Or how to create a great Diamondbacks team by channeling youthful fantasy
When I was 11 years old growing up on Long Island I was introduced to the board simulation game Strat-O-Matic Baseball. The son of one of my Mother’s friends, Michael, was into the game and once while visiting their house he showed it to me. Michael was a bit of a loner, didn’t play sports, and was more or less nerdy. I played sports all day, every day, every season, and was just so-so in school.
Baseball was of course my favorite sport. I played little league at the time, and was obsessed with the Mets. But I was also getting into stats, and rankings at the time too. I remember in 7th grade I would create rankings of all the teams in the “big 3” of MLB, NFL, and NBA and bring them to school and show them to classmates at lunch and debate them around the table. They included things like runs and point differential and whatever other rudimentary concepts I could think of to throw in.
So “Strat” immediately interested me. Michael was running a simulation of the 1970 season. He kept score and stats of each game, and recorded everything meticulously in notebooks. He was trying to recreate an entire 162 game season, which is a daunting task to do manually, on your own. You’re talking about almost 2,000 games in 1970 with 24 teams. It takes about 20-25 minutes to play a single game solo, and another 10-15 minutes or so to record the stats into a notebook. So it takes almost a full year if you play every day for 3 hours a day.
Unlike Michael, I had a bit of a life. When I bought the game featuring the 1971 season in early 1972, I didn’t try to recreate a 162-game season. I started off just playing 3 game series between selected teams. But eventually I settled on a 54-game season. The schedule set up was 6 games against the teams within division, and 4 games against the teams outside the division. That still took me about a year to complete. I’d come home from whatever practice or game I got done playing that day, wash up, have dinner, do home-work, and then spend an hour or two playing the game. I learned a lot about small sample size outliers recreating that 54 game season. Some of the individual results varied wildly from the actual season. Most were actually pretty close though. The Orioles and Pirates did end up in the World Series, although in my alternate reality, Baltimore won the series.
One of the things I also liked to do was group player cards together. One time I made an all- Latin team. Then I started taking the cards of “similar players” and grouping them together and adding up those player stats to create an imaginary career. Each year I bought the newest season, and I started combining the best seasons from players that appeared in multiple seasons, creating a sort of “career year” super teams league
Playing this game taught me a lot about how runs are created and prevented. It taught me about strategy, and the risk reward of those strategies. It taught me about roster construction, lefty-righty splits and platoon advantage, and franchise continuity, (or lack thereof). It taught me about odds and probability, and gave me a “quickness” to calculating things in my head. It taught me to spot things quickly that were outliers or out of whack. And much more.
When I started to read Bill James and Pete Palmer much of what they were talking about had already been ingrained into my understanding of the game. Voros McCracken’s seminal work on DIPS theory from 2001 especially rang true as I experienced first-hand both from this game and my playing days up through high school the random nature of balls in play and was always trying to figure out why many pitchers seemed to diverge a great deal from the ERA results listed on their cards. Tom Tango and Mitchell Lichtman’s “The Book” further cemented many ideas that I had learned from playing Strat-O-Matic.
Channeling 12-year old Jack, I decided to play around with creating a “career year” team of current Diamondbacks. Even back when I was a kid I noticed that sometimes the “career year” teams I was creating often seemed to be very similar to what happened when a team unexpectedly won a division or got to the World Series.
So I asked myself today what if every player on the team performed up to their previously recorded peak performance? All the tables are at the bottom of the article.
In creating this fantasy I had to make quite a number of subjective adjustments of course. If the career year happened in 2020 I prorated the stats to a 162 game season. For the players that had very little playing time in 2020, I either used their career stats or Fangraphs depth charts projection just to make things simple. I prorated playing time (PA and IP) where needed just to make things “add up” properly. This is all for fun, and is not meant to be hard hitting analysis at all. I mean really it’s senseless, but it was still fun to imagine “what if”.
I did learn a few things from this however:
- A lot of the team’s players had career years in 2019
- Even with all the career years, the offense would still be around NL average with a 95 OPS+, but thanks to defense the total WAR would be a very healthy 32
- The projections for our bench players are really quite rosey. Almost all above replacement level
- All we need for a great rotation is for Bumgarner to regain vintage 2016 form and Gallen to produce over a full season what he did in 2019-2020 combined, and the others not to suck
- If guys like Stefan Crichton, Riley Smith, and Keury Mella can repeat 2020 ERA in prorated full season innings the bullpen won’t suck at all.
What this fantasy “Career Year” team adds up to is a 98 win team, which would bring them on par with the Dodgers and the Padres. And truth be known, that’s what it would take for the 2021 D-backs to compete with those two teams. Career years across the board from virtually every key player on the team.