players who accumulate no stats will see their PAR numbers drop like a rock.  So there are some other factors besides the reduced offensive environment that are causing these low batting PAR totals this season.

END OF ADDENDUM

Interestingly, the league batting average of .257 is actually up a tick from last year, but still well below the the .267 number from 2019.  It is the rest of the offensive categories that have cratered.  We are on pace for 2,840 home runs to be hit.  That would be almost 700 fewer than 2019.  Runs scored and RBIs are down more than 10% from two seasons ago.  On the pitching side, the league WHIP of 1.124 would be a record low, by a considerable margin.  ERA is down almost 0.4 points from two seasons ago.  And the strikeout record is likely to be broken once again this year.  What’s happening this year isn’t exactly a continuation of the three true outcome (home runs, walks, strikeouts) revolution of recent seasons.  Only one of those outcomes is continuing to increase:  strikeouts.  Which means pitchers are getting the upper hand like never before.

Enter the sticky substance debate.  I think it is pretty clear at this point that the prevalence of pitchers using sticky substances has had a significant impact on the game, and most would agree that the fewer balls in play it has seemingly caused is not a good thing.  So a crackdown on this is appropriate and long overdue.  The issue is the manner in which it is being implemented and the timing.  It certainly would have been more logical to start this enforcement of the rules at the beginning of the season, or maybe wait until next year.  And perhaps some compromises could have been made on what substances are and are not allowed.  We will have to wait and see if the unintended consequences are severe (see Glasnow, Tyler).  And we will also have to wait and see how dramatic of an impact it has across the game.  However, I am hopeful that the intended consequences of increased offense will materialize and kill any thoughts of more drastic rule changes like moving the pitcher’s mound further from the plate.  So put me down as being in favor of the crackdown, but not the timing or manner in which it is being implemented.

Now here’s a list of players who have excelled so far this season in spite of, or maybe because of, the foreign substance boom.  As usual, these are strictly determined by who had the highest PAR total for a given week or month.

Batters of the Week:

Week 1 (4/1 – 4/4) – Nick Castellanos, Mavericks
Week 2 (4/5 – 4/11) – Ronald Acuna, Jackalope
Week 3 (4/12 – 4/18) – Ronald Acuna, Jackalope
Week 4 (4/19 – 4/25) – Fernando Tatis, Demigods
Week 5 (4/26 – 5/2) – Kris Bryant, Cougars
Week 6 (5/3 – 5/9) – Yordan Alvarez, Komodos
Week 7 (5/10 – 5/16) – Aaron Judge, Mavericks
Week 8 (5/17 – 5/23) – Fernando Tatis, Demigods
Week 9 (5/24 – 5/30) – Fernando Tatis, Demigods
Week 10 (5/31 – 6/6) – Ryan Mountcastle, Moonshiners
Week 11 (6/7 – 6/13) – Bo Bichette, Beanballers

Pitchers of the Week:

Week 1 (4/1 – 4/4) – Zack Wheeler, Kings
Week 2 (4/5 – 4/11) – Clayton Kershaw, Mavericks
Week 3 (4/12 – 4/18) – Shane Bieber, Choppers
Week 4 (4/19 – 4/25) – Brandon Woodruff, Choppers
Week 5 (4/26 – 5/2) – Zack Wheeler, Kings
Week 6 (5/3 – 5/9) – John Means, Beanballers
Week 7 (5/10 – 5/16) – Freddy Peralta, Demigods
Week 8 (5/17 – 5/23) – Zack Wheeler, Kings
Week 9 (5/24 – 5/30) – Brandon Woodruff, Choppers
Week 10 (5/31 – 6/6) – Jacob deGrom, Darkhorses
Week 11 (6/7 – 6/13) – Zach Davies, Beanballers

Quite a list of stars on the hitting side, including two players who won back-to-back weekly honors.  Unsurprisingly, they parlayed those weeks into monthly honors as well.  Zack Wheeler has won the weekly pitcher award three times, with Brandon Woodruff adding a pair.  Surprisingly, league Pitching PAR leader Jacob deGrom only has one weekly honor so far.

April Batter of the Month:

Ronald Acuna, Jackalope
.341 AVG, 8 HR, 18 RBI, 25 R, 3 SB, 2.10 PAR

April Pitcher of the Month:

Gerrit Cole, Jackalope
1.43 ERA, 0.717 WHIP, 4 W, 0 SV, 62 K, 4.41 PAR

May Batter of the Month:

Fernando Tatis, Demigods
.353 AVG, 9 HR, 26 RBI, 21 R, 8 SB, 3.01 PAR

May Pitcher of the Month:

Kevin Gausman, Cougars
0.73 ERA, 0.757 WHIP, 5 W, 0 SV, 49 K, 4.67 PAR

Not sure any player in baseball is having a more under the radar stellar campaign than Kevin Gausman.  He is right on deGrom’s heels for the PAR lead.  Two of the previous three first overall draft picks, Ronald Acuna and Fernando Tatis, are off to tremendous starts as well.  They are third and first in Batting PAR, respectively.  In between them is Moonshiners first baseman Vladimir Guerrero, who surprisingly does not appear anywhere above.

2021 Season Preview: Part III

April 1st, 2021 by Kevin

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Today is Opening Day!  No, that isn’t an April Fools’ joke.  It is really happening.  Starting today, we will have meaningful baseball to watch nearly every day for the next seven months.  That is a welcome change from this time a year ago when we didn’t know when we would have that opportunity again.  While there is still a great deal of uncertainty heading into the season, at least we should expect this to resemble a normal season far more so than in 2020.

As for the DTBL, the teams that are projected to finish near the top of the standings are not a huge surprise.  Last year, many teams were in the hunt for a the championship for most of the short sprint.  But the two teams that broke away from the pack in the end are expected to be right there again this season.  The third favorite is probably the most star-studded team in the league that had several things go wrong a year ago to derail their championship hunt.  This year’s projected top three happens to be the same three that were tabbed as preseason favorites a year ago, but in the reverse order.  Here are the three projected championship favorites for the 2021 DTBL season.

 

Jay’s Jackalope

Category – Projected Rank (2020 Rank)

  • Batting Average – 9th (8th)
  • Home Runs – 8th (3rd-T)
  • Runs Batted In – 9th (7th)
  • Runs Scored - 5th (7th)
  • Stolen Bases – 1st (3rd-T)
  • Earned Run Average - 1st (1st)
  • WHIP Ratio - 2nd (1st)
  • Wins – 1st (1st)
  • Saves – 7th (7th)
  • Strike Outs - 1st (1st)
  • Total Batting Points – 8th (6th)
  • Total Pitching Points - 1st-T (1st)
  • Total Points – 3rd (2nd)

Summary:

The Jackalope came close to winning a title a year ago on the strength of the league’s best pitching staff.  But their offense just wasn’t quite good enough to close the deal.  These projections paint a very similar picture heading into 2021.  The starting rotation looks like the best in the league with the Jackalope expected to finish in the top two of every pitching category except for saves.  They have added exciting young fireballer Sixto Sanchez to a group that already contained several of the best pitchers in the game.  Gerrit Cole is a perennial Cy Young contender at this stage of his career.  Luis Castillo, Tyler Glasnow and Dinelson Lamet may not be spoken of in the same terms as Cole, but all are well established fantasy stars.  And Lance Lynn keeps getting better with age.  As intriguing as Sanchez is, he may have a tough time cracking this rotation if it is fully healthy.  The Jackalope bullpen is not quite as strong.  Raisel Iglesias is the only well established closer.  But the rest of the group could be in line for saves at some point, and will add impressive strikeout totals regardless.  That group includes Giovanny Gallegos, Drew Pomeranz and Jake Diekman.  The Jackalope will probably need to beat this eigth place batting points projection to win the title this year.  What was once the league’s best infield in the not so distant past, has fallen off a bit lately.  Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rendon and Adalberto Mondesi are back to lead the way.  They used their first round draft pick to bring in shortstop Dansby Swanson.  They will also look to last year’s first rounder, Keston Hiura, to be a bigger factor in 2021.  In the outfield, Ronald Acuna has the highest batting PAR projection in the league, which forecasts an impressive 42 home runs and 30 steals.  Giancarlo Stanton is the returning sidekick.  But the rest of the outfield is new, including Ramon Laureano and Leody Tavares.  With the pitching staff nearly certain to lock up a significant amount of points, the Jackalope will just need a few pleasant surprises on offense to win it all this year.

