We've Had a Problem
April 7, 2007

The 1993 Mets should have won the World Series.  With all that star power, top players at nearly every position, 100 wins and a spot in the playoffs seemed like a forgone conclusion.  But that didn't happen.  In fact, they didn't even come close.  They finished in last place in the NL East that year, winning only 59 games.  According to their Pythagorean theorem, the relationship between the number of runs they scored to the runs they allowed, they should have won at least 73.  But even that falls well short of their preseason expectations. 

And so it was with my Strat-o-matic 1969 team, the Washington Apollos.

If there is such a thing as karmic payback in fantasy/simulation baseball, I should have a very good year in my other leagues because this team suffered through one of the worst and longest bouts of misfortune I have ever seen.  Some might suggest their downfall lay in the construction of the team, that I spent too much money on the bench and not enough on the bottom of my rotation.  But rarely is "too much bench" the reason a team fails to meet expectation, especially one that was pretty solid top to bottom and well-designed to take advantage of it's home park.  I can honestly say that I have never been more frustrated with any team in any format than this one.

Perhaps I am too close to the crime to be objective so I will let you decide if this is a case of catastrophic luck.  

Exhibit A: Catcher Duke Sims.  I chose Sims in large part because he was a very good all around catcher: good on base (.374), good slugging (.426) coming from a home park that depressed batting average to one that had no deleterious effect.  Perhaps more importantly, he was a solid defensive backstop who was supposed to do a very good job of keeping the ball in front of him.  He had a passed ball rating of 3, which means over the course of a season he should only yield around 3 passed balls, give or take a couple.  But in the first 36 games of the season, he gave up 10.  If that wasn't bad enough, through those first 36 games he posted an on base of .275 and a slugging percentage of .234.  Hello waivers!

Exhibit B: Third baseman Bill Melton.  Melton was a decent third baseman who in the real world hit 23 homers in 1969 at Old Comiskey Park, a tough place to hit homers.  I figured moving him to hitter friendly Fulton County might yield 30 or more.  In his first 36 games (almost 100 at bats) he hit exactly zero homers.  Zero.  And he wasn't hitting many doubles to make up for it: his slugging percentage was .286.  And this is with the two best parks for homers in my division, Fulton County and Metropolitan.  Zero.  That almost doesn't seem mathematically possible

Exhibit C: Closer Ken Tatum.  Tatum's card is the most dominant card for any reliever in the 1969 set.  Essentially, his card is the same as vintage Mariano Rivera.  He allows no homers on his card and against right-handers he allows no hits.  But in this particular simulated season, not only did right-handers hit him, they crushed him.  During the real 1969 season he gave up 1 home run in 86 innings for the Angels.  In the Sporting News season, he gave up 11 homers, 5 of them to right-handers in 79 innings.  Worse still, he blew more than 20% of his save opportunities.

Exhibit D: Staff Ace Sam McDowell.  Consider that his card only has 1 homer roll and it is on a roll of "4" versus right-handers, with a secondary roll of "1" out of a possible 20.  According to my calculations that should mean he has a little more than 1% chance of giving up a home run.  Over the course of facing a thousand batters in a season, he should have given up about 11 homers.  The real McDowell gave up 13 homers that year in 285 innings pitching in a park that was pretty good for hitting homers (Strat rating of 15).  In short, he should have been a total stud even if he was playing on the moon.  My $11+ million ace gave up 33 homers, 30 of them to right-handers, in 317 innings.  Hello, legal department... see if there is something in his contract where we can get some of that salary back

Exhibit E: Shortstop Rico Petrocelli.  Maybe I just don't understand Strat-o-matic baseball, but I really expected a right-handed power hitter with a .297 average in '69 to hit better than .217 with a .299 on base against lefties in a park made for hitters, especially a guy who in real life finished 7th in the MVP voting.  This one didn't.

Even as my squad finally starting to get some favorable rolls as the season came to a close, it was offset by an unusual number of multi-game injuries to a team that is largely comprised of players who have a 1 injury rating, meaning they rarely get injured and if they do it's only for a few games.  Rico Petrocelli, Dick McAuliffe, John Kennedy - three fourths of my starting infield - each went down with 10+ game injuries in succession beginning in Game 130 and through the final game of the season.  

On top of that, my DH platoon play of Woodie Held and Jim Hicks... well, they played exactly as their actual season, which is pretty much the bottom of what they should have done, or at least what they had done in numerous other simulated seasons.  The lines in bold are what is listed on their 1969 cards as their actual stats.  The subsequent lines are their fairly typical outputs from other leagues.  The stat lines in italics are what they did for me.  

