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Season-so-far: May 1st, 2005

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It’s May the 1st, 2005, and the end of the first month of the season.  The league is off to an exhilarating start in its inaugural season.  Only a month in, it’s anybody’s game, but the significant players and trends have begun to establish themselves.

In the Shinto-World League, the race is hot in both of its four-team divisions, the Photomaker and World Cities divisions.  The Canon Image Stabilizers, led by both batter of the month Gates Skywalker and pitcher of the month Justin Ramage, have a tenacious 1-game hold on the division lead with a 16 wins and 12 losses, and a .571 record.  They’ve dropped 7 of their last 11, however, which has allowed the surging Nikon Vibration Reducers, who have won 8 of their last 11, to close in.  The Pentax Shake Reducers, meanwhile, have played steadily and are tied with Nikon for second place.  The biggest loser has been the Sony SuperSteady Shots, who despite a massive budget are at 8-20, .286 have by far the worst record of any team in the league (the next are the Paris Forfeiters at 13-15, .464.

The World Cities division is a tight race, with Tokyo leading by only a game, and Las Vegas, Venice, and Paris all within 3 games of the lead.

Meanwhile in the Universe League, the winners and losers so far have been more easily defined.

The Terran Division, consisting of the Caribbean Pirates, Europe Cricketeers, United States Patriots, and Asia Giants, has settled into place with the Caribbean and Europe at the top, the Pirates at 16-12 leading by 1 game.  As expected, Asia sits at the bottom of the league (along with the Mozilla Firefoxes) at 7-21, 2.50.  A disappointing surprise, however, has been the United States, who despite having some huge playmakers (catcher Andrew Amey and third baseman Juan Truex both being five-star hitters) have not delivered on the pitching end, with a 6.04 team ERA that is last in the league.

Things are most interesting on the Galactica Division.  Daly City has once again dominated, with a 24-4, .857 record.  The deep-pocketed Microsoft Longhorns are at 14-14, an even .500, while the Mozilla Firefoxes have plunged to 7-21.  The real story so far has been the Apple Septic Tanks, a team expected to be at the bottom of the standings, but which has somehow managed to achieve an 18-10, .643 record, putting them second-place in the division, and the second-best team in the entire league, all this while in the same division as the Daly City Montis and having lost all four games against them.  They’ve been buoyed by a consistent pitching staff, with a rotation led by Kyle Katarn (4-1, 3.04 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) and Wedge Antilles (5-0, 3.53 ERA, 1.22 WHIP), two solid, though not dominating, aces.

The Daly City team has been cruising along, despite some agonizingly close losses.  Of its four losses on the year, three were by a single run, and the other was by two runs.  In addition, three of those losses were starts by Josiah Leong, in which he left the game in the lead, only to have it blown and then lost by the reliever.

Despite the somewhat shaky bullpen, the team has otherwise been solid, leading the league in both pitching and hitting, and had both pitcher and hitter of the month, Nathan Yan and Derek Lew, respectively.

Sam Lau, Catcher: Lau has been steady at the catcher position, playing 26 of the team’s 28 games so far.  He leads the league in runners thrown out percentage, throwing out 7 of 13 runners, and has been solid on defense.  Where he’s lacking, though, has been of defense – with a .287-.339-.386 line, he’s far below his career numbers for on-base percentage and slugging.  Part of this may have to do with his staggering home and road game splits: At home, he’s hitting .348-.412-.543, while away he’s been an extremely disappointing .236-.274-.255.  Still, he’s doing well, and with backup Tina Quach floundering, looks to be secure at his position.

Tina Quach, Backup Catcher: Despite showing a lot of promise the year before, Quach has been disappointing so far, going .167-.286-.333 in only 5 games, although she’s been coming around recently (all her 3 hits in the past two games).  The rest of the backups have been slightly disappointing however, especially in the outfield, so she’ll find continue to find playing time.