 

David’s Darkhorses

Category – Projected Rank (2020 Rank)

  • Batting Average – 5th (2nd)
  • Home Runs – 4th (2nd)
  • Runs Batted In – 6th (3rd)
  • Runs Scored - 2nd (1st)
  • Stolen Bases – 6th (3rd-T)
  • Earned Run Average - 2nd (7th)
  • WHIP Ratio - 1st (7th)
  • Wins - 2nd (5th-T)
  • Saves – 2nd (1st)
  • Strike Outs – 5th (5th)
  • Total Batting Points – 3rd-T (1st)
  • Total Pitching Points – 1st-T (4th-T)
  • Total Points - 2nd (1st)

Summary:

It is not surprising that the defending champions are one of the favorites again this year.  But this is still a very interesting forecast, which seems to indicate a significant change in the Darkhorses strengths and weaknesses.  Last year, they had far and away the best offense in the league with a good, but not great pitching staff.  These projections show them with an elite pitching staff, tied with the Jackalope for most pitching points, but with not quite as strong of an offense.  What makes this even more interesting is that they didn’t have a pitching focused draft at all.  Mike Soroka was the only pitcher selected by the Darkhorses in the first five rounds.  Perhaps it boils down to Jacob deGrom being the most dominant pitcher in the league, according to these numbers.  His 11.3 PAR projection is nearly two full points better than the next highest pitcher.  They could also benefit from better seasons out of Patrick Corbin, Jose Berrios and Chris Paddack.  The Darkhorses probably have the best bullpen in the league again this year, thanks to Liam Hendriks and Brad Hand.  Joakim Soria and Hector Neris were solid additions as well who should help boost the save total.  Perhaps the forecasted drop in batting points is a small point of concern, but the Darkhorses still feature an extremely deep lineup.  J.T. Realmuto is probably the best catcher in the league, giving them a huge leg up on most teams at that position.  Third basemen Alex Bregman and Matt Chapman look to bounce back from injury plagued seasons.  Brandon Lowe was one of the breakout stars of ’20.  Xander Bogaerts remains a steady presence at shortstop.  Dominic Smith joins the squad to provide some more power out of the first base position.  The outfield trio of Bryce Harper, George Springer and Christian Yelich is hard to top.  It is actually quite impressive that the Darkhorses were as good as they were last year despite getting so little from Yelich, who should be expected to return to form this year.  This is a very deep roster, top to bottom.  The batting projection seems rather pessimistic.  I would expect the Darkhorses to be one of the teams to beat again this year and a safe bet to finish in a top two spot for what would be an impressive fourth straight season.

 

Marc’s Mavericks

Category – Projected Rank (2020 Rank)

  • Batting Average – 1st (5th)
  • Home Runs - 1st (1st)
  • Runs Batted In - 1st (1st)
  • Runs Scored – 1st (5th)
  • Stolen Bases – 7th (10th)
  • Earned Run Average – 5th (3rd)
  • WHIP Ratio - 5th (3rd)
  • Wins - 3rd (9th)
  • Saves – 4th (5th-T)
  • Strike Outs - 4th (9th)
  • Total Batting Points – 1st (4th)
  • Total Pitching Points - 3rd (6th)
  • Total Points - 1st (5th)

Summary:

I hate to start by raining on a parade, but the Mavericks batting projections may be a tad inflated because of a flaw in my system.  They completed the draft with just one catcher on the roster, a very good one at that.  So their batting numbers are not dragged down by the typical below average output of a pair of catchers like every other team.  Also, they include a full season of Eloy Jimenez, who is now expected to miss most of the season with a pec injury.  So it might be fair to chop off a point here or there on the batting side of things.  That said, this is unquestionably an elite offensive team.  Their Opening Day lineup will likely consist of players with 2+ PAR projections in every slot but two.  Nobody can touch the Mavericks talent in the outfield, in particular, even without Jimenez.  Mike Trout and Juan Soto might be the two best baseball players on the planet.  Aaron Judge isn’t far behind when healthy.  Nick Castellanos is very good as well.  The Mavericks infield has plenty of star power too.  Manny Machado, Ozzie Albies and Javy Baez are all among the top players at their respective positions.  Eric Hosmer should give them more production at first base than they have had in recent years.  Didi Gregorious and Nick Madrigal are nice luxuries as depth middle infielders.  Finally, Yasmani Grandal is one of the top catchers in the league too.  There just aren’t any weaknesses with the Mavericks bats.  The pitching staff is a little less of a certainty, but also has high upside.  Stephen Strasburg missing almost all of 2020 was a major blow, but he should be good to go this year.  Jack Flaherty also had some health issues and was slightly disappointing a year ago.  Clayton Kershaw, on the other hand, had a bit of a career resurgence and once again appears to be a guy the Mavericks can count on to carry the rotation.  They also have a host of other starters with big potential.  The bullpen is a bit of an unknown in terms of save productivity, but could be a plus.  Kenley Jansen is the main guy, as usual.  James Karinchak has potential to be an elite closer.  Jordan Romero figures to be the beneficiary of the Kirby Yates injury for Toronto.  As usual, the Mavericks are one of the top contenders to win the championship.  This year, they are the pre-season favorites.  Can they end a three year streak of slightly disappointing mid-standings finishes?  Pretty good chance, I would say.

 

That wraps up our preview of the ten teams for the 2021 season.  Here are the full projected standings and team point totals for the ten categories:

 

Good luck to everyone this season.  Let’s hope it is a full, safe and healthy one for all.  Happy Opening Day!

2021 Season Preview: Part II

March 31st, 2021 by Kevin

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I’m not going to post the full projected standings until all ten teams have been revealed, but here is a spoiler alert:  there is a pretty wide point gap between the top and bottom half of the standings.  Usually, I like to bucket the teams with similar point projections into the same preview article.  But the three way tie for seventh place made that a little tough to do.  The first team that will be covered in this piece is only one point ahead of those teams.  Meanwhile, this article will cover yet another projected tie, with a pair of teams picked to finish in fourth place.  Those teams are a full 16 points clear of sixth place.  The three teams covered here feature a little more roster balance than those slated to finish below them.  However, they are not fully loaded teams on paper.  One of these squads had a very disappointing 2020 season, another had promise but faded to the bottom half, while the third would like to build on the momentum built in the shortened campaign.  Here are the teams projected to finish in fourth through sixth places.

