The Replay Zone – August 2014

By Jeff Polman
August ruminations from your trusty Strat-O-Matic replay addict. Check out “Ball Nuts”, my latest “fictionalized” replay book, which used the 1977 season.
Back in March, I launched my official Strat project for this year, a 12-team draft league using absentee managers and the new ’73 season cards called the ’73 Freaks League, named after the “Baseball Freaks” Facebook group I’m part of. I don’t have a team of my own, but I’m rolling all 972 of the games and updating the Photoshop-created scoreboard daily.
It’s been an exhausting education.
First of all, what I thought would be a pitching-dominated season has had tons of offense, and using only 12 teams likely accounts for this. Playing six games a day and doing the stats before bedtime has been somewhat trying, but after a couple of vacations, my 1973 schedule is now right on track with our real life dates, and I intend to keep that going till the end of the season. The educational part has been watching what kind of teams have been succeeding in the league, and I can start with this observation: Where you fall in the draft order has nothing to do with your success.
The Jordannaires and Dotcoms, leaders of the Eastern and Western divisions respectively, chose 10th and 11th in the draft, while the Frank Lloyd Wrights, currently on a 2-16 swan dive into the abyss, picked 4th. As far as this league goes, having a contending team has been all about having a strategy and sticking to it, and doing pre-draft stat homework (especially regarding splits). Here’s a quick analysis of where the teams are, with a little over a month to play…

(76-56, GM David Jordan) Mr. Jordan went with pitching and defense, and it’s finally been paying off. His rotation features the best hurler in the league so far, Bert Blyleven (22-7, 2.68, 5 shutouts), and while his offense has been scoring runs of late (still third from the bottom in team OPS), his army of 1-rated fielders (George Scott, Bud Harrelson, Paul Blair, Bobby Bonds, Brooks Robinson, and Johnny Bench) have been bailing his pitchers out of countless jams. As of this writing, they’ve made just 65 errors, 28 less than the next team. With the help of Don McMahon’s 21 saves, they also have a 24-17 record in one-run games and lead the league in run differential with a +142.
(72-60, 4 games back, GM Dan Lee) They’re still very much in the race, but the Humans get my vote for the most underachieving team. They’re second in run differential at +114, but are a ghastly 15-27 in one-run games and never seem to hit for alleged ace Tom Seaver, who is now 12-15. Thankfully, Don Sutton is covering for him and is 21-6, 3.16, but despite being second in the league with 182 homers, they rarely seem to hit them when needed. Joe Ferguson has been their most powerful bat with 28 dingers, while Jeff Burroughs has hit 24.

(68-62, 7 games back, GM Joe Viane) Offense is the name of the game with these guys, sporting a league-high .833 OPS, .280 team average and 227 homers (on pace for 282). Certain to have five players with at least 30 homers, their murderers’ row consists of Bill Robinson (37), Amos Otis (34, including four in one game), Darrell Evans (33), Bill Sudakis (29 in just 232 AB), and Dick Allen (26). Unfortunately, their pitching and the fact they play in the Atlanta Launch Pad, where bad weather still produces “16” home run chances from both sides, has made it a constant struggle to get winning streaks going. Vida Blue has been special (14-7), but Luis Tiant has surrendered 54 long balls and it’s not even September.
(60-70, 15 games back, GM Steve Butts) Steve has been talking about changing the name of his team to the 6-4-3s, because they hit into double plays like they’re going out of style, with 188 now in 130 games, 33 more than any other team. They’re also last in the league with 103 homers, which doesn’t help their offense either. Pete Rose has been a batting average and hustle force (.310, 30 doubles, only one error in LF) and Tony Perez and Ken Singleton have had their moments, but this is a club that usually can’t muster enough runs. In a doubleheader in Psycho Stadium yesterday, they were shut out twice by a team that had one whitewash the entire year.

(58-71, 17 games back, GM Bailey G. Walsh) Hard to believe, but the Wrights were 56-55 just three weeks ago and climbing back into the race. Since then they’ve gone 2-16, the major culprits being bad pitching and zero offense, which tends to be a problem. Leadoff man Cesar Cedeno has been their best all-around player, at .292 with 22 homers, 32 SB and 95 runs scored, and Lee May their scariest slugger (34 homers, 112 RBIs), but Steve Renko at 16-11 is their only starter having a good year, while Ken Holtzman, Stan Banhsen and Mike Cuellar have taken turns getting bombed, It’s also been apparent that lefty pitchers have a much tougher time in this league, because most of the teams have a southpaw-mashing hitter or two.

