Friday, May 27, 2016

Roster Review: Huntington Fire Blitz

Huntington lapped the field in last year's regular season (115 wins) only to fall to the red-hot Desperados in the playoffs.  Undeterred, steelforge doubled-down on his formula of big righty bats and high-STA, high-DUR lefty relievers.  Yes, they do have to show they can beat Vegas in the playoffs, but they have to be the early favorite to be the AL WS rep.

The idea of the Fire Blitz offense is to never give you a moment to breathe...every hitter in the lineup from 1 to 9 is dangerous.  Last year's trade for LF Kelvim Hasegawa replaced one of the last weak spots in their lineup.  Hasegawa has been threatening to go 80-80 (80 extra basehits and 80 steals) since he broke in with New Orleans in Season 28...with Eble Park's friendly dimensions for doubles, triples and homers, this could be the year he does it.  The just-completed deal for Olmedo Lee (CF), moves Bobby Michaels to 3B full-time and plugs the LAST relatively weak lineup spot.  Usually, SS is the weakest bat in the lineup...their SS Eric Porter was 2nd on the team with 27 HR's last year.  THAT's how complete their lineup is.  They scored 1013 runs last year - more than 100 more than #2 Las Vegas.  They may well score more this year.  But even if they fall off some, they'll probably lead the AL in scoring by a wide margin again.

The only minor quibble with the offense is it's lack of lefty hitters.  Only C Joaquin Escobar in their primary lineup bats lefty (switch).  It didn't matter last year and it probably won't this year...unless they run into some red-hot RH SP's in the playoffs.

Huntington uses an unconventional pitching staff setup to great effect.  They only have 2 real "starting pitchers" on the roster - Shane Phillips and Vladimir Andujar (it helps that they're both very good).  They also use 2 of their aforementioned "Big STA & DUR" relievers - Mark Martin and Roger Harvey - as starters.  Those 4 all got between 32 and 39 starts last year and all were incredibly effective.  They then follow the starters - who go from 3 to 6 innings, with their horde of RP's who can go 2-3 innings two out of three games.  They have so many innings in those relievers that they can carry only 10 pitchers.  Jerry Ball replaces the ever-promising and ever-disappointing Jim Hinchliffe in the relief lineup (if he can stay healthy).  Roger Harvey posted a .596 OPS-against last year...far and away the best of his career (and amazingly, .593 at home and .581 against righthanded hitters).  If I had to say 1 individual performance is a "sure thing" this year, it's that Harvey won't be that good again (not that he isn't a good's that his last season was so extraordinary).

The defense was superb last year.  They led the AL with a .990 fielding %, had the most good plays with 109 and tied for the fewest bad plays with 11.  Nothing about the offseason moves should change that much.  Lee probably won't be as proficient in CF as Oswaldo Seguignol was last year, but he'll be plenty good enough.  They only had 1 Gold Glover last year (Alfonzo at 2B), mostly because they moved a lot of players around in different positions.  Hasegawa (LF). Welsh (1B), Michaels (3B) and Gilkey (RF) could all conceivably join that club.  Because they carry so few pitchers, they have 3 defensive specialists they can bring off the bench for even tighter late-inning D.

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