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slant.gif (102 bytes) From the Desk of the Commish

Commish

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February, 2021

2021 Season Preview

Welcome to the most unique and unpredictable season in Big Daddy Baseball League history!

Okay, I hear some of you grumbling. And I get it. No one wants to play with "fake stats." Chris Sale, Noah Syndergaard, Justin Verlander, and Stephen Strasburg missed all (or nearly all) of the 2020 MLB season and yet they're perfectly healthy full-time players in the fake and phony BDBL universe. So unrealistic! Jose Abreu, Marcell Ozuna, and Mike Yastrzemski were top-10 hitters in MLB, but barely league-average in the BDBL. Preposterous!

It isn't an ideal situation. Or is it? Hear me out. Yes, there are many negative consequences to using the projection disk (which is why we have never done so before), but there are also many positive benefits! Among them:

1. Normalizing statistics flattens any irregularities and eliminates the type of quirky, small-sample, anomalies that tend to have a major impact on our game. The downside of this flattening is that it will eliminate a major strategic element of our game. Managers no longer have the option of using those short-usage-superstars as weapons, and no longer need to worry about defending against them. The upside is that our games will no longer be won or lost by quirky and annoying SUS'es.

2. Projections require a large-enough sample size in order to make the projections meaningful and accurate. Because of this, there is more usage available to us in 2021 than ever before. Only 24 players on the entire disk have fewer than 200 PA's, and only two (neither with any real relevance) fall below our 75-PA minimum. On the pitching side, only 16 pitchers have fewer than the minimum of 20 IP. All of this should eliminate most (or all, if we're careful enough) of our annual usage issues.

3. Pitching projections are so difficult to estimate, in part, because pitchers often lose so much playing time to injury that their number of innings is nearly impossible to predict. Because of this, innings projections tend to be very conservative. Only one pitcher on the disk (Los Altos ace and reigning OL Cy Young Gerrit Cole) reached 200 innings in his projection. Only one dozen others reached 180+ innings. This will create an outstanding test of our managerial skills and roster depth, as we will be forced to spread out our innings and reach deep into our bullpens.

4. Using normalized stats seems to have created more league parity than we've seen in years. The stats for superstar players are muted by regression, and the stats for scrubs are mostly flattened, creating an environment where the middle of the curve is broader and lower than we've ever seen before. This has the effect of leveling the playing field. In recent league polling, eleven out of the eighteen teams that responded stated that they are "going for it all" in 2021, and only three are in rebuilding mode. This represents a massive paradigm shift compared to any past season.

5. Because the position ratings are based on the past several years of defense, managers have more flexibility than ever to move players to different positions that would not have been possible in past years. We are no longer obligated to passively accept whatever our MLB managerial counterparts decide to do with our players. We now have enough flexibility to move our players into positions that benefit our BDBL teams instead those that best suit their MLB team's interests.

In the end, maybe we'll appreciate playing with projected stats so much that we will adopt it permanently for future seasons!

Okay...probably not. Still, I predict that it will be a very interesting, challenging, and competitive season for all of us.

Jump to:
McGowan | Benes | Griffin | Higuera | Wilkie | Hrbek

MCGOWAN DIVISION

Salem Cowtippers

Owner: Mike Glander
2020 Record: 103-57 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: Stephen Strasburg (.630), Max Scherzer (.625), Sonny Gray (.671), Jon Gray (.720), Framber Valdez (.730)
Bullpen: David Bednar (.659), Shohei Ohtani (.693), Aaron Bummer (.689), Sam Delaplane (.690), Taylor Guilbeau (.666), Hoby Milner (.677), Rowan Wick (.695), Alex Colome (.699)
Projected Lineup: Trea Turner (SS, .807), Rafael Devers (3B, .875), Christian Walker (1B, .804), Ramon Laureano (CF, .793), Andrew Benintendi (LF, .784), Jose Pirela/Shohei Ohtani (RF, .805/.889), Nick Senzel/Aledmys Diaz (2B, .774/.760), Christian Vazquez (C, .724)

Strengths: A year ago, the Cowtippers led the BDBL in team ERA. With all four of their top starting pitchers returning in 2021, you'd think it would be a safe bet to repeat that feat, but they will get plenty of competition in that category this year from Ravenswood and Los Altos, among others. Of all pitchers in the league who faced a minimum of 500 batters, Salem owns three (Scherzer, Strasburg, and Sonny Gray) of the top twenty as measured by OPS allowed. Los Altos and Ravenswood are the only two other teams in the league with three starting pitchers owning a sub-.700 OPS. Strasburg (184+ IP, 2.77 CERA), pitching in his final year under contract, and Scherzer (174 IP, 2.53 CERA) should receive a healthy number of Cy Young votes at the end of this season unless the God of Random Dice Rolls is unkind.

The 'Tippers bullpen is solid, but unspectacular -- which pretty much describes every bullpen in the league. Bednar (69 IP, 3.46 CERA, 691/629 splits) will probably see a lot of high-leverage innings, as will Ohtani (69+ , 3.70, 702/683). Guilbeau (.590 OPS vs. LH) and Bummer (617) are the lefty setup men, with Delaplane (.665 vs. RH) and Wick (.674) filling the same role against righties.

Offensively, there isn't a glaring hole in the Cowtippers lineup. They are equally-balanced against lefties and righties and have a lot of flexibility in terms of defensive alignment. Devers (.843 OPS vs. LH), Walker (.832), Turner (.815), Laureano (.806), and Pirela (.805) provide plenty of weapons against southpaws, and Devers (.887), Ohtani (.889), Benintendi (.800), Turner (.803), and Yadiel Hernandez (.801) provide the same against righties.

Weaknesses: The Cowtippers lack a prototypical "closer," and the options for that role are less than ideal. Their current corps of relievers will have to suffice for now, with adjustments always possible as the season progresses.

Defensively, Ohtani is homeless once again, but his .889 OPS against righties demands that he be placed somewhere. In preseason training camp, the Cowtippers coaching staff has been working him out at first base with middling results. Wherever he ends up he will be a defensive liability.

Outlook: Last year, Salem tried to zig while the game of baseball was zagging. In the Year of Offense, the Cowtippers attempted to counterbalance that trend by assembling the best pitching staff in the league. It worked...until the postseason. Thanks to the magic of multilinear regression, we will likely see much less offensive production in 2021 than we did in 2020. As a result, maybe Salem's 2020 strategy will work better this time around. Or, if history is any indication, not.

Unlike last year, when the other three teams in this division decided to take a year off, Salem won't be allowed to win this division by default. They will actually have to earn this one. Joplin GM Jim Doyle has attempted to buy his way into the postseason, while Darien GM Lee Scholtz went all-in on baseball's best player. The McGowan Division is no longer a cakewalk, but then, it rarely is.

Prediction: 1st place. Salem owns the best mixture of offense and defense in this division, which should translate into 90-plus wins over the course of this season. A division title is nowhere near a slam-dunk, but I think the Cowtippers are the odds-on favorites at this point. I count eight out of the twelve teams in the Ozzie League that are in "go-for-it" mode in 2021. Since there are only four playoff slots to be won, that should tell you how competitive this season will be. Salem could eke into the playoffs and slip past the Division Series, but it would take an upset to beat the Undertakers for the OL title this season. My Magic 8 Ball says: "Don't count on it."

Joplin Miners

Owners: Jim Doyle
2020 Record: 69-91 (2nd place)
Projected Rotation: Luis Severino (.668), Clayton Kershaw (.657), Lance Lynn (.728), Eduardo Rodriguez (.726), Tanner Roark (.758), Vince Velasquez (.759), Brad Peacock (.746)
Bullpen: Felipe Vazquez (.593), Matt Barnes (.633), Bryan Abreu (.739), Richard Rodriguez (.729)
Projected Lineup: Mookie Betts (LF, .918), Josh Donaldson (3B, .854), Nelson Cruz (RF, .896), Carlos Santana (1B, .820), Marcus Semien (SS, .834), Shogo Akiyama (CF, .765), Chad Pinder (2B, .722), Francisco Cervelli (C, .689)

Strengths: Each of the first five batters in the Joplin lineup is likely to be named to the all-star team this summer. Betts (941/908 splits) ranks among the top ten in overall OPS on the disk, and Cruz ranks among the top twenty. The Darien Blue Wave, Charlotte Mustangs, Allentown Ridgebacks, and Chicago Black Sox are the only other teams in the BDBL with two top-twenty hitters.

The child-molesting Vazquez was one of only three pitchers on the disk who yielded an OPS under .600. Joplin fans will proudly cherish their limited time with their new closer before he heads to prison. Severino (166+ IP, 3.12 CERA) is a legitimate ace who should likely compete for a Cy Young award this season. Kershaw (166+, 2.79) could be even better, especially in his comfy new home ballpark.

Weaknesses: Lynn (825/646 splits) has some serious platoon issues, which opens him up for easy exploitation. I would expect him to face twice as many lefties as he faced on the disk. The back half of the Miners rotation is pretty dreadful. Roark (826/694), Peacock (839/652), Velasquez (806/712), and Martin Perez (653/806) have some of the most drastic split stats in the league, and yet Joplin will be forced to use them all extensively. Likewise, Vazquez and Barnes are the only two above-average pitchers in the Joplin bullpen. The Miners could end up losing a lot of games in the middle innings.

A similar glaring hole exists in the Joplin lineup, where the production takes a steep nosedive after number five in the batting order. In a year where normalized stats have flattened most platoon stats league-wide, the Miners own three right-handed batters (Cruz, Donaldson, and Semien) with massive OPS splits. As a result, Joplin's lineup is much weaker against righties than lefties.

Outlook: When you're as old as Jim Doyle, you don't worry much about tomorrow. Why save for a rainy day when your days are numbered? Better to throw caution to the wind and live for the moment. As he does whenever he has money to spend in the off-season, Doyle tossed all of his eggs into one basket. He spent a whopping $36.5 million -- 94% of his total budget -- on five players. This strategy has had mixed results over the years. Back in 2018, Doyle spent $26 million out of his $27 million budget on just four players in the auction and won 99 games and an invitation to the BDBL World Series (where he was quickly swept by the St. Louis Apostles.) Two years earlier, Doyle spent $18 million out of his $24.6 million budget (73%) on just two players and finished with 94 losses.

