Non-Nominal Flight

Last Sunday, an uncrewed Space X Falcon 9 rocket was launched in Cape Canaveral on a resupply mission to the International Space Station. As you may know, it didn’t quite get there. We’re complete ignorami on the subject of aerospace flight—this is rocket science—but here’s what we saw. About a minute after liftoff, a cozy-looking white glow appeared at the top of the rocket, whereupon the flame at the bottom began to eat the rocket, and if you think that’s just a weak metaphor, check out the video. The rocket tilted from the vertical to the horizontal, and then back to the vertical, but not in a good way. When there was no more rocket for the flame to consume, everything exploded, and within a few seconds there were nothing but small fragments glittering in the sky.

A lot of time, talent, energy, and money were invested in this project, which, we feel safe in assuming, was a dead-weight loss. Moreover—and we’re not making this up—if the ISS astronauts don’t get a grocery delivery pretty soon, they’re going to have to come home for dinner. But still, you’d have to be a NASA employee, Elon Musk, or comatose not to find the video of this launch pretty spectacular. The visual part is plenty amazing, but what turns the video into a work of art is the voice-over. The voice in question is that of George Diller, who’s had this gig for NASA for more than thirty years. You’ll probably recognize it: that calm, somewhat intense, slightly hushed Chuck- Yeager-cum-golf announcer voice that is meant to be, and is, the opposite of Herb Morrison’s, who handled the play-by-play on the Hindenburg.

Diller was, shall we say, nonplussed by the turn of events, but he kept his cool. “We appear,” he observed, as rocket fragments twinkled like snowflakes in the moonlight, “to have had a launch vehicle failure.” And yes, Diller told us, after a further long and pregnant pause, just in case we had been thinking that the vaporization of $133 million worth of rocket and supplies was what everyone had had in mind all along, “the range confirmed that we have had a non-nominal flight,” “nominal” evidently being aerospacese for “not according to plan.”

Our Fantasy Baseball flight, too, can justly be described as “non-nominal.” This is a high-concept blog—Two Dabblers Take on the NFBC Main Event With Their Own Money—and though the blog has transformed us from dabblers to obsessives and gone places we hadn’t envisioned, we remain mindful of our vow to keep you abreast of developments with our team. Now it’s time for a midterm report, and, as we watch the gleaming shards of our pitching staff fall to earth and think about the sleek and powerful rocket of a team we’d hoped for, “non-nominal” seems about right, though if you prefer “launch vehicle failure,” we won’t quibble.

To descend (LOL) to specifics: We are 7th of 15 teams in our Main Event league and 189th of 450 overall in the Main Event. In the league, we’re at the top of a tier of teams, but far behind the top six (12 points to 6th, 35 points to an in-the-money finish of 3rd), and we don’t see ourselves closing the gap. Our hitting has been fine: if our pitching had been as good as our hitting, we’d be 11th overall. On the other hand, our pitching has been dismal: if our hitting were as bad, we’d be 416th. In short, it looks like we’re stuck with a mid-pack squad.

We discussed our draft results in our April 8th and April 15th posts, so we won’t do more than summarize them now by way of background. We drafted in 4th position, and our draft strategy was unorthodox but straightforward: Get a slugger in the first round, take Billy Hamilton in the second round and remove steals from the must-have list, get two elite closers early (3rd/4th/5th/6th round, depending on what the other owners are doing closerwise) and a closer-in-waiting later on, don’t draft any starting pitchers until the 8th or 9th round, but draft four or five in a row once we begin. Towards the end of the draft, grab some outfielders who can be spotted or “platooned” in the semiweekly-transaction world of the NFBC to take advantage of matchups. All in all, trying clumsily now to translate draft position into auction dollars, we estimate that we spent two-thirds of our “budget” on hitters and one-third on pitchers, with one-third of that third (or maybe a bit more) devoted to closers and CIWs.

To bring you up to date on our post-draft flailings with free agents: Among the original draftees, Travis Snider, Jose Ramirez, Jake Smolinski, Gregor Blanco, Pat Neshek, and Trevor Cahill are gone. We turned Snider into Todd Cunningham, whom we then turned into Randal Grichuk. We turned Jake Smolinski into Carlos Peguero, whom we then turned into Ben Paulsen. We turned Jose Ramirez into Brad Miller, whom we turned into Derek Dietrich. We turned Pat Neshek into A.J. Ramos, and Steve Cishek into Tony Cingrani, whom we turned into Junichi Tazawa. Free agent Andy Van Slyke is just gone. Among the now-departed starters who have graced the Team Birchwood roster are Shawn Marcum, Brett Oberholtzer, Travis Wood, and Jose Urena; with us now are Matt Wisler and Brandon Beachy.

So the roster as it now looks consists of:

C: Russell Martin
C: Yasmani Grandal
1B: Jose Abreu
2B: Derek Dietrich
3B: Nolan Arenado
SS: Alcides Escobar
CI: Carlos Santana
MI: DJ LeMahieu
OF: Seth Smith
OF: Brandon Moss
OF: Randal Grichuk
OF: Billy Hamilton
OF: Ben Paulsen, or Melky Cabrera when we can stand him.
UT: Alex Rodriguez

P: Dallas Keuchel
P: Alex Wood
P: Gio Gonzalez
P: Ian Kennedy
P: Mike Leake
P: Drew Hutchison
P: Chase Anderson
P: Aroldis Chapman
P: A.J. Ramos

BN: Ender Inciarte
BN: Martin Prado
BN: Ken Giles
BN: Junichi Tazawa
BN: Brandon Beachy
BN: Matt Wisler

So, like the puzzled Space X engineers, we’re asking ourselves: What did we do wrong? Is there any answer other than “you drafted the wrong guys”? If that’s the answer, how did the owners who drafted the right guys (Shelby Miller, A.J. Burnett, Yovani Gallardo, Jake Odorizzi, and Carlos Martinez all went in the 15th round or later in this league) find them? If we used the wrong strategy, what part of it was wrong? Going after closers too soon? Overvaluing steals? Allotting too little of our budget to our starting pitchers? Was it our in-season management? Should we have been more aggressive and free-spending in going after high-priced free agents like Eduardo Rodriguez or Lance McCullers? Or perhaps quicker off the mark with cheap, haveable guys like John Axford or Brad Ziegler? Or is that just a variation on the “wrong guys” conclusion? And how (RIP Philip Austin) do we make our voices do this?

If we have any answers to these questions, we’ll share them next time. Meanwhile, we yearn to hear yours. Also next time, unless more pressing matter supervenes, a clear-eyed evaluation of how we’ve done with players we’ve recommended or disrecommended over the months so far. Preview: The results have been mixed, which is more than you can say about the bargain-basement daily-play suggestions we occasionally make on Twitter, @birchwoodbroth2, which have been pretty uniformly bad. Still, just like Elon Musk, we plan to keep trying.

We hoped you liked reading Non-Nominal Flight by The Birchwood Brothers!

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The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.

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Still hanging on to Santana, eh? I hate his bat in my lineup so much but I haven’t brought myself to cutting him yet.