Woody Held
Name          B  P   Def     AB  R 2B HR RBI BB SB  E   BA  SLG  OBP BAL Salary
Held, W.      R CF 4(+2)e9   63  9  2  3   6 13  0    .143 .317 .299 5R  1.96M
Held, W.      R CF 4(+2)e9  289 44  5 27  52 41  0  3 .187 .484 .303 5R  1.96M
Held, W.      R CF 4(+2)e9  271 46  5 26  56 26  0  4 .199 .535 .285 5R  1.96M
Held, W.      R CF 4(+2)e9  280 51 12 33  76 37  0  8 .275 .671 .378 5R  1.96M
Held, W.      R CF 4(+2)e9  471 85 18 34  73 76  0 22 .198 .452 .318 5R  1.96M
Held, W.      R CF 4(+2)e9  338 67  8 40  83 47  0 12 .240 .624 .346 5R  1.96M
Held, W.      R CF 4(+2)e9  397 76 12 40  92 56  0 12 .222 .554 .333 5R  1.96M
Held, W.      R CF 4(+2)e9  392 76 11 43 104 39  0  8 .255 .617 .336 5R  1.96M
Held, W.      R CF 4(+2)e9  450 89 10 46 101 47  0 11 .220 .553 .309 5R  1.96M
Held, W.      R CF 4(+2)e9  338 64 12 28  54 43  0  3 .189 .479 .307 5R  1.96M

Jim Hicks
Name          B  P   Def.    AB  R 2B HR RBI BB SB  E   BA  SLG  OBP BAL Salary
Hicks, J.     R 1B  4e30     48  6  0  3   8 13  0    .083 .271 .274 9L  1.07M
Hicks, J.     R 1B  4e30     84 17  1  7  25 25  0  6 .226 .488 .400 9L  1.07M
Hicks, J.     R 1B  4e30    161 32  0  7  26 48  0  1 .199 .354 .383 9L  1.07M
Hicks, J.     R 1B  4e30    171 30  5 13  29 45  0  4 .199 .456 .362 9L  1.07M
Hicks, J.     R 1B  4e30    131 29  5 13  32 36  0  2 .237 .573 .396 9L  1.07M
Hicks, J.     R 1B  4e30    200 39  4 16  33 59  0  2 .235 .515 .409 9L  1.07M
Hicks, J.     R 1B  4e30    196 46  3 19  35 45  0  4 .265 .602 .401 9L  1.07M
Hicks, J.     R 1B  4e30    202 51  1 20  52 84  0  3 .223 .545 .446 9L  1.07M
Hicks, J.     R 1B  4e30    221 53  4 20  57 62  0  4 .249 .557 .409 9L  1.07M
Hicks, J.     R 1B  4e30    174 38  6 12  29 51  0  0 .178 .443 .363 9L  1.07M

Interesting that Held, despite being a full-time DH, still managed to accumulate 3 errors.  Such are the amazing managerial machinations of Strat's beloved automated manager, HAL. But as you can see, neither guy lived up to his potential.  I won't complain too much about Hicks, though.  I got him for his bat against lefties and in those situations he did manage to hit .200 with an on base of .391 and a slugging of .526.  However, HAL felt it was absolutely necessary to get him 39 extra at bats against right-handers, despite the fact that I had a full bench of 5 or 6 hitters better suited for that duty.  

Two road trips of at least 15 consecutive games didn't do my guys any favors either.  The first one, an 18 game roadie, came early in the season and was preceded by a nine game trip.  So from Game 10 to Game 39, my squad was on the road for all but three games.  Given that most people try to figure out their team's needs in the first 40 games of the season, I  had no way of knowing what exactly was wrong with my team other than they were losing so many games, 24 of their first 36.  

Here's another bit of useless info: the Apollos led the league in homers (264) and walks (683, fifty more than the #2 team) and was among the leaders in triples (3rd), stolen bases (4th), stolen base success rate (3rd), on base (3rd) and slugging (3rd).  The pitching staff led the league in strikeouts and in fact was one of the top 10 strikeout staffs in the history of the 1969 game on Sporting News.  That's out of around 20,000 teams that have played the game.  Yet with a groundball staff and a loaded bullpen, during this particular season they allowed more runs than they scored - 871 to 849.  The Pythagorean Theorem says that this team should have been closer to 79 wins than the 74 they actually finished with, but that is still no consolation.  

True, I could have spent more on my #3 through # 5 starters, but the whole reason one spends more than $12 on a bullpen, including $5.9 million on a closer, is so that one doesn't have to spend so much on starters.  If the starter can't go more than 5 innings, the bullpen is there to take up the slack.  I have played the Sporting News game in various incarnations six times and had posted a .556 winning percentage up to this point employing this strategy.  I even ran this particular season in simulation 100 times to see if I had done something wrong in the construction of the team.  Several times they won more than 100 games... many times they topped 90.  This particular team's record qualified as the 4th worst of the 101 total seasons.  So I guess now I know just how Mets fans felt back in 1993; it just wasn't my season.  Which means that if the old saying is true - that things eventually equal out in the end - then 2007 will get a lot better.  How good?  I don't know, but I'll post my AL Scoresheet and my NL Tout teams in my next column and let you decide.

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