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12/26/2014

Managing a team through a season on PC


Please note, this was written last summer, but I have decided to post this as a great example for newbies on what it takes to manage a team through a season on Pennant Chase, no matter what sort of luck you have in the Auto Draft... and I think veterans of PC will find it an interesting read as well...

Journal of drafting last

A while back, someone emailed me and complained there were “no good players left” in a Mid-Century Auto League. I checked the league, and although 10 teams had already drafted, there were still 18 hitters batting .340 or better (which is great for a Mid-Century league) , there were 18 players left with over 30 homers (plenty of power available!) and there were nine starting pitchers with WHIPs under 1.00. In total, there were two pages worth of free agents hitting over .300! His claim was ridiculous – there was plenty of talent remaining. The problem lies in folks not knowing how to compete when you draft toward the end.

A lot of people complain about drafting last in a league. I am keeping this journal to document my experience drafting last in Auto League 35, All-Time Greats. I have one title in this league, but forgot to re-draft and was booted from the league. I rejoined the league last and ironically got my original team back.

The Auto Draft

Right off the bat, I had some good pitchers to choose from. The best offered were Bob Gibson and Jack Chesbro. You can’t go wrong with either guy - they have nearly identical career ERAs in the league, but Gibson has an edge in strikeouts and on fire, so he’s the obvious choice for me. I also ended up with Jack Coombs, who I always find to be an interesting pick – some years he can be great, other years he just sucks thanks to that high BB/9 ratio. I figure if he struggles, I can move him into slump buster where he can be pretty effective. The rest of my rotation is garbage, and I was sandbagging a bit by picking Loazia, hoping the weaker player would boost my Supplemental Draft position. The rotation I ended up with:

Bob Gibson
Jack Coombs
Kevin Brown
Mike Cuellar
Esteban Loazia

I know I can’t win with that rotation, so I’ll need help in the Supplemental Draft and free agency if possible. I also know I’ll need a strong pen so I can set some of my crappy starters to be pulled before their pitch count – I want them off the field as soon as possible.

My bullpen:

JJ Putz
Andre Bailey
Bobby Jenks
Damaso Marte
Lee Smith

Again, I may have been sandbagging a bit here (which is a perfectly fine strategy) so that my bullpen doesn’t hurt my supplemental draft ranking. I could have had better pitchers than Lee Smith and Damaso Marte, but there are so many good relievers in All Time Greats leagues that I know I can eventually swap them out in free agency. And Putz and Bailey are plenty good enough to give me strength out of the pen.

My lineup was a struggle. I landed Sam Crawford in the OF, who has speed and a high average. I got Luis Castillo at 2B, who I am fine with due to his speed and switch-hitting ability. I also got Smokey Burgess at C, who should do fine. At 3B I reached for Tony Fernandez, hoping his high OBP would make him somewhat of a contributor. I landed Joe Sewell at SS, but I then picked Omar Vizquel later because I hate Sewell’s low FLD PCT at SS, where he makes a lot of errors. Vizquel also provides speed and switch-hitting. I can tell this team will be bunting a lot.

An interesting selection was Ken Williams in the OF. He is a .357 hitter with 29 homers. My hope is I can Slump Bust him, turning him into an elite-level player to combine with whatever stars I am able to acquire in the draft. These are the sorts of things you have to bank on when you have a lousy Auto Draft.

Supplemental Draft

I ranked sixth for the supplemental draft, which means the CPU thinks there are six teams worse than mine. I can only suspect Gibson and some of the high averages I drafted bumped me up, in addition to the speed I acquired. I also picked up Jim Edmonds who has 40+ homers. At any rate, this goes to show that drafting last doesn’t mean you start as the worst team in the league.

I really screwed up my draft rankings. I got lazy and left Babe Ruth ranked fourth, thinking there was no way I would get him anyway with the sixth pick. But as it turned out, several teams above me failed to participate in the draft, moving me up to third! Here are the results:

Round 1
Nittany Lions: Barry Bonds
Rustlers: Ty Cobb
Kermits: Lou Gehrig
Dodgers: Babe Ruth
Sox: Wade Boggs
Wunderkinds: Nap Lajoie
Dragons: Todd Helton
Hellcats: George Brett

Round 2
Nittany Lions: Jack Chesbro
Rustlers: George McQuillan
Kermits: George Sisler
Dodgers: Mike Scott
Sox: Greg Maddux
Wunderkinds: Mordecai Brown
Dragons: Norm Cash
Hellcats: Nolan Ryan

Round 3
Nittany Lions: Jeff Kent
Rustlers: Frank Tanana
Kermits: Christy Mathewson
Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw
Sox: Dennis Eckersley
Wunderkinds: Jonathan Papelbon
Dragons: Joe DiMaggio
Hellcats: Chipper Jones

I am pretty happy with the results. Landing Mathewson with my third pick was huge. I badly needed another ace to tag with Gibson because my lineup is lacking power. Gehrig was great to get, but I could have had Ruth had I not been lazy and moved him up my rankings. Now Sisler has to play DH. Still, Gehrig and Sisler vastly improve my lineup.

All is not lost. I was the third team to hit free agency as soon as it opened after the supplemental draft. I added Harry Heilmann and Cy Seymour to my outfield. But since I want to stick with my plan for Ken Williams, I am going to platoon Heilmann and Seymour, letting Heilmann hit lefties while Seymour hits righties. With Crawford, Sisler, Seymour/Heilmann, Gehrig and Williams, I have 5 really great hitters in my lineup (although certainly lacking some power). Burgess, Castillo, Vizquel and Fernandez round out my lineup.

