A New Hope
April 9, 2007

The very first Star Wars movie produced was originally called simply "Star Wars".  It wasn't until the franchise starting turning out sequels that the title sequence added the "A New Hope" subtitle.  For all those people who never saw them in the order in which they were made and decided to watch them "from the beginning" and had to suffer through Episodes 1 through 3 wondering what all the hubbub was about, they pretty much needed a new hope to convince themselves that the 4th one would be better.  Star Wars: A New Hope wiped the slate clean for them.  I am hoping to duplicate that feat over the rest of 2007 after what happened to my own fantasy/simulation baseball version of Episodes 1-3, my Strat-O-Matic '69 team.  I am hoping that these two teams will be my Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back.

wAL Fanalytic Scoresheet
Scoresheet is a bit like Strat-o-matic in that defense counts.   The difference between the two simluation games is that Scoresheet's player statistics are based on what is happening this year whereas the results in Strat are based on what happened in a previous year.  And unlike Tout Wars, teams are built through a draft rather than an auction.  Since this is my first exposure to Scoresheet, I'm not sure how much defense shows up in the results nor do I know how much the game is weighted toward pitching or hitting.  However, I figured if it's like real baseball, it was best to focus on pitching and defense and fill in the offense where I can.  Here's what I drafted:

SP  R Harden,Rich      RP  R Rodriguez,Francisco   
    R Cabrera,Daniel       R MacDougal,Mike
    L Loewen,Adam          L Thornton,Matt   
    R Colon,Bartolo        R Benoit,Joaquin    
    R Ortiz,Ramon          R Dotel,Octavio      
    R Meche,Gil            L Parrish,John     
    L Danks,John           L Rhodes,Arthur     
R Jackson,Edwin          
L Igawa,Kei   
R Morrow,Brian                           
C   L Mauer,Joe      
1B  L Johnson,Dan      2B  B Roberts,Brian      3B  R Crede,Joe        
    R Buck,John           L Kotchman,Casey       L Cano,Robinson          R Upton,B.J.            
    R Ojeda,Miguel                                                                                     
SS  R Uribe,Juan      OF  B Swisher,Nick           
    L Cora, Alex          B Bradley,Milton       
    B Santiago,Ramon      R Baldelli,Rocco  
                        R Guillen,Jose  
                          R Cruz(Tex),Nelson
                          L Erstad,Darin    

Judging from the early returns the pitching staff should be pretty good.  Rich Harden has continued to look as dominating as he did in spring training.  Daniel Cabrera and Adam Lowen still have some rough edges but look much improved from last year.  Those guys are high ceiling talents so I don't think it will be much of a surprise if they do well.  Ramon Ortiz looked really good in his first start and I'm probably one of the few who believes that wasn't a fluke.  The Twins' Rick Anderson is an excellent pitching coach, but just as importantly Ortiz has fared well historically when backed up by a wide-ranging centerfielder.  Primarily a flyball pitcher, his best two seasons came when Darin Erstad was healthy and winning Gold Gloves.  The past several years he's been backed by mediocre (at best) centerfielders.  This year, he's got Torii Hunter.  If my observation is correct, Ortiz should be a decent option even in mixed leagues.  I'll get Colon back in May and should be able to find a decent emergency starter from the group of Meche, Danks, Jackson and Igawa.  I like the bullpen, too: three hard-throwing lefties, two guys with closing experience setting up on of the better closers in the league.  This should be a pretty tough staff to hit.

