Monday, December 19, 2016

Bouton, "Ball Four" Inspire 1969 Seattle Pilots APBA Replay

Took the opportunity this past summer to re-read "Ball Four," Jim Bouton's classic tell-all baseball book focusing primarily on his exploits with the 1969 Seattle Pilots.

I have to admit a morbid curiosity for the one-year wonders of that Seattle squad, who would go on to ditch the Emerald City and become my favorite team -- the Milwaukee Brewers -- the next season.

Throughout the book, Bouton complains about his lack of playing time, both as a starter and reliever, despite his growing proficiency in tossing the knuckleball and what little toll it took on his ancient arm.

So that got me to thinking ... What if the Pilots had listened to Bouton and used him more often on the mound? Would it have significantly improved the outcome for a team that finished last in the new AL West Division with a record of 64-98? Spoiler alert: The answer is ... no.

Through the magic of the APBA Baseball Game, I took it upon myself to answer that age-old question posed by Bouton, who is convinced he could have made a difference had he been given the chance.

Before embarking on this expedition, let me note that this would be my first one-team season replay using a losing team. Like many other APBA replay enthusiasts out there, I don't see any fun in the prospects of replaying a season for a team that wasn't finding any joy in real life. Previously, I relished replaying winning seasons for the 2008 Brewers as well as the 1969 Cubs.

In addition to eliminating any limits on using Bouton, I wondered what would have happened had the Pilots not traded rookie of the year Lou Piniella to the Royals before the start of the season. So, Piniella became the Pilots left fielder and away we went ...   

One of the great things about APBA's reprinted 1969 card set is that it includes every player who took the mound or batted at least once, making it possible for me to use the actual lineups of the Pilots' opponents. With few exceptions, including Bouton's added starts, I used the Pilots' actual pitching rotation, then managed the rest of the squad as I saw fit. I limited all other players to 110 percent of their actual at-bats and innings pitched. I also worked in the team's other transactions, so there was somewhat of a revolving door in the personnel I could use throughout the season.

So, how did it turn out? First of all, it was a joy playing this team, partly because it was such an interesting collection of players, from base-stealing maven Tommy Harper and Tommy Davis to Mr. Versatility Diego Segui, who was equally good as a starter or ace reliever. Besides, 1969 was a great year for the AL, with the seemingly unbeatable Baltimore Orioles and the heavy-hitting Minnesota Twins, making it just plain cool to replay.

Predictably, I didn't fare much better than ill-fated Pilots manager Joe Schultz. I guided them to a 68-94 record, which just goes to show that expanding the role of your knuckleballer and adding one potent bat in the three hole does not a contender make. Nice try, however.

Bouton (rated a DX starter and a C* reliever) got 9 more starts and 62 more innings for the Pilots, which resulted in a 6-8 record, better than his 2-1 in actuality. He matched his save total: 1. (Note: Toward the end of August, I granted Bouton's trade to the Astros, bringing to the Pilots Dooley Womack, who piled up some decent stats in 27 games out of the bullpen.)

Piniella also exceeded expectations. Sweet Lou batted .306/.352/.437 in 142 games, scoring 71 runs and leading the team in runs batted in with 89. He hit 30 doubles, along with 10 triples and 7 home runs.

What this team lacked in power, it more than made up with speed, swiping 194 bases, compared to only 122 homers. The speed brigade was led by Harper, who stole 95 bases, which helped him score a team-high 105 runs. First baseman Don Mincher lead the team in home runs with 26.

Overall, the team batting average (.242), slugging percentage (.354), ERA (4.33) and other stats pretty closely matched the real-life Seattle stats for the year, just another testimonial to the accuracy of the APBA game.

In addition to Segui, who went 8-10 with 5 saves; Bob Locker lead the team with an 11-6 record and 8 saves. Gene Brabender was the hard-luck hurler, going 4-14 in 29 starts and 192 innings.

Despite the disappointing, yet predictable, win-loss record, this was still among my most satisfying APBA projects. It reinforced the fun that can be had when you tweak reality by playing "what if ..."