 

Kevin’s Kings

Category – Projected Rank (2020 Rank)

  • Batting Average – 10th (10th)
  • Home Runs – 2nd (9th)
  • Runs Batted In – 2nd (10th)
  • Runs Scored – 4th (10th)
  • Stolen Bases - 10th (2nd)
  • Earned Run Average – 8th (8th)
  • WHIP Ratio – 10th (9th)
  • Wins – 6th (8th)
  • Saves – 6th (8th)
  • Strike Outs – 7th (6th)
  • Total Batting Points – 6th (10th)
  • Total Pitching Points – 8th (9th)
  • Total Points – 6th (9th)

Summary:

Last year’s Kings title defense was one of the worst this league has ever seen, perhaps only challenged by the 2017 Kings who also finished in ninth place the year after winning the title.  But in 2020, the Kings were a two-time defending champ that stumbled to its fewest standings points since 2009 and second worst total since the league expanded to six teams.  The total collapse of the offense was especially shocking.  But these projections show some major improvements there, particularly in the power department.  First round pick Randy Arozarena will try to give Mookie Betts some help in a depleted outfield.  Betts has been carrying this offense for years and remains one of the best players in the league.  Besides Betts and Arozarena though, the only other hitter with a 4+ PAR projection is first baseman Matt Olson, who can’t possibly hit below the Mendoza line again, can he?  The Kings could really use more from infielders Carlos Correa, Rhys Hoskins and Mike Moustakas as well.  A bunch of old friends are back in the fold for the Kings as they used draft picks to reacquire outfielder A.J. Pollock, second baseman Ryan McMahon and pitcher Marcus Stroman.  Late bloomer Mike Yastrzemski and bright newcomer Dylan Carlson were also nice additions to the outfield.  The pitching staff looks nothing like the group that helped win three of the past five titles.  The reliable veteran duo of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander is now just Scherzer.  Frankie Montas, Lance McCullers, Zack Wheeler and Ian Anderson all have intriguing upside, but also very large shoes to fill.  One of those four will need to ascend to elite status for the Kings pitching staff to return to respectability.  Stroman is another steady veteran presence for the rotation, but he hasn’t pitched in a real game since 2019.  The bullpen is almost entirely new, but lacking certainty in closer roles.  Richard Rodriguez, Matt Barnes and Amir Garrett all offer potential in that category though.  The Kings will have a lot to overcome to prove that last season was a fluke.  But their recent track record of yo-yoing between the top and bottom of the standings could bode well for them.

 

Dom’s Demigods

Category – Projected Rank (2020 Rank)

  • Batting Average – 2nd (4th)
  • Home Runs - 3rd (10th)
  • Runs Batted In - 3rd (5th)
  • Runs Scored – 3rd (3rd)
  • Stolen Bases – 5th (6th)
  • Earned Run Average – 7th (5th)
  • WHIP Ratio – 6th (4th)
  • Wins – 4th (2nd-T)
  • Saves – 10th (10th)
  • Strike Outs - 6th (4th)
  • Total Batting Points – 2nd (5th)
  • Total Pitching Points – 7th (4th-T)
  • Total Points – 4th-T (7th)

Summary:

The Demigods were much better than their seventh place finish might have indicated a year ago.  They were an above average team in almost all facets and finished with a point total that would have put them in the top half of the standings virtually any other season.  So 2020 was definitely a step in the right direction after a dreadful 2019.  And these numbers show a glimmer of hope for further improvement.  Most notably, their third place projection in home runs would be welcomed after finishing dead last in ’20.  It is not really any new additions that are causing that though, but rather an anticipated return to form for players like J.D. Martinez, who they cut in February and then redrafted this month.  Six hitters are projected for at least 30 home runs:  Martinez, reigning co-MVP Fernando Tatis Jr., Freddie Freeman, Francisco Lindor, Byron Buxton and C.J. Cron.  Tatis is clearly the headliner and a likely MVP candidate again this season.  Josh Bell, Jose Altuve and Austin Meadows are bounceback candidates.  Wil Myers quietly returned to solid contributor status last season.  The Demigods probably have one of the best catching tandems with Travis d’Arnaud joining Willson Contreras.  This is a very strong group of hitters, from top to bottom.  The second place batting projection makes sense.  Where they will need to exceed expectations is on the pitching side.  Aaron Nola remains the staff ace and a safe bet to put up very strong numbers again this season.  Zac Gallen’s health is an immediate concern, although the worst case scenario seems to have been avoided for now.  If healthy, he has star potential as well.  A return to health for Corey Kluber would be a major blessing for the Demigods who haven’t been the same without him for most of the past couple seasons.  Veteran Kenta Maeda was a legit Cy Young contender a year ago.  Max Fried is the one youngster in the rotation with untapped potential.  It appears the Demigods will once again punt the saves category.  Last year, they recorded just six of them all season.  Some combination of Rafael Montero, Chris Martin and Matt Wisler should put them ahead of that mark this year, but still likely to finish at or near the bottom.  Freddy Peralta starting the season in the Brewers rotation gives them a potential wild card though.  This is a very solid Demigods squad.  It would not be surprising to see them contend this season.

 

Mike’s Moonshiners

Category – Projected Rank (2020 Rank)

  • Batting Average – 6th (7th)
  • Home Runs – 5th (8th)
  • Runs Batted In – 5th (6th)
  • Runs Scored – 6th (4th)
  • Stolen Bases – 4th (8th-T)
  • Earned Run Average – 4th (2nd)
  • WHIP Ratio – 3rd (5th)
  • Wins – 7th (2nd-T)
  • Saves - 1st (2nd)
  • Strike Outs - 8th (2nd)
  • Total Batting Points – 5th (7th)
  • Total Pitching Points – 4th-T (2nd)
  • Total Points – 4th-T (3rd)

Summary:

Besides the champion Darkhorses, perhaps no team had a more positive 2020 season than the Moonshiners who posted their highest finish since 2011.  That was mostly accomplished on the strength of their pitching staff.  While the pitchers are probably still ahead of the hitters, this does appear to be a more balanced squad this season.  I doubt many people would be able to correctly guess who is the Moonshiners projected batting PAR leader for this season.  If you guessed outfielder Kyle Tucker, congratulations!  Tucker is a very strong candidate for breakout star of 2021.  He has immense power and speed projectability.  Most of the other stars of the Moonshiners offense are hulking sluggers, like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Miguel Sano, Max Muncy and Rafael Devers.  But Tucker isn’t the only strong hitter and runner.  Shortstop Tim Anderson can also contribute in all five categories.  Michael Conforto shouldn’t be overlooked either.  Newcomer Ryan Mountcastle should give a boost to the Moonshiners outfield, as should Shohei Ohtani who is returning to the offensive side of things after a disappointing and injury riddled 2020 on the mound.  Part of the reason why the Moonshiners were able to shift Ohtani back to the outfield is because of the extensive depth of their starting rotation.  Yu Darvish returned to form as one of the best pitchers in baseball last year and figures to continue that form in San Diego this year.  Veterans Zack Greinke, Charlie Morton and Kyle Hendricks aren’t overwhelming at this stage of their careers, but they are still very productive and reliable pitchers.  The potential breakout star on the pitching side for the Moonshiners is Jesus Luzardo.  The first place saves projection is perhaps a tad optimistic as it includes a full season’s worth of saves out of Kirby Yates who won’t pitch this year.  But they still ought to be in decent shape with Edwin Diaz, Trevor Rosenthal and Jake McGee as either certain or very likely closers.  While the fourth place projection in pitching points isn’t particularly impressive, I’m not sure any other team can match the Moonshiners pitching depth, so there is upside here.  Combine that with what appears to be an improved offense and you should have the makings of a contending ballclub.

 

2021 Season Preview: Part I

March 30th, 2021 by Kevin

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Welcome to the 2021 DTBL season preview series.  As customary, I will be previewing each of the ten teams using a projection system to spit out some numbers that I will use to predict the final standings for the league and help identify the general strengths and weaknesses of each team.  What might be a little different this year is the amount of credence one should put in these numbers.  There is no precedent for predicting future outcomes following a 60 game season played during a global pandemic.  But we’ll try to do that anyway.

Once again, I am using Fangraphs’ Depth Chart projections, which are a combination of the ZiPS and Steamer projection systems, adjusted to anticipated playing time.  I grabbed these projections just prior to the draft.  So injury and position battle news that has occurred in the past three weeks are not reflected in these numbers.  In the team write-ups, I will try to point out any significant changes to the projections for a team, but the overall numbers that you will see are based on the dataset I grabbed several weeks ago.  If you wish to see Fangraphs’ up-to-date player projections, you can find them here.

