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May 31, 2009

Prospectus Idol Entry

Strat-O-Matic For the People

by Ken Funck

Since you're reading this article at Baseball Prospectus, there's a good chance I know a little bit about you. You're passionate about baseball, to the point that some of your friends who don't share your enthusiasm may actually find it a little annoying (but enjoy your company nevertheless). You've invested a lot of time and energy learning more about the game and how it actually works, as opposed to how others seem to think it works, and consider that time well-spent. Thus you cringe whenever you're listening to a ballgame and the genial ex-player doing color commentary, who may have been a childhood idol of yours, describes some 8-year veteran with a career 726 OPS as a "professional hitter", or your favorite team's manager complains about his players clogging up the bases by taking too many walks. I've been there. Everyone here understands.

So what's brought you to this state of extreme fandom, where you dig through each morning's box scores with an addict's fervency and troll the interwebs in an endless search for ever stronger baseball insight? That much I can't claim to know about you, but for me and many others the gateway drug is easy to identify: Strat-O-Matic Baseball, or as it's known on the mean streets of Glen Head, Long Island, "Strat".

For those of you not familiar, Strat is a baseball simulation game utilizing the statistics of players and teams in past seasons. Each pitcher and hitter gets a "card" with three columns listing play outcomes. Games are played by creating a lineup for each team and then rolling three dice to determine the outcome of each plate appearance. Half of the time (depending on a dice roll) the results are read from the hitter's card; otherwise the pitcher's card is used. Obviously it's more complicated than that (speed, defensive prowess and positioning, ballpark factors, even weather can affect the outcome of plays), but it's the pure matchup of hitter vs. pitcher/defense-just as in real baseball-that functions as Strat's power plant and has seduced so many into testing their skill at being both manager and general manager of a fantasy ballclub.

Back in the day, when parents would buy a copy of Strat because little Jimmy had grown bored playing Payday and Stratego all winter, the cards and dice were always actual cards and dice and the games were meant to be played face-to-face. Nowadays Strat also has a computer version, which my tech-savvy children find comically simple but which does exactly what a lazy old poop like me who grew up playing other, more complicated simulation games wants a computer version to do: roll the dice and look up the results so I don't have to. Not only does this speed up game play, but it allows opponents to play online-making it easier to run leagues where geographically dispersed opponents can not only set up franchises to compete for seasonal titles but also play individual games against each other.

Unlike Strat, most forms of fantasy baseball don't involve playing individual games. Usually fantasy players draft a set of players and follow them through a given baseball season, hoping that the stats they accumulate are better than the stats accumulated by their opponents' players. Doing this definitely starts the process of casual fans digging deeper into the sport. When you're following your fantasy team players during the season, you tend to read every box score, not just the one for your favorite team. Keeper league owners start paying more attention to minor league prospects. Fans start watching, listening to and reading about more games and more players-which can only be a good thing. Moreover, fantasy baseball does a wonderful job of teaching player valuation and position scarcity-it becomes immediately apparent that an above average first baseman is usually less valuable than an above average middle infielder.

Strat (and other baseball simulation games), when played in a keeper league format, does this too. The same rules of supply and demand apply, as does the need to pay attention to minor league prospects. To Strat owners, today's morning box scores don't possess as much immediacy-unlike most other fantasy leagues in which yesterday's Curtis Granderson home run is essentially harvested and stored for later weighing, Strat players are more interested in the slower process of seeing what their players' cards might be like next year. Thus a Strat owner like me can spend a week at a remote fishing lodge in Western Ontario, without cell phone coverage or a daily newspaper, let alone internet access, and not feel as if they're at a huge competitive disadvantage.

But Strat goes further than other types of fantasy leagues in teaching about baseball, or perhaps more accurately in fueling the desire to learn more, due to: (a) the need to play actual games, which teaches things like lineup construction, bullpen management and the value of certain in-game strategies (something BP's own Joe Sheehan has occasionally trumpeted during his occasional jeremiads against bad managerial decision-making); and (b) the mathematical underpinnings of the Strat cards themselves which tempt owners into creating their own metrics to assign comparative values to cards based on both their offensive and defensive ratings.