I don't have any uber-mashers in the line-up but every one of my starters is a good defensive player with some pop.  I like John Buck to take a step forward offensively this year; he showed a much improved eye this spring and he's always had pretty decent power.  I'll platoon him with Mauer.  Upton will be a nice utility player with a good deal of positional flexibility.  Having two star second basemen - Roberts and Cano - should give me some decent trade bait, although the AL is pretty deep at second base this year.  With the exception of Neifi Perez, Juan Uribe is the highest rated defensive shortstop in AL Scoresheet, and with his improved approach at the plate this spring he should be a decent offensive player, too.  I really do think that his run-in with the law this winter made him appreciate just how lucky he is to be playing ball this year.  He just looked so much more focused this spring and his numbers reflected it.  Swisher will be my DH more often than not, first base if Kotchman gets injured.  Bradley, Baldelli and Guillen give me a pretty athletic outfield and I can use Erstad as a defensive replacement when necessary.  While this team is built on pitching and defense, they do have enough pop and speed to put some runs on the board consistently.  I'm looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

NL Tout Wars

Sam Walker wrote a nice piece about my squad on ESPN.com.  This is the team he was commenting on:  

Pos  Name            Salary        Name              Salary
C -  Brian Schneider    6          Dontrelle Willis    14
C -  Rod Barajas        8          John Patterson      13
1B - Carlos Delgado    25          Rich Hill           14
2B - Ryan Thierot      10          Claudio Vargas       7
3B - Morgan Ensberg    21          Kip Wells            6
SS - Hanley Ramirez    33          Pedro Martinez       4
MI - Mark Loretta       6          Ryan Madson          1
CM - Wilson Betemit    12          Salomon Torres      15
OF - Brad Hawpe        18
OF - Wily Taveras      25
OF - Geoff Jenkins      8
OF - Lastings Milledge  7
OF - Todd Linden        2
UT - Jason Lane         3
Nate McLouth   
Matt Belisle   
Victor Santos  
Kevin Correia   
Travis Lee  
Justin Upton   

No question I braincramped on the last two picks of the reserve round.  When the draft was over, Jason Grey leaned forward and said, "Y'know, Trace, Travis Lee retired this morning...".  The blank smile on my face instantly told him that, no, I did not know that.  Pretty funny.  Still, I don't know that blundering late in the reserve round is going to be a deal breaker.  I do think that Justin Upton will see time in the majors this year, but I don't believe it will come before September.  

In the meantime, I can use that spot on the roster to speculate for saves.  As a matter of fact, I picked up Randy Messenger this week.  I don't have much faith that Jorge Julio can keep the job past June and Messenger not only had a very nice spring, but also has closing experience in the minors.  Surprisingly, he's younger than Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens yet has more higher level experience than Lindstrom.  Both Owens and Messenger got their closing experience primarily in Double A and I'll admit Owens has the edge talent-wise, but the difference between the two is not so great that a hot streak at the right time could give Messenger the edge when Julio falters.  It was worth the risk, anyway.  

With Travis Lee's spot I picked up National's back-up catcher Jesus Flores.  He's a Rule 5 guy so they'll keep the 21-year old on the roster all year.  He has great power for a backstop: last year he hit 21 homers in 421 at bats at St. Lucie, which is a pretty tough park for power.  To put it in perspective:

David Wright hit only 15 homers (in 466 at bats) there as a 20-year old,
Mike Jacobs hit 11 (in 461 at bats) at age 21,
Jason Bay hit 9 (in 261 at bats) at age 23
Preston Wilson hit 11 (in 245 at bats) at age 23

Each of those guys has either hit 30 homers or is projected to do so eventually.  Flores has some trouble swinging at bad pitches but showed improved discipline this spring.  I don't expect him to hit for any average but he should provide a little pop in the 150 or so at bats he'll get.  However, the point is probably moot with Schneider and Barajas but it's nice to have some insurance.  If you're in keeper leagues he's a guy to watch.

