Back before I started getting into girls (if they ever got into me is a different discussion), I fondly remember playing Earl Weaver Baseball on the family PC. The gameplay was awful but it was cool to cobble teams together from players of all eras. I looked through my Dad’s Baseball Encyclopedia and printed out a list of player seasons for a hypothetical player draft on our dot matrix printer. Shockingly, this draft never happened. Where did I think I was going to find enough circle jerks to draft a simulated league of all-star players?

Fast forward a couple decades and, quite fittingly, things came full circle.

My esteemed blurbers at Rotoworld reached out to me at the height of my pandemic ennui and asked if I wanted to join a 20-team league where you drafted 25-man rosters based on player years from 1980-2019 and then simulated a season.

I was mildly intrigued until I realized the catch. We were going to simulate the season and manage our teams BUT the real winner would be judged by team 5×5 stats like in Roto. This is slightly bonkers but I love this twist. One reason I greatly prefer Roto to Points is that I like the challenge of balancing stats that negatively correlate like power, speed, and average. This format ups that challenge by forcing one to balance the stats needed to win simulation games – namely OBP + SLG + defense on the hitting side and pitcher opponent batting average (OAV), BB/9, and HR/9 – with the 5×5 stats AND consider other variables for maximizing a 25 man roster like lefty/right platoons and bullpen usage.

D.J. Short of Rotoworld (who is a damn fine player that I’ve battled with in Tout Wars Mixed and Yahoo! Friends & Family) put together a comprehensive draft review including the full draft result and a paragraph from me on my strategy. So rather than a full draft recap, I will just go over a couple of interesting observations.

First off, here was my roster:

Round.Pick Player (Season) – Pos
1.5 Pedro Martinez (2000) – SP
2.36 Mike Scott (1986) – SP
3.45 Jose Bautista (2011) – OF/3B
4.76 Ryne Sandberg (1985) – 2B
5.85 Paul Goldschmidt (2015) – 1B
6.116 Paul O’Neill (1994) – OF
7.125 Fernando Valenzuela (1981) – SP
8.156 Brady Anderson (1996) – OF
9.165 Troy Tulowitzki (2010) – SS
10.196 Bernie Williams (1998) – OF
11.205 Carlos Beltran (2003) – OF
12.236 Mariano Rivera (1996) – RP
13.245 Bill Gullickson (1981) – SP
14.276 Keith Foulke (1999) – RP
15.285 Duane Ward (1991) – RP
16.316 Jason Bay (2005) – OF
17.325 Dennis Martinez (1992) – SP
18.356 Jean Segura (2016) – SS/2B
19.365 Mike Stanley (1994) – C
20.396 Mickey Tettleton (1991) – C
21.405 Ron Davis (1981) – RP
22.436 Kevin Seitzer (1987) – 1B/3B
23.445 Pat Listach (1992) – SS
24.476 Jose DeLeon (1989) – SP
25.485 Gabe White (2000) – RP

Observations

  • A big challenge as part of draft prep was to ‘normalize’ the raw stats to each season’s hitting/pitching environment. 40+ HRs in the 1980’s was rare (aside from 1987) and would be valued more than 40+ HRs in the roided-up late 90’s. I had a head start on many of the drafters because of my Historical Player Rater project where I had come up with 5×5 values for all player seasons since 1903.
  • While I had never played WhatIfSports (or any other simulator), I was well-versed in how they simulate as the hitter vs pitcher matchup simulator uses the same calculations (Log5) as the Razzball daily projections. That said, it was very helpful to research the FAQs and forums to understand some of the assumptions made for hitters and pitchers. The central assumption they make is that all of a player’s stats are ‘skill’ – e.g., if a pitcher had a BABIP of .220, that will be their BABIP in the simulator. It makes sense that managers expect players to produce similar stats to reality but it is also kind of crazy that 1985 John Tudor could conceivably put up similar sub-2.00 ERA/sub 1.00 WHIP to 1985 Dwight Gooden despite 100 less K’s. The simulator also ignores actual home park factors so Larry Walker’s insane Coors stats are treated the same as 80’s Astros playing in the Astrodome. (All the sim games are in the Nationals’ home park which is completely neutral for HRs). This made the analysis simpler albeit less realistic – e.g., just use actual WHIP vs FIP, naturally gravitate towards hitters in hitter parks and pitchers in pitcher parks.
  • Since we are judged solely by team stats, there are some unique correlations when it comes to stats including Wins + Saves and Wins + Runs/RBI (i.e., a high scoring team with poor ERA/WHIP could still get a lot of Wins). I ended up going with a pitcher-heavy strategy as I think K/ERA/WHIP correlate better than R/HR/RBI/SB/AVG – i.e., it was easier to build a great pitching / good offense team vs good pitching / great offense team.
  • You always want to anticipate and exploit the biases of a draft room. This was such a novel setup that it is hard to figure out the biases. My assumption going in was that the room would skew hitter vs pitcher and more recent years vs previous years. I also hoped that drafters would focus too much on power/speed and I could build a monster OBP + fielding team to crush on Runs/RBI/AVG (which would also help my Wins/Saves).
      • These assumptions held true to varying degrees except for OBP which was well-accounted for by the drafters.
      • Despite 7 SPs going in the top 20, the hit/pitch split was around 65/35 where I thought that, since pitchers cannot get hurt, the split should be more like 55/45. I believe I invested the most in pitching with about a 52/48 split spent predominantly on SP1-SP3.
      • Below are the splits by decade. I ended up with 17 players from 1980-1999 and 8 from 2000-2019 which was definitely against the tide.
        Decade H % SP % RP %
        1980’s 43 16% 23 20% 17 15%
        1990’s 70 26% 19 17% 16 14%
        2000’s 79 29% 22 19% 26 22%
        2010’s 78 29% 50 44% 57 49%
        Total 270 114 116
      • I did end up with a strong OBP/fielding team but I had to sacrifice power to get there. I only had two hitters with over 34 HRs (Brady Anderson, Jose Bautista) which is not ideal. All of my starters are 20+ HRs so I am hoping to get to league average through depth. I was able to build up some speed though on the bench with Jean Segura and Pat Listach which I could hopefully unleash against weaker armed catchers.
  • One drafting quirk I did not anticipate was the hitter/pitcher split. I had assumed most would go 14 hitters / 6-7 SP / 4-5 RP but the room averaged 5.7 SPs and 5.8 RPs (11.5 pitchers). Now that I have seen the simulation in action, I think this was a case the room was smarter than me. While I am happy with my 6 SP / 5 RP staff, I would gladly trade my SP6 (Jose DeLeon) for another reliever. I also likely overrated the advantage of drafting high IP SPs (altough maybe I will benefit from other teams’ pitchers fatiguing more).
  • I grew up a Yankees fan but gave up my fandom in the mid 2000’s when the salary disparity got too gross. While it was not a particular plan, I did go to town on mid 90’s Yankees with Paul O’Neill, Bernie, Mike Stanley, and Mariano Rivera.

