2012 RBA Championship Preview

We are less than two hours from the commencement of RBA Saturday, which includes the 2012 RBA Championship. This season it will be contested by two teams who are both looking for their first title. Ft. Duquesne came into the league originally as the Chicago Wave, who never made the playoffs in their 7 years of existence. This is the Corsairs’ 2nd playoff appearance in their 4 years in the league, and their first trip to the Championship Series. Dunedin entered in the 2007 expansion, making this their 6th RBA season. The Clear Blues have been unquestionably the most successful of those 3 expansion franchises, as they are the only one to even make the postseason as yet. This is their 3rd trip to the playoffs and their 2nd trip to the Championship Series. In 2009, Dunedin lost to Las Vegas in what is the Effect’s only title to date.

The 2012 Ft. Duquesne Corsairs entered this postseason with the #1 seed and best record in the league at 53-28. They rode strong starting pitching, a powerful offense, and a bolstered bullpen to the Puckett Division crown. With their 1-2 punch of Kershaw and Verlander, they are a formidable opponent for any team, but their 3rd and 4th starters give them a chance to win any game. In their first round series against State College, Ft. Duquesne had to endure a mediocre Game 1 start from their ace and PMA winner Clayton Kershaw, but Ben Zobrist’s 11th inning HR walked them off with an opening victory. Justin Verlander proved equal to the task in Game 2, as Ft. Duquesne took a 2-0 series lead with a 4-1 win. The Cows snagged their only victory of the series in Game 3, in another extra inning affair, as Prince Fielder hit a walkoff HR in the 12th inning. And though the series only went 5 games, it was thrilling in many areas and will perhaps become exemplified by Game 4. Remarkably, it was the 3rd extra inning match of the series, and it was indeed the game on which the entire series turned. State College rode the momentum of Game 3 to hang 5 runs on Ryan Vogelsong in the first 2 innings, taking a 5-0 lead to the 6th. The Cows appeared to have a tied series well in hand. However, the Corsairs mounted an incredible comeback, first forcing extras, and then winning it with 4 in the top of the 10th. State College succumbed to Kershaw in Game 5, losing 4-1 to end the series.

The Dunedin Clear Blues came into the playoffs with the #2 seed and a 52-29 record. They coasted to the Larkin title, leading that division for most of the season, but they had to hold off a charging Elm Grove Cardinals squad in both the stretch run and the playoffs. Elm Grove was confident coming into the series based on their second half performance, the best in the RBA, and they followed this up with a 4-1 win in Game 1 behind their ace, Felix Hernandez. However, it was at that point that Dunedin found the close game magic that might carry forward into the Championship. Mixing and matching pitchers, they held off the Cardinal offense time and again. They took Game 2 4-2 behind their ace, Jered Weaver, and then Game 3 2-1 behind a remarkable performance by Jair Jurrjens. Once more, as usual, Game 4 was the keystone of the series. Dunedin used a different pitcher for each cycle through the Cardinal lineup, bringing them to the 9th inning tied at 2. And in that inning it was Cameron Maybin who hit a 2-out pinch-hit HR to give Dunedin the pivotal Game 4 win. And in Game 5, Dunedin pulled off one of the most remarkable closing games in playoff history, winning in resounding fashion, 8-0.

Both teams enter the RBA Championship after winning their divisions and then their first playoff series in 5 games. And for the first time since 2008, we have a matchup of teams that have played each other before in the postseason. In 2009, Dunedin and Ft. Duquesne faced off in the first round, in one of the more thrilling series to date. Ft. Duquesne won the first two games at home behind Justin Verlander and AJ Burnett before Dunedin charged back to tie the series with 7-0 and 8-2 wins in Games 4 and 5. The Corsairs took a 3-2 series advantage back to Ft. Duquesne by winning Game 5, but Dunedin prevailed with wins in those final two games. Joey Votto and Ryan Braun, as now, were big bats in Dunedin’s 4 wins, but the key shot was Mark DeRosa’s stunning 9th inning HR in Game 7. With Dunedin down 5-4 in that frame, DeRosa hit a 2-run HR to turn the deficit and send the Blues to their first RBA Championship series. Holdovers from that series include the aforementioned Braun and Votto, Dunedin hurlers Lester, Weaver and Jurrjens, Verlander, Kershaw, Pujols and Napoli on the Ft. Duquesne side. Ben Zobrist played for Dunedin and Placido Polanco played for Ft. Duquesne. Both have now switched allegiances.