Doyle's latest attempt to impersonate Wayne Huizenga could very well push this team over the hump and into the playoffs. With such stiff competition in the Ozzie League this season, every single game will be critical. Whichever team loses this division will have to compete against some very tough competition for the wildcard. If the Miners fail to reach the playoffs this year, then the 2022 and 2023 seasons will prove challenging with the aging Cruz, Donaldson, Semien, and Lynn eating up nearly half of this team's total salary. But why worry about tomorrow when life is so short?

Prediction: 2nd place. I tossed some chicken bones onto a black cloth, and they told me that the Joplin Miners and Allentown Ridgebacks will engage in a fierce battle this year for the OL wildcard. I believe the Ridgebacks will prevail and the Miners will receive a high draft pick as compensation...which Jim Doyle will toss out the window because he will spend 90-percent of his money on one or two players in the auction. It's the Circle of Life, Joplin-style.

Darien Blue Wave

Owner: Lee Scholtz
2020 Record: 54-106 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Adrian Houser (.718), Matt Manning (.741), Michael Kopech (.743), Logan Gilbert (.771), Spencer Turnbull (.787), Tony Gonsolin (.793)
Bullpen: Dellin Betances (.656), Ty Buttrey (.673), Tyler Rogers (.686), Jeff Brigham (.694), Kevin Ginkel (.680)
Projected Lineup: Daniel Murphy (1B, .826), Yordan Alvarez (RF, .933), Mike Trout (CF, 1.055), Miguel Sano (3B, .882), Eddie Rosario (RF, .803), Michael Chavis (2B, .763), Kurt Suzuki (C, .779), Clint Frazier (LF, .745), Amed Rosario (SS, .734)

Strengths: Last year on this page, I predicted the Blue Wave would score 785 runs. They scored 732. (Close enough, I say.) This year, I predict Darien will easily break 800 runs scored. A major reason for that prediction is their BDBL-record 26.5-million-dollar investment, Mike Trout. Trout is hardly the only threat in this lineup. He is surrounded by 800-OPS hitters. In fact, there isn't a single dead spot in this lineup. Hell, Darien could end up leading the Ozzie League in runs scored. How's that for a bold prediction?

Weaknesses: As good as Darien's offense is, their pitching staff completely negates that advantage. Adrian Houser is no one's idea of an ace, yet I have him listed as the ace of this starting rotation by process of elimination. He is one of only three starters on the roster with 120+ innings, has (by far) the lowest CERA of the three, and the lowest OPS allowed. On most teams, he might be the #5 starter, but on this team he's the ace.

The Darien bullpen isn't much better. There isn't a single sub-.600 split on this entire roster. Betances (3.34 CERA in 46+ IP) is the de facto "closer", but he's severely limited usage-wise (and with good reason, since he's only thrown 12 innings in the past two MLB seasons, combined!)

Outlook: 100 years ago, when I played football in high school, we played our home games on a beat-up, mostly-dirt-covered, field encircled by a shitty gravel running track, flanked by rickety old metal grandstands on either side. Our blockhouse served hamburgers and hotdogs. Our cheerleaders wore whatever uniforms were handed down to them from the previous decade.

Once a year, our team would travel to Darien, Connecticut. Their football field was absolutely pristine, like a finely-manicured golf course. Their track was made of this strange rubber-like substance that didn't crumble under our feet. Their grandstands were filled with comfortable-looking benches. Their blockhouse served sushi and double-mocha lattes. Their cheerleaders all looked like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and wore the latest in fashion from the runways in Milan.

Needless to say, we hated those Darien pricks.

Time goes by, but some things never change. Those rich kids from Darien can still afford to splurge on the Mike Trouts of the world while the rest of us choke down our breadcrumbs.

No team in BDBL history has ever committed 42-percent of their team's total salary to one player before. We've entered uncharted territory. If any team can withstand that level of expense, it would be those rich kids from Darien. But, still, they need to eventually get some decent pitching to complement all of that offensive firepower.

Prediction: 3rd place. I just spread my Ouija board across my lap and repeated an incantation that I found on the internet. That ritual revealed that the Darien Blue Wave franchise will finish at .500 or above for the first time since 2013. Folks, the Ouija board has never steered me wrong before.

North Carolina Iron Spider Pigs

Owner: Ian Hartner
2020 Record: 48-112 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Jack Flaherty (.627), Zach Plesac (.760), Randy Dobnak (.750), Zach Eflin (.764), Merrill Kelly (.771)
Bullpen: Will Harris (.659), Blake Treinen (.652), Brad Wieck (.669), Richard Lovelady (.707), Colton Brewer (.702), Austin Davis (.704)
Projected Lineup: Dexter Fowler (CF, .736), Joey Votto (1B, .818), Matt Chapman (3B, .831), Nick Ahmed (SS, .749), Ian Happ (LF, .784), Jean Segura (2B, .768), Tommy Edman (RF, .723), Sam Huff (C, .673)

Strengths: Despite a 9-13 record, Flaherty finished in third place in the OL Cy Young balloting a year ago. He ran into some bad luck in MLB 2020, but fortunately for Iron Spider Pig fans, those stats don't count. His projected stats should put him in the running for that award again in 2021.

Chapman returns for his third full season with the franchise and should add a third all-star-caliber season to his resume. Also fortunate for ISP fans is that Votto's recent struggles (to put it mildly) against left-handers is not reflected in the projection. He should have a very solid season with no platoon issues whatsoever. That is bad news for Logan Morrison (758/835 splits), who now has nowhere to play.

Weaknesses: The entire roster, other than what I just wrote above.

This may be the weakest lineup in the BDBL. Only one hitter (Votto) owns an OBP above .340. Four others have an OBP between .330-.340. The rest of the lineup is an on-base wasteland. It is difficult to score runs when you don't get on base! On the pitching side, Flaherty is the lone bright spot. The bullpen is fairly decent, but the rest of the starting rotation beyond Flaherty is just depressing.

Outlook: We are now entering Year Three of the Hartner Era in North Carolina. Looking at this roster, it is hard to believe this franchise has won four* BDBL championships! Yet, here we are. When I look at this team's winter moves, I can't help but see a team that is spinning its wheels. The Pigs spent $15 million on Edman, Harris, Segura, and Ahmed in the auction. None of those four players seem to have a great deal of future upside. Of the four, only Harris has significant 2021 trade value. So, for the most part, those guys are merely space-fillers that will most likely need to be replaced a year from now.

There are reasons for optimism. Max Meyer and A.J. Puk could form a very strong one-two punch atop the Pigs rotation within the next two-to-three years. Kyle Lewis could become another franchise player in short order. A couple of the really young kids on the farm (Luis Rodriguez, Diego Cartaya) could turn into something special. For the most part, however, being an Iron Spider Pigs fan has turned into a very long waiting game.

Prediction: 4th place. The good news is that with our normalized stats, we aren't likely to see a team shatter last year's record for losses. The bad news is that we're looking at yet another long year for Iron Spider Pigs fans.

BENES DIVISION

Akron Rche

Owner: D.J. Shepard
2020 Record: 97-63 (1st place, OL championship)
Projected Rotation: Patrick Corbin (.695), Mike Clevinger (.660), Marcus Stroman (.689), Brandon Woodruff (.685), Luke Weaver (.738), Corbin Burnes (.710)
Bullpen: Josh Hader (.549), Trevor Gott (.651), Brandon Workman (.668), Andres Munoz (.636), Josh Taylor (.676)
Projected Lineup: Jesse Winker (LF, .815), Ronald Acuna (RF, .903), Keston Hiura (2B, .833), Josh Bell (1B, .858), David Dahl (CF, .841), Austin Riley (3B, .808), Chris Taylor (SS, .771), Alejandro Kirk/Francisco Mejia (C, .748/.721)

Strengths: Any lineup that includes Acuna is a team strength. This lineup happens to include plenty of supporting players surrounding Acuna, including five others with an .800-plus overall OPS. What makes this lineup extra dangerous is the lack of drastic platoon splits. Bell (839/865) can hit both lefties and righties. Lefties Dahl (.798 vs. LH) and Winker (.776) can hold their own against southpaws. Acuna (.891 vs. RH), Hiura (.821), Riley (.794), and Taylor (.767) are hardly liabilities against right-handers.

Hader (.454/.593 splits) is one of only three pitchers on the entire disk with a sub-.500 OPS against either platoon split. If his BDBL performance can come anywhere near his disk performance (which has been a challenge for him in the past), Hader could be a very rare weapon in the Akron arsenal. The rest of the bullpen is loaded with capable setup men in the middle innings, providing plenty of support for their closer.

Weaknesses: Clevinger (146+ IP), Woodruff (122+), Weaver (106), and Burnes (95+) are all limited in usage. This means that Jordan Yamamoto (126 IP, 4.29 CERA, 752/711 splits), Bryse Wilson (142+, 4.25, 773/735), and Joe Ryan (108+, 4.26, 775/758) will need to step in frequently for spot starts. Those three aren't awful, but they aren't nearly as good as the pitchers they are replacing in the rotation.

Outlook: A year ago, I gazed into my crystal ball and predicted an Ozzie League championship for this team. This year, I shook my Magic 8 ball and it read, "Reply hazy, try again." There are simply too many X-factors involved. Will Josh Hader pitch like Josh Hader the ballplayer or Jon Heder the actor? Will the absence of a VORP cap lead to out-of-control trading that throws the entire pennant race out the window? Will Ravenswood and/or Las Vegas sneak into the playoffs on the strength of a bizarre Pythagorean difference or some other fluke of random dice rolls? The future is unclear.

What is clear is that the Akron Ryche have a very good team in 2021, and should compete for a postseason spot from beginning to end. Whether that happens as the division winner or the wildcard remains to be seen. This year, Akron not only must contend with the Infidels, but the Flamingos as well. I see all three teams being competitive in 2021. In the end, the entire division could be decided by head-to-head contests and records in one-run games.