I think Jim Bouton would be OK with the outcome.

--66--

Note: Click here for the complete replay stats.

Note II: Here's a great link to a new post by baseball historian John Thorn, "Jim Bouton: An Improvisational Life."

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Timber! Loggers Chop Down Competition in First Season in Sunrise Baseball Association

Led by Nolan Arenado, Lucas Duda and Gerrit Cole, the P-Town Loggers have rebounded from a slow start to challenge for the playoffs in their first season in the Sunrise Baseball Association.

As the league approaches the midway point of the 2016 season, the Loggers stand at 42-30, good enough for second place in the SBA's six-team Western Division.

Sunrise is a 12-team APBA Baseball Game league that's been around for more than two decades. This year, members are spread across the United States, with most of the managers on the East Coast. (This is my first year in the league, along with my brother, Phillip Priewe, who is managing the Carson City Gamblers.)

The league uses the advanced version of APBA's basic game, with some modifications. Pitchers bat, and players are limited to their actual number of games, starts or relief innings. Games are played in person or via telephone or Skype. Teams play a 162-game season.

After 72 games, the Loggers are led by third baseman Nolan Arenado (.269/.294/.638), who's belted 25 home runs, driving in 53 and scoring 40. He's also stroked 28 doubles.

At first base, Lucas Duda supplanted Adrian Gonzalez early in the season, sparking a series of Loggers victories. Duda (.229/.327/.559) has 13 home runs, 33 RBI and 26 runs scored in the cleanup spot.

The Loggers' lineup is comprised of:

C- Travis d'Arnaud (.229/.284/.534) 11 HR's, 28 RBI
1B - Lucas Duda (.229/.327/.559) 13 HR's, 33 RBI
2B - Matt Duffy (.259/.305/.427) 22 runs, 18 RBI
SS - Brandon Crawford (.215/.300/.411) 29 runs, 23 RBI
3B - Nolan Arenado (.269/.294/.638) 25 HR's, 53 RBI
LF - Andre Ethier (.225/.299/.360) 26 runs, 17 RBI
CF - Gregor Blanco (.238/.303/.308) 27 runs, 11 stolen bases
RE - Starling Marte (.213/.269/.333) 21 runs, 14 stolen bases

Also logging playing time have been outfielder Trayce Thompson, Gonzalez, second baseman Dustin Pedroia and catcher Steve Clevenger. (Click to view complete Loggers stats.)

On the pitching side, a trio of starters have anchored the Loggers rotation: Gerrit Cole (8-6, 2.64), Collin McHugh (7-3, 3.91) and Edinson Volquez (7-5, 3.71). Out of the bullpen, Hector Rondon has 15 saves, and is backed by Mark Lowe (4-1, 0.92) and Tyler Clippard (3-1, 3.45).

The staff has combined for 19 complete games -- 10 by Cole -- and four shutouts. It has a combined ERA of 3.10.

In a league dominated by A and B pitchers, batting averages are well below average. The Loggers are hitting .217 as a team, with a .278 OBA and slugging percentage of .396. They have smacked 80 home runs.

It's been fun so far. Most of the guys in the league have multiple SBA seasons to their credit, and all of them simply enjoy playing the game, regardless of the score. I'm looking forward to the rest of the season!

-- 66 --

Monday, January 18, 2016

All-time Great Cheeseheads Roll to 108 Wins!

Led by hall-of-famers Al Simmons and Burleigh Grimes, a squad of ballplayers born in Wisconsin showed they could go toe-to-toe with any APBA foe.

This group of cheeseheads racked up 108 wins against competition that included a slew of World Series champions, division winners and other assorted all-time great ballclubs scattered among my APBA Baseball Game card collection.

In putting together this 25-man crew, the main criteria was that each member must have been born in Wisconsin. And I found plenty of talent to fill the roster, including a bevy of hall-of-fame players, namely Simmons and Grimes, along with fellow pitchers Kid Nichols and Addie Joss. The rest of the lineup boasted plenty of all-stars.