The team projections are made up of totals from all 28 players who were on each teams’ roster at the completion of the draft.  Those team totals are then adjusted to an expected 8,285 plate appearances and 1,220 innings pitched.  So this means that some players who may never see the active roster do affect these numbers.  I do it this way because I don’t want to make any assumptions about team’s active roster composition.  And depth does matter since no team has ever made it through a season only needing their original 23 guys.

Normally, I split this preview series into four parts.  However, as you will soon see, there are a weirdly large number of teams who are projected to finish tied in the standings and it didn’t make much sense to split those teams into separate sections.  So this first part will cover four teams, and will be followed by two more parts covering three teams each.  In this first part, we will cover the teams projected to finish in the bottom four spots in the standings:  one team in last place and, incredibly, three teams slated to tie for seventh place.  As you might expect, these projections show a fatal flaw in each team that is sinking their expected standings position.  Last year’s projections actually proved to be surprisingly accurate, correctly tabbing the top two teams, albeit in the wrong order.  But it was way off with the last place pick, which happens to be the same team again this year.  Here are the teams projected to finish in the bottom spots of the standings.

 

Ben’s Beanballers

Category – Projected Rank (2020 Rank)

  • Batting Average – 7th (1st)
  • Home Runs – 7th (3rd-T)
  • Runs Batted In – 7th (2nd)
  • Runs Scored – 8th (6th)
  • Stolen Bases – 2nd (7th)
  • Earned Run Average – 9th (6th)
  • WHIP Ratio – 9th (6th)
  • Wins – 10th (5th-T)
  • Saves – 9th (6th-T)
  • Strike Outs – 10th (8th)
  • Total Batting Points – 7th (3rd)
  • Total Pitching Points – 10th (7th)
  • Total Points – 10th (4th)

Summary:

It is pretty amazing how similar the Beanballers 2020 and 2021 projections are, especially considering how wrong they proved to be a year ago.  They were picked to finish last with a below average offense.  Instead, they finished in fourth place with one of the best offenses in the league.  Can they repeat that again this year?  Certainly seems possible, if not probable.  They feature above average hitters at almost every position.  Trea Turner quietly had a huge 2020 season and had as strong a case as anybody to win the MVP award.  He’s projected to hit 25 home runs and steal 35 bases this year, making him one of the best all-around players in the league.  Bo Bichette gives the Beanballers two truly elite shortstops.  Nolan Arenado no longer calls Coors Park home, but he is moving into a pretty solid situation in St. Louis.  Luke Voit led the league in homers last year.  He will begin this season on the injured list, but should still be among the best power hitters in the league.  Should Yoan Moncada bounce back from a disappointing 2020 in which he was clearly compromised during his COVID-19 recovery, this will be an absolutely loaded infield.  The outfield looks pretty strong too, led by Marcell Ozuna and one of last season’s breakout stars, Teoscar Hernandez.  Maybe the biggest key for this team is for Victor Robles to take a step forward, as he has similar five category potential as his Nationals teammate Turner.  It would be pretty disappointing if the Beanballers finish seventh in batting points.  But the big obstacle to overcome will be some pretty dour pitching projections.  If you just look at the ’20 stats of their five projected Opening Day starting pitchers, things look pretty great.  Sandy Alcantara, Chris Bassitt, Zach Davies, Dustin May and Hyun-Jin Ryu all posted ERAs of 3.00 or lower.  But these projections seem to indicate that all five of them overachieved a year ago.  First round pick May is the wild card here, and the Beanballers got great news on him yesterday as he will open the season in the Dodgers rotation.  While the ERA and WHIP of the starters may take a step back, there is room for improvement in strikeouts.  And they hope to get the services of Noah Syndergaard back at some point this summer.  The bullpen has some upside, but Josh Hader is the only safe bet to accumulate a significant number of saves.  If the Beanballers starting pitchers can duplicate their ’20 seasons and the batters come close to their potential, they should easily exceed these low expectations.

 

Charlie’s Thunder Choppers

Category – Projected Rank (2020 Rank)

  • Batting Average – 4th (6th)
  • Home Runs – 10th (5th)
  • Runs Batted In – 10th (9th)
  • Runs Scored – 10th (9th)
  • Stolen Bases – 9th (8th-T)
  • Earned Run Average – 3rd (4th)
  • WHIP Ratio – 4th (2nd)
  • Wins – 9th (4th)
  • Saves – 5th (3rd-T)
  • Strike Outs - 2nd (3rd)
  • Total Batting Points – 10th (9th)
  • Total Pitching Points – 4th-T (3rd)
  • Total Points – 7th-T (8th)

Summary:

Despite losing long time ace Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery, the Choppers maintained their status as having one of the best rotations in the league.  They will roll it back with the exact same group this year, headlined by Shane Bieber and Trevor Bauer who finished first and second in the Cy Young voting a year ago.  Brandon Woodruff is a pretty solid third fiddle as well.  Add in the return of Chris Sale in a few months and you should be looking at one of the best rotations in the league.  It is difficult to decipher what the Choppers might get out of the bullpen though.  Craig Kimbrel is the only certain closer, but he’s coming off two straight poor seasons.  Jordan Hicks and Emmanuel Clase have great arms, but neither pitched in 2020.  Overall, the Choppers should be among the leading teams in pitching points.  It’s with the bats that these projections don’t paint a rosy picture.  But I think it is worth pointing out that this methodology doesn’t favor teams with the Choppers current roster construction.  They have three catchers, giving that position a greater piece of the total offensive projection compared to most teams, diluting the overall numbers.  But even with that said, they don’t have any hitters with eye-popping projected numbers.  Pete Alonso is a good bet to be their top offensive producer.  Two other sluggers that are slated to be big contributors are Franmil Reyes and Joey Gallo.  Gallo is a polarizing player due to being a batting average drain, but he can carry a team in the power categories.  The Choppers used their first two draft picks on keystone corner youngsters Ke’Bryan Hayes and Alec Bohm.  Both could be a big part of an offensive resurgence for this team, should that come to be.  Following two straight seasons of disappointing production at the plate, the Choppers are hoping to end that streak this year.  If they do, the pitching staff will certainly be up to the task of making this a much better campaign for this franchise.

 

Kelly’s Cougars

Category – Projected Rank (2020 Rank)

  • Batting Average – 8th (3rd)
  • Home Runs – 9th (7th)
  • Runs Batted In – 8th (4th)
  • Runs Scored – 9th (2nd)
  • Stolen Bases – 8th (1st)
  • Earned Run Average – 6th (9th)
  • WHIP Ratio – 7th (8th)
  • Wins – 5th (7th)
  • Saves – 3rd (3rd-T)
  • Strike Outs - 3rd (7th)
  • Total Batting Points – 9th (2nd)
  • Total Pitching Points – 6th (8th-T)
  • Total Points – 7th-T (5th-T)

Summary:

This seems like an extremely pessimistic forecast for a team that finished in the top half of the standings a year ago.  Particularly glaring is the projection of the Cougars having the second worst offense in the league following a year in which they were second best.  Granted, they spent most of their draft capital on pitchers, taking just two position players in the first seven rounds.  However, there was a good reason for that.  They had an outstanding offense a year ago.  Perhaps it is unsurprising that reigning co-MVP Jose Abreu is expected to take a step back.  But shortstops Trevor Story and Gleyber Torres are just starting to hit their primes.  The third base duo of Eugenio Suarez and Kris Bryan would seem to be strong bounceback candidates, at least in terms of batting average.  The outfield lacks superstars, but Anthony Santander was a nice addition to AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis and veterans Charlie Blackmon and Tommy Pham.  The Cougars feature a solid veteran catching combo of Salvador Perez and Yadier Molina.  Perhaps the Cougars will be penalized for not making major additions to the lineup, but this sure doesn’t look like one of the league’s worst offenses.  The pitching projections actually show some improvement.  First round pick Corbin Burnes joins Lucas Giolito, Blake Snell and Sonny Gray to make up a potentially outstanding rotation.  What was a major weakness for them last year now looks like a strength.  The bullpen is pretty solid as well.  But the third place ranking in saves may be a tad optimistic with Nick Anderson likely to miss several months.  Fortunately, they did add one of the best available closers in the draft in Ryan Pressly.  The Cougars success this season will probably ride on the offense being more similar to the ’20 squad than these numbers suggest.  An improved pitching staff could make them very dangerous if that happens.