Prediction: 1st place. I am predicting a third straight division title for Akron in their third year in this division, but I admit my confidence in this prediction could be higher. I believe that this will be a very tight three-team race for the division title. I am slightly more confident that whichever team finishes in second place in this division will not participate in the year-end Tournament of Randomness. I believe it will be Division-Or-Bust for all three teams.

Ravenswood Infidels

Owner: Brian Potrafka
2020 Record: 96-64 (2nd place)
Projected Rotation: Chris Sale (.625), Walker Buehler (.650), Chris Paddack (.687), James Paxton (.700), Yonny Chirinos (.741), Ross Stripling (.715)
Bullpen: Liam Hendricks (.609), Sean Doolittle (.672), Phil Maton (.693), Chris Devenski (.700), Tyler Webb (.705), Oliver Perez (.714)
Projected Lineup: Kolten Wong (2B, .759), Matt Carpenter (1B, .798), Willians Astudillo (C, .765), Asdrubal Cabrera (3B, .805), Todd Frazier (SS, .768), Lorenzo Cain/Adam Eaton (CF, .775/.803), Garrett Cooper/Mike Gerber (RF, .757/.794), Jake Cave (LF, .768)

Strengths: Among starting pitchers that faced at least 500 batters on the disk, the Infidels own two of the top ten, and three of the top twenty-five, as measured by OPS allowed. Sale (164+ IP, 2.65 CERA), Buehler (167+, 2.88), and Paddack (159, 3.25) should all receive votes for OL Cy Young at the end of this year. Hendricks (71+ IP, 2.46 CERA, 618/602 splits) is one of the few legitimate closers in the league.

Weaknesses: The offense is solid, but lacks a true impact bat. Cabrera (just barely) owns the only overall OPS on the roster that is above .800. Only Cabrera (809/803 splits), Carpenter (815 vs. RH), and Eaton (.803 vs. RH) own a platoon split above .800 -- and, again, just barely. On the plus side, there isn't an OPS split below .740 in this lineup against lefties or righties.

I wasn't sure how to align this team defensively (and I'm not sure that Potrafka knows, either!) The options at shortstop are: Frazier (rated Pr), Cabrera (also Pr), and Isaac Paredes (Fr). Paredes could be used as a platoon against lefties (.760 OPS), but it would be a minimal defensive gain for little or no offensive gain. Cooper and Justin Bour could form a decent platoon at first base (757/794 splits), but that would leave Carpenter without a home unless he moves to third...which would push Cabrera to second base...where he is rated Pr for defense. Regardless of how this defense is configured, it is likely to include at least one Pr-ranged infielder.

Outlook: Ravenswood's pitching, alone, should be enough to push this team into the playoffs. The last two seasons in a row have resulted in a heart-breaker for Infidels fans, as their favorite team missed the playoffs in both years by losing a one-game playoff. Let's hope, for the sake of Brian Potrafka's mental health, that doesn't happen again.

The Infidels could allow fewer runs than any other team in the BDBL this season. At the very least, they should rank among the top five in that category. But if they don't score 700 runs or more (which looks iffy on paper), then it's very difficult to win. With such a razor-thin margin of error, the Infidels would need to win an unusual number of one-run and two-run games. That isn't impossible to do. In fact, that's how the Bear Country Jamboree ended up stealing away Ravenswood's playoffs spot a year ago. Maybe the Infidels get their opportunity to repay that favor in 2021.

Prediction: 2nd place. Last year, I predicted that Ravenswood and Bear Country would battle for the OL wildcard until the very last day of the season. Sometimes, my powers of prediction frighten me. This year, I predict that Ravenswood will be in the hunt for both the division title and wildcard until the very last chapter -- again. If ever there were a team that would benefit from one major trade acquisition, it would be the Infidels. In this season of league parity, it seems those trading opportunities are few and far between.

Las Vegas Flamingos

Owner: John Bochicchio
2020 Record: 76-84 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Zack Wheeler (.712), Joey Lucchesi (.707), Tyler Mahle (.744), Chris Bassitt (.740)
Bullpen: Kenley Jansen (.642), Keone Kela (.639), Cody Reed (.697), Justin Wilson (.664), Robert Gsellman (.711), Rafael Montero (.733) Luis Perdomo (.715), Marcus Walden (.702)
Projected Lineup: Andrew McCutchen (LF, .820), Francisco Lindor (SS, .874), Pete Alonso (1B .898), Kevin Cron (3B, .836), Kike Hernandez/Adam Frazier (2B, .767/.772), Jackie Bradley, Jr. (CF, .749), Jose Osuna/Tim Locastro (RF, .786/.724), Yan Gomes (C, .711)

Strengths: Alonso (916/885 splits) joins Lindor (886/867) as the dual faces of the Flamingos franchise. They are both signed for at least two more seasons beyond this one, with Alonso freshly signed to a new contract that extends through the 2027 season when he will be 32 years old. As long as they remain in the lineup, the Flamingos will have a fighting chance.

McCutchen (876/799) and Cron (847/828) could turn out to be forces to be reckoned with. The top four batters in this lineup will cause opposing pitchers (and managers) nightmares. Yes, they all strike out a TON, but they also hit a TON of home runs. All four of those batters could hit 30+ homers each this season.

Weaknesses: Bochicchio just committed $8.5 million to sign Wheeler this winter, with a minimum of $26.5 million committed over three seasons. The problem is that Wheeler has never really been an $8.5 million pitcher in his career, and he's now on the wrong side of age 30. In terms of his 2021 performance, his 100-point splits differential (766/665) could prove to be problematic. Going forward, we'll see if his sudden drop in strikeouts was a short-sample aberration in MLB '20 or if this is his new norm.

None of the other pitchers in the Vegas starting rotation would be confused with an ace. Lucchesi (606/742) has some platoon issues of his own, and Mahle (830/664) is even worse. Bassitt (122+ IP, 4.34 CERA, 725/757 splits) would be a spot starter on most teams.

Outlook: The Flamingos could slug their way into contention this year. Kevin Cron -- who has all of 98 career PA's in MLB, with a career OPS of .665, and who is now playing in Japan -- could end up receiving several votes for league MVP. Ah, the magic of projections!

The 2021 Flamingos should be more competitive than they have been in the recent past, but with the stiff competition in this division it would take quite a turn of fortune for them to win this division or earn a spot in the postseason as the wildcard. If a .500 record is the goal, then I think Vegas fans will be very happy at the end of this season. If November baseball is the goal, then I think they may be disappointed.

Prediction: 3rd place. Alonso and Cron will receive many votes for the OL Babe Ruth award, but as almost always, that award will go to whoever wins the MVP award instead.

South Loop Furies

Owner: Bart Chinn
2020 Record: 78-82 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Madison Bumgarner (.746), Matt Boyd (.729), Jose Quintana (.730), Zach Davies (.736), Tucker Davidson (.741)
Bullpen: Ryan Stanek (.681), Nick Vincent (.681), Tony Watson (.672), Jerry Blevins (.704), Amir Garrett (.707), Buck Farmer (.732)
Projected Lineup: David Peralta (LF, .787), Freddie Freeman (3B, .934), Jose Abreu (1B, .798), Bryan Reynolds (RF, .752), Tim Anderson (SS, .744), Jonathan Villar (2B, .733), David Bote (CF, .739), Dom Nunez (C, .689)

Strengths: The Furies added Freeman in trade this winter and were then shocked to discover they had won the bidding for first baseman Jose Abreu at only $5 million in the auction. Luckily, Freeman is rated at third base, so there is room for both in this lineup, at least for this season. Although Abreu's projection isn't anywhere near his actual 2020 MLB performance, he is still a valuable bat to have in the lineup.

Weaknesses: Aside from the two sluggers named above, there isn't much to this lineup. Peralta (.802 vs. RH) is the only other batter in the lineup with an OPS split above .800 (and just barely, at that.) Half of the lineup is filled with players who would not start for most teams in the BDBL.

On the pitching side, the starting rotation has its issues, including drastic splits for the lefties Bumgarner and Boyd, which are easily-exploited. In fact, Davies is the only right-hander in the rotation. The bullpen is sorely missing a closer, with Stanek (72+ IP, 3.59 CERA, 623/729 splits) serving as the closest resemblance to one.

Outlook: Bart Chinn is one of the few owners in the BDBL who has stated that 2021 will be a rebuilding year. Given that, the decision to trade for Freeman this winter is an odd one. Freeman cost this team $11.5 million toward the cap, which could have been spread out elsewhere in the auction and draft. With only one year remaining under contract, he provides a short window of benefit for such a huge investment. Not only that, but he cost the Furies two good prospects in exchange for only one year of production!

Also this winter, South Loop traded Josh Donaldson to the Joplin Miners for Bumgarner, straight-up. That move cost the Furies $2 million this year, but took $7 million off their books for 2022. Given Donaldson's recent decline and past health history, that was probably a smart move. Not only did the Furies erase that $7 million from their books, but they can probably flip Bumgarner in trade for something of value.

In addition to Bumgarner, Anderson, Davies, Farmer, and Stanek are also free agents at the end of this season. Their salaries, combined, total $16.8 million. Even after freeing all of that money, however, building a contending team in 2022 around the core of Freeman and...well, Freeman, seems ambitious. Boyd ($7.5 million in 2022) is looking like an albatross around this team's neck. With Bumgarner and Davies gone, the starting rotation will be bare. There doesn't seem to be much on the horizon offensively, either. I don't really get the strategy here.

Prediction: 4th place. With no VORP cap this year, the Furies could flip Freeman. They would not only save a ton of money next year, but they would undoubtedly get some value in return. Bumgarner could also be flipped for 2022 value. Aside from those potential trades, it looks like a rather boring year is in store for Furies fans.

