Miners Win Inaugural ABC Championship
In the end the Vancouver Drizzle pleaded no contest as the Northern Miners swept to the first Alberta Baseball Confederacy championship by a score of 306 2/3 to 222.
Reinforcing the aphorism that ‘pitching wins championships,’ the Miners’ rotation delivered record performances. Over 42 innings the pitchers produced five wins, a 2.77 ERA, 35 K and just five walks for a total of 134 2/3 points.
Veterans John Smoltz and Greg Maddux delivered four wins and a combined 75-points, while Aaron Harang turned in a complete game 9-strikeout win for 31-points. The bullpen got in on the act with four saves and 32-points from BJ Ryan and Billy Wagner. Only Kelvim Escobar hit a sour note with a negative-point first outing and a skipped second start.
The Drizzle’s pitchers hit the wall in week 26, with Jon Lieber, Derek Lowe, Brett Myers, Jeff Suppan and relievers Cordero and Rivera combining for 39 innings, 4.81 ERA, 28 K, 11 walks, one win, no saves and two blown saves. The total: just 40 points; the equal of John Smoltz’s week.
It was a disappointing performance that undermined the 183 points put on the board by the Drizzle’s offence, headed by Pujols (39), Ichiro (31), Pudge (25) and Cuddyer (25). That was 11-points better than the Miners’ normally dominant batters. Garrett Atkins closed out his career-year with a 39-point week, while Abreu (29) and Tracy (26) delivered solid results. Superstars Ryan Howard, Jose Reyes and Vladimir Guerrero finished with a middling 17-18 points each, with the latter being held out of play on the final weekend.
Looking Back: Building a Champion
The decisive wins in the semis and finals capped an exceptional second-half that saw the Miners go undefeated for 20-straight games and finish first overall by half a game. The turning point came at week-16 in mid-July, just after the All Star break. The Miners were just three games over .500 but only eight games back of the division leader and likely bound for the playoffs. Management decided to play to win.
That week the team added Ray Durham off the waiver wire; a position that had been a drag on performance was instantly transformed into top-three production that carried through to year-end. One week later on July 30th the Miners added Erik Bedard through trade, surrendering a warm body (Rafael Soriano) and a swap of 3rd and 4th round draft picks with the Man-Ram Sula-Ram.
On August 7th Mike Mussina and John Smoltz joined the team via a controversial trade with the Spruce Avenue Supernauts. The Miners surrendered future superstar Felix Hernandez for the aging duo, as the sub-.500 Supernauts prepared for the 2007 season. The inclusion of a conditional pick as insurance against an injury to King Felix broke new ground in the league, and other owners scrambled to include the feature in their deals.
The final piece of the puzzle was added at the deadline on August 14th as Billy Wagner was traded from the St. Patricians to backstop the bullpen of BJ Ryan and Takashi Saito against possible injury. The price: a swap of 7th and 9th round picks in 2007.
How much difference did the trades make? John Smoltz was critical, starting seven times and scoring 146-points for the Miners including 40-points in the championship week. Billy Wagner played weekly following his acquisition, scoring 86-points over seven weeks.
Despite the loss of Miners’ star Scott Kazmir to injury, Mussina and Bedard went virtually unused; Mussina was started just once, scoring 11 points, and Bedard started twice, scoring 35-points.
Set it and forget it. The Miners’ regular batting lineup for eight positions played 189 of a possible 208 weeks, avoiding injury and delivering elite performances. Johjima, Howard, Reyes and Guerrero were in action every week, while Atkins and Abreu were each reserved once. Even Chad Tracy spent half a season playing the third-outfield position or DH.
With four batters over 500 points, and those same four in the top-ten overall for points, the Miners' regulars provided the decisive edge. Only one other team, the St. Pats, managed two batters in the top-ten, while the Drizzle, Royal Rooters of Boston, Man-Ram Sula-Ram and On Top each had a single player at that level.