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2012 Season in Review Podcasts

Hobbs, Chad and I got together for quite a while this morning/afternoon and discussed many things related to this past RBA season and really all of the others. Tune in for a rousing bit of audio in which we talk about Hobbs’ spreadsheet, 2012 and historical scores, trades, and strategy. We debate the usefulness of the scores to the playoff series, the difference between Jason Isringhausen and a 4th rounder (hint: a lot), and the criteria that should be used for selecting awards.

Click “12Season3” for Part 1; click “12Season4” for Part 2

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New Team Records, 2012

The individuals have been slacking this season (and, no, not just those on Arizona and SoCal), so let’s take a look at the teams that are poised to set RBA records. First, the records themselves:

Arizona (28-52) – If they lose to Elm Grove in Week 81, they will become the first team to ever finish 28-53. If they do this, every record from 23-58 to 58-23 will be represented somewhere in our 12 years of baseball.

Atlanta (39-41) – Win or lose, Atlanta has set a team record for wins in a season. They won 38 games in both 2008 and 2010.

Baltimore (43-37) – They are the only 2012 team that can join our most inclusive club, the 43-38 club. This has been done 12 times in our 11 seasons thus far, and they’ll get there with a loss. They also finished 43-38 in 2007 and 2010. They would be the 7th team to finish 44-37 (yawn).

Dunedin (51-29) – They have set a team record for wins as well. This is the first time they have won at least 50 games. They won 48 in 2009 and 2010.

Elm Grove (49-31) – It’s a big last game for the Cardinals, who could add one to their tally of 50-win seasons. They have won at least 50 games SIX times in 11 seasons. Win or lose, this will be their 7th best record out of 12. How is that possible?

Ft. Duquesne (52-28) – This is a team record for wins for this franchise and current ownership. Even Chicago (wait, this makes perfect sense, actually) never reached 50 wins. Only 7 teams have won 53 or more games and only 1 has ever finished exactly 53-28 (Arizona in 2010).

orLando (29-51) – I don’t have much to say about this record except to point out that with a win they will finish TEN games better than the 2008 orLando squad. That team still blows my mind.

Pittsburgh (31-49) – If they lose, that would make 2012 the first season in which four teams have lost at least 50 games. If they win, they will equal their record from last season.

Silver City (44-36) – A win would give the 2012 Vultures a tie for their 2nd-best record in team history, knotting them with the magical 2004 team that won their only plaque.

SoCal (25-55) – 2011 Baltimore was the first and only team to finish 25-56, but we have actually had four teams finish 26-55. It was the watermark for five seasons, as 2001 Tallahassee, 2004 State College and 2005 Chicago couldn’t drop below. But then 2006 Arizona went 24-57 and the rush to the bottom was on.

State College (48-32) – They won’t win 50, but they can become the first team since 2004 to finish 49-32. This is their 3rd-best season by team record.

And now, a look at some of the statistical benchmarks:

Runs Allowed – This is incredible. In the year of the pitcher, the long-standing record for fewest runs allowed in a season is going to be broken. Elm Grove has long been the only team to allow fewer than 300 runs with their 284 mark in 2002. How about this year? Right now, all four playoff teams — ALL of them — have allowed fewer than 284 runs. All four will most likely break that record: EGC 258, FDQ 261, DUN 264, SCC 277.

Shutouts – Another 2002 record has been tied, at least, as Elm Grove and Ft. Duquesne have both accrued 6 shutouts as teams. Walla Walla in 2002 is the only other team to accomplish this.

Finally, I just want to emphasize this point with one more stat. State College leads the league in runs scored this season with 377. That total is 109 runs short of the all-time record, set by Arizona in 2010. One-hundred and nine.

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The Fifties

We like nice, round numbers. It’s at the basis of just about everything we do in baseball, which keeps meticulous stats. So maybe the hallmark of a great RBA team isn’t 50 wins, and maybe the hallmark of a really bad RBA team isn’t 50 losses, but those are the numbers that stick in one’s head. And if they didn’t, now that you’ve read that number this many times, now it does! Congratulations.