GRIFFIN DIVISION

Los Altos Undertakers

Owner: Jeff Paulson
2020 Record: 106-54 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: Gerrit Cole (.620), Shane Bieber (.686), David Price (.696), Caleb Smith (.706), Dustin May (.729), Jose Urquidy (.758), Josh James (.701)
Bullpen: Seth Lugo (.632), Zack Britton (.640), Seranthony Dominguez (.641), Jose Castillo (.652), Emmanuel Clase (.693), Garrett Richards (.691)
Projected Lineup: Bo Bichette/Derek Dietrich (2B, .838/.808), Corey Seager (SS, .813), Eugenio Suarez (3B, .863), Eloy Jimenez (LF, .860), Mitch Garver (C, .803), Ryan Braun/Dan Vogelbach (1B, .854/823), Mac Williamson/Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (RF, .801/.818), Joc Pederson (.853)

Strengths: Cole (200 IP, 2.50 CERA, 636/605) is the only pitcher on the disk with 200 innings. He is in line to win his second straight OL Cy Young after the league stole that award from the far-more-deserving Sonny Gray last year. Unlike last year, Cole isn't alone in the Los Altos rotation, thanks to the generous donation by the Gill Foundation. Bieber (195+ IP, 3.21 CERA, 738/634 splits) will not only grace us with his presence in the 2021 Los Altos rotation, but for the next seven years to come. Thanks, Gill Foundation!

It goes without saying that the Undertakers bullpen is filled with closers. That has been true since the league's founding, and it will continue to be true until the league wises up and stops allowing it to happen. The Los Altos bullpen includes at least three pitchers who would be closers for most other teams.

The Undertakers lineup is so stacked that I couldn't even find room for several players who would be regulars on most teams, such as Danny Santana (769/799 splits, rated at every position but catcher) and Kyle Tucker (766/813 splits, rated at four different positions.) How stacked is this lineup? Well, they couldn't even find room for Matt Carpenter (755/815 splits), so they sent him away for future considerations! Needless to say, when your projected number-eight hitter owns an .853 OPS, you're doing okay.

Weaknesses: The back end of the rotation seems a little light, but I wrote the same thing last year and Los Altos won 106 games. So...I guess it doesn't matter.

Outlook: Another year, another 100-win season. You would think at some point it would get boring for poor Jeff, and yet he seems just as intense as ever. It is difficult to see any light at the end of this tunnel for the rest of the league. Cole is a free agent after this season, but he's already been replaced by Bieber as the ace of the '22 staff. Lugo will finally be gone as well, but Jeff has already traded for his possible replacement. The fact that Paulson always has one eye on the next season is a major reason why his dynasty has lasted so long.

Fernando Tatis, Jr. is gone (yay!), but he's been replaced with Jimenez (boo!), who is now signed through the end of the decade. Seager has "only" six years left on this contract, but Bichette is just beginning his option year. The same is true of Kyle Tucker.

I figure that by maybe 2029, the league can finally take a breather from the never-ending Los Altos dynasty. Maybe.

Prediction: 1st place. Again. Yawn. The Undertakers are the obvious team to beat in the Ozzie League. This has been true forever, it seems. This year, I think we'll see some healthy competition for the division title from the Allentown Ridgebacks. Having two four-time (plus) champions in the same division should have its advantages, entertainment-wise, if nothing else. In the end, I see Jeff Paulson winning his sixth Ozzie League title and record-tying fifth BDBL world championship -- at which point we will have the league's only two five-time champions in the same division. Won't that be fun!?

Allentown Ridgebacks

Owner: Tom DiStefano
2020 Record: 63-97 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Kevin Gausman (.695), Corey Kluber (.704), Joe Musgrove (.719), Tyler Anderson (.718), J.A. Happ (.737)
Bullpen: Ryan Pressly (.624), David Robertson (.636), Drew Pomeranz (.626), A.J. Minter (.686), Dillon Maples (.654), Andrew Kittredge (.669), Zac Grotz (.692), Shane Greene (.678), Grant Dayton (.692), Steve Cishek (.687)
Projected Lineup: George Springer (CF, .871), Aaron Judge (RF, .913), Matt Olson (1B, .851), Giancarlo Stanton (LF, .915), Jorge Polanco (SS, .803), Jedd Gyorko (2B, .763), Cesar Hernandez (3B, .725), Alex Avila (C, .713)

Strengths: Springer and Judge have been a monstrous one-two punch in the middle of this franchise's lineup since 2018. Last year, DiStefano added Stanton, which gave the franchise three monsters in the middle of the order. And now, this past winter, DiStefano added a fourth monster with Olson. At this point, Allentown and Lake Norman should just switch team names. No pitching staff can contain Allentown's four monsters. When you add Polanco and his 800 splits against both sides, it almost seems like overkill.

Equally unfair is the idea that Allentown has assembled a bullpen that includes no fewer than TEN relievers with an overall OPS below .700. C'mon, man! They can't even USE that many relievers unless they carry a 14-man pitching staff!

Weaknesses: DiStefano has apparently decided to punt the catching position for now. Avila (635/736 splits in just 243 PA's) and Zack Collins (662/688 in 461) are the only two catchers on the roster. I suppose when your lineup includes four monsters and a Polanco, you can afford to punt an entire lineup position.

The starting rotation is best defined by the word "meh." It isn't great. It isn't terrible. It's just meh. We've seen this movie before, however, where the team with the meh rotation succeeds despite the old adage that pitching is half the game. With this bullpen, the Ridgebacks could make every game a "bullpenning" game if it weren't for the fact that the MP manages every game and isn't equipped to handle such a strategy.

That said, don't underestimate DiStefano's penchant for finding pitchers who far exceed their expectations in DMB. It would not surprise me if some of Allentown's starters somehow end up among the league leaders in ERA and other key categories.

Outlook: You can't keep a good Sith down. We all knew when we invited The Emperor back into our home (which is akin to inviting a vampire over for dinner), that his time at the bottom of the standings would be short-lived. This team looks good enough to qualify for a spot in the postseason. They may even be good enough to give the Undertakers a run for their money -- or, at the very least, evoke a few faux-humble "this just isn't our year's" out of Jeff.

The Ridgebacks scored only 690 runs a year ago. It would shock me if they didn't top that figure by at least 100 runs this year. That means their pitching staff only needs to be as good as the 2020 South Loop Furies in order to finish .500. That seems do-able. Add a few wins for random luck, and we're looking at a wildcard contender, at minimum.

Prediction: 2nd place and the OL wildcard. Like I said, you can't keep a good Sith down. One whole year of "rebuilding" is enough for Tom DiStefano to worm his way back into the postseason. The last time DiStefano appeared in the postseason, Barack Obama was still president and Leonard Nemoy was still alive. It's time.

Bear Country Jamboree

Owner: Matt Clemm
2020 Record: 96-64 (2nd place, OL wildcard)
Projected Rotation: Luis Castillo (.667), Ryan Yarbrough (.727), Hyun-Jin Ryu (.726) Frankie Montas (.721), John Means (.777), Dylan Cease (.748)
Bullpen: Aroldis Chapman (.586), Tommy Kahnle (.655), Joaquim Soria (.678), Jose Urena (.705), Alex Vesia (.660), Wandy Peralta (.706)
Projected Lineup: Jeff McNeill (SS, .835), Paul Goldschmidt (1B, .826), J.D. Martinez (LF, .913), Mike Moustakas (2B, .854), J.D. Davis (3B, .786), Wilson Ramos (C, .746), Tyler Nevin (RF, .726), Garrett Hampson (CF, .719)

Strengths: Martinez is one of only sixteen players on the disk with an overall OPS above .900. He is surrounded in the lineup by three players with an .800-plus OPS. The top four hitters in this lineup stack up against any other lineup in the league.

Chapman is one of the only true closers in the BDBL, thanks to the built-in regressions of the projection disk. He owns one of only three sub-.500 OPS splits in the game (.481 vs. LH.) Among starting pitchers, Castillo ranks among the top-twenty in CERA and OPS allowed.

Weaknesses: I had some difficulty putting together that starting lineup above. In order to get the best bats into the lineup, I had to move McNeil to his worst-rated position (Fr) of shortstop, which meant moving Moustakas to his worst-rated position (Fr) as well, which meant moving Davis to his worst-rated position (Fr.) It seems like the only option is to have three Fr-rated infielders or two Av's and one bad bat. Not an ideal choice, regardless.

Hampson (.692 OPS vs. RH) could use a platoon partner if he's going to play center field, but there doesn't seem to be one on this roster. Likewise, I couldn't find anyone to play right field except Nevin (747/711 splits) if I were to keep that infield intact. What a mess.

The starting rotation beyond Castillo is serviceable, but unexciting. Likewise, the bullpen beyond Chapman is as yawn-inducing as Matt's favorite MLB team.

Outlook: I predicted a wildcard for this team a year ago on this page, but I see a lot more competition for that playoff spot this season. I see this as a 70-75-win team unless Matt duplicates his magic trick from last year and posts a double-digit Pythagorean difference.

Going forward, the core of this team (Goldschmidt, Martinez, McNeil, Moustakas, Castillo) still have some mileage left in their tanks. I can see the Jamboree easily competing in 2022 even if they stood pat and did nothing until then. If they use the next year to bulk up, all the more likely that possibility becomes.

Prediction: 3rd place. This looks like one of those years where the Jamboree will be neither good nor bad. They will be competitive, but will probably not be a threat to win the division or wildcard. If Matt Clemm decides to build toward 2022, then he has plenty of trade bait -- if his trade partners have a high tolerance for taking on future salary. That is a tough sell.

Lake Norman Monsters

Owner: Joe Demski
2020 Record: 70-90 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Aaron Nola (.675), Andrew Heaney (.728), Kenta Maeda (.705), Sixto Sanchez (.752), Dakota Hudson (.725), Mitch Keller (.736), Griffin Canning (.736)
Bullpen: Brusdar Graterol (.670), Hansel Robles (.699), Wander Suero (.704), Collin McHugh (.715), Tim Hill (.727), Paul Fry (.716), Scott Barlow (.717)
Projected Lineup: D.J. LeMahieu (2B, .786), J.T. Realmuto (C, .831), Trey Mancini (1B, .832), Paul DeJong (SS, .774), Hunter Dozier (3B, .789), Marwin Gonzalez (LF, .755), Gregory Polanco (CF, .778), Aristedes Aquino (RF, .726)

Strengths: The Monsters lineup is surprisingly solid. There isn't a glaring weak spot in the lineup from one through eight, for the most part. With Mancini, Aquino, DeJong, Realmuto, Dozier, and Eric Hosmer (not even listed above) all projected to hit 20+ homers, this team has plenty of pop -- although they will also strike out a TON. The bench is also very deep, with plenty of options for moving players around the diamond to spread out the playing time.