So what are those "mathematical underpinnings"? A strat card, whether for a hitter or a pitcher, is divided into three columns-each one, based on a single die roll, with an equal chance of being used for a given plate appearance. Each column has eleven possible play results (e.g., a single or a flyout) numbered "2" through "12", which are determined by adding the pips from two rolled dice. If you're not a craps player and the odds of each two-die combination aren't intuitive to you, the chart below might help.

Die Results

    D1=1  D1=2  D1=3  D1=4  D1=5  D1=6

D2=1   2     3     4     5     6     7

D2=2   3     4     5     6     7     8

D2=3   4     5     6     7     8     9

D2=4   5     6     7     8     9    10

D2=5   6     7     8     9    10    11

D2=6   7     8     9    10    11    12

There are 36 possible combinations (or "chances" in Strat-speranto, the game's official language) per column, with six resulting in a "7", but only one resulting in a "12". Multiply those 36 chances per column by the 3 columns on a card, and you get 108 chances per card-of which 6 chances would be the "7" row in a given column. This can also be expressed as a rate -- 6 chances out of 108 is roughly .056.

The nice thing is that you can look at a given card, sum up the number of chances that result in a hit, walk or HBP, divide that by the 108 total chances on a card, and come up with a number that is analogous to that card's OBP. Perform similar work counting total base chances, and you come up with a Strat version of SLG. Add them together (or apply your favorite multiplier for the relative value of OBP to SLG) and presto! You've created a value statistic (I call mine Offensive Score) with which you can compare players.

But what about a player's defense? Strat accounts for this by placing "X-chance" results on the pitcher's card. These require another roll to determine the play's outcome. Each fielder is rated (as with defensive metrics in general, nothing sparks more controversy among Strat players than fielder ratings), and there's a separate chart that determines whether the play ends in an out, hit, error or possible double play, depending on the fielder's ratings and a dice roll. These results can also be expressed as "chances", and can be used to calculate the number of extra base runners (i.e., OBP) and total bases (i.e., SLG) that a given fielder might allow-resulting in what my personal Strat spreadsheet calls "Defensive OPS". Do some math to see how many times in an average game the player has their defense tested vs. how many times they come to bat, apply that factor to Defensive OPS and subtract it from the player's Offensive Score-and you now have a value stat that includes both offense and defense (I call mine Total Score).

Since Strat cards also have both offensive and defensive double-play chances, you can try to include them in your Total Score calculations by determining (1) how frequently the player will bat with a runner on first and less than two outs; and (2) how damaging the double play will be to your offense or beneficial to your defense. Trying to figure this one out is what first brought me to the Run Expectancy Matrix, among other advanced concepts. See how this might get a person to start doing their own research into advanced baseball metrics? Strat itself ranks numerous variables (e.g. pitcher hold ratings, hit-and-run ratings), and owners can include as many as they can reasonably model in their final value calculations.

This probably sounds like a lot of work, but that's what spreadsheets are for-and thankfully, the friendly folks at Strat-O-Matic will gladly sell you all the raw ingredients you need via a spreadsheet that lists every card's chances. For me, the highlight of each bleak midwestern January is the day my Strat spreadsheet for the upcoming season arrives. My family leaves me in quarantine while I toil away at the new season's data, happy as a pig in slop. Ain't nothin' like the taste of an equation made from scratch.

So if you're already a Strat-addict like me, I hope the game continues to stoke your interest in baseball metrics and that this article has given you some ideas. But if you haven't already tried our gateway drug, I highly recommend it-just be warned that it might only be the first step on a long, strange trip.

Many thanks to Margaret at Sturgeon Lake Lodge north of Silver Dollar, Ontario for making the submission of this article possible.