Overall, I feel good about the draft. It was by far the most fun I ever had chatting with others in a draft room (I rarely say more than ‘could we move a little quicker’ in draft rooms). Here’s hoping honorary coach Gene ‘Stick’ Michael and hitting/pitching coaches Oscar Gamble and Rudy May could help me bring home the pennant!

 
  1. Jolt In Flow says:
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    Rudy, this was really interesting. I love the fact that before I even looked at the draftboard, my mind went directly to 99 and/or 00 Pedro. I’m fully onboard with that. Something mind-numbing about about the discrepancy between him and the next best pitcher from those years.

    As well, another thing that came to mind. If pitching is a tricky position to pick in drafts since there are so many unknowns compared to hitting (injuries, fatigue, etc.), then in a league where all that is thrown out the window and you know exactly what you’re going to get, wouldn’t pitching move up in value?

    Thanks for the write-up.

    • yup, we are on same page w/ pitching value. there is an added wrinkle here where we didn’t quite know how the pitchers would translateto this ‘neutral’ era. pedro and mike scott have transitioned well. fernando has not so far.

  2. Aubrey Plaza's Pillow says:
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    awesome idea to get some practical use out of the historical rater. it’s cool anyway, but who’d have thought it would have present practical use.

    any idea why holds/QS rater shows PIT in general having a lot more holds then CUBS? i got the probable best choice of RP being these: crick, wick, a.garrett (a LOT of CIN guys rated higher considering they all can’t get the 8th inning), stephenson. many others too, but i’d rather grab a depth chart listed 8th inning guy over somebody deeper into a bullpen. 16 teamer i have giles/kennedy/duffey/barlow (back up to kennedy)already and this is for last roster spot and last RP. saves and holds here but separately so i want guys who get both.

    • My holds (and Saves to an extent) projections aren’t tied heavily to team wins. It’s more tied to the confidence in player roles and quality of those pitchers. I did look at total Holds by Team and I have the Cubs at 55 and Pirates at 53 (when filtered to pitchers whose GS/G < .3) so this might be a case where Chicago's bullpen is just a bit muddier than Pittsburgh.

      • Aubrey Plaza's Pillow says:
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        could also be the case that CUBS starters are projected to go longer, thus even if they are ahead more often (fairly safe assumption) they’ll have less total pitchers pitching per game when that happens (thus less holds). yahoo (who’s projections i wouldn’t trust at all) also has PIT’s RP getting more holds than CUBS’ RP. of course they do really stupid shit like give jeffress no projections at all (with chatwood getting 3 and only 3 total pitchers getting any).

  3. The Great Knoche says:
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    Cool read. Interesting format. I think my favorite overall team was number 13, but yours is also up there.

    There were a few guys who really waited on pitching, what’s your take on how skewing so heavy toward bats in this format plays out? I like the thinking that you get a Win/Save no matter what. Or do you view that as they are punting WHIP/ERA even by grabbing guys who have seasons with really low numbers in those categories?

    • It’s tough to say at this point. We are about 1/4 of the way through the season now and there are some definite head scratchers in terms of hitters/pitchers underperforming real-life stats. Fernando has been a huge disappointment so far. I think his WHIP is 1.80 through 8 starts.

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