For the fifth year in a row (since his trade from the Salem Cowtippers), Nola is the ace of this team. He will pitch a ton of innings -- more than almost every other pitcher in the league -- with balanced splits. In this day and age, that type of production from a starting pitcher is priceless.

Weaknesses: Years ago, I stated that Brusdar Graterol would never be a Major League baseball player because of his name, but that he could very well become a new character in the next Harry Potter movie. Boy, is my face red! I now have Brusdar, King of the Graterols, penciled in as this team's de facto closer. That said, his numbers are merely passable in that role, and he hardly has any support in what looks to be a very weak bullpen.

Offensively, no one really jumps off the page as a threat to strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers. Realmuto (837/828) and Mancini (838/828) have nearly identical splits. LeMahieu (818 vs. LH) and Dozier (816 vs. LH) are the only other two batters on the roster with an 800+ OPS split against either hand. This team will struggle to score 650 runs.

Outlook: Scot Zook managed only one .500 season with this franchise in his seven years at the helm. This franchise is now coming off back-to-back 90-loss seasons, but with a new owner and a fresh perspective. Joe Demski took some big gambles on veterans in this auction, going Type H on four hitters: Realmuto ($9M), LeMahieu ($7M), DeJong ($6M), and Mancini ($6M). That's an $88 million commitment over three years, at minimum.

On the plus side, all four of those players are relatively safe bets, as all four are on the right side of age 30 and have a steady track record in recent years. The only exception there is Mancini, who is recovering from colon cancer, but should be 100-percent by the spring.

On the pitching side, Maeda was signed to a Type-H deal at $6 million. If he can continue his recent success (220 IP, 154 H, 61 BB, 249 K between 2019-20 combined), he will be a bargain in 2022.

In terms of 2021 outlook, any time you play in the same division as the Undertakers, your chances of winning the division are somewhere between slim and none. Now that we've added the five-time champion to this same division, the competition could not possibly be any tougher. Demski is fighting an uphill battle, but so far, he looks up to the challenge.

Prediction: 4th place. Talk about a Baptism by Fire! Demski probably had no idea what he was signing up for when he agreed to take over a franchise that is in the same division as Paulson and DiStefano. Together, Jeff and Tom have won over 40-percent of this league's championships! That said, Demski did an admirable job this winter, and is well-positioned to succeed going forward.

HIGUERA DIVISION

Kansas Law Dogs

Owner: Chris Luhning
2020 Record: 99-61 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: Jacob deGrom (.626), Alex Wood (.703), Jesus Luzardo (.700), Brad Keller (.736), Johnny Cueto (.740), John Gant (.721), Cal Quantrill (.775)
Bullpen: Nick Anderson (.642), Ken Giles (.649), Joe Kelly (.653), Corey Knebel (.621), J.T. Chargois (.674), Mark Melancon (.700)
Projected Lineup: Whit Merrifield (CF, .767), Cody Bellinger (1B, .977), Max Muncy (3B, .879), Sean Murphy/Steven Vogt (C, .730/.780), Eduardo Escobar (SS, .813), Jay Bruce (LF, .820), Randal Grichuk (RF, .777), Starlin Castro (2B, .788)

Strengths: deGrom (184+ IP, 2.60 CERA, 653/599 splits) is the favorite to win the EL Cy Young, which would be his third in a row. The bullpen is chock-full of closers. Anderson, Giles, Kelly, Knebel, and Chargois all have even platoon splits, with a sub-.700 OPS against both sides of the batter's box.

Bellinger (.293/.392/.585, 40 HR, 130+ RC) is in line to win the MVP one of these years. This very well could be that year. He is once again joined in the lineup by Muncy (846/889 splits) and Escobar (819/810), who give opposing pitchers nightmares in the heart of that lineup. There isn't an easy out in the Kansas lineup from one through eight.

Weaknesses: The starting rotation takes a huge nosedive after deGrom. Wood and Luzardo are the two next-best pitchers on the roster, but are limited to 108 and 85 innings, respectively. Kansas will need to rely on back-end starters like Cueto (104+ IP, 3.97 CERA, 749/731 splits), Gant (104+, 4.11, 727/716), and Keller (172+, 4.34, 781/695) to get them to that killer bullpen.

Outlook: The Law Dogs have won 90 or more games five seasons in a row, and nine out of the past ten seasons. They are now the winningest team in Eck League history, and one of only three franchises in the BDBL with 2,000 wins. It is probably a safe bet that Kansas will win 90+ games in 2021, which should be enough to win this division. With Luzardo and Casey Mize waiting in the wings, it could be a while before any other team wins this division.

Prediction: 1st place. The Law Dogs have the classic formula for postseason success: one dominant ace starting pitcher with an Ex durability rating, an outstanding bullpen, a couple of MVP-caliber offensive weapons, and a balanced and deep starting lineup. I predict that at least one ace starting pitcher will be added to this rotation by the end of the year, as the 'Dogs have plenty of trade bait to land such assets. Several Eck League teams (all in the same division!) have a better offense than Kansas, but none fits the postseason success formula quite as well, which is why I am predicting an Eck League title for the Law Dogs in 2021.

South Philly Gritty

Owner: J.D. Luhning
2020 Record: 59-101 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Justin Verlander (.640), Yu Darvish (.693), Cole Hamels (.721), Kyle Wright (.751), Jon Lester (.764), Josiah Gray (.768)
Bullpen: Roberto Osuna (.635), Joe Jimenez (.671), Mychael Givens (.680), Silvino Bracho (.697), Drew Steckenrider (.689), Adam Morgan (.692), Kyle Crick (.689), Pat Venditte (.640)
Projected Lineup: Austin Meadows (LF, .830), Carlos Correa (SS, .845), Nolan Arenado (3B, .934), Matt Davidson/Rowdy Tellez (1B, .786/.768), Johan Camargo (2B, .751), Scott Kingery/Ender Inciarte (CF, .744/.751), Raimel Tapia (RF, .769), Jonathan Lucroy (C, .697)

Strengths: Verlander (190+ IP, 2.60 CERA, 641/640 splits) should compete with Kansas' Jacob deGrom and Highland's Trevor Bauer and Lucas Giolito for the EL Cy Young award this year. He and Darvish (154+, 3.08, 693/609) form a very imposing one-two punch in the South Philly rotation. Hamels (140+, 3.99, 694/728) is a very solid #3 starter, and the back end of this rotation is stronger than most. The bullpen is filled with capable arms as well, led by Osuna, who is a killer (.556 OPS) against righties.

Arenado (.298/.367/.567, 37 HR) is a stud in the middle of this lineup. He is surrounded by two potential all-stars in Meadows (.269/.334/.496) and Correa (.268/.353/.493). In terms of lefty/righty splits, this is a well-balanced lineup with very few wild swings in platoon splits.

Weaknesses: Once you get past the first three batters in the lineup, it is pretty much clear sailing. There isn't a single .800 split among the rest of the hitters on the roster, and only a small handful of splits above .750. As it is with most teams this year, the catching spot in the lineup is a black hole where no catcher on the roster owns an OPS against righties that is above .700.

Outlook: Looking at this roster, it is hard to believe that this franchise has finished below .500 in all but one of the past fourteen seasons. Not only does this look like a competitive team on paper this year, but it looks like the type of team that can compete for many years to come. Much of the credit for that goes to the new owner, J.D. Luhning, who spent his vast fortune in Classic Steinbrenner fashion, paying top dollar for Verlander ($21 million!), Arenado ($15.5M), and Darvish ($10M).

Going forward, the huge gamble on Verlander depends on whether or not he returns to MLB this season. If he doesn't, the team will have $21 million to spend on the pitching-rich Class of '22. If he does, this team can still absorb that wasted salary, given the expected development of Nate Pearson, assuming he lives up to his hype.

Prediction: 2nd place. If there will be a "surprise" contender in 2021, it will likely be the Gritty. They have the type of team that could very plausibly sneak into the playoffs and pull off an upset or two. I think this South Philly team will fight for the wildcard for most of this season, but -- barring some major trades or other unexpected twists -- I don't see this team actually winning that playoffs spot.

Going forward, it will be a lot of fun watching the Luhning brothers battle for this division title over the coming years. With Correa, Meadows, and Cavan Biggio all signed through 2025, and Pearson poised to become the ace of this pitching staff, no team is better positioned to knock the Law Dogs off their perch than the Gritty.

Great Lakes Sphinx

Owner: Scott Romonosky
2020 Record:  (89-71, 2nd place)
Projected Rotation: Mike Minor (.741), Masahiro Tanaka (.747), Trevor Williams (.720), Steven Matz (.739), Trevor Rogers (.735), Jake Arrieta (.757)
Bullpen: Jose Alvarez (.693), Pedro Baez (.694), Kyle Keller (.699), Michael Lorenzen (.683), Sean Manaea (.705), Chaz Roe (.705), Lou Trivino (.691), Michael Feliz (.707), Justin Anderson (.736)
Projected Lineup: Luis Urias (SS, .746), Christian Yelich (RF, .964), Charlie Blackmon (CF, .874), Will Smith (C, .790), Justin Smoak (1B, .790), Adam Duall (LF, .762), Ty France (2B, .757), Josh Rojas (3B, .759)

Strengths: Yelich could extend the Great Lakes streak of MVP wins to four years in a row. He owns Trout-like numbers, but at $8.5 million less in salary! Blackmon never seems to suffer from his MLB ballpark factors. Working in his favor this year is the fact that Coors Field and The Pyramid have nearly identical left-handed home run factors.