(55-76, 20.5 games back, GM Ron Rollins) They don’t win a lot, but the Moose Men, helmed by our only overseas manager in Bournemouth, UK, are often entertaining. They’re getting great seasons out of Bob Bailey (.275, 36 HR, 90 RBI), Bobby Murcer (.303, 25 HR) and Nate Colbert (.282, 23 HR), but their lack of a bullpen stopper and constant mediocrity of actual ’73 Cy Young winner Jim Palmer (15-13, 4.65) have kept them deep in the doldrums.
(75-53 GM Paul Dylan) Not many league leaders in the stats department, but the Dotcoms have been winning with killer on-base percentage, a deep, tough bullpen, and timely clutch hits up and down the lineup. Whether it’s Rick Monday, Ron Santo, Davey Johnson (36 HR, 100 RBI), Thurman Munson, Willie McCovey (35 HR) or Davey Concepcion, they always seem to come through in the clutch, evidenced by their 9-2 record in extra innings and 38 comeback wins. Like the Jordannaires, they also play better on the road, with a 43-24 mark away from Dodger Stadium. They won the first seven of their twelve meetings with the Jordannaires, but recently got swept by them three straight, so if these two meet in the World Series it could be very intriguing.

(69-62, 7.5 games back, GM Jason Toon) Another tough on-base club with one Achilles heel: bad fielding on the left side of their diamond. Lou Brock (4e13 in LF), Ron Hunt (4e50 at 3B) and Jim Fregosi (4e48 at SS) have brought in many opposition runs, and their final 2-10 season series record vs. the Jordannaires is indicative of this. Still, with a lot of good offense from Frank Robinson (26 HR, 99 RBI), Gene Tenace and Joe Morgan (22 HRS each), Brock and Garry Maddox (10 game-winning RBI), they haven’t been easy to beat. Nelson Briles (18 wins), Jerry Reuss (14 wins) and a good closer in Doug Bird have kept them competitive, but it won’t be easy for the ‘Skinners to catch the Dotcoms.

(67-63, 9 games back, GM John Borack)After hovering around the .500 mark for most of the year, they’ve been playing much better lately, but like the Kuhnskinners, need a major late surge to win the division. Reggie Smith (.294, 37 HR, 111 RBI, .933 OPS, also with a 4-homer game) has been an MVP candidate, and Rod Carew (.336) has been among the batting leaders, while Nolan Ryan (19-6, 3.41) has racked up 286 strikeouts in the year he fanned 383.

(65-65, 11 games back, GM Ted Cogswell)The Psychos switched their home park earlier in the year from hitter-friendly Philadelphia to more pitching-friendly Shea Stadium, and they’ve clearly benefitted, reaching the .500 mark yesterday. Hank Aaron could be playing in Yellowstone and it wouldn’t matter, now tied for the league home run lead with Willie Stargell at 46, knocking in 100 with a .991 OPS and a league-best 21 game-winning hits. Sal Bando (34 HR, 97 RBI) and Greg Luzinski (.299, 28 HR, 98 RBI) have also been forces, but their high error total and mediocre pitching outside of Carl Morton (15-6) and Mel Stottlemyre (17-6) haven’t helped. Weirdest stat line of all goes to their closer Rollie Fingers, who leads the league with 27 saves, yet also has a 3-12 record!

(63-67, 13 games back, GM Dan Epstein) The Flys play their games in Tiger Stadium and loaded their roster with power-hitting lefties like John Mayberry (28 HR), Reggie Jackson (26) and Dave May (23), but after a hot early season surge, somehow just haven’t been able to recapture the momentum. Jackson’s average is up to .264 now, but for months he was scuffling in the .220s, and thankfully Willie Horton (.310, 24 HR, 80 RBI) has picked up the slack. Pitching has also been a problem, with John Matlack (3.80, 209 Ks) their only occasional stopper and Dock Ellis (7-8, 4.58) underachieving. The Flys do have Sparky Lyle, who with 20 saves and a 1.06 ERA has probably been the best reliever in the league.

(53-76, 22.5 games back, GM Michael Dane) They’re playing a lot better now, but the Danes suffered through a horrendous few months, losing 14 games in a row at one point to fall out of contention. Still, they do have Willie Stargell, a shoo-in MVP if there ever was one. Pops is currently batting .312 with 48 doubles, 46 homers, 134 RBI and a league-leading 1.107 OPS. The Danes have also vaulted to third in the league in team OPS, but their sorry pitching (5.76 ERA) and lack of a bullpen have cost them way too many games, especially in their Wrigley Field home, where they have the worst home record at 25-45.
If you want to follow along with the last month of the season and our World Series, you can invite yourself to the ’73 Freaks group page right here.
To view team and individual player statistics from the 1973 Freaks League Replay, click here.
Coming up in a few months (after I finish using the cards in my other league) will be my Best of 2013 Tournament, open to all Strat fans for absentee managing purposes. I’ll be back with details soon…