 

Kat’s Komodos

Category – Projected Rank (2020 Rank)

  • Batting Average – 3rd (9th)
  • Home Runs – 6th (6th)
  • Runs Batted In – 4th (8th)
  • Runs Scored – 7th (8th)
  • Stolen Bases – 3rd (5th)
  • Earned Run Average – 10th (10th)
  • WHIP Ratio – 8th (10th)
  • Wins – 8th (10th)
  • Saves – 8th (9th)
  • Strike Outs – 9th (10th)
  • Total Batting Points – 3rd-T (8th)
  • Total Pitching Points – 9th (10th)
  • Total Points – 7th-T (10th)

Summary:

While nobody is going to get too excited about a seventh place projected ranking, there are some very positive signs in these numbers for the Komodos.  The batting projections would mark significant improvement over last year’s squad and the pitching totals are up a little bit as well.  First overall draft pick Luis Robert was potentially the most impactful addition any team made this offseason.  He carries a 30 home run, 25 stolen base projection for this season.  But he’s not the only Komodos hitter with significant power and speed potential.  Jose Ramirez, Cody Bellinger and Starling Marte also fall into that category.  Ramirez finished second in the league in batting PAR in 2020 and is expected to finish in the top five again this season.  Another elite hitter for the Komodos is shortstop Corey Seager.  And then there are a couple of slugger, DH-types:  the ageless Nelson Cruz and last year’s first round pick Yordan Alvarez.  Alvarez could be a huge X-factor after missing almost the entirety of his DTBL rookie campaign due to injury.  Alvarez and Robert essentially give the Komodos two early first round additions to their lineup.  The pitching staff was a major problem last year, finishing in last place in four of the five pitching categories and only bettering one team in saves.  Walker Buehler remains the clear cut staff ace.  But he’s going to need a little more help from his friends this year.  Dylan Bundy is likely to be the next best holdover and Zach Plesac is the most compelling addition to the staff.  They will also feature a trio of crafty lefties:  Dallas Keuchel, Marco Gonzales and J.A. Happ.  Aroldis Chapman is the headliner of a much improved bullpen.  Greg Holland and Mark Melancon could be solid save accumulators and Devin Williams and his filthy stuff will make up for a lack of saves by providing an abundance of strikeouts.  While last year was a season to forget for the Komodos, it may have paid significant dividends by allowing them to add Robert.  With a potentially very strong offense, 2021 should be a much better year.

Predictably Unpredictable

March 16th, 2021 by Kevin

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There is no blueprint for how to approach a fantasy baseball draft following a 60 game, pandemic affected season.  How much weight do you put in players’ performances in such a short sample size?  Is it safe to ignore the poor numbers of a veteran player with a long track record of success?  How do you judge a rookie who made his MLB debut after not being able to play in real minor league games for almost a full year?  Can the breakout stars of 2020 be trusted to repeat their performances over the long haul of a full season?  And finally, how do you judge the players who actually contracted and recovered from COVID-19?  Nobody knows the right answers to any of these questions.  And based on the results of the first round of the 2021 DTBL Draft, it would seem there were many different answers among the league’s members.

Going into this draft, I had absolutely no idea what to expect.  Unlike most years, there were hardly any sure-fire first round selections.  Partly because I was the owner of the second pick, I didn’t even bother trying to compile a top ten list like I normally do.  But if I had, I think I can safely say I would have been wrong on close to half of the names.  And outside of the first two picks, I’m not sure I would have correctly pegged any other players with the teams that selected them.  Besides the general unpredictability, the other abnormal theme of the first round was the number of non-DTBL rookies selected.  Four players were chosen who have previous experience on DTBL rosters.  I have complete draft records dating back to 2005.  In the previous 16 years, no more than three non-rookies were selected in any year.  While unusual, this was not terribly surprising since there just wasn’t a lot of time for newcomers to make their mark during the 2020 MLB season.

The one pick in this draft that was definitely not surprising was the first one.  The Komodos selected White Sox young star outfielder Luis Robert.  The five tool phenom hit the ground running with an incredible first month of his big league career, during which he wasn’t only one of the best rookies in the game, but one of the top players as well.  But even Robert comes with some question marks as he really struggled down the stretch, seeing his batting average fall to .233.  He was still just one steal away from a double/double HR/SB season, which would have been more like 25/25 stretched out to a full campaign.  With his power and speed, Robert is a legitimate 40/40 candidate down the road.  HR and SB were already two of the Komodos better categories, so he could help boost them among the top teams in the league in those areas.

The second pick is another player with well above average power and decent speed as well.  The Kings boosted their extremely disappointing offense from a year ago with the selection of outfielder Randy Arozarena.  Arozerana became a breakout star in October, almost singlehandedly leading the Rays offense on the way to the World Series.  While he did seemingly come out of nowhere, he actually started mashing soon after being activated from the COVID-19 list in late August.  He slugged seven homers in September before adding  an incredible 10 more in the Postseason.  Even though he made his MLB debut in 2019, Arozarena actually remains MLB rookie eligible this year since he missed so much time in 2020 recovering from the virus.  For the Kings sake, hopefully he kept up his now famous pushup regimen this offseason.  If so, he could help the Kings rebound from a shockingly disappointing 2020.

With the third pick in the draft, we had a quick throwback to last year’s draft that featured four sons of former DTBL players selected in the first 15 picks.  The Choppers selected third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, 28 years after his father Brian, also a third baseman, played for the Choppers in the inaugural season of the DTBL of 1993.  The elder Hayes played four seasons in this league.  Ke’Bryan figures to stick around much longer.  Known mostly for his slick fielding as a prospect, Hayes burst onto the scene with a .376 average and five home runs in 85 big league at bats.  He has an advanced bat and runs well too, so there is serious five category potential here.  This marks the fourth straight year that the Choppers have selected an infielder with their first pick.  Hayes will join last year’s pick of Pete Alonso to form a strong corner duo for years to come.

So after three picks, this first round didn’t look too dissimilar from previous years.  But things started to change at four.  The Demigods selected veteran outfielder J.D. Martinez, who they had just cut from their roster last month.  I suppose this could be chalked up as a case of seller’s remorse.  Martinez struggled badly a year ago, but this came on the heels of three straight seasons of hitting at least .300 with 35+ home runs and 100+ RBI.  While he’s no youngster at 33, it seems likely that his ’20 campaign was an outlier and a product of a weird season.  Had the Demigods not picked him, some other team surely would have done so relatively early.  The surprise here is that it was the team that just cut him that made the pick.  If you ignore that fact though, Martinez makes all the sense in the world for a Demigods squad that has more than enough talent to contend and could really use his proven bat in the lineup.

The Cougars followed by selecting another non-DTBL rookie.  But this one was more of a technicality as starting pitcher Corbin Burnes is at a completely different place now than he was when the Choppers took a late flier on him as a relief pitcher in 2019.  Burnes fell out of the league last year, but now returns as a starter with huge upside.  He started nine of the 12 games he appeared in last season and put up some impressive numbers.  He had a 2.11 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 88 strikeouts in 60 innings.  This is the second straight year the Cougars have used the fifth overall pick on a starting pitcher who had fallen off the league roster the previous year.  Worked out pretty well with Lucas Giolito.  Those two should help the Cougars improve upon a rotation which somewhat held them back from being contenders a year ago.