Thus, I often find myself examining the teams that get to 50 wins or 50 losses. Most of the league sits between these barriers. Here are the teams that have surpassed them, one way or the other:

50 Game Winners (17):
2001: none
2002: Elm Grove (58)
2003: Elm Grove (52)
2004: Elm Grove (51)
2005: State College (57)
2006: Buffalo (55), Elm Grove (54)
2007: Arizona (50), Las Vegas (50), State College (50)
2008: Arizona (56), Silver City (50)
2009: Buffalo (50)
2010: Elm Grove (54), Arizona (53)
2011: Silver City (52), Arizona (51), Elm Grove (51)

50 Game Losers (17):
2001: Tallahassee (55)
2002: Chicago (54)
2003: Las Vegas (51)
2004: State College (55)
2005: Chicago (55)
2006: Arizona (57), State College (51)
2007: Dunedin (58), Atlanta (50)
2008: orLando (61)
2009: Arizona (55), State College (52)
2010: State College (57), SoCal (51), orLando (50)
2011: Baltimore (56), Atlanta (52)

And a count by team:

ARI: 4 W, 2 L
ATL: 0 W, 2 L
BAL: 0 W, 1 L
DUN: 0 W, 1 L
EGC: 6 W, 0 L
FDQ: 0 W, 0 L (CHI: 0 W, 2 L)
LVE: 1 W, 1 L
orL: 0 W, 2 L
PIT: 0 W, 0 L (BW3: 2 W, 0 L)
SCV: 2 W, 0 L (TAL: 0 W, 1 L)
STK: 0 W, 1 L
SCC: 2 W, 4 L

In the beginning, most teams managed to win between 32-49 games. There are some teams that seem to do that all the time. 2001 was the only season in which no one managed the 50-win plateau, and then the teams started to trickle in. Now, of course, we have 12 teams in the league instead of 8 or 10, so there are more opportunities for teams to achieve great (or not-so-great) things. Elm Grove was the first team to win 50, doing it in three straight seasons, from 2002-2004. State College joined the ranks of the great teams in 2005, and then we were off. Our expansion season was the first season in which three teams won 50 teams (and exactly), though none of the three won the plaque that season. We duplicated that feat last season. Losing 50 games peaked in 2010, when no less than three teams managed that benchmark of awfulness.

I write this now because as the 2012 season comes to a close, one of the teams listed above has done something truly memorable. The Arizona Greenbacks spent 5 RBA seasons without appearing on these lists. The most they won was 45. The most they lost was 47. But starting with a putrid team in 2006, they have now reeled off SEVEN consecutive seasons of at least 50 wins or at least 50 losses. They lost their 50th game yesterday. Two other teams have made 6 appearances on these lists, but this is consecutive we’re talking about. This is a streak.

2012 has a chance to be special, though probably it will fall more in line with what we’ve seen in the past few seasons. There is a chance that this will be the first season to ever feature FOUR 50-win teams. It’s not a great chance, mind you, but Dunedin and Ft. Duquesne are sitting at 49 wins apiece, so they are basically assured of it. Also, Elm Grove and State College sit at 46, needing 4-1 finishes to get to 50, and those teams have been steamrollers for quite a while now. It’s possible. Amazingly, it’s also possible that four teams will lose 50 games, as SoCal and Arizona are already there and orLando and Pittsburgh have shots at it. This could be the most divided season of all time. Maybe it already is.

The last thing I’ll say? Not that we need to aggrandize Elm Grove any further here, but of the three teams who have made these lists 6 times, they are the only ones to make it all 6 times on one particular list. Look at that again. Six seasons over 50, zero under. Amazing.

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The Race During the Last 9 Games

First I thought I’d handicap the race a little bit, but then I figured that I’d leave Hobbs and his mental infirmities out of it. Actually, they’ve done a good job of putting themselves out of the race on their own. So what I mean is that I wanted to look at each team’s chances during the stretch run here. So I used a couple of formulas, including a Bill James maneuver for figuring out how often a team with winning percentage A should beat a team with winning percentage B.

            A - A * B
  WPct = -----------------
         A + B - 2 * A * B

Everything else is pretty standard. I used Pythagorean records to determine the “true” talent level of the team going forward. Opponent winning percentage is just opponent winning percentage. Let’s put up the chart and then editorialize after.

Team	RS	RA	PyWP	OppW	OppWP	PredWP	PredW
DUN	313	234	0.641	102	0.472	0.667	6.00
FDQ	303	242	0.611	81	0.375	0.723	6.51
EGC	310	243	0.619	104	0.481	0.637	5.73
SCC	329	251	0.632	94	0.435	0.690	6.21
BAL	284	250	0.563	123	0.569	0.494	4.44
SCV	294	298	0.493	94	0.435	0.558	5.02

