Fantasy Baseball Tumbling Dice: It's in the numbers (not)

by Lawr Michaels, on October 18, 2011 @ 09:41:58 PDT


There is something about baseball that is both predictable, and yet magical.

That is why the game is so fascinating I believe. Well, that and the premise that there is no time limit.

But, breaks - good or bad - work differently in baseball than in other sports.

For example, basketball and football and hockey and soccer have turnovers so that control of the ball or puck or whatever is paramount to momentum.

But, baseball differs in the basics, for the team that controls the ball in baseball is oddly considered the defense, which is counterintuitive.

Additionally, within the rules, there are actually stats that are common to both offense and defense, something again that does not seem to occur in other competitions. Pitchers allow home runs, while batters collect them, for one. But, more common on both ends are strikeouts, walks, and even errors.

New York Mets 1B Ike Davis
Like Ike? Davis a letdown

I have long felt that walks and strikeouts are the most important barometers of determining player skill for a couple of simple reasons. For example, a pitcher who is stingy with walks and base hits allowed, and as a result baserunners, has a greater chance of being successful for exactly that reason.

Conversely, a hitter who can accumulate walks and hits, and thus get on base more often than not, will likely be successful as well. That is because the object of the offense is to score runs, and to do that one must first get on base. So, the defensive corollary is that the defense which keeps more runners off the base paths should similarly be successful.

Of course there is a little more to it than simply getting a runner on base, for in a game where a good hitter fails 70% of the time, the ability to deliver in situations with mates on the bags is also important.

So, within the myriad of rules and numbers baseball owns, all these factors - WHIP, strikeouts-to-walks, balls-in-play, etc - do cover the "predictable" side of baseball.

Then there is the magic, and if you watch baseball, and especially if you play, either on the field or in your head as in fantasy, or both, you know this.

This magic is a ground ball that bounces off third base and over the third sacker's head. Or, it is the hard ground ball that hits an Astroturf seam and skitters past all the defenders trying to track the ball down. Sometimes it is a missed call, although for better or worse these can be as deadly to the offense or the defense, depending upon when they occur.

There are Texas Leaguers and seeing-eye singles and on and on, and ultimately the difference between a successful team and one that is less than so is the ability to take advantage of these breaks.

A good team can get a walk on a questionable call, and follow that with a timely hit more often than a poor team, while a good team will get an out after a questionable call but then be able to suppress that subsequent timely hit.

But, what it really boils down to is the team at bat being able to squeeze an extra pitch or out or at-bat from the defense, because as often as not this is what wins games.

Which brings me to my poor Berkeley Liberators, of the Mid West Strat-O-Matic League. For in Strat-O-Matic the team that essentially bags the most rolls of the dice - or pitches, if you will - will beat the team with fewer every time.

The Liberators were a favored team in the Mid West League this year to make the postseason, and possibly win our first championship. And, let me tell you, in a league with 30 teams, that is no easy feat.

Though I still have two home games to play before I turn my final numbers in this year, despite the fact that my team has won 78 games, with 19 (including my pair of home games) away contests to go, I can tell we will struggle to make the playoffs.

More to the point, if by some miracle we do make the postseason, it will be short-lived.

"Why?" you might ask.

"Ike Davis" is the answer.

Yes, my rookie first baseman, whom I selected over Gaby Sanchez, proved to be the weak link on my squad.

One of the things I love about Strat-O-Matic is their probabilities do pretty much work out to those of the major league numbers over a comparable number of at-bats with well distributed competition. That means a 12-team league assembled by drafting the best players will skew the numbers, but in a 30-team competition, with usage rules, players' Strat-O-Matic totals should mimic the player's major league totals.

And, for most of my team, that has been true.

Not so with Davis, whom I selected because his OBP of .351 last year was better than Sanchez's .341. Otherwise, the players were similar, with Gaby hitting .273-19-85, while Davis hit .264-19-71.

So, that, coupled with Davis's edge on defense, made the Met a logical pick.

Unfortunately Davis has been a bust for me, hitting .219-13-63 over 502 at-bats, with a sorry .316 OBP, and just 110 hits in Strat, as opposed to 138 at Citi Field.

And that boils down to that infamous "dink, ground ball with eyes, and dying quail" Crash Davis so eloquently refers to in Bull Durham, as being the difference between hitting .250 and .300.

In the case of the Liberators, it means five or six timely hits that would have been wins for me had Davis delivered at the right time.

But he didn't, and that means I will watch the fall Mid West postseason along with all the other major league teams not named the St. Louis Cardinals or the Texas Rangers.

See more of Lawr's work, including the Hotpage (published each Monday) and Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down (each Saturday), along with the work of Todd Zola, Brian Walton, and the Mastersball team at

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About Lawr Michaels,

Lawr Michaels has been a player in the fantasy baseball industry since he began writing for John Benson in 1993. He has written for STATS, Inc, was the first fantasy columnist for CBS Sportsline, and has appeared in numerous journals and on websites. In 1996, he founded CREATiVESPORTS, a staple for serious fantasy players, which he merged into Mastersball in 2010.

Over the years, Lawr has participated in a wide variety of playing formats and won numerous titles, including AL Tout Wars crowns in 2001 and 2009. Along with his Mastersball duties, Lawr works for as a statistician. Fantasy Baseball

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