Derek Lew, First Baseman: Derek had an astounding April, and in the wake of the team’s 2004 offseason turnover, has emerged as a dominant power hitter to fill in the voids left by the departures of Ho and Tienturier.  Lew batted .361-.370-.648 in April, setting himself up for a career year.  Most notably, however, Lew has scored 30 runs and driven in 30 RBIs batting in the #5 slot, leading the league in both categories, which was perhaps the largest contributing factor in winning the Batter of the Month award.

Rudy Puzon, Designated Hitter: An extremely pleasant surprise from the rookie designated hitter.  Puzon has played in 27 of the team’s 28 games, and in that span has managed to rack up a .325-.391-.588 line, leading the team with 8 HRs while usually batting in the #3 slot.  He is also second on the team in both runs and RBIs, and has been exceptional in pressure situations – in close/late situations, Puzon has batted .462-.529-1.154, and in scoring situations he’s hit .400-.406-..800.  With an extremely impressive April, Puzon seems to have cemented a hold as the team’s regular designated hitter.

Cristian Ortiz, Second Baseman: Cristian Ortiz, brought in as a Cesar Izturis-type defensive middle infielder, Ortiz has surprised with decent offensive.  His line of .289-.315-.488 is decent, and he is surprisingly tied for second on the team with 7 HRs.  Defensively, Ortiz has been stellar, converting all 111 of his total chances, and might very well win the defensive second baseman of the year.  Ortiz has also been fairly speedy on the basepaths, stealing 10 bases (caught once), which places him at #3 in the league.

Henry Nghe, Shortstop: Although he’s been fading for the past several weeks, Henry Nghe has been one of the better hitters on the team, with a .324-.389-.520 April line, and at one time hitting well over .500 AVG.  Lately however, Nghe hasn’t been doing so well – over the past two weeks he’s been hitting at an anemic .226-.324-.387, but without any other player who as a backup shortstop, Nghe has to weather through his slump and hope he returns to form.  On defense, which was his primary intent, Nghe has been iffy, committing 4 errors.

Joey Wong, Third Baseman: The other remaining member of Daly City’s previous big four hitters, Wong has been hitting at a good clip so far, hitting .382-.440-.600, continuing a steady improvement from year to year.  Along with Lew, he anchors the team at the core of the Daly City lineup.  Where Wong has been disappointing, however, is in his largest role as run producer and scorer.  His overall numbers are nice, but for the entire month Wong has a pedestrian 21 runs and 15 RBIs to show for it.  Hitting behind the unexpected power hitter Rudy Puzon, and surprise RBI numbers from leadoff hitters like Ortiz, Cubilo, and Lau (all of whom have hit more RBIs than Wong), Wong has had his RBI numbers sniped, although the case isn’t so different from when he was hitting in the #5 slot behind huge run-drivers Aubrey Cubilo, Derek Lew, Desireé Tienturier, and Norman Ho in 2003 and 2004, seasons in which he still scored a gaudy 157 and 134 RBIs, respectively.  The problem has been in the clutch, where Wong has slugged only .438 with runners in scoring position, and has hit an atrocious .143-.333-.214 in close/late situations.  While surprise performances from other hitters have maintained the Daly City machine so far, the offense will ultimately come to rely on him as one of its centerpieces, and Wong must pick up the pace in run scoring positions.

Joanna Maung, Backup Saung-gah-baseman: The career pinch hit extraordinaire has stepped up into a part-time starting role, starting 6 games (she’s yet to pinch hit), taking on starts at third base, right field, and designated hitter.  So far she’s hit .364-.400-.364, and most notably has hit .571-.556-.571 in scoring positions, driving in 5 runs in only 7 at bats.  Defensively, she’s been a liability, so a full-time starting gig at any other position but designated hitter is unlikely barring an injury, but filling in so far she’s been fairly good at getting on base – perhaps with a little more work on defense she could grow into a starting position somewhere.