Jo Adell entered 2020 as one of the top prospects in baseball, but probably not quite ready for the majors.  The lack of a minor league season probably prevented him from that last bit of development time he could have used before making his debut.  Instead, he was thrown into the fire with the Angels for a bulk of the season.  It did not go well.  He hit just .161 and struck out in over 40% of his plate appearances.  He is flying under the radar this spring, in large part because he lost rookie eligibility and is thus not being discussed in prospect rankings.  But he is still very much a coveted prospect with great power and speed tools.  If he can improve the hit tool, he has a chance to be a star.  He will likely start this season in the minors though.  But that did not prevent the Mavericks from selecting him with the sixth pick.  This is a luxury the Mavericks could afford with their absolutely loaded roster, particularly in the outfield.  They don’t really need anything from Adell to be a contender this season.  But the enormous upside was too much to pass up.

The next pick was another player with an uncertain role this season.  The Beanballers selected Dodgers pitcher Dustin May with the sixth pick.  May is also not a DTBL rookie.  He was picked in the sixth round by the Mavericks last year.  But not having a firm grasp on a rotation spot heading into the season made him expendable.  The Beanballers were willing to gamble on the talent.  Even if he isn’t able to crack the Dodgers rotation to start the season, it would be surprising if he didn’t get plenty of opportunities sooner than later.  May did start 10 games a year ago and had an excellent 2.57 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.  If he can improve on his strikeout rate, he has top of the rotation potential.  The Beanballers could definitely use a big season from him this year as they bide their time before Noah Syndergaard returns from Tommy John surgery.

With the eighth pick, the Moonshiners went a more traditional route, taking a rookie who made a strong impression in his debut.  Orioles outfielder Ryan Mountcastle put up numbers very similar to Hayes.  He hit .333 with five home runs in 140 plate appearances.  Mountcastle was a consistently strong hitter in the Orioles farm system for five full years before he finally got his opportunity in the big leagues last season.  He was the fifth outfielder selected in the first round.  Mountcastle should help shore up a Moonshiners offense that was below average a year ago and an outfield that should be much improved with Kyle Tucker quietly becoming a fantasy star and Shohei Ohtani returning to the offensive side of things this year.

Next, the Jackalope selected shortstop Dansby Swanson, who has had a very interesting four year DTBL career.  This is the fourth time he has been drafted, by four different teams.  He has never spent consecutive seasons on the same roster.  Originally a second round pick of the Naturals in 2017, this was his first time as a first rounder.  Swanson is coming off a career year in which he hit 10 homers with 35 RBI in a shortened season.  He was a solid contributor to the championship winning Darkhorses, but was squeezed out with their deep roster.  The Jackalope were happy to add him to their infield, which was mildly disappointing a year ago.  Their offense will feature six of their former first round picks this season.  Even a minor improvement to that offense should put them in strong contention for a title.

Finally, the defending champion Darkhorses closed out the first round by selecting another young slugger who made the most of the shortened season, but also enters 2021 with a somewhat unsettled role.  First baseman Dominic Smith was the final pick of the first round.  Smith made his MLB debut in 2017, but is still just 25 years old.  Last season, he hit .316 with 10 home runs and 42 RBI.  With Pete Alonso firmly entrenched at first base for the Mets and the designated hitter not being in play in the NL this year, Smith figures to see a bulk of his time in the outfield.  If he gets semi regular playing time, he could be a monster offensive force for a team that is already the best team in the league with the bats.  Immediately following the selection of Smith, eight of the Darkhorses ten hitters were players who hit double digit home runs a year ago.  And that doesn’t even include Alex Bregman, who is only a year removed from hitting 40.  This is a truly scary offense.

Half of the first round picks were outfielders and another could move there a year from now.  Meanwhile, only two pitchers were selected in the first ten picks.  This was despite much more league roster shuffling among hurlers than hitters.  It will be interesting to see which strategies pay off following a very unusual 2020.

Abreu, Tatis Share MVP Award

November 23rd, 2020 by Kevin

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A sixty game regular season didn’t afford players much of an opportunity to distinguish themselves from their peers.  Plenty of players made the most of the shortened schedule and had tremendous seasons.  But how do you determine which player was most valuable over such a short time frame?  It would appear the voters for the 2020 DTBL Most Valuable Player award had many different thoughts on that.  In quite possibly the most competitive award vote in league history, not one player received even half of the available points.  Five different guys received a first place tally and four others were ranked in the top three on at least one ballot.  A group of four players finished within four points of each other at the top of the results table.  And finally, two players tied for the ultimate prize.  Cougars first baseman Jose Abreu and Demigods shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. are the 2020 DTBL Co-Most Valuable Players.

Jose Abreu has been a steady force for the Cougars since 2015.  But prior to this year, he had never received so much as a single MVP vote and has never been named a DTBL All-Star.  This year, however, he was clearly among the league’s elite hitters.  He led the league with 60 RBI.  His 19 home runs trailed only Luke Voit.  He also hit .317 with 43 runs.  The batting average was easily a career high for Abreu and the pace he set in those counting stats would have been personal bests as well.  Being among the leaders in runs batted in is nothing new for Abreu though.  He finished second with 123 a year ago and has had at least 90 RBI in every season but one, prior to this season.  Abreu’s 4.4 Batting PAR ranked fourth in the league, which is an unusually low ranking for a MVP.  But the margins were so small that distinguishing between players based on that stat alone didn’t make a lot of sense this year.  He was just 0.2 points behind the leader (Tatis).

Abreu was selected by the Cougars with the first overall pick in the 2015 Draft.  By first overall pick standards, perhaps his career had been a slight disappointment prior to this year.  But he’s hardly been a bust.  He finished fourth for the Rookie of the Year award in 2015, following a strong first season.  His best full season was probably last year when he .284 with 33 homers and 123 RBI and a career high 5.4 PAR.  He almost certainly would have blown past that figure this year though with a full schedule.  He’s now finished with at least 4.0 PAR in four of his six DTBL seasons.  Abreu was a major reason why the Cougars finished second in the league in batting points.

In case you didn’t get a chance to read the Rookie of the Year article, here is a quick recap of Fernando Tatis Jr.’s season.  The first overall selection in this year’s draft lived up to the hype and then some.  Tatis led the league with 4.6 Batting PAR.  He hit .277 with 17 home runs and 11 stolen bases.  Only five players had more steals and only two hit more home runs than Tatis.  Nobody exceeded his total in both of those categories.  He also led the league with 50 runs scored.

While many players have come close in recent years, including Ronald Acuna last year, Tatis is the first player to win both the DTBL Rookie of the Year and DTBL Most Valuable Player in the same season since Ryan Howard in 2006.  Jake Arrieta had been the last person to win a pair of the three major awards, taking the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year in 2015.  While Tatis’ resume is quite impressive, he wasn’t a lock to be the top finishing Demigod in this vote.  First baseman Freddie Freeman also garnered strong support.  Tatis and Freeman were the primary reasons why the Demigods had the league’s most improved offense in 2020.

As a White Sox fan, I’m reluctant to even mention this, but Tatis and Abreu very easily could have been teammates.  However, the Sox dealt Tatis to San Diego for Big Game James Shields in 2016.  Oops.  I don’t think this is the first time that we have had co-MVPs.  In fact, I have a faint recollection of this happening in one of the league’s first couple seasons.  Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned before, my records are lacking on awards voting from the first decade of the league’s existence.  This data is likely sitting on an old hard drive that I still posses, so maybe I can fill in the blanks later.

