Friday, May 26, 2006

When Fantasy Baseball Isn't Enough

I love Fantasy Baseball, as you know I put out a public invitation a while back for anyone who wanted to join my Yahoo! league. No, I'm not a master level rotiserrie player who plays for real money. I would be pwned so fast it wouldn't be any fun. I am, however, a person who likes to fantasize about being a big league GM like Paul Depodesta and Fantasy Baseball is one of the ways to meet this fantasy.

By the way, Fantasy Baseball, in no way encapsulates the fantasy of actually playing Major League Baseball. That fantasy is manifest in peoples obsessions with Orosco Numbers (the number of players your age or older still in the Major Leagues) and agressive participation in Fast Pitch Softball Leagues.

For all that I love the way Fantasy Baseball enhances the pleasure I get from watching baseball, it does have its weaknesses. For the past couple of years three pitchers in the Major Leagues have performed well, but been less useful than one would imagine in fantasy leagues. The pitchers are Brandon Webb, Tom Glavine, and Jake Peavy, especially Peavy and Webb. The fact is that these pitchers have "earned" an insuffient number of wins based on ERA performance. In other words, if they played for different teams they would have won more games. Take Jake Peavy 2004 and 2005, for those years he went 15 and 6 in 27 games and 13 and 7 in 30 games. Winning records to be sure, but his ERA's were 2.27 and 2.88 and these were with having to face a healthy Bonds in 2004 and make a few healthy visits to Denver for the duration. Sub 3 ERAs in the modern era are something to be awed by and shouldn't result in sub-20 win seasons. Chris Carpenter, who played for a better team, had a 2.85 ERA in 2005 and won 21 games. A similar story for Roy Oswalt who won 20 with a 2.94 ERA (though he also lost 12). As an aside, those who think great pitchers are a thing of the past you really ought to look at the birthdates on these guys, only Carpenter is over 30.

Needless to say, the pitchers stats don't reflect their individual quality, nor do they reflect how they would perform if they were backed by the supporting team I selected on my fantasy team. So Fantasy Baseball is a less than accurate simulation of GM activity, it is a great fan supplement, but not a fantasy fulfiller.

The diligent GM fantasist goes out and buys APBA baseball and/or Stratomatic Baseball, or one of a cadre of similar products. These are great products to be sure, but there is one step beyond these. There is a product that not only allows team selection, uses park modifiers, but also includes computer based trades and the ability to control concession prices. I am, naturally, refering to the excellent Baseball Mogul series of games.

I have been playing the Mogul series of games every baseball season for a few years now and I find it to be entirely engrossing. It captures not only the fantasy of being a GM, but of being an owner and on the field manager. Each season the program has evolved leaps and bounds over the previous season and the program was robust to start. At $19.95 the game is a steal.

When I first played the game you could make decisions about lineups on a day by day basis, make trades, and modify the financial aspects. Since that time the game has evolved so that you can "call" individual pitches for your pitchers to throw (with pitch placement) and have batters guess what pitch and where the opposing pitcher is going to throw. The level of detail is amazing and it is truly a fantasy version of being a GM. You can play "what if" seasons for the entire history of baseball (up to the year of the edition of the game) for the price of $19.95. To play prior years in APBA or Stratomatic you must buy prior year card sets, though they allow for inter-generational fantasy play which Mogul lacks as a "hard wired" function. You can use old players, but you have to enter their stats manually which takes about a minute.

Oh and if you fantasize about playing the game, you can enter your high school statistics and draft "yourself" onto the team you are managing.

Good stuff.

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