Like my Scoresheet team, the pitching staff is probably the strength of this team.  If  Dontrelle Willis's trends are to be trusted, this is the year to have him in his on-year/off-year career cycle.  I like John Patterson to improve quite a bit over the next few weeks especially if Nook Logan gets healthy and can hit enough to stay in the line-up (I think he can, but as a #8 hitter).  Rich Hill was terrific down the stretch last year and has continued his good work.  It's no secret that Dave Duncan has had tremendous success turning around the careers of a number of starting pitchers and Kip Wells has always had #1 starter-type talent.  Speaking of pitching coaches who have had great success, I'm betting that Mike Maddux can get Claudio Vargas to finally get his emotions in check.  He has terrific stuff, but has had a habit of coming undone when something doesn't fall right.  Hopefully Maddux can strengthen his mental game enough to match his physical talent.  I mentioned how much I liked Matt Belisle last year in my ESPN News appearance.  He has the best groundball rate of any of the Reds' current starters and has looked very good so far.  His minor league resume is solid enough to suggest it's no fluke.  If I get a half season from Pedro, so much the better.  

Salomon Torres has been improving in all aspects of his game over the last three years; my only concern was with his workload last year.  That doesn't appear to be a concern given how well he pitched in the series at Houston.  I like him for a good year.  Correia, Madson and Santos are speculative plays for saves, although if I had it to do over again, I'd probably opt for Kirk Saarloos as the guy who will step up in Cincinnati if Weathers falters.

The offense isn't too bad either.  It's got decent speed with Ramirez, Taveras and Theriot plus pretty good power with Delgado and Ensberg.  

There's potential for quite a bit more power with Lane, Hawpe, Jenkins and Betemit, all capable of 30 homers with 500 at bats.  I don't think Lane or Jenkins will get more that 350-400, but that still could net each 17-20 homers.  I really like Hawpe and Betemit this year.  Both guys are showing much better discipline this spring which should result in more pitches to drive.  A lot of people are on the Andy LaRoche bandwagon in LA but a) his defense still needs a lot of work, and b) Betemit is only one year older yet has three more years of major league experience.  La Roche has the better discipline but I have to wonder if that is due to ability or coaching because the Betemit's former organization, Atlanta, has never done a particularly good job of teaching discipline at the plate.  Under Dodger hitting coach Eddie Murray, Betemit should get a better handle on how to get better pitches to hit if he's at all coachable which I think he is.  

Despite Shawn Green's surprisingly fast start, Lastings Milledge has looked good enough to push him to the bench by mid-season.  It is amazing how much and how fast Green has declined: in 2002 he hit 42 homers but last year at just 33 years old managed only 15.  

Back to Theriot for a moment... ever since he gave up switch hitting he's hit better than .300.  With his speed and Lou Pinella's intention of playing him just about everywhere, he's drawn comparisons to Chone Figgins.  That's not as outrageous at it might seem at first blush.  Compare Figgins first extended look in the majors with Theriot's:  

Year Team      Lg Age Org. Level   Pos  G  AB   R   H  2B  3B HR RBI  SB CS  BB  SO HBP IBB SH  SF DP   AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS
2003 Salt Lake PCL 25 Ana  AAA   2b-ss 68 285  55  89  14  15  4  30  16  6  29  36  3   1   2   2  4  .312 .379 .509  888
     Anaheim   MLB 25 Ana  MLB     cf  71 240  34  71   9   4  0  27  13  7  20  38  0   0   6   4  1  .296 .345 .367  712

2006  Iowa     PCL 26 Chc  AAA     2b  73 280  41  85  11   5  0  22  14  3  27  34  2   1   1   2  5  .304 .367 .379  746
    Chi Cubs   MLB 26 Chc  MLB     2b  53 134  34  44  11   3  3  16  13  2  17  18  2   0   6   0  5  .328 .412 .522  934
Very similar numbers across the board with the exception of the triples totals.  

Anyway, I'm not going to make any predictions about how either team will do.  I was never more optimistic about a team than I was with my Strat '69 team and look how that turned out.  I will venture that I went into both drafts with the intention of acquiring solid, reasonably deep hitting teams along with a number of high upside pitchers and it's pretty clear that's what I came away with.  As with any team there are questions as to how much playing time some guys will ultimately end up with but regardless they should get enough to keep me in great shape all season.

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