The voting for this award was all over the map.  Abreu received the most first place votes with four, but didn’t garner any second or third place tallies and was entirely left off one ballot.  He accumulated a total of 49 points, which was matched by Tatis, but in a different fashion.  Tatis received three first place votes along with a pair of seconds.  But he was also left off two ballots.  Perhaps the top stealth candidate for this award was the guy who finished third.  Beanballers shortstop Trea Turner was not among the players strongly considered for the National League MVP award.  He was an extremely valuable fantasy player, however, racking up impressive totals in all five offensive categories.  Turner hit .335 with a dozen homers and a dozen stolen bases.  He scored 46 runs and knocked in 41.  His 4.4 Batting PAR was a smidge ahead of Abreu.  Turner only received one first place vote, but was the top choice for runner-up with three seconds.  He finished with 47 points, just two behind Abreu and Tatis.  Komodos third baseman Jose Ramirez was also just a flipped vote here or there away from winning this award.  Ramirez actually had nearly identical numbers to Tatis across the board, but with a slightly higher .292 average.  Ramirez received a single first place vote, two seconds and three thirds.  He finished with 45 points, just four behind the winners.  But wait, there was one more player who had a reasonable shot at being the MVP.  Demigods first baseman Freddie Freeman didn’t receive any first place votes, but was another popular choice on ballots.  He appeared on eight ballots for a total of 32 points.  Those were the five who appeared on a majority of ballots.  Kings outfielder Mookie Betts also received a first place nod as one of the three total votes given to him.  To add to the chaos of these results is another fascinating fact.  The champion Darkhorses easily led the league in batting points.  However, not one of their players were among the eleven players who received MVP votes.  Finally, this is the first time in Mike Trout’s illustrious career that he has not received a MVP vote.

Click here to view the full voting results.

And with that, official business for the 2020 DTBL season is complete.  It’s been a trying year for everybody.  I hope this league was a fun distraction for you at times this summer.  Let’s all hope for a return to normalcy in 2021.  Have a great Thanksgiving!

Bieber Bests Choppers Teammate

November 20th, 2020 by Kevin

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When it came to elite pitchers, the Choppers had the market cornered in 2020.  This was an unexpected development, particularly after they lost their long time ace Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery back in the spring.  However, Shane Bieber and Trevor Bauer more than picked up the slack.  They were the two most dominant pitchers in the league this season, which earned them the American League and National League Cy Young awards, which were announced last week.  While both pitchers had remarkable seasons, Bieber was the clear standout pitcher of 2020.  And because of that, he is the 2020 DTBL Cy Young award winner.

This race was basically a runaway right from the start.  Bieber put the league on notice with a scoreless, 14 strikeout performance on Opening Day.  In his second start, the strikeout total fell all they way to 13, but he pitched another eight scoreless innings.  He pitched a dozen times this season, never striking out fewer than eight hitters and without ever allowing more than three runs.  There was not one single dud in his entire season.  The end result was an absurd 1.63 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, eight wins and 122 strikeouts.  He led all qualified pitchers in ERA, wins and strikeouts.  The ERA is the third lowest single season total among qualified pitchers in league history.  Of course, that requires several caveats due to the shortened season, but it is noteworthy nonetheless.  His 7.7 PAR was nearly a point and a half higher than Bauer, the next closest pitcher.  That put him on pace to top Justin Verlander’s record 17.5 PAR last year over the course of a full season.  But again, caveats apply.  No matter how you slice it, Bieber was clearly the best pitcher in baseball in 2020.

This ends a lengthy streak of well established stars winning this award.  Bieber is just 25 years old and figures to be at the very beginning of his prime.  The Choppers selected him in the third round of the 2019 Draft.  His rookie season was quite impressive.  He led the Choppers in most pitching categories last year too.  He won 15 games with a 3.28 ERA and 259 strikeouts.  That earned him third place in a loaded Rookie of the Year race.  Bieber also finished in sixth place for the Cy Young a year ago.  This year, he took his game to a new level, and in doing so, helped the Choppers improve their pitching output by a dozen points.  Bieber didn’t do it alone though.  Trevor Bauer finished second in the league in PAR and Brandon Woodruff had an impressive rookie campaign as well.  If Sale is able to come back healthy next year, the Choppers will have an envious rotation anchoring their squad.  My records only contain complete award data since 2005, so I’m not 100% certain about this, but I believe Bieber is the first Choppers pitcher to win the Cy Young award in at least 20 years.  Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina are the only other Choppers who may have won this award previously (I’m almost certain Maddux did at least once).  The Bieber/Bauer duo does bring back memories of the Choppers dominant staffs of the ’90s that featured Maddux and Mussina.  Perhaps they can help lead the team to their first championship since that era sometime soon.

Believe it or not, Bieber wasn’t a unanimous selection for this award.  He received top billing on nine of the ten ballots, but was placed second on the other.  Still, that’s a pretty impressive 97 total points, well clear of his Choppers teammate.  Bauer was overshadowed by Bieber, but he had fairly similar numbers across the board.  His WHIP was a league best 0.80 and he recorded exactly 100 strikeouts, one of only three pitchers to do so this year.  Bauer was a pretty clear second choice, finishing with seven second place votes and 64 total points.  There was actually a third pitcher who had ridiculous numbers that would have put him in line to win this award in a normal season, and that is Moonshiners veteran Yu Darvish.  Darvish was just slightly behind Bieber and Bauer in every category.  It was his best season since his DTBL Rookie of the Year campaign in 2013.  After falling on some tough times, he is now fully healthy and among the game’s best pitchers again.  Darvish had one second place vote and seven thirds to finish with 45 points.  His Japanese countrymate Kenta Maeda finished fourth.  Maeda had his best DTBL season, highlighted by his 2.70 ERA and a miniscule 0.75 WHIP.  He was probably the most surprising name among the Cy Young contenders this year after spending several years flipping between the rotation and bullpen for the Dodgers.  He proved himself to be an elite starter for the Twins.  Maeda received 20 total points.  Finishing fifth was the consensus favorite for this award heading into the season, Jackalope ace Gerrit Cole.  Cole’s first season in the Bronx was a little bumpy.  But when it was all said and done, he still had a pretty impressive campaign.  It is hard to feel disappointed with a 2.84 ERA and sub 1.0 WHIP.  But the bar has been set awfully high for Cole after signing that massive deal with the Yankees last winter.  Cole received a second place vote and 17 total points.  Normally I stop the rundown after the top five, but I feel like I have to mention the guy who finished sixth since he was the only person to receive a first place vote besides Bieber.  Mavericks star lefty Clayton Kershaw had a nice bounce-back season in 2020, and apparently it impressed someone enough to give him a first place tally.  It was the only vote he received, however.

Click here to view the full voting results.

Fernando Tatis and Shane Bieber were unsurprising recipients of the year’s first two awards.  The final award, Most Valuable Player, figures to be a much more competitive vote.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to guarantee it.  I have tentatively planned on announcing that winner next Monday, November 23.

Tatis Takes Top Rookie Honor

November 17th, 2020 by Kevin

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For the second consecutive year, the first overall pick in the DTBL Draft immediately took the league by storm and became one of its best players.  Last year, it was Ronald Acuna who led the league in PAR and won the 2019 DTBL Rookie of the Year award.  The Demigods didn’t have a very difficult choice to make with the first pick of the draft back in March.  While it appeared to be a strong incoming class, there was only one player available who seemed to be a safe bet to carry a team in all five offensive categories.  The young shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. did just that.  Through much of the season, not only was Tatis the league’s best rookie, but also seemed a lock to win both of the coveted postseason awards for which he was eligible.  In a very decisive vote, Fernando Tatis Jr. has won the 2020 DTBL Rookie of the Year award.

Just like Acuna a year ago, Tatis led not only DTBL rookies, but all players in batting PAR.  He accumulated 4.6 PAR in the abbreviated 2020 season, which put him on pace to break Acuna’s record setting 11.4 PAR from last year.  Tatis was truly a five category star.  His power and speed combo produced 17 home runs and 11 stolen bases, joining Jose Ramirez and Mookie Betts as the league’s only 15+ HR, 10+ SB players this year.  He led the league with 50 runs scored while knocking in 45.  His .277 average was solid as well, though he slipped down to that mark in the closing weeks.  Among rookie hitters, nobody was particularly close to him.  His PAR was more than twice that of the next best rookie hitter.  Now we will wait to see if Tatis is able to accomplish the MVP/ROY double, which Acuna just narrowly missed last season.