A couple of things I want to say about the assumptions. First, Ft. Duquesne and Elm Grove are better now than they were for the first 50 games of the season. So their Pythagorean WPs should probably be higher. Also, Las Vegas is included in the Opponent winning percentage as a 37-34 team, which they aren’t any longer. However, even considering that, the schedules for the Larkin teams seem to be more difficult, which favors FDQ, SCC and SCV. The last number is the expected number of wins for the rest of the season. Using this, it looks like Dunedin and Ft. Duquesne should both finish right around 51-52 wins, which makes for a nice race toward the #1 pick. What stands out is that Elm Grove and State College seem to have an advantage on Baltimore and Silver City, even without the leads they have in hand. The two most striking schedules are Ft. Duquesne’s and Baltimore’s, which are awful and brutal, respectively. (Aren’t those words great? You got the connotation in a sports sense, even though they mean about the same in a general sense. Language!) I threw up when I saw Ft. Duquesne’s remaining schedule: Pittsburgh, SoCal, orLando. They are probably in good shape. However, Baltimore faces Atlanta this round and it only gets harder from there as they battle Dunedin and Elm Grove to finish the season. It will be an uphill climb for the Brood to get in.

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The 2012 Contenders’ Interrelated Histories

One of the great things about the RBA is that we now have nearly 12 years’ worth of history, including narratives and past battles to reference. In this space I’ve outlined some of the best moments of the RBA’s history, including a ranking of the top championship series (and we haven’t had a really good one in almost four years now). But I recently noticed that the top 4 contenders this season have a rich history in the postseason, so I wanted to outline what they’ve done and pull in the 5-7 seeds to play as well.

1) Dunedin (45-25) – 0 Championships, 1 Championship Series Appearance, 2 Playoff Appearances
1-0 vs (2)FDQ; 0-1 vs (3)EGC; 0-1 vs (6)LVE
Their one series win was an epic battle with Ft. Duquesne in 2009 that would provide some great memories were they to hook up again. Ft. Duquesne was in position to win Game 7, but Mark DeRosa took it all away with a walk-off homer. Dunedin advanced to the RBA Championship, in which they lost to Las Vegas. In 2010 they fell to Elm Grove in 6 games, but that series gave us the epic “Jack Wilson Game,” which lasted 14 innings, featured 25 combined runs, and of course gave us 4 Jack Wilson plate appearances.

2) Ft. Duquesne (43-27) – 0 Championships, 0 Championship Series Appearances, 1 Playoff Appearance
0-1 vs (1)DUN
See the Dunedin description above, which is their only playoff experience. They were in prime position in 2010, but fell to Baltimore’s Cinderella run to the Championship Series.

3) Elm Grove (41-29) – 4 Championships, 5 Championship Series Appearances, 6 Playoff Appearances
2-0 vs WWK/orL; 0-2 vs (6)SCV; 1-0 vs BW3/PIT; 1-0 vs (1)DUN; 1-0 vs (5)BAL
The most storied franchise in RBA history is the only team with multiple titles still alive this season. If they were to pull it off, they’d have an astounding 5 titles in 12 seasons. Of course they’ll be hoping that they don’t run into the Kardinal Killers, the Silver City Vultures, the only team (as you can see above) to beat Elm Grove in a playoff series. They took the 2004 title and then bounced the Cards from the playoffs last season. Of course Elm Grove has accrued series wins against 4 other teams, including the back-to-back Championships over Walla Walla (now orLando).

4) State College (40-30) – 1 Championship, 1 Championship Series Appearance, 3 Playoff Appearances
1-0 vs (6)LVE; 0-1 vs ARI; 0-1 vs WWK/orL
State College took a monster team into the 2005 Championship and they beat Las Vegas in 6. Thereafter they have stumbled in their two appearances, winning but one game combined against Arizona and Walla Walla. They would likely face a team they never have if they make it to the playoffs this season.

5) Baltimore (39-31) – 0 Championships, 1 Championship Series Appearance, 1 Playoff Appearance
1-0 vs ARI; 0-1 vs (3)EGC
As referenced above, Baltimore rode a Cinderella run through the stretch in 2010 and then pulled off perhaps the biggest upset in RBA history in trampling Arizona in 5 games. They could avenge their Championship Series defeat to Elm Grove if they can sneak into the playoffs this season.

6) Silver City (37-33) – 1 Championship, 2 Championship Series Appearances, 3 Playoff Appearances
2-0 vs (3)EGC; 0-1 vs ARI; 0-1 vs (6)LVE
This is the team that Elm Grove doesn’t want to see in the playoffs. Right now they are on the outside looking in, but if they are able to surge into the postseason and draw the Cards, they would get the only team they have ever defeated in a playoff series.