Jonathan Chee, Leftfielder: Many anxiously awaited to see what form The Cheet of 2005 would take – the starting leftfielder of 2003 with a .278-.363-.366 line, or the part time hitter who only managed .219-.344-.303 in 2004.  The answer so far has been the latter – Chee has managed only 8 games, and in that span has hit .226-.314-.387 (although amusingly his OBP numbers come from not his 1 walk but his 3 hit-by-pitches).  He’s been in-and-out of the starting leftfield position, swapping places with Joanna Maung, Tiffany Ho, Jason Liu, and Francis Chen between left and right field.  Chee looked as if he had really turned a corner in spring training, showing glimpses of the capabilities of a .300+ contact hitter and on-base machine, but at the moment he stands at significant risk of losing the starting job entirely if the other players continue stronger play.

Aubrey Cubilo, Centerfielder: Cubilo has picked up right where she left off in 2004 – she’s hitting for a high average (.311, with a minimal OBP (.336) and SLG (.429), but stealing bases (14 steals and 0 caught stealing) and inexplicably driving in runs (19 runs, many of them from the #9 slot) like crazy.  Defensively she’s been a constant highlight reel, and her 3 assists are second in the league.  She’s been trading places with Ortiz between the #1 and #9 slots, but with more consistency in her hitting, she might more or less solidify herself at #1.

Francis Chen, Rightfielder: An enigma of wanton flailing, unfulfilled on-base potential, and raw power, Francis Chen has somewhat failed expectations.  At .210-.333-.419, he hasn’t been hitting well at all and has failed to even produce the gaudy power numbers that made him so enticing.  His problems mostly seem to be at home – in away games, he’s hit .227-.346-.523, which are exactly the kind of numbers expected.  Chee may be the first outfielder to go, but Chen needs stronger play and consistency, especially on the power end, to achieve his full potential.

Jason Liu, Leftfielder: The power hitter with the enormous potential has found a vacancy in leftfield left by Jonathan Chee’s weak play, and has seized upon it.  Though he’s played in only 20 games this season, Liu has amassed a .286-.319-.583 line, hitting 6 HR and 18 RBIs with 20 Runs in only 84 at bats.  While he hasn’t sealed himself as a starter yet, Liu is increasingly lookingly like the most consistent of all the potential corner outfielders, and may play out the entire or majority of the season as a starting player, as he did in 2004 when he went .323-.409-.702 and hit 39 HR in only 433 at bats.

Tiffany Ho, Backup Rightfielder: The rookie Tiffany, playing sparingly (9 games and 38 plate appearances) over the month, has amassed a meek .243-.263-.297 line, although one not too far away from where the Daly City outfielders have been playing.  She’s been doing well on the road, going .300-.333-.400 – with the continued weak play of Chee and Chen, and spot starts at 2B and SS where she’s the only other available fielder, she could still see significant playing time and get the experience she needs.

Nathan Yan, #1 Starting Pitcher: The dominating ace Yan has still been dominating in this first month, although he’s seemed a bit more mortal as of late.  He started out the season with an other-worldly 10-inning, 1-hit shutout, going the distance for a 2-0 extra inning complete game.  He’s also had two other shutouts, a complete game 1-hitter and another 2-hiiter.  In between however, Yan has been hit for 3 runs in 7 innings twice, giving up 4 hits and 2 walks in the first and giving up a huge 8 hits and 1 walk in the second.  He’s still 5-0 in 5 starts, and with a league-leading 1.29 ERA, 0.52 WHIP, and 14.4 K’s per 9 Innings won the pitcher of the year award, but with two multi-run games against him, he’s looking a bit more shaky than usual.

Josiah Leong, #2 Starting Pitcher: The forever inconsistent Josiah Leong suffered an agonizing April.  With a 1.26 WHIP, and a 5.12 ERA, Leong managed to escape with a 1-1 record, but has played brilliantly in several games only to lose the lead late with blown leads by relief pitchers, something which happened in all four of his non-wins.  With a little bit more luck, Leong could easily be 5-0 with a 3ish ERA, and as the bullpen settles down he may just achieve that in the following months.