Tatis is the primary reason why the Demigods were in contention for their first DTBL title for much of the season.  They drifted back to a seventh place finish, but nearly doubled their batting point total (14 to 27), and moved into the top half of the league in batting points.  Tatis led the Demigods in home runs, runs and stolen bases.  He had nearly twice as many base thefts as any of his teammates.  He and Freddie Freeman gave the Demigods two of the best players in the league.  Freeman was recently named the National League MVP and figures to join Tatis in the discussion for that award in this league as well.  Tatis and Francisco Lindor give the Demigods an extremely enviable duo at shortstop that should help carry their offense to new heights in upcoming years.  Tatis is the Demigods’ first Rookie of the Year winner since Corey Kluber in 2014.

Despite Tatis’ nearly impeccable Rookie of the Year resume, the streak of consecutive unanimous winners of this award ended at three.  Tatis received nine of the ten first place votes, plus one second to finish with 97 points.  While the unanimous selection streak ended, the streak of runaway victories continues.  Tatis was the only player to appear on all ten ballots.  Finishing second was one of this year’s breakout stars, Jackalope pitcher Dinelson Lamet.  This was actually not Lamet’s first season in the DTBL.  However, he remained rookie eligible because he never appeared on the Naturals active roster in 2018 before succumbing to Tommy John surgery.  This year, Lamet struck out 93 in 69 innings with an impressive 2.09 ERA and 0.86 WHIP.  No rookie pitcher had more strikeouts.  Lamet received six second place votes for a total of 50 points.  Just behind him was another early draft pick of the Demigods, third round pitcher Max Fried.  Their second round pick Zac Gallen also received a vote, which means the Demigods really cashed in with their first three selections.  Fried had a miniscule 1.98 ERA and led rookies with six wins.  He appeared on nine ballots with one second and five third place votes for 41 points.  The fourth place finisher was a major contributor for the champion Darkhorses.  Their bullpen was the best in the league, by far, and Liam Hendriks was a big reason why.  Hendriks had 14 saves with a ridiculous 1.78 ERA and 0.67 WHIP.  He received the lone first place vote that didn’t go to Tatis, propelling him to 29 points.  This is the highest finish in the Rookie of the Year vote for a relief pitcher since Craig Kimbrel and John Axford finished second and third respectively in 2011.  Rounding out the top five is one of this season’s best free agent signings, outfielder Teoscar Hernandez.  Despite going undrafted, Hernandez was signed in time to accumulate a dozen homers for the Beanballers in just 140 at bats.  He received a second place vote and 12 total points.  In total, 11 different players appeared on at least one ballot.  So while there was a clear consensus for the top spot, many deserving players split the remaining votes.

Click here to view the full voting results.

Sorry I’m a little late with the start of these award announcements.  I usually like to do them about the same time as the MLB awards are announced.  But in my defense, I think MLB did theirs a week earlier than usual this year.  At any rate, the Cy Young award should be announced in a few days with MVP to follow either this weekend or early next week.

Darkhorses Dash To Title

September 29th, 2020 by Kevin

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2020 was supposed to be the year of chaos and unpredictability in baseball and this league.  To some degree, the former was true with multiple MLB teams missing week’s worth of games due to COVID-19 positive tests and having September schedules filled with 7-inning double headers.  Season ending injuries and opt-outs were more prevalent than ever.  But unpredictability?  Nah, not in this league.  Our pre-season projections saw the Jackalope and Darkhorses as the clear favorites to win the title in an abbreviated 60-game season.  While other teams made some noise at times, ultimately it came down to those two teams in the season’s final days.  In the end, it was the Darkhorses exorcising recent demons of close second place finishes.  For the fifth time in franchise history and the first time in exactly a decade, David’s Darkhorses are the Dream Team Baseball League Champions.

As I wrote about in the mid-season article, one thing I was most definitely not expecting in 2020 was for one team to have a stranglehold on first place.  However, amazingly, the Darkhorses never fell below second place at any point of the season after the Opening Weekend.  And they were in first place following all but two days of the final five weeks.  But it did get a little scary for them as one of the days in which the Jackalope overtook them for the top spot was on the final weekend, with just two days remaining.  With extremely thin margins in almost all categories, the consistent excellence from the Darkhorses was truly remarkable.

The Darkhorses are a deep team with very few, if any, obvious weaknesses.  This type of roster is going to be a contender in almost any type of season.  But perhaps they were uniquely built for this particular season even more than one might have realized.  While they did not suffer the same injury and opt-out carnage of some other squads, their depth was certainly challenged.  James Paxton missed most of the season with an arm injury.  Lorenzo Cain opted out after the first week.  Matt Chapman hit the injured list in early September.  Alex Bregman had an injury riddled campaign as well.  What is really impressive is how they were able to overcome very little production from some of the guys who had been their most important players in recent years, most notably reigning MVP Christian Yelich who scuffled to the tune of a .205 average.

So who picked up the slack?  A whole bunch of guys.  The Darkhorses easily led the league in batting points for the third straight year.  Despite that, they did not have any player finish in the top 15 in Batting PAR.  It was a total team effort.  Bryce Harper led the way with 2.7 PAR, so yes, he finally gets his ring.  Dansby Swanson had the best season of his career so far.  Brandon Lowe may have been the steal of this year’s draft.  The third round pick should receive Rookie of the Year consideration.  Xander Bogaerts and J.T. Realmuto were their usual steady selves.  Mike Yastrzemski was a great early season free agent signing.  Despite the lack of any apparent MVP candidates, the Darkhorses unquestionably had the best offensive depth in the league, with positive contributions from all 14 batting spots.

The Darkhorses have had a great offense for quite some time now.  What had previously held them back a bit was their pitching staff.  Technically, they only improved by 1/2 pitching point from last year.  But relative to the rest of the league, that was enough to get the job done.  They tied for the fourth most pitching points.  As usual, Jacob deGrom carried the rotation.  Maybe even more so than usual, actually.  He was their only starting pitcher to earn more than 1.0 PAR (4.5).  Last year’s second choice starter Patrick Corbin was actually quite disappointing this year.  Jose Berrios was the only other starter besides deGrom who lived up to expectations.  This wasn’t really a championship caliber starting staff.  But boy did the bullpen make up for that.  Liam Hendriks, Brad Hand, Taylor Rogers and Mark Melancon made up what was by far the best bullpen in the league.  Hendriks and Hand were the Darkhorses next two most valuable pitchers after deGrom, and were first and second in the league in PAR among relievers.  Hand led the league in saves with 16.  Hendriks was second with 14.  The Darkhorses absolutely blew away the rest of the league in saves.  They had 48 of them.  The margin between them and the second best Moonshiners (23) was almost as large as the Moonshiners save total (25).  So yes, the Darkhorses had nearly twice as many saves as another other team.  These four relievers were paramount to the Darkhorses success in the other pitching categories as well.

This season culminates an impressive three year run for the Darkhorses in which they finished in the top two spots in the standings.  The last time a team had a similar run of excellence was the Naturals in 2010-12.  This is the Darkhorses first championship since 2010, which was the year they actually shared the title with the Naturals, and was the final season of the Darkhorses’ four-peat.  Their five titles is second only to the Kings.  If you were to split the DTBL history in half, the Darkhorses would probably earn the distinction of the league’s best franchise in the second half having won five of those 14 championships.

This has been a trying year for all of us.  But I am extremely grateful that MLB was able to successfully complete this season, and thus so were we.  Let’s hope we are able to return to some semblance of normalcy by the time the 2021 baseball season begins.  In the meantime, I intend to enjoy the Postseason, which will get started in a matter of hours.  Congrats to David on a well-deserved championship!  Thanks to everybody else for making this a very enjoyable and competitive season.