Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Owner Interview: zbrent716

Welcome to the first installment of a new series, "Owner Interview". Up first, MInnesota Twins owner and two-time Major Leagues Champion, Zbrent716.

1. How did you get into whatifsports?

Sad to say this, but I don’t actually remember. To be fair, it has been almost 7 years since I joined in January 2002. I came in around the same time that Fox Sports had some sort of ad for WhatifSports, but I think I just stumbled across the site while surfing the web.

2. What is your favorite thing about HBD?

The extended time frame and the chance to see players complete a full career. Toward the end of my time playing simleague baseball, I played almost exclusively in progressive leagues because they share some of the same characteristics; HBD just takes that to the next level.

3. Least favorite thing about HBD?

I know it is controversial, but the lack of H2H play is probably my least favorite thing about HBD. I initially tried HBD when it first came out, but it didn’t hook me right away, in large part because I was so active in SimLeagueLive leagues. It wasn’t until quite a bit later than I gave HBD another try and got really into it (primarily through my involvement in Major Leagues), effectively cutting into my time playing SimLeagueLive leagues. Combining HBD with H2H play would be a combination of the two things I like most in WhatifSports, and while there are issues that would have to be resolved, I think the final result would be well worth the effort.

4. How did you find out about Major Leagues?

I think one of the things I wasn’t a huge fan of with HBD when I first tried it was that it used make believe players, with make believe franchises, in make believe (or at least minor league) parks. Coming from SimLeagues, I didn’t fully embrace the idea of getting rid of the familiar aspects of baseball in their entirety. I think I first saw Major Leagues being discussed in the forum (not sure if it was an official recruitment thread or just a discussion of setting up a “realistic” World) and I really liked the idea. When I was given the opportunity to join with my favorite MLB team, I jumped at the chance.

5. Who is zbrent716?

Zbrent716 is a generally good guy who has spent the better part of his life in school of one sort or another. He’s (relatively) recently finished with his education (at least for now) and is working as an attorney in New York State.

6. What are your favorite sports and/or sports teams?

Baseball is my favorite sport without question. My favorite pro sports teams are the Minnesota Twins, the Boston Celtics, and the San Francisco 49ers. I despise the Yankees and it still makes me a little nauseated when I think about the fact an owner (I forget who) made reference to the Major Leagues Twins trying to become a dynasty like the Yankees.

7. All-time favorite sports moment?

While the Twins’ World Series wins in ’87 and ’91 rank up there (’91 more so just because I remember it better) and actually being in Yankee stadium to see the Yankees fall in Game 6 of the ’03 series to Josh Beckett was awesome, I think my favorite sports moment actually isn’t from baseball. I’m a graduate of UAlbany, and in March of 2006 I saw the Great Danes play in the first NCAA tournament game in the school’s history. For the first 30 minutes of the game, the #16 seed Great Danes were playing with the mighty #1 UConn Huskies. Later that year, UConn sent 5 players to the NBA – four first round picks (Rudy Gay, Hilton Armstrong, Marcus Williams, and Josh Boone) and one second round pick (Denham Brown). UAlbany went on a run in the second half to open up a double-digit lead with about 10 minutes to go, and it looked as though they were going to pull off the unthinkable – a #16 beating a #1 – and destroy 99.9% of the brackets in the country. Unfortunately, UConn rallied and pulled out the win, but for UAlbany to play toe-to-toe with the best the country had to offer for that long was truly fantastic.

8. What other baseball games have you previously played? (tabletop, fantasy, video, computer, i.e. anything from Strat-O-Matic to Baseball Mogul to RBI Baseball and everything in between)

I’ve played fantasy baseball of one form or another for about 15 years or so. The first league I did was a stock-market style game, but I do mostly roto-style leagues now. I also played in a lot of SimLeagues before HBD.

9. What player, in your minor league system, has the most potential to be a star and why?

For the most part, the future stars in my system have already broken into the major leagues. Of those left in the minors, I think the most potential would be found in one of two players: (1) Harold Creek, RP or (2) Harry Rivera, 1B. Creek has a really rare combination of control, splits, and pitches. According to my advanced scouting, his control should top out in the mid-90s, with his vLH in the mid-70s, his vRH in the low-90s, a first pitch of 99 and a second pitch of 87. With 53 durability and 27 stamina, he won’t be a workhorse, but he should be very effective for the IP he throws. Harry Rivera, on the other hand, reminds me a lot of the offensive rock of my major league club –Herbert Lieberthal. He projects to 85+ in contact, power, vRH, and eye, with his only (relative) weakness being a 70+ vLH. If he develops fully, he has a good shot to be the second Twin who becomes a member of the 500 HR club (Virgil Mendoza should get there first).

10. Who is your Franchise Player and/or team MVP?

Chris Y. Nen. While many players have contributed, the 5-time All Star and 5-time Cy Young award winner is in a class all of his own.

11. What are your team's prospects in the short, medium and long-term?

Short term, we’ve got a decent chance to make it back to the playoffs. Once there, anyone can win, so we may have a shot to take back-to-back-to-back World Series titles. Medium and long-term, the outlook is a little less rosy. It has been tough to land the true studs picking in the back end of the draft, so there will likely be a significant downturn and retooling at some point. Hopefully Twins fans will be patient and realize that we’ll be doing everything we can.