7) Las Vegas (37-33) – 1 Championship, 4 Championship Series Appearances, 4 Playoff Appearances
1-0 vs (1)DUN; 1-0 vs BW3/PIT; 0-1 vs (4)SCC; 1-0 vs (6)SCV; 1-1 vs ARI; 0-1 vs WWK/orL
Las Vegas was a stalwart in the playoffs when the 2-round era began, so it is only a mild surprise that they have faced more teams in the postseason than anyone else, even Elm Grove. They have battled 6 different teams, including Arizona in back-to-back seasons. They have never faced Elm Grove, however, even though both have a rich history.

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A look at RBA2013 at the Break

I’ve done something of this ilk for quite a few seasons now, and I figured the All-Star Break would be a good time to do it. Some teams are already looking toward the future, as in next season. Not as in the playoffs. So here are some binoculars to help you see past that big impediment to the 2013 season and draft. By the way, that big impediment is Elm Grove. As usual. That’s why it looks vaguely like a bulldozer.

So I’ve collected the RBA players from the WAR leaderboards along with the possible rookies, set a floor that I subtracted from the player’s current WAR (since you need to be about a 1.5-2.0 WAR player right now to be a quality keeper and because I’m lazy and I’m not going all the way down to 0.0 are you crazy), and produced some scores. These are scores with a lowercase ‘s,’ unlike Scores, which is how Hobbs says it anytime it’s produced by his spreadsheet. You know him. Also, the code for rookies is “PRS,” which stands for “Possible Rookies.” Remember that not all of these players will qualify. If that were the case, last season’s draft wouldn’t have been a late-career Ed Wood movie and Cooper wouldn’t have tried to repeatedly murder me for the past eight months.

To the list! It goes batting score, number of batters, pitching score, number of pitchers, and then overall. You get it. I know you do.

STK: 5.9 (6) + 3.1 (2) = 9.0 (8)
DUN: 5.3 (2) + 2.1 (2) = 7.4 (4)
LVE: 4.0 (3) + 2.7 (2) = 6.7 (5)
FDQ: 3.0 (2) + 3.4 (2) = 6.4 (4)
ARI: 3.8 (2) + 2.4 (2) = 6.2 (4)
EGC: 2.0 (2) + 2.5 (2) = 4.5 (4)
BAL: 1.5 (1) + 2.3 (2) = 3.8 (3)
SCC: 2.5 (1) + 0.5 (1) = 3.0 (2)
PIT: 2.7 (3) + 0.0 (0) = 2.7 (3)
ATL: 1.3 (1) + 0.0 (0) = 1.3 (1)
SCV: 1.2 (1) + 0.0 (0) = 1.2 (1)
orL: 0.0 (0) + 0.0 (0) = 0.0 (0)

PRS: 4.5 (3) + 4.8 (4) = 9.3 (7)

And the players! Human beings boiled down into numbers. For what else is the RBA but that.

Votto (DUN) - 3.0
Trout (PRS) - 2.8
Bourn (SCC) - 2.5
McCutchen (FDQ) - 2.5
Ruiz (LVE) - 2.3
Braun (DUN) - 2.3
Jackson (ARI) - 2.0
Hamilton (ARI) - 1.8
Prado (STK) - 1.8
Heyward (PIT) - 1.5
Reddick (BAL) - 1.5
Cabrera (LVE) - 1.3
Desmond (ATL) - 1.3
Cabrera (SCV) - 1.2
Bautista (EGC) - 1.1
Ellis (PRS) - 1.0
Rios (STK) - 0.9
Moustakas (STK) - 0.9
Beltre (LVE) - 0.9
Hill (STK) - 0.9
Mauer (EGC) - 0.9
Trumbo (STK) - 0.8
Willingham (LVE) - 0.8
Kipnis (PRS) - 0.7
Pierzynski (PIT) - 0.6
Ethier (PIT) - 0.6
Rasmus (STK) - 0.6
Zobrist (FDQ) - 0.5

Verlander (FDQ) - 2.3
Greinke (STK) - 2.1
Sale (PRS) - 2.0
Hernandez (EGC) - 1.7
Gonzalez (LVE) - 1.6
Strasburg (PRS) - 1.6
Peavy (BAL) - 1.4
McDonald (ARI) - 1.2
Cain (ARI) - 1.2
Weaver (DUN) - 1.1
Hammel (LVE) - 1.1
Kershaw (FDQ) - 1.1
Johnson (STK) - 1.0
Lester (DUN) - 1.0
Lee (BAL) - 0.9
Hamels (EGC) - 0.8
Darvish (PRS) - 0.7
Lewis (SCC) - 0.5
Miley (PRS) - 0.5
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