Team Strategy

I have five players with 8 speed or better. I want to use that to my advantage. I am going to steal them at a 70% clip (although I will shut down the run game against strong-arm catchers). I am also going to let the entire bottom of my lineup sacrifice bunt and crank that up, hoping we can manufacture runs.

My goal is to put Coombs and Williams into Slump Buster, hoping to transform them from mid-level players to elite players.

I have set Kenny Lofton (.993 FLD) as my only defense sub, who will be a nice upgrade in close games.

The Season Begins

I started 1-2 in the first three games (pre-Supplemental Draft), with Gibson throwing a shutout, and my team getting shutout twice. My first game after the draft, Mathewson was able to pitch and win 6-2. My free agent pickup Heilmann delivered a huge three-RBI triple. Despite Sisler and Gehrig going hitless, my moves paid off quickly.

After six games (when drops are turned on and free agency opens in full) my team was 2-4. Kevin Brown got rocked in his first start and Bobby Jenks is sucking out of the pen. Time to hit free agency. I picked up Cy Young (0.89 WHIP) and Claude Hendrix (6.5 H/9). If my plan to slump bust Coombs doesn’t work, I could slump bust one of these new starters. I have used that for Hendrix before and he becomes a pretty great pitcher.

Per my plan, I upgraded my pen. Lee Smith and Bobby Jenks are gone, Keith Foulke and Octavio Dotel are in. My pen is now loaded with low WHIP, high K/9 guys. I now feel this team should be competitive once I can put a couple players into slump buster.

Slump Buster

Due to a vacation, I unfortunately missed about 10 games where I could have leveraged Slump Buster. On Day 28, my team is 13-15. (Usually you can leverage Slump Buster by about Day 15.) As planned, Jack Coombs is my eligible pitcher. Ken Williams is not eligible, which is both good and bad. I was hoping to turn him into a stud, but he’s doing well enough without Slump Buster which is okay too. Omar Vizquel is my only eligible hitter.

Losing Streak

Slump buster doesn’t pay off right away. A six-game losing streak puts my team at 16-22. I am scratching my head. I know we’re better than this. George Sisler is only hitting .222, which is hurting. We also rank DEAD LAST in homeruns. I knew we would not have a lot of power, which seems to be hurting. Cy Young and Claude Hendrix have been awful at the bottom of the rotation. (On the bright side, we rank third in the league in hitting with a .272 team average.)

Keith Foulke, for whatever reason, is getting rocked out of the pen. Time to check on free agents. There are still amazing relief pitchers out there. I decide to try an upgrade, adding Jon Broxton and Mark Eichhorn, sending Foulke and Damaso Marte down to the minors.

As for starting pitching, there’s not much better than what I have. I could try John Tudor or Guy “Doc” White, but I don’t see how that’s going to be better than Young or Hendrix.

I start checking out other teams, especially the Wunderkinds, who are running away with our division. (They are run by the very talented user rfb60609.) They have a pretty good lineup, with Rogers Hornsby, Nap Lajoie, Arky Vaughan, John McGraw, Frank Thomas and Larry Walker. But I am not blown away by their pitching. Pedro Martinez is the ace, but the rest of the rotation is just okay. I know we can compete. We have Gibson and Mathewson and now Jack Coombs in slump buster. That’s a great rotation, even if our lineup is not as good.

I debate moving Jim Edmonds into the lineup to add power, but I decide against it. I am sticking to my guns with a scrappy lineup that can run.

Winning Streak

Since the six-game losing streak, we are 15-3, including an eight-game winning streak. We have moved into second place, three games behind the Wunderkinds, and six games out of the wild card. This is going to be a dog-fight, but at least we are in it. We still rank last in homers, but we moved to second in hitting (.275). We are middle of the pack in runs scored. Our team ERA is much better – we have moved up to fifth from ninth. Broxton and Eichhorn are doing great out of the pen.

Since being Slump Busted, Coombs is 3-2. Not amazing, but we’re getting more quality starts from him. In his three wins, he went at least eight innings. Cy Young has lowered his ERA to 4.24 from a high of 6.43 and has won his last four games.

Tweaks

George McQuillan was recently dropped, so I picked him up and gave him Cy Young’s #5 spot in the rotation. I also moved Claude Hendrix to slump buster and moved him to the #3 starter. In addition, I placed George Sisler in slump buster. Normally, I don’t like placing an already-great hitter into slump buster, but Sisler has been brutal, and he’s batting third in my lineup, which is just killing me. We don’t have enough pop in the lineup to survive with a slumping #3 hitter.

After moving Sisler, his average jumped from .219 to .248 in just 15 games. He has hit safely in 12 of those 15 games!

Mid Season

After 81 games, the Kermits are 45-36, just one game behind the Wunderkinds. My team is 8 games out of the wild card. Gehrig and Gibson were my two All-Stars. The Wild Card looks like a long shot. But it seems clear we should be involved in a thrilling battle for the division in the second half.

Kermits Fall One Game Short

After a crazy race in the second half, the Kermits fell one game behind the Wunderkinds. We were actually ahead most of the second half. We finished just two games behind the wild card! It proved my theory that the teams ahead of us weren’t that much better than my team.

Had I been on the ball in terms of getting my slump buster players in order, I may have won that one extra game to get me in the playoffs.

But all in all, I think this has been a great use case to show how drafting last in an Auto League is in no way a death sentence, and as a matter of fact you can put together a playoff team, or even a champion.

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