12. Who is your biggest Major Leagues rival?

I’ve got good rivalries with a few owners, and I have a ton of respect for my fellow AL North owners – toughest division in the World! That said, my biggest rival has to be the commish – pstrnutbag44. While I’ve had the upper hand in the major leagues so far, he’s always tough and he’s kicked my butt out of a few minor league playoffs. The wins, when they come, are just a little bit sweeter when they are against Oakland.

13. What do you look for in a Hitter?

In a Hitter, the Contact-Power combo. In a position player generally, the Defense first and then power. I’d had success with guys like Jesus Morales – no dominating offensive ratings, but decent (75) power and a great glove. I’ll take his 18-20 HR and Gold Glove defense and love it.

14. What do you look for in a Pitcher?

Control is the only must-have for me in a pitcher. This goes hand-in-hand with my focus on Defense. If I have guys like Jesus out there, I want the ball put in play so he can help the pitcher out. The pitcher who puts men on via the walk doesn’t make proper use of the talent I put behind him.

15. What is the best move you’ve ever made in Major Leagues?

My best move was probably either drafting Virgil Mendoza with the 12th pick in the S1 draft or dealing Kent Davey and Donaldo Benitez for Gabby Martin. That trade was towards the end of S1 and Kent Davey had been having a fine season for me – ended up going .297/.364/.563 with 26HR in 394 AB. Donaldo projected to a marginal inning-eater SP, and that’s basically what he has become (4.68 career ML era). In return, I got Martin – a great SP who is only lacking in the workhorse categories. He may only throw 150 – 175 IP in a season, but he’ll be among the best for those innings. He made his debut in S4 and contributed to a World Series win and then took a step forward and became a great #2 behind Nen in S5, helping lead to another title. In S5 he finished top 5 in the Cy Young voting, going 15-3 in 157.2 IP with a 1.08 WHIP and a 3.08 ERA. Speaking of Nen, meeting his demands after S3 and signing him to an extension was a pretty good move too. An honorable mention goes to locking up the unsung hero of the staff – John Jang – to a 4-year contract after S1 for only $3.0M per year.

16. What is the worst move you’ve ever made in Major Leagues?

The Vin Navarre fiasco. Reviewing it now, it could have been much worse, but it was just a complete mess on my part. I dealt for Navarre from Baltimore, giving up Bryan Blue, Ted Chapman, and Jeromy Hudson. Hudson never made the majors and Chapman has never had more than a cup of coffee with a ML club, but Blue has had a solid, if not spectacular, ML career. He enters S6 with a 54-37 record, 690.1 IP, and a 4.26 ERA. That said, it wasn’t so much the players involved as the fact I gave up on Blue too quickly – he had a 6.67 ERA in 6 starts for me and I wanted to trade him too much. Things went from bad to worse when, less than a month later, I turned around and dealt Navarre to Boston for Benjamin Surtain, Harry Williamson, and Yamil Rosado. Williamson was dealt away in a later small deal and never reached the majors. Rosado was taken from the Twins in the Rule 5 draft. Surtain never played in the majors for the Twins, but was at least part of the package that landed Buddy Bryne. The deal was really bad though, because, just like I had been impatient with Blue, I was similar with Navarre. With Baltimore before the Twins, Navarre had a 3.15 ERA and a 3-1 record. With Boston after the Twins, Navarre had a 3.28 ERA and a 7-3 record. With the Twins, Navarre went 3-8 with a 6.21 ERA. For his career, Navarre has tallied 1099.2 IP and posted a 69-46 record, a 1.27 WHIP, and a 3.90 ERA. I would probably have been better off riding it out with Navarre or at least getting more back in a trade.

17. What is your most memorable HBD moment, any world?

Winning S4 ML World Series in 5 games. (Dis)honorable mention – missing out on the Rookie, Low A, and AA playoffs in S4. Prior to that the Twins franchise had made the postseason at every level for the first 3 seasons.

18. What is your team’s #1 strength?

Pitching. Nen obviously is a great anchor, but the rest of the staff has been exceptional as well. In S4, the Twins set a World record for fewest runs allowed, giving up only 579 runs the whole season (539 earned) – the only time a team has broken the 600 run level. We gave up the fewest runs again in S5 (641) but a number of teams closed the gap significantly. Despite being in a park that (slightly) favors hitters, the fact that the Twins had given up the fewest runs during both World Series runs shows that the true strength of the team is its Pitching. Honorable mention to the Defense, which certainly contributes to allowing so few runs.

19. What is your team’s #1 weakness?

More of a franchise/ownership weakness, but I’m going to go with the inability to land everyday studs via the amateur draft. With the exception of Virgil at pick 12, S1 and (maybe) Harry Rivera, I haven’t drafted much more than role position players. Part of it is my focus on pitching, part of it is not having very high picks, but part of it is just not doing the best possible job with my rankings as well, and now it is beginning to become evident looking at my minor league system.

20. In what ways, if any, do you think Major Leagues could improve?

Blog activity may be the only way I can think of. We have an good league where owners are consistently trying to improve their teams, so there is plenty of activity within the World. Keeping turnover relatively low has allowed some good-natured rivalries to develop too. If the Blog, which is sort of our voice to the outside HBD community, reflects the true nature of the World, I think we’d be all set.

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