First Draft of 2001, part 3   (01/23/01)

Continuing with my draft in the experts league:

10th round:
1. Woodman: E. Young, Cubs, 2B
2. Sandbox Sports: O. Vizquel, Cle, SS
3. Sandbox Users: E. Renteria, StL, SS
4. Creative Sports: S. Elarton, Hou, SP
5. Dr. Stats: J. Smoltz, Atl, SP
6. Bart Lynch: L. Castillo, Fla, 2B
7. Wall St. Sports: J. Isringhausen, Oak, RP
8. Long B. Wagner, Hou, RP
9. Fantasy Baseball Headquarters: O. Hernandez, NYA, SP
10. Baseball HQ: M. Mantei, AZ, RP

11th Round:
1. Baseball HQ: J. Shaw, LA, RP
2. Fantasy Baseball Headquarters: C. Biggio, Hou, 2B
3. Long M. Alou, Hou, OF
4. Wall St. Sports: C. Johnson, Fla, C
5. Bart Lynch: M. Lieberthal, Phil, C
6. Dr. Stats: A. Alfonseca, Fla, RP
7. Creative Sports: D. Graves, Cin, RP
8. Users: J. Edmonds, StL, OF
9. Sandbox: E. Martinez, Sea, 1B
10. Woodman: Todd Hundley, Cubs, C

I included the 10th round to show that, indeed, there was a strong chance that had I chosen Orlando Hernandez, that Wagner would have been gone by the time my pick came around again.  Baseball HQ, desperate for closers, picked up Mantei and Shaw in succession.  And while Shaw is a decent choice, there's very little chance that he can develop a killer trick pitch this spring that would vault him into the ranks of the 600+ point closers.  With his stuff, he's relegated to the 525-550 range, even in a good year.

I had considered John Smoltz as sort of a sleeper stud as well.  However, one has to remember that it takes between 15 and 18 months to fully recover from Tommy John surgery.  Smoltz's operation was performed in late March of last year.  That means that even with a perfect rehab and the accelerated healing prowess of a top athlete, that he's probably not gonna be back to full strength before July or August at the soonest.  Yes, the reports of his rehab have been quite positive, spiced with quotes from Smoltz saying, "I feel much younger" and "I feel the best I ever have" and "I'm gonna surprise some people this year".  Six years ago, Jose Rijo went underwent a similar reconstruction - performed by the same surgeon, in fact - and came away feeling the same way.  At the time, he was just 30 years old and was holder of the lowest career National League ERA (2.62) since Pete Alexander.  Lower than Carlton, Koufax and Gibson.  Feeling so good after the surgery, Rijo decided to rush back and was pitching again after 12 months.  Rijo's elbow had not fully healed and could not endure the sudden and violent stresses from throwing major league pitches so soon.  He ended up shredding his elbow ligaments and needing 2 more operations just to get it back to where it was functional.  Jose Rijo was out of baseball for good at age 31.  Smoltz is 34 and on a similar timetable as Rijo. Is he that much better equipped to handle an early return than the greatest arm the National League has seen in the past 50 years?   We'll see.

Anyway, I chose Moises Alou for 2 big reasons: 1) he plays in Enron Field, which is the next best thing to having a healthy Larry Walker in Coors.  And 2) he makes contact 90% of the time when he swings, an incredible percentage for someone with his power.  If he can manage to stay healthy, he could be in the top 10 in production amongst outfielders this year.

12th round:
1. Woodman: Luis Gonzalez, Ari, OF
2. Sandbox Sports: D. Burba, Clev, SP
3. Sandbox Users: A. Pettitte, NYA, SP
4. Creative Sports: E. Milton, Min, SP
5. Dr. Stats: R. Hernandez, KC, RP
6. Bart Lynch: Todd Jones, Det, RP
7. Wall St. Sports: M. Clement, SD, SP
8. Long A. Ashby, LA, SP
9. Fantasy Baseball Headquarters: G. Vaughn, TB, OF
10. Baseball HQ: F. Garcia, Sea, SP