Terrence Zhao, #3 Starting Pitcher: Zhao continues his rapid improvement – he’s been a deceivingly dominant 4-1 with a 1.64 ERA in April, good for 2nd in the league.  His WHIP, however, is a shaky 1.20, and looking at his game logs show cause for concern – low runs, but with a lot of luck given the large number of hits and walks given up.

Samantha Chin, #4 Starting Pitcher: The rookie starter has disappointed immensely in her first month – she’s somehow escaped with a 1-0 record, but her 1.37 WHIP is scary, and her 7.33 ERA is downright frightening.  The number of K’s per inning – a good 29 K’s in only 27 innings show some promise – she might fall back to #6 for now, but has the potential to become very good.

Sean Wade, #5 Starting Pitcher: The other 5-0 pitcher on the team surprisingly doesn’t come from the lights-out stuff of Josiah Leong, Terrence Zhao, or even the promising rookie Chin, but from her fellow rookie starter Wade, he’s been nothing but consistent.  He’s racked up a 2.04 ERA, and an even more surprising 0.63 WHIP, by far the second-best in the league.  With his pinpoint accuracy, Wade as the reserved and deceptively subdued starter could become the second-most dominant pitcher in the league, in exactly the opposite fashion as #1 pitcher Nathan Yan.

Miguel Pardo, #6 Starting Pitcher: With only 3 starts on the season, Miguel Pardo has been surprisingly lights-out – he has the lowest ERA and nearly the lowest WHIP of any pitcher in the league, if only he had enough innings – an ERA of 1.08 and a WHIP of 0.76.  The #6 spot starter has found himself to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the league, something that none of his pitching ratings indicate.  Whether his dominance, or even competent pitching, continues will be seen, but for right now Pardo is showing huge promise to break out and achieve the consistency that his fleetingly brilliant career has lacked so far.

Alving Vong, Long Reliever: Vong has pitched three games and 8 1/3 innings so far, amassing a decent 3.24 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.  He’s showing good promise, and with a 70 endurance rating is the team’s best solution at long relief.  With Pardo’s surprising performances, Vong looks to stay in the bullpen, at least for this season.

Katie Clayton, Mopup Reliever: Used sparingly, Clayton has done decently in her 5 2/3 innings, pitching with a better-than-average 4.77 ERA and 1.24 WHIP, and as always managing to not lose a game.

Helen Yamamoto, Mopup Reliever: The rookie Yamamoto has been horrible so far, pitching only 3 2/3 innings with a 12.27 ERA and 2.45 WHIP.  In her 4th appearance she went out with an injury, a strained rotator cuff muscle that will sideline her for 2-3 weeks.

Angel Poon, Middle Reliever: In 4 games so far, Poon has pitched 9 1/3 innings with a 4.82 ERA and an impressive 0.86 WHIP.  She’s still one of the more reliable relievers in the bullpen, and is splitting the time fairly evenly with setup reliever Alvina Chu.

Alvina Chu, Setup Reliever: The workhorse of the Daly City bullpen, Chu has pitched 13 innings in 6 appearances.  She’s also been at the center of the biggest Daly City drama – she’s blown two saves and has been behind a large number of the starters’, particularly Josiah Leong’s, no-decisions.  While her ERA, at 2.77, is decent, her 1.38 WHIP and general inconsistency, has been cause for worry.

Zubeda Khan, Closer: The rookie closer has been consistently good in her first month – through 9 appearances she’s recorded 5 saves and 1 win, blowing a save.  Her numbers have been stellar however – 0.87 ERA and a 0.68 WHIP, with her only blown save going to the only run she’s given up, in a game in which she went on to later win.  She’s the most consistent closer Daly City has had in awhile, and might finally be the regular closer that the team’s been looking for.

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