|Pos||Player||Drafted||Weeks||Total Points||Comment||C||Kenji Johjima||17/195||26||328||Veteran rookie's season ranked 6th among catchers.||1B||Ryan Howard||7/75||26||556||#3 first baseman was #1 in second-half, with a post-All Star OPS of 1.263; 8th overall.||3B||Garrett Atkins||9/99||25||559||Reserved only once, he finished 1st at 3B and 7th overall, 40 points ahead of Miggy and 75 up on A-Rod.||SS||Jose Reyes||3/27||26||578||Third-best point producer overall, and #1 at SS.||OF||Vladimir Guerrero||1/3||26||529||#4 outfielder and #10 overall.||OF||Bobby Abreu||2/22||25||479||Reserved once, he finished 16th among OF and 32nd overall, and flourished post-trade.||OF||Luis Gonzalez||14/166||22||421||Reserved four times, the overlooked slugger was 23rd among OF.||OF||Chad Tracy||6/70||13||362||Baseball's 35th best OF platooned a half-season, mostly at DH.|
The Revolving Door at Second
Six players combined for just 356 points at second-base; if that had been a single-player’s score it would have ranked a lowly 17th at the position. The bright side: Ray Durham’s arrival in late July turned things around. Durham turned in a top-three performance in August-September, and finished the season ranked third at the position, behind only Soriano and Utley.
|Pos||Player||Drafted||Weeks||Points for Miners||Comment||2B||Jorge Cantu||5/51||10||103||Intended as franchise 2B, fell to injury at end of April and was later benched then traded.||2B||Ray Durham||F.A.||9||168||Free Agent signed 7/23; played 9 of last 10 weeks; second highest scoring 2B in final month.||2B||Craig Counsell||20/235||2||26||Counsell and others filled-in between Cantu's injury and Durham's arrival.||2B||Marcus Giles||F.A.||1||11||2B||Ty Wigginton||F.A.||3||35||2B||Todd Walker||F.A.||1||13|
It’s a foolish investor that chases past-performance reports, and a foolish manager that tries to catch a player’s hot-streak. While I have fond memories of a 31-point week by Nick Markakis that kept a winning-streak alive, a closer look reveals that going with the hot-hand did more harm than good.
Nine players rounded out the Miners’ batting lineup, making 19 starts between them: Nick Markakis, Shawn Green, Milton Bradley, and Dan Johnson each started three weeks; Mark DeRosa and Shea Hillenbrand were in twice; and Juan Encarnacion, Jeromy Burnitz and Mike Sweeney each played once. The 232 points they scored for the Miners was a whopping 139 points less than what would have been scored if the regulars (Tracy, Gonzalez, Abreu, Atkins) had been left in to play every week.
Arms and the Man
Pitching won the Miners the championship week match-up, and pitching delivered throughout the regular season, led by Cincinnati superstar Aaron Harang who produced the second-highest point total among baseball’s starting pitchers.
|Player||Total||Scored||Rank||Comment||Harang, Aaron||465||334||2||Underutilized early, he started 12 of the final 14 weeks.||Smoltz, John||460||146||3||Seven sterling weeks from the trade addition.||Mussina, Mike||412||11||10||Trade pick-up deserved to get the ball more than once.||Bedard, Erik||366||35||23||29-point outing in the semi-final was worth the price.||Hernandez, Felix||346||98||32||Departed ace started 5 times during his 11 weeks with Miners.||Maddux, Greg||337||214||36||Recorded 9 wins during his 11 Miners' starts.||Vazquez, Javier||329||165||43||The best #5 man in baseball; 6 wins in 11 Miners' starts.||Escobar, Kelvim||325||156||45||Five wins in 9 weeks for Miners.||Kazmir, Scott||314||238||52||Seven wins in 8 weeks but did not play after Aug. 22nd.||Duke, Zach||268||141||65||Started 8 weeks and delivered 6 wins.||Davis, Doug||269||39||68||Active 5 times, did not produce a win; started only once after June.|
Spot starts were made by Chad Billingsley, Scott Baker, Brett Tomko, Ramon Ortiz, Josh Fogg, Clay Hensley, Bartolo Colon and David Wells. Colon, drafted 46th overall in the fourth round, had been scouted as the rotation’s anchor, along with intended-keeper Scott Kazmir. In the end it was the mid- to late-round pitching additions that carried the team, with Harang at 214th overall (8th round) delivering the biggest premium.
The bullpen was solid from day one, with BJ Ryan and Tom Gordon delivering top-ten relief pitcher performances before Gordon was traded for Felix Hernandez. Gordon was then replaced by Takashi Saito, a free agent pick-up who finished the season with the sixth-highest point production among relievers thanks to 107 Ks in 78 innings.