Thursday, March 20, 2008

Richmond MC Dixie Whistlers – Season 7 Review

As our venerable World approaches Season 8, here is a look back at Richmond’s Best Year Ever.

OK, 77-85 and a 3rd-place finish might not sound like much but considering the previous franchise-best was 70-92 (Seasons 3 and 4), the fans were ROCKIN’ in RICHMOND! With a reinvigorated minor-league system, good times hopefully lie ahead.

The best-season ever came on the heels of the worst-season ever: an embarrassing 54-108 in Season 6. Steps needed to be taken to right the ship. Four rookies (only one stud, though) were brought to the majors: Season 4 1st-round pick SS Don Martin, 2B Benito Guerrero, RF Clarence Merloni and 3B John Zoltan. In Rule V, P Rob Conine was claimed, another rook. And the trade-shy GM brought in two key players: 3B Hector McGuire and his $6.8m contract from Colorado Springs and RP Andre Fick from Sacramento. All but Zoltan made significant contributions.

Season 7 – Pitching:

The pitching improved noticeably over the previous season: ERA dropped from 5.14 to 4.90 and OAV dropped from .275 to .266. There were still too many walks, though, and that is being addressed in planning for Season 8. SPs Lonnie Maranville, 24, and Julio Delgado, 27, led the resurgence. Their ratings aren’t great but each performed very well: Maranville – 10-9, .231 OAV, 1.17 WHIP, 3.47 ERA; Delgado – 14-6, .241, 1.22, 3.72. Delgado’s win total set a new team record for wins in a season; Maranville was the first franchise All-Star since Season 2 and only the second one ever at the ML level. The previously mentioned Andre Fick was the mainstay of the bullpen, contributing 108 IP. He was 6-4, .246, 1.37, 4.00, almost exclusively in a Setup A role.

Season 7 – Hitting:

The offense improved significantly in Season 8, mostly because now a few guys could hit the ball hard and drive in runs. By batting average, the Dixie Whistlers were ranked 29th in both of the last two seasons: .267 in S6 and .262 in S7. But runs scored jumped from 683 to 771 and home runs from 161 to 237. Slugging 1B Byung-Hyun Ramirez, a curious Asian-Hispanic mix, nicknamed “the whiffer” (153 Ks in S7), rebounded from a mediocre S6 (39 HRs, 116 RBIs), hitting 61 home runs and driving in 134 runs. (IIRC, he was second or third in the NL in HRs.) Newcomers Hector McGuire (.291/32/108), Don Martin (.305/17/71) and Clarence Merloni (.257/36/81) made a huge difference. Martin’s .305 average is third-highest in franchise history. (Sad, I know!)

Season 8 – Outlook:

Once again, several new players will be introduced, hoping for – gasp! – a .500 season. Unfortunately, two longtime players – leadoff-hitting LF/1B Alfredo Ordonez and jack-of-all-trades Manny Roosevelt – have been let go because of age, salary, declining ratings but most of all that their numbers no longer measure up to expectations in Richmond. It’s funny how we get tied emotionally to some of our players.

NOTE: For anyone wondering what the “MC” stands for in the team name, here’s the deal: I took over the franchise in Season 4 and placed the team in Mexico City. The next season, I moved it to Richmond but wanted to keep a reference to that transition season, so MC was included. Thankfully, WIS’s character allowance made it possible.