The Sphinx bullpen is filled with so many useful arms, you have to wonder what the purpose is for carrying them all. Is Romonosky collecting them like Pokeman cards? Does he plan to form a bullpen-by-sub-committee within his bullpen-by-committee? Whatever the case may be, the Sphinx bullpen will be up to the task.

Weaknesses: The Sphinx have never had a stellar starting rotation, as far as I can recall, and yet they seem to finish well above .500 every year. Maybe starting pitching is overrated? I'm even less enthused about this year's Sphinx rotation than I have been in the past. On the plus side, almost every Great Lakes starter has fairly even splits, so they won't be easily-exploited. On the downside, none of their numbers scream "ace" -- or even "number two starter." Their rotation is comprised of back-end inning-eaters (who don't even eat many innings, thanks to the nature of projections.)

Offensively, the Sphinx lineup doesn't include any real dead spots, but it has plenty of areas of weakness. Once you get past Smoak in the lineup, you can breathe easy.

Outlook: A year ago, I predicted that the Sphinx could not possibly win more than 85 games. They won 89. This team proves me wrong every damn year! There is some sort of blind spot happening where I just can't see the greatness that is staring me straight in the face. You'd think I would learn eventually, but no. I'm going to predict 80-85 wins for this team again this year. One of these years I'll be right!

Prediction: 3rd place. It would not surprise me if the Sphinx finish this season below .500. It also would not surprise me if they won 100 games and the division title. Basically, nothing this team can ever do would ever surprise me again. I have learned to accept the fact that I have no clue how to evaluate the Great Lakes Sphinx.

Buckingham Sovereigns

Owners: Tony Badger
2020 Record: 86-74 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Charlie Morton (.655), Jameson Taillon (.707), Anthony DeSclafani (.771), Kyle Freeland (.772), Adam Wainwright (.761), Jeff Hoffman (.767), Deivi Garcia (.763)
Bullpen: Taylor Rogers (.627), Brad Hand (.655), Chris Martin (.658), Scott Oberg (.658), Trey Wingenter (.692)
Projected Lineup: Buster Posey (C, .725), Jorge Soler (RF, .860), Aaron Hicks (CF, .785), Franmil Reyes (LF, .832), Nick Solak (2B, .786), Ryan Zimmerman/Brandon Belt (1B, .811/.768), Giovani Urshela (3B, .779), Adeiny Hechavarria/Eric Sogard (SS, .715/.713)

Strengths: The Buckingham bullpen is very strong, highlighted by a couple of shutdown lefties, Rogers (.497 OPS vs. LH) and Hand (.525). Morton (159 IP, 3.22 CERA, 707/609 splits) is a legitimate ace, and Taillon (135, 3.57, 742/671) was a much-needed addition to this rotation.

On the offensive side, Buckingham's lineup against left-handers is much stronger than their righty lineup. Soler (.884 OPS), Reyes (.858), Solak (.809), and Hicks (.792) form an imposing top of the lineup against southpaws.

Weaknesses: The lineup against right-handers is not nearly as impressive as it is against lefties. Soler (.848) and Reyes (.814) are the only two batters with an 800+ OPS against righties. Once you get past those two, there really isn't much to worry about.

Likewise, once you get past Taillon in the rotation, the rest of the Buckingham rotation is below-average. The problem with Taillon is that he is limited to only 148 innings in usage. This means that those other pitchers listed at the back end will be forced to throw a lot of innings.

Outlook: We have officially entered the Post-Trout Era of the Buckingham franchise history. His absence from this lineup is glaringly obvious. The Sovereigns scored 774 runs a year ago, but would be hard-pressed to score 700 with this lineup. Buckingham led the entire BDBL a year ago in fewest runs allowed (692). The holes left by the departures of Lance Lynn, Patrick Corbin, Brandon Workman, and others are even more glaring than the hole left by Trout. I cannot imagine a scenario where Buckingham finishes among the top half of teams in runs allowed this season.

In my oh-so-humble opinion, Lee Scholtz saved the Buckingham franchise from three miserable sub-.500 seasons by out-bidding Badger for the rights to Trout. Badger's final bid of $26 million would have handcuffed this team for three years and made it impossible for them to compete. For that same $26 million, Badger instead signed Morton ($9 million), Soler ($7M), Oberg ($5M), and Rogers ($4.5M). Those four will impact this team more than Trout this year, and won't be nearly as much of a financial burden in the years to come.

Yes, it won't be as much fun playing this game without Mike Trout in the lineup, but winning is also a lot more fun than losing.

Prediction: 4th place. Aside from possibly Hand and Rogers, the Sovereigns don't have much to offer in terms of trade bait this year. This gives Badger little to do but play out the string and wait for next year.

WILKIE DIVISION

Carolina Saints

Owner: Don Swearingen
2020 Record: 71-89 (tied, 3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Noah Syndergaard (.666), Dinelson Lamet (.702), Freddy Peralta (.719), Chris Archer (.726), Trevor Richards (.749), Domingo German (.757)
Bullpen: Edwin Diaz (.620), Giovanny Gallegos (.625), Diego Castillo (.668), Chad Green (.660), Raisel Iglesias (.681), Craig Kimbrel (.635), Michael Baez (.689), Jose Leclerc (.635)
Projected Lineup: Howie Kendrick (2B, .801), Anthony Rendon (3B, .862), Michael Conforto (RF, .853), Mike Ford (1B, .822), Yuli Gurriel (LF, .776), Starling Marte (CF, .792), Omar Narvaez (C, .791), Willy Adames (SS, .715)

Strengths: The Carolina bullpen is the best in the Eck League, and maybe even better than the Undertakers in the OL. Diaz (620/621 splits) and Gallegos (655/597) are legitimate closers -- a true rarity in the 2021 season. Castillo (699/638), Green (695/630), and Kimbrel (688/584) would easily serve as the closers for most BDBL teams, but here they are merely setup men. In fact, the Saints have so many above-average arms in their bullpen that it is very likely at least one of those names above sits outside of the active 25-man roster!

The starting rotation, beyond its workhorse Syndergaard (186+ IP, 3.17 CERA), is a patchwork of short-usage pieces, but there are more than enough pieces there to cobble together an above-average starting rotation. No pitcher on the Saints roster, other than Syndergaard (ironically enough) and Archer (140+), has more than 140 innings on the disk, but in addition to the names above, Carolina can also use Rich Hill (86+ IP, 3.62 CERA, 685/703 splits), Ryan Helsley (83+, 4.21), and Luis Patino (94+, 4.00) as occasional spot-starters.

Rendon (904/845) is playing his eighth and final season under contract, and remains as the heart and soul of this franchise, offensively. He is surrounded, up and down the lineup, by above-average hitters. There is not a soft spot in the batting order with the lone exception of shortstop, where Adames (722/710) is the best fit.

The Carolina bench is also deeper than most teams in the league. Not even mentioned above are Mike Tauchman (731/789 splits) and Tyler O'Neill (793/754), who would likely start for many other teams.

Weaknesses: The lineup against lefties can get a little sparse toward the end. Rendon (.904 OPS) is a monster in the middle of the order, but Narvaez's OPS drops from .813 vs. RH to just .724 against lefties. Ford (.790) and Conforto (.791) fall below .800 against southpaws as well, but are still above-average in that regard. In other words, there aren't many weaknesses on this roster that are worth mentioning.

Outlook: It is hard to believe, but this franchise has only finished in last-place twice in our 22-year league history: our very first season in 1999 and last year. (Note: technically, they tied for third-place last year, but also tied for last!) In between, this franchise has won nine division titles, has five second-place finishes (including two wildcard wins), and five third-place finishes. Each and every team in the Wilkie Division appears to be competitive this season. If we were to play 1,000 seasons, it seems like each team would win this division 250 times.

Prediction: 1st place. I honestly have no idea who is going to win this division. I've probably scrambled these four teams into every possible permutation as I have written this preview. I am giving the edge to Carolina because they appear to be the most balanced of the four teams. Their depth, especially in their bullpen, will carry them a long way this year -- maybe even beyond the Division Series.

South Carolina Sea Cats

Owner: Tony DeCastro
2020 Record: 75-85 (2nd place)
Projected Rotation: Blake Snell (.639), Kwang-hyun Kim (.730), Daniel Ponce De Leon (.720), Zac Gallen (.690), German Maquez (.700), Julio Urias (.710)
Bullpen: Hector Neris (.674), Adam Ottavino (.656), Andrew Chafin (.655), Alex Claudio (.668), Oliver Drake (.646), Luke Jackson (.661), Jeremy Jeffress (.678), Edubray Ramos (.702), Tanner Scott (.674)
Projected Lineup: Brian Anderson (3B, .771), Ozzie Albies (SS, .858), Yasmani Grandal (C, .809), Max Kepler (CF, .826), Michael Brantley (LF, .793), Nate Lowe (1B, .789), Brandon Lowe (2B, .757), Kevin Pillar/Josh Naylor (RF, .754/.766)

Strengths: South Carolina is one of the many teams in the BDBL that has so many quality bullpen arms, there is nowhere to put them all. Unless the Sea Cats employ a 13-man pitching staff, at least one of those names above will be sitting on the reserve roster -- which is a shame for those teams that can use a quality bullpen arm! Of the lot, only Drake (649/642) and Jackson (623/692) have sub-700 OPS's against both lefties and righties. Claudio (.513 OPS vs. LH) and Chafin (.575) are the LOOGYs, and Ottavino (.595) is the ROOGY.

Snell (135+ IP, 3.02 CERA) is a true ace, but is limited to 148 innings. The rest of the rotation is solid, however, so it isn't a major issue. Given the difference in ballpark factors, Marquez (180 IP, 3.47 CERA) could end up with better numbers than Snell this year.

The lineup isn't flashy, but gets the job done. Albies (889/843) is the centerpiece. Grandal (.817 OPS vs. RH), Kepler (.844), Nate Lowe (.807), and Brantley (.815) mash righties, but only Albies owns an 800+ OPS against lefties.

Weaknesses: That lineup against lefties could use some reinforcements. Grandal (.786), Anderson (.783), and Kepler (.776) are the only real threats other than Albies. The bottom-third of the lineup against both sides is a little weak.