Even with the tremendous upside of all the young arms my team will have, I felt it was important to have at least one veteran of established track record as a ballast for my pitching staff.  Ashby was there and frankly, just who I wanted.  I predicted last year's 1st half debacle in my spring review of the Phillies: an extreme groundball pitcher (Ashby is 4th behind Maddux, Hampton and Brown in groundball to flyball ratio) going from a pitcher's park to a hitter's park where the middle infield - both in terms of turf and personnel - were the worst in baseball.  Add to that the pressure of having to be the staff "ace", at least until Curt Schilling returned from injury.  An ERA jump of more than a run was expected.  Sure enough, as a Phillie, his ERA was 5.18, up from the 3.80 he posted as a Padre in 1999.  On the plus side, he was traded to Atlanta mid-season.  Not only was he able to get his season ERA down to a respectable level, but he was afforded an opportunity to pick the brain of one of the smartest pitchers in baseball, Greg Maddux.  This offseason he signed with the Dodgers, where he was re-united with Kevin Brown.  It was a short 3 years ago that Ashby had his best year as a professional, when he pitched for the Padres behind Kevin Brown in the rotation.  Brown left for the Dodgers after that season and although Ashby pitched well in Brown's absence, he was never quite as good.  Now he's reunited with his old friend and will be will pitching in Dodger stadium, one of the more accommodating parks for pitchers in baseball.

13th Round:
1. Baseball HQ: S. Casey, Cin, 1B
2. Fantasy Baseball Headquarters: J. Valentin, ChiA, SS
3. Long S. Williamson, Cin, SP
4. Wall St. Sports: R. Sexson, Mil, 1B
5. Bart Lynch: B. Anderson SP, ARI
6. Dr. Stats: A. Sele, Sea, SP
7. Creative Sports: T. Walker, Col, 2B
8. Users: B. Wickman, Clev, RP
9. Sandbox: M. Grace, AZ, 1B
10. Woodman: J. Weaver, Det, SP

This was a round that hurt.  Two players, Sean Casey and Todd Walker, were on my to get list and both went in this round.  I was actually hoping to get Casey in this round and Walker in round 15.  Casey struggled thought the first half last year, largely due to a broken thumb he suffered in spring training.  In the second half, once the injury had healed sufficiently, Casey displayed what he could do: he hit .370 with 15 home runs and posted an OPS of 1.087.  Woof.

Walker has a similar story.  Widely regarded as one of the best college hitters ever, Walker ransacked AAA and the majors as a 23-year old in 1996 to the tune of .328, 47 doubles, 28 homers and 117 RBI.  But Twins manager Tom Kelly didn't like him because he didn't play defense well.  The Twins coaches also tried to "improve" his swing.  David Rawnsley, of Baseball America and fame, once told me that scouts talk about the Twins hitting philosophy as "learning to hit like [girls]" although those are not the exact words they use.  Sure enough, Walker's numbers diminished greatly over the next 3 years.  Last year, fed up with his poor defense, the Twins traded him to the Rockies.  Now, the guy who was taught to hit like a [girl] will be playing half his games in a part of the country where the men are men and the bears are nervous.  Oh and the ball travels 10% farther.  A good gamble.

But the round was not a complete disaster.  I landed Scott Williamson who has tremendous potential.  Near the end of last year, then-Reds manager Jack McKeon converted him to a starter with very positive results.  In 10 starts, he posted an ERA of 2.93 and struck out 53 batters in 55 innings.  He has an exceptional arm and the only obstacle he faces is mastering another pitch to offset his blazing fastball and devastating splitter.  Then the bad news: The Reds hired Bob Boone to replace McKeon, largely because he was the cheapest managerial candidate available.  As incredible as it may sound, some teams operate that way.  Regdardless, Boone has a bad history of shredding young arms with overwork and overmanaging his teams out of ballgames with elaborate strategies and counter-strategies that almost invariably fail.  So why did I pick Williamson?  Because Don Gullett is his pitching coach.  Gullett has been the Reds pitching coach since 1993, a span of 6 managers (Lou Pinella, Tony Perez, Davey Johnson, Ray Knight, Jack McKeon and now Boone).  In all that time, Gullett has never allowed any starter under the age of 27 to throw more than 120 pitches in a game.  An impressive feat considering that 1 of those managers (Pinella) is notoriously careless with young pitchers in that regard.  I suspect that Gullett remembers how his own playing career was abbreviated due to arm injuries, and suspects, as many do, that his fate was sealed by the excessive workloads he endured as a young pitcher.  With Gullett pulling the strings, Williamson's arm should be safe.  Now I'm just hoping that Casey, Griffey and company have enough talent to render all of Boone's strategic machinations moot.

