It is no secret that I really cut my fantasy teeth playing Strat-O-Matic baseball. True, I had played APBA before the Strat-bug hit, but once Hal Richman's game got to me, I was toast for years.
Of course, when roto ball became the rage, I did run away for a few years, but I have been back with Strat for a good decade. In fact, the title of this very column - "Tumbling Dice" - is an homage to both rock 'n' roll and the great Stones tune as well as those very dice rolls that were part of the original Strat-O-Matic game.
It was by playing Strat, though, back in 1977, that I realized the key to success was hitters' cards that got on base, and pitchers' cards that kept runners off the same bases. In other words - and again I did not know these stats at the time - OBP and WHIP ruled all.
Stanton does damage
But, with Strat, a good OBP meant the chances for an extra roll of those dice could happen, and that meant a runner on the bags, and that meant the chance of something happening. Like scoring runs and maybe even winning a game.
Conversely, if my pitchers kept my opponents' teams from getting runners on, well, the fewer rolls of the dice for the opposition, the better for me.
So, since that time I have valued those two stats - WHIP and OBP - over all others.
In fact, I generally value hitters who can walk, for on the diamond, if they have good strike zone judgment, they will not only get on base, but historically, those hitters who can indeed command a walk tend to be able to hit for average, and generally for power as well.
And, with all of life's lessons - like valuing OBP - we tend to take them for granted sometimes.
Well, this past weekend, while playing out my string of home game in the MidWest Strat-O-Matic League, I took on Pete Santucci's Thoroughbreds, and Pete's lineup reminded me a lot of those early lessons.
During our three-game series, the Thoroughbreds' leadoff hitter was Joey Votto, his No. 2 hitter was Carlos Gonzalez, and in the three-hole came Giancarlo Stanton.
Now, that is a pretty formidable top three, and though Pete also has Ichiro Suzuki, the right fielder was placed in the ninth slot, with the pitcher hitting eighth. And, Pete also has Yadier Molina, Danny Espinosa, and Starlin Castro, meaning he has a pretty good lineup.
But, instead of putting his big guns in the 3-4-5 slots, where most teams place their power, Pete loaded those spots up with the unsuspecting likes of Jake Fox, Scott Hairston, and Wily Mo Pena.
Over the three-game series, Votto was 4-for-12 with three runs and two walks. Stanton was 5-for-10 with two homers, and three each of runs and RBIs. Cargo was 5-for-11 with two runs, and hitting behind Votto, a pair of sacrifice bunts.
Over that same series, the Thoroughbreds scored a total of 13 runs, meaning the troika of Stanton, Votto, and Gonzalez accounted for nine of them, either via scoring, or driving in (or both via Stanton's dingers).
Pete did take the first two games, although I did squeak out a 6-3 victory in extra innings in the final game of the series thanks to a surprising walk-off tater by Trayvon Robinson.
Now, in fairness, I am rebuilding my Berkeley Liberators, where right now my big hitters are Jesus Guzman and Jonathan Lucroy, but my pitching is strong enough with Ubaldo Jimenez, Jhoulys Chacin, and Jeff Niemann being the starters the Thoroughbreds faced (remember again: Strat-O-Matic is a simulation game that replays the previous year).
But, the ultimate lesson here is not just in how to assemble a lineup in a sim game, but how to take advantage of a player's skill set in order to win, irrespective of format, or venue for that matter.
For, just as surely as major league clubs face a better chance of winning games, series, and ideally pennants by getting runners on base and keeping opposing batters off, so will your fantasy team succeed more often than not by exploiting that same theorem.
In essence, the process does buy - or prevent - that extra roll of the dice, and over the long haul, that spells trouble for the rest of your league.
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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 MLB.com as a statistician.