Virtual Baseball League

20 April 2001

Several years ago, I joined a “virtual” baseball league. The commissioner, John Boardman, gathered a group of thirty or so owners from around the Internet. Using Sierra‘s Front Page Sports Baseball, the league drafted teams comprising players who were rated in ceratin ability areas, in the fashion of a role-playing game. A batter would be rated for hitting ability, for example, and speed and fielding ability and arm strength. A pitcher would have a rating for each of the pitches he throws.

I was a member of the league for three seasons and my team enjoyed moderate success. It was always in playoff contention, though the Canby Cougars only made it to the postseason once.

A couple of years ago, when I began my computer programming kick, I dropped the league. This spring, I rejoined. I’ve been having fun with the Virtual Baseball League 2 for the past three months.

Why do I bring this up?

Well, my team has been doing very well. I inherited a team with good players, but I’ve done a fine job managing them, too. As a result, my team sits tied for first in its division midway through the season. I just glanced through the team-by-team stats page — my team is near the top in both pitching and hitting.

Yet, what did I do today? I traded my best pitcher, a damn fine young catcher, and my first-round draft pick for a slightly-lesser catcher (better offensively, worse defensively) and an awesome right-fielder.

I have a sick feeling in my gut.

I just cannot evaluate baseball trades properly. The difference in value between pitching and hitting often bites me in the ass. Now, I can pull of fantastic trades in the fantasy football league I run. Nearly every trade I do there turns to gold. But, I know that league inside-and-out, too, having run it for thirteen years.

This baseball league is different. The games are simulated on the commissioner’s computer and, while the results are mostly realistic, it’s difficult to get a grasp on how things work exactly. Is a pitcher with a high arm strength always better? Should I take this hitter with high contact-hititng and low power, or should I take this hitter with high power-hitting and low speed?

I think that the heart of the trade I made today was fine. I went wrong when I failed to evaluate the pitcher properly. I don’t have a suitable replacement, so 25% of my games (I use a four-man rotation) are now much more likely to be lost than they were previously. Yes, it is helpful to have Reggie Sanders as my right-fielder now; his defense is superlative and he’s an offensive threat.

But I’ve now tried to fix something that wasn’t broken in the first place. I’ve also squandered a significant part of my ability to rebuild in the off-season. I’m losing a huge chunk of my team to free-agency this year, and every draft pick is precious, especially the early ones. I’m not going to get to draft until the end of the second round now, which means that the top fifty players will be gone before I get to pick one.

The good thing about this is: I think I’m good at evaluating talent in this league, and may be able to slowly rebuild from this debacle.

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