At the end of the 162-game season, the Wisconsin greats compiled a 108-54 record. Simmons led the way, batting .335 with 40 home runs and 148 RBI; "Happy" Felsch of the infamous Black Sox hit .320, scoring 100 runs and driving in 96; Fred Merkle lead the team in runs with 117 and stolen bases with 59.

On the mound, Grimes led the squad with a 23-8 record. He pitched 273 innings in 34 starts, striking out 233. As for the rest of the hall-of-fame trio, Nichols went 18-7, leading the team in strikeouts with 241 in 285 innings and 36 starts; Joss put up a 19-11 record, setting down 224 batters in 262 innings over 35 starts.

Combining 20 starts and 25 relief appearances, Dick Bosman went 19-5, with a 2.10 ERA. Also anchoring the bullpen were Bob Wickman (17 saves) and Pat Neshek, who tallied 8 wins and 8 saves in 48 games.

The staff compiled a 2.95 team ERA in its 108 victories, which included 20 shutouts (6 by Joss!) and 66 complete games.  Nichols, Grimes and Joss each went the distance 19 times.

At the plate, the team batted .264, with a .322 on-base percentage and .452 slugging percentage. They went yard 177 times (Simmons, 40; Ken Keltner, 32; and Andy Pafko, 31). They had almost as many triples (96) as stolen bases (100)! They outscored their opponents 867 to 511.

Like most of my projects, batting averages were down overall (Simmons batted .381 and Kuenn hit .353 in real life those years!). Most of this was due to the higher level of competition and the plethora of A starters and relievers. I also have a tendency to use too many B relievers, even in mop-up duty, when that assignment more often fell to C's and D's.

This project comes on the heels of a season with the all-time great Seattle Mariners, who went 128-34. Unlike that squad, which primarily matched up against the M's 2014 regular season schedule, this bunch took on more top-notch opponents, along with squads from APBA's Baseball All-Time Set 2.

Those Mariners got the better of the cheeseheads, winning three of four games; the '69 World Series Mets and Orioles each won two of three. Against a variety of Cubs teams, including the '69 crew and the 2008 unit, the Wisconsinites went 7-9.

They had better luck versus other NL Central Division foes, including sweeping the World Series-winning '79 Pirates. They went 5-1 against the Big Red Machine of '75 and '76. Nichols tossed a no-hitter against the '75 Reds.

The team was assembled from the listings on Baseball Reference and the APBA cards in my collection, especially players from BATS. Merkle came from some generous folks on the APBA Facebook page, who were kind enough to post his 1911 card. Cards for Andy Pafko, Brad Radke and Wickman were created using Steve's APBA Card Computer. Thanks, man.

Here was the primary starting lineup:

1. Happy Felsch ('20) CF -- .320/.358/.529 (100 runs, 96 RBI, 37 doubles, 17 triples, 15 HRs)
2. Fred Merkle ('11) 1B -- .294/.339/465 (117 runs, 16 triples, 59 SBs)
3. Harvey Kuenn ('59) SS -- .299/.350/.460 (91 runs, 87 RBI, 48 doubles)
4. Al Simmons ('30) LF -- .335/.377/.686 (148 RBI, 43 doubles, 16 triples, 40 HRs)
5. Andy Pafko ('50) RF -- .218/.308/.465 (94 RBI, 31 HRs)
6. Ken Keltner ('48) 3B -- .222/.328/.454 (85 runs, 88 RBI, 32 HRs)
7. Damian Miller ('02) C -- .188/.258/.366 (10 HRs, 36 RBI) and Don Pavletich ('69) C -- .263/.343/.500 (10 HRs, 41 RBI)
8. Jim Gantner ('83) 2B -- .236/.285/.344 (66 runs, 61 RBI)

A strong bench included the likes of Joe Randa ('99), Tom Poquette ('76), Tony Kubek ('57) and my personal favorite, Milwaukee's own Bob Uecker ('65).

For all the stats, click here.

-- 66 --