Outlook: It has now been fifteen years since the last time the Sea Cats finished above .500. How long ago was that? Hank Blalock was their offensive MVP that season and Kenny Rogers led the team in wins. Jeff Bagwell was also a member of that team. Yes, we are talking about a very long time ago!

If ever there were an opportunity for South Carolina to break this dismal streak, it would be this year of the projection disk and general league-wide weirdness. Unfortunately, the Wilkie Division is the worst place to be in 2021. The other three teams in this division all look to be better-than-average. One of these four teams has to finish in last place. I don't think it will be the Sea Cats, but it very well could be.

Prediction: 2nd place. If Tony DeCastro decides to go all-in, the pair of prospects he received from the Salem Cowtippers last year (Garrett Mitchell and Garrett Crochet) would be excellent trade bait.

Niagara Locks

Owner: Mike Ranney
2020 Record: 71-89 (tied, 3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Tyler Glasnow (.656), Mike Foltynewicz (.725), Matt Strahm (.721), Pablo Lopez (.725), Sean Newcomb (.716)
Bullpen: Kirby Yates (.610), Craig Stammen (.674), Robert Stephenson (.708), Carlos Estevez (.709), Archie Bradley (.685), Jay Jackson (.689), Zack Littell (.713)
Projected Lineup: Xander Bogaerts (SS, .860), Joey Gallo (RF, .933), Vlad Guerrero, Jr. (.846), Eric Thames (1B, .847), Domingo Santana (LF, .799), Victor Robles (CF, .767), Carson Kelly (C, .764), Ryan McMahon (2B, .781)

Strengths: Few teams can match the offensive firepower of the first four batters in the Niagara lineup. Seven different Niagara hitters are projected to hit more than 20 home runs. Only the Sphinx and Freedom can top that figure. Bogaerts (899/843 splits), Gallo (883/952), Guerrero (864/833), and Santana (797/800) all punish lefties and righties equally.

Yates (55+ IP, 2.48 CERA, 665/568 splits) is a quality closer. Glasnow (119+ IP, 3.18 CERA, 669/643) has ace-caliber stuff, but is severely limited in usage.

Weaknesses: The starting rotation, beyond Glasnow, is below-average and lacking in usage. Even in this projection environment where usage is through the roof for most teams, there doesn't seem to be enough innings on this roster to get through the season in any acceptable manner. Unless some additional arms are added at some point, the Locks will have to rely on guy like Jose Suarez (119 IP, 5.01 CERA) to fill in from time to time. That's not good.

The setup team behind Yates is decent, but unspectacular. Bradley (699/671) is the only pitcher of the bunch with a sub-700 OPS against both lefties and righties. The others all have split issues that could become problematic.

Outlook: It seems like I've been saying forever: "Watch out for the Locks! They're going to dominate this league someday!" Niagara has now finished among the top five in our annual Farm Report nine years in a row. Way back in 2012, Niagara's #2-ranked farm system included the likes of Jurickson Profar, Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, and Jonathan Singleton. All were top-40 prospects, and yet none of them really panned out as expected. But, of that year's group, the Locks developed Bogaerts (the #60 overall prospect back then) and Santana (#145), who have become staples of this franchise.

Two years later, the Locks farm report listed another top-40 prospect, Glasnow. In 2017, Robles, Guerrero, and Kelly were all added to the top-55. It has taken years, but the seeds planted on the Niagara farm are finally ready to harvest. After five straight sub-.500 finishes, is 2021 finally the year the Locks begin to reap what they have sown?

Bogaerts and Santana are only signed for two more years beyond this one, but don't worry: Niagara has a fresh new crop of prospects coming up right behind them. That wave includes the likes of Wander F'ing Franco, Jasson Dominguez, and Bobby Witt, Jr. -- all of whom have some of the highest ceilings in the minor leagues. It's possible that we may see a brief convergence of both waves of prospects come together in 2023. Wouldn't that be something?

Prediction: 3rd place. I've stated many times now that the Locks will eventually have to trade one or two of their stud hitting prospects for a pitcher or two if they are ever going to dominate this league. Until Major League Baseball completes their effort to destroy the game by replacing pitchers with a tee on home plate, pitching is still half the game. You can score six runs per game, but if your pitching and defense allows seven, you will lose. It's as simple as that.

Highland Freedom

Owners: Bob Sylvester, Sr. (manager), Bobby Sylvester (GM)
2020 Record: 105-55 (1st place, BDBL champions)
Projected Rotation: Lucas Giolito (.632), Trevor Bauer (.685), Dylan Bundy (.756), Marco Gonzales (.750), Brendan McKay (.700)
Bullpen: Colin Poche (.657), Jake Diekman (.642), Caleb Ferguson (.685), Jairo Diaz (.680), Yoshihisa Hirano (.703), Tyler Duffey (.707)
Projected Lineup: Yoan Moncada (2B, .824), Manny Machado (3B, .827), C.J. Cron (1B, .813), Willie Calhoun (LF, .818), Didi Gregorius (SS, .815), Mike Yastrzemski (RF, .754), Luis Robert (CF, .764), Salvador Perez (C, .741)

Strengths: Giolito (176 IP, 2.73 CERA, 647/616 splits) and Bauer (190+, 3.60, 691/679) are two of the best pitchers in the Eck League, and both are early favorites to win the Cy Young award. The Freedom bullpen is led by three lefty-killers in Poche (.575 OPS vs. LH), Diekman (.585), and Ferguson (.622).

Machado (830/825 splits) is a worthy replacement for the departed Anthony Rondon, and a welcome addition to a lineup that was already above-average. In addition to Machado, Cron (835/801) and Calhoun (793/828) offer 800 (or near-800) splits against both lefties and righties. Gregorius (.831 vs. RH) and Moncada (.836) also excel against right-handers. There isn't an easy out in the lineup against either side of the batter's box.

Defensively, the Freedom infield includes two above-average fielders in Cron (Vg at 1B) and Machado (Vg at 3B), and two above-average outfielders in Yastrzemski (Ex in LF and RF) and Robert (Vg at all three OF positions.)

Weaknesses: This pitching staff is very left-handed. Gonzales and McKay are both lefty members of the starting rotation. The team's three best relievers -- Poche, Diekman, and Ferguson -- are all left-handed as well. This may become an issue as teams load up to gain that platoon advantage.

Outlook: The defending champs have a new, yet familiar, GM at the helm now, and their priorities quickly pivoted after they hoisted that trophy. Team Sylvester was among the first teams in the league to announce that 2021 would be a rebuilding year. Despite that, this team still looks good enough to compete on paper.

Recently, the younger Sylvester sent two valuable 2021 assets, Jameson Taillon and Ryan Zimmerman, packing in exchange for future considerations. That trade speaks volumes about this team's priorities as we head into the 2021 season.

Prediction: 4th place. It seems ridiculous to predict a last-place finish for a team this good, and yet, I can't help but think that the firesale is far from over. Team Sylvester has made up their minds. That is the only reason I am predicting a last-place finish for the Freedom. If they decide to do a midseason pivot, all bets are off.

HRBEK DIVISION

Cleveland Rocks

Owner: Mike Stein
2020 Record: 90-70 (2nd place, EL wildcard)
Projected Rotation: Mike Soroka (.670), Zack Greinke (.708), Miles Mikolas (.729), Jake Odorizzi (.711), Jeff Samardzija (.742)
Bullpen: Will Smith (.649), Yusmeiro Petit (.688), Ryan Buchter (.719), Nick Wittgren (.724), Ian Kennedy (.706), Yimi Garcia (.732)
Projected Lineup: Tommy Pham (CF, .825), Ketel Marte (LF, .850), Gleyber Torres (2B, .905), Trevor Story (SS, .880), Justin Turner (3B, .847), Luke Voit (1B, .841), Gary Sanchez (C, .847), Avisail Garcia (RF, .801)

Strengths: How F'ing ridiculous is the Rocks offense? So ridiculous that I can't find a place to put Mark Canha (830/798 splits), Cleveland's $5 million winter investment, who would easily bat in the middle of the order for most teams in the BDBL. He is rated at FIVE different positions, and yet I can't find a place for him that makes sense! If I put him at first base, that means Voit (857/830) would have to sit. If I move him to third base, then I'd have to find a new home for Turner (844/848). If I move him to the outfield, then either Pham (834/820), Marte (881/833), or Garcia (821/792) would need to sit.

It's a nice problem to have, I guess. The fact that I have Garcia listed as the #8 batter in this lineup speaks volumes. Cleveland scored "only" 813 runs last season with a similar offense. It sure seems like they could easily top 900 runs this year. If that happens, we could see three 900-run teams in the same division!

On the pitching side, Soroka (176 IP, 3.20 CERA, 688/652 splits) returns for his sophomore year after a fantastic rookie season in Cleveland. Free-agent-to-be Greinke (179+, 3.34, 737/679) joins Soroka in the rotation, replacing the departed Justin Verlander. Auction bargain Will Smith (56+ IP, 2.84 CERA, 624/662 splits) is a decent option for the closer role.

Weaknesses: One glaring omission from this roster is a pitcher with a sub-.600 OPS against either side of the plate. The lowest split OPS allowed on the entire roster is Smith's .624 against lefties (followed closely by Buchter's .625 vs. southpaws), and that is hardly a cause for celebration. Smith and Soroka are the only two pitchers on the Cleveland staff with a sub-.700 OPS against both lefties and righties.

Outlook: Mike Stein has been handed this division on a silver platter, it seems, after the Black Sox traded away Clayton Kershaw just prior to Opening Day. The Rocks will still need to contend with the very tough Charlotte Mustangs as well as the depleted-but-still-strong Black Sox. The margin for error in this division is razor-thin given the amount of offense that is loaded into only three teams. In fact, those three teams, alone, will likely score more runs than every other division in the BDBL.

Hindsight being 20/20, it seems as though the Rocks would be in a much better position today if they had just kept Verlander at $15.5 million in his final year under contract. Instead, Mike Stein let him go, and then desperately tried to resign him in the auction, bidding as much as $19 million to do so. A starting rotation led by Verlander, Soroka, and Greinke would have easily been the best in this division, if not the Eck League.

