Kings Retain Their Crown

October 12th, 2019 by Kevin

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The 2018 Kings were a very flawed team that rode a couple superstars to best a weak field and won a league championship.  2019 was a much different story.  The improved Darkhorses had one of the best offensive seasons in league history.  In order to beat them, the Kings needed a lot more than one or two guys to carry the offensive load.  And they got just that.  But once again, it was an untouchable pitching staff that ultimately led the charge.  For the first time since 2010 when the Darkhorses finished off their four-peat, sharing the league title with the Naturals, a team was able to successfully defend their title.  For the eighth time in franchise history, Kevin’s Kings are the Dream Team Baseball League champions.

The Kings got off to a bit of a slow start, finding themselves in the middle of the pack for most of the first two months.  But by early June, they had claimed first place and rarely gave it up after that.  The Darkhorses were right on their tail most of the way, but the Kings grabbed first for good on August 17.  Much like last year, it was pretty much a two horse race between the Kings and Darkhorses.  But unlike last year, it was a race between two very strong teams.  The 77 points the Darkhorses accumulated would have been enough to win the league the previous three seasons.  The Kings finished with 84 points, which is the highest total since the Jackalope juggernaut of 2015.  Obviously, it takes a well-rounded team to rack up a point total like that.

Mookie Betts was basically the lone offensive star for the 2018 Kings.  He was great again this year, but had plenty of help.  Without looking it up, I bet you wouldn’t have been able to name the Kings leader in batting PAR this season.  The answer:  Jonathan Villar.  Villar has long been an underappreciated fantasy performer, but he took things to a whole new level this season.  He led the league with 40 stolen bases, hit a career high 24 home runs and even managed to score 111 runs on a terrible Orioles team.  He is the first DTBL player to put up a 20/40 season since Carlos Gomez in 2013.  Villar’s 8.2 PAR led the Kings squad, but a couple other guys were right behind him.  Betts wasn’t quite the same player he was in ’18 when he claimed the league’s MVP award, but he was still pretty darn good.  He hit 29 homers while stealing 16 bags and led the league in runs scored, despite missing some time with nagging injuries.  Besides Villar, perhaps the most surprising offensive star for the Kings was Marcus Semien.  He set career highs pretty much across the board, hitting 33 homers with 92 RBIs and 123 runs.  His 7.2 PAR more than tripled his previous high water mark.  Interestingly, Villar and Semien were both back half of the draft selections by the Kings in 2018.  It took a while, but those picks have paid off in a big way.  There were other sneakily impressive players for the Kings offense.  Matt Olson and Trey Mancini slugged 30+ homers.  It was the overall quality of depth that the Kings had which made this a much improved group.

But let’s not get too carried away gushing about the Kings offense.  Because in the end, it was once again the pitching staff that won them the championship.  Until the very last few days of the season, it appeared they were going to pull off something no team has ever done:  finishing first in all five pitching categories.  But the Mavericks snatched the ERA crown from them at the last minute and the Kings had to settle for 49 pitching points.  That ties them with the 2011 Jackalope for most total pitching points.

Once again drawing comparisons to the 2018 team, the Kings pitching staff was anchored by two long time veteran members of their squad:  Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.  An injury derailed Scherzer from repeating his ’18 Cy Young campaign, but Verlander more than picked up the slack.  He led the league in pitching PAR at 17.3, barely edging out his Astros teammate Gerrit Cole.  Both Verlander and Cole topped Verlander’s previous league record 16.4 mark in 2011 (among seasons I’ve calculated).  Verlander won a league high 21 and also bested all starting pitchers with a 0.80 WHIP.  He reached 300 strikeouts in his final outing of the season, only trailing Cole in that category.  Meanwhile, Scherzer wasn’t able to accumulate similarly impressive numbers in the counting categories, but he did still post a 2.92 ERA with 243 strikeouts in just 172 innings.  Verlander and Scherzer had a little more help this year.  Most notably, Eduardo Rodriguez had an under-the-radar great year.  He won 18 games for the Kings, striking out 204 batters.  Zack Wheeler was a solid addition to the rotation too.

The Kings bullpen was a surprising strength for the club as well.  It should be noted that saves were way down across the league this season.  Active DTBL players accumulated 728 of them, which is the lowest total since the league expanded to 10 teams in 1998.  So it didn’t take as much as usual to win the saves category.  But the Kings did it convincingly, racking up 104 of them.  Will Smith led the way with 34.  Sean Doolittle and Hector Nerris pitched in 29 and 25 respectively.  In the end, this bullpen didn’t feature outstanding peripherals.  But they were very good in the category that matters most for relief pitchers in fantasy baseball.

The Kings made plenty of solid draft picks and free agent signings this year to plug holes in the roster.  But in the end, it was improved performances from a bunch of their keepers who led the way to this championship.  With their eighth DTBL Championship, the Kings have now doubled their closest competition, the Darkhorses and Naturals, for most titles in league history.  Unlike the previous version, this 2019 team will be remembered as one of their better squads.

So now we are will into October and another off-season has begun for our league.  I will prepare for the awards voting and announcements in the near future.  But until then, enjoy the rest of the MLB Postseason!

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