14th round:
1. Woodman: C. Leskanic, Mil, RP
2. Sandbox Sports: T. Fryman, Clev, 3B
3. Sandbox Users: B. Higginson, Det, OF
4. Creative Sports: U. Urbina, Mon, RP
5. Dr. Stats: J. Thome, Clev, 1B
6. Bart Lynch: T. Womack, AZ, SS
7. Wall St. Sports: D. Veras, StL, RP
8. Long R. Klesko, SD, 1B
9. Fantasy Baseball Headquarters: R. Person, Phil, SP
10. Baseball HQ: R. Ortiz, SF, SP

I like Ryan Klesko.  I like the fact that in the offseason he surfs.  I like the fact that he is an honorary member of the San Diego SWAT team and participates in their training.  I like the fact that he's unafraid to shave himself in one of the most peculiar facial hair styles ever seen, reminiscent of Kenneth Brannagh's facial accouterment as Doctor Arliss Loveless in "Wild, Wild West".  I also like the fact that Ryan Klesko was one of the best hitting first baseman in baseball in the first half of last year before back spasms reduced his effectiveness.  At the All-Star break, Klesko was hitting .316 with 19 homers, 56 RBI and an OPS of 1.030.  He accomplished that facing the toughest first half schedule in baseball in a lineup that regularly featured 3 of the weakest hitters in the game (Chris Gomez, Carlos Hernandez and Ruben Rivera).  This year's line-up will be much improved with Damian Jackson getting full-time play and the addition of Bubba Trammell.  If he can avoid more back trouble, there's a good chance Klesko will live up to the 40-home run potential predicted of him in his minor league scouting reports.

15th Round:
1. Baseball HQ: B. Chen, Phil, SP
2. Fantasy Baseball Headquarters: P. Wilson, Fla, OF
3. Long G. Rusch, NYN, SP
4. Wall St. Sports: P. Reese, Cin, 2B
5. Bart Lynch: M. Lawton, Min, OF
6. Dr. Stats: C. Beltran, KC, OF
7. Creative Sports: B. Grieve, TB, OF
8. Users: B. Radke, Min, SP
9. Sandbox: S. Finley, AZ, OF
10. Woodman: L. Berkman, Hou, OF

My first, and hopefully only, gak.  It's not that Glendon Rusch is a bad pitcher.  Quite the contrary.  Had the Mets afforded him more than 3.73 runs per game last year - 2nd lowest run support in the majors, behind Mike Mussina's 3.71 - he might have won 15 or 16 games and much more acclaim.  No, my problem with my pick here is two-fold.  1) Rusch is not the type of pitcher that will benefit from the new strikezone.  He doesn't throw hard, nor does he lack control.  What's more, he doesn't have a great trick pitch, so in order to get batters out, he must get them to make contact.  Last year, he was able to instigate contact out of the strikezone because the umpires called strikes off the plate.  A hitter can't do much with a pitch that he's leaning out to get.  This year, those pitches will be called balls.  The pitches the hitters will make contact with are the ones they can drive.  Perhaps a very long way.  The league tried to enforce the strikezone for a brief period opening the 1999 season.  If you'll notice, that was the year that Greg Maddux led the league in hits allowed and Tom Glavine posted his worst ERA in a decade.  Rusch pitches like those two guys, so in all likelihood, those kind of results await.  The second reason why this was a dumb choice is that I didn't really need a starter so bad as to change my game plan.  I will explain in more detail next time.

Next up: Rounds 16-20