Instead, Cleveland spent that $15.5 million on Smith, Odorizzi, and Canha. Yes, the same Canha who doesn't even seem to have a place in this starting lineup!

Prediction: 1st place. With only a negligible difference on offense between the Rocks, Mustangs, and Black Sox, it all boils down to pitching and defense. Cleveland owns the best rotation in the league. Charlotte owns the best bullpen. Cleveland owns the advantage of depth, so I'm giving them the slight nod.

Charlotte Mustangs

Owner: Tony Chamra
2020 Record: 86-74 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Kyle Hendricks (.697), David Peterson (.704), Carlos Carrasco (.722), Jose Berrios (.722), Conner Mendez (.746), Patrick Sandoval (.743), Lance McCullers (.705)
Bullpen: Austin Adams (.605), Sam Selman (.619), Jose Alvarado (.644), Sam Coonrod (.696), Deolis Guerra (.686), Daniel Zamora (.681)
Projected Lineup: Jose Altuve (2B, .868), Alex Bregman (3B, .949), Juan Soto (LF, .978), Nick Castellanos (1B, .857), Mitch Haniger (CF, .813), Alex Verdugo (CF, .783), Luis Arreaz (SS, .773), Daulton Varsho (C, .767)

Strengths: Soto and Bregman own two of the top five OPS's on the entire disk, ranked #2 and #5, respectively. They share the same ranking in runs created. This lineup can match batter-for-batter with every other lineup in the league, including that ridiculous one in Chicago. Arreaz (.370 OBP, 16th highest in the game) would be the no-brainer leadoff hitter for almost every other lineup in the league, but here I had to wedge him in at number seven. This lineup is so stacked that I couldn't even find a place for Edwin Encarnacion (839/822 splits), who would easily start for nearly every other team in the league. (Note: Chamra told me he plans to play Castellanos out of position at first base all year, so that's where I put him.)

Six different Mustangs are projected to hit over 20 homers. Five are projected to create more than 80 runs. This team could approach 1,000 runs scored -- as they did a year ago, when they scored 987.

The Charlotte bullpen includes the two-headed closer team of Adams (641/569 splits) and Selman (562/643), along with a number of very capable setup men. Individually, they seem to have some usage limitations, but together, they should have more than enough.

Weaknesses: Beyond Hendricks (169+ IP, 3.44 CERA, 728/672 splits), the starting rotation is pretty meh. If the actual Jose Berrios shows up this year, then the Mustangs should have a viable number two starter, but it's difficult to forget just how badly Berrios sucked last year. His 7.04 ERA over 211 innings ranks among the worst performances in league history, and those numbers weren't in the same universe as the numbers on the disk. My numbers suggest he should be fine this year, but then, they said the same thing a year ago. Who knows what happened or if it will happen again? If we can safely assume that Berrios' final numbers will be somewhere near his projection, then the Mustangs rotation should be fine.

Outlook: This is basically the same exact Charlotte team from last year. Chamra made only two trades this winter, and both involved prospects. The 'Stangs lost Nelson Cruz to free agency, and he was replaced with Nick Castellanos via the auction. Julio Teheran also left as a free agent and was replaced in the rotation by Carrasco.

You could argue that finishing with 86 wins and a +90 runs differential is a good reason to stand pat. Had it not been for the wacky season by the Cleveland Rocks (and Great Lakes Sphinx), Charlotte would have eked into the playoffs for the second year in a row. Two years ago, the 'Stangs slipped into the playoffs through the wildcard and came one pitch away from winning it all. If it ain't broke, why fix it?

Prediction: 2nd place. If you wanted to argue that the Mustangs should be ranked first in this division, I wouldn't put up much of a fight. The differences between these top three teams is so slim, this race could very well be decided by the luck of the random dice rolls.

Chicago Black Sox

Owner: John Gill
2020 Record: 101-59 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: Dallas Keuchel (.729), Sandy Alcantara (.733), Gio Gonzalez (.737), Rick Porcello (.750), Keyvius Sampson (.696), Ian Anderson (.756)
Bullpen: Carlos Martinez (.661), Jeurys Familia (.664), Pierce Johnson (.681), Adam Kolarek (.657), Ryan Brasier (.702), Matthew Bowman (.706), Jared Hughes (.704)
Projected Lineup:
Bryce Harper (RF, .909), Kris Bryant (3B, .876), Anthony Rizzo (1B, .898), Fernando Tatis, Jr. (SS, .857), Kyle Schwarber (LF, .854), Willson Contreras (C, .800), Javier Baez (2B, .830), Phil Ervin/Jason Heyward (CF, .778/.764)

Strengths: This lineup is just stupid. Seriously. It is a black stain on this league that we allowed any team to build a lineup like this. We should just blow up the league and start over from scratch, because clearly we've been doing it all wrong.

Where to begin with this offense? The order in that lineup above is irrelevant. You can put those names in a hat and place them in any random order and they'd still score 1,000 runs. Chicago is the only team in the BDBL with five batters who own an .850+ OPS overall. There are only three teams in the BDBL that own three players that are projected to create 100 or more runs -- and all three teams are in the Hrbek Division!

The Chicago bench includes several players who would start for many teams, including Gavin Lux (769/794 splits), Will Myers (777/748), and Wilmer Flores (768/748).

Weaknesses: After the departure of Charlie Morton via free agency, and the winter trades of Shane Bieber and Clayton Kershaw, the depth that we saw in the Chicago starting rotation last year has vanished. No one would mistake Keuchel (162+ IP, 4.02 CERA, 641/755 splits) for an ace anymore, and yet that is his role this year by default. The other starters in the rotation are merely warm bodies tasked with limiting the opposition to four or five runs so that the Chicago offense can have a fighting chance.

The bullpen has some issues as well. Martinez (730/591 splits) and Familia (740/598) have some drastic splits. Tim Mayza (.589 OPS vs. LH) and Adam Kolarek (.615) are the only two viable options against left-handers.

Outlook: By now, it's not exactly a league secret how I feel about John Gill's decision to punt the 2021 season before the opening kickoff. A year ago, the Charlotte Mustangs scored nearly 1,000 runs and finished in third place. We could see history repeat itself with the 2021 Black Sox. Wouldn't it be funny, though, if the Black Sox defied their owner's pessimism and earned a spot in the playoffs despite his best efforts to sabotage them? It would be like the plot of Major League without all the side-splitting hilarity.

Prediction: 3rd place. If Chicago had retained Bieber and Kershaw, I would go out on a limb and predict a BDBL championship for Chicago, just as I did a year ago on this page. As it stands, I think there is a slight possibility we'll see the Black Sox play November baseball. Now that every decent player on this roster who can possibly be traded has been shown the door, there is no room left for any further damage.

Myrtle Beach Hitmen

Owners: Mitch Gill (GM), Ryne Gill (manager)
2020 Record: 32-128 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Max Fried (.699), Robbie Ray (.699), Michael Fulmer (.735), Drew Smyly (.744), Tarik Skubal (.767), MacKenzie Gore (.678), Brent Suter (.713)
Bullpen: Carl Edwards (.654), Jordan Hicks (.660), Brandon Kintzler (.689), Brad Brach (.667), John Brebbia (.687), Andrew Miller (.677), David Phelps (.685)
Projected Lineup: Brandon Nimmo (LF, .785), Jose Ramirez (SS, .888), Marcell Ozuna (RF, .850), Rhys Hoskins (1B, .852), Brian Dozier (2B, .786), Alex Bohm (3B, .773), Jo Adell (CF, .775), Joey Bart (C, .713)

Strengths: There are plenty of threats sprinkled throughout the Myrtle Beach lineup. Ramirez (860/902 splits), Hoskins (843/857), and Ozuna (888/835) crush both lefties and righties. Yoenis Cespedes (801/806), who isn't even listed above, fits that description as well. Nimmo (802 vs. RH) is another weapon against righties, and Adell (789 vs. LH) and Dozier (827) are assets against lefties.

The Myrtle Beach bench is surprisingly deep for a 128-loss team! In addition to Cespedes, I also couldn't find room in the lineup for Dylan Carlson (743/756), Carter Kieboom (783/718), and Nolan Jones (711/758).

Fried (155 IP, 3.74 CERA, 628/729 splits) and Ray (164+, 3.76 623/724) would be better-suited for the middle of the rotation, but they should do just fine for now.

Weaknesses: This pitching staff is clearly below-average, but also skews so heavily left-handed that I worry it could become an issue down the road. Ray (who was just signed to a $6.5 million deal with a three-year guarantee), Smyly, Skubal, Suter, and Fried are all left-handed. MacKenzie Gore, one of this team's many top prospects, is also a lefty.

The lineup against right-handers is much weaker than the left-handed lineup, especially toward the bottom of the order. In this division where three teams could very well score 900 runs each, that's an issue!

Outlook: You have to give Mitch and Ryne Gill credit for their immense patience. I'm so impatient that I would have traded away half (at least!) of this farm system by now to win immediately. Yet, here we are in year number five of the Great Myrtle Beach Rebuilding Project and the Gill brothers are holding steady. In the four seasons since they took over this horrendous franchise from Jim Doyle, the pair have endured a whopping 457 losses. That's an average of over 114 per year!

The Hitman farm club has ranked #1 in our annual BDBL Farm Report for two years in a row, and is a lock to retain that title in 2021. As I pointed out in last year's Farm Report, the historical track record for teams that own as many great prospects as the Hitmen has been very good. In particular, the St. Louis Apostles owed much of their 2018 championship to their farm system. The Chicago Black Sox of 2012-14 and the Los Altos Undertakers of 2006-07 owed much of their success to their farms. The Akron Ryche, who owned the #1 farm system in the league in 2017-18 just celebrated their first OL championship last year.

Of course, not every top prospect becomes a superstar, but the Hitmen own so many of them, the odds are certainly in their favor. There is so much young talent on this roster that it would be shocking if Myrtle Beach doesn't dominate this division within the next two years. For now, they need to be just a little more patient.

Prediction: 4th place, again, but with fewer than 100 losses!