Ken Funck is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ken's other articles. You can contact Ken by clicking here

50 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links


What about a comparison of simulation games? Why not note the advantages/disadvantages in relation to APBA, Dynasty, etc. for example? Seems a bit incomplete.

May 31, 2009 11:05 AM
rating: 0

This seems like a very detailed Wikipedia entry on Strat-O-Matic Baseball. Not the sort of thing I need to read about at Baseball Prospectus.

May 31, 2009 11:14 AM
rating: 3

Agreed. When I opened the article and saw all words with no numbers, it was hard to read.

Jun 01, 2009 10:10 AM
rating: 0

I found myself waiting, and waiting, for the point of this article to emerge. Where is the fantasy content? While I agree with Christina that a gaming column would be great (I'm a Pursue the Pennant/Diamond Mind veteran myself), gaming is not fantasy baseball, it's simulated baseball. Fine. Even still, this reads more like an advertisement for Strat than a piece that Strat users (or those other simulated games) could utilize to improve their game-play.

I agree with Kevin that you're one of the best "pure writers" in the group, but personally, for the style/substance split, I'd much rather have someone who leans toward the latter than the former. That said, your column last week indicated that you can do both. So I'm voting to keep you around because I think you have more to offer.

May 31, 2009 11:20 AM
rating: 3
Tim Kniker

No question some of the criticisms are valid, there is one thing I have to say about this article.

I've been a life-long boardgamer (always have been an avid Avalon Hiller) and a baseball fan, but for some reason, none of my friends were ever into the Strat games (or any of the other boardgames). Ken's article did make me want to look into this more.

May 31, 2009 11:56 AM
rating: 6
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff

As someone who has a bunch of Yaquinto, SPI, and GMT games in storage, not to mention a copy of the deluxe edition of La Battaille de Mont Saint Jean, and who had the benefits of a subscription to Strategy and Tactics as a wee kiddo, let me simply give credit where credit's due to my kind of (fellow) geek. That said, none of AH's Statis Pro games worked for me all that well as simulations of baseball, basketball, or football.

May 31, 2009 12:06 PM
Tim Kniker

Agree, I never really liked AH's sports games. The only really baseball "board-game" that I played was All-Star Baseball (I think has had a number of publishers), which had the round disks that you put in the spinner.

The AH games that I loved were the classics (D-Day, Stalingrad, VitP) plus some of their great mid-80, early-90s multiplayer games like Britannia, Age of Renaissance, Civilization, Diplomacy)

May 31, 2009 12:10 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff

Amen on Diplomacy and Civilization, although I also liked Dune (despite the annoying victory conditions for the Bene Gesserit).

To change gears and switch over to another AH classic game/series, whatever Curt Schilling might say on its behalf, Squad Leader basically lost me with the first expansion (Cross of Iron); I've gone on record with my preference for Yaquinto's armor rules when it came to WW2 simulations, but the trinity of Panzer/Armor/88 have been out of print longer than many readers have been alive, I expect.

Never mind us, folks, nothing to see here but live-action throwback geekery in action. Hang around long enough, and I'll start talking about what a great game M.U.L.E. was as an example of how cool non-shooter computer gaming can get.

In the meantime, to give credit where credit's due, I hope everyone notes Ken's reference to the Sturgeon Lake Lodge, because the man filed his piece from a remote location while on vacation. I don't think we have a "gamer" prize, but this deserves some credit, insofar as being able to write well (and file) in the face of logistical challenges demands some respect.

May 31, 2009 12:22 PM
Ken Funck

I got through COI and Crescendo of Doom, but ASL and it's neverending series of factors to apply became just no fun. I chuckle at the Dune reference because it's about the only AH game I still find time to play, and I edited out a sentence about how Strat cards contain set probabilities based on a past season, which is appealing to someone who prefers to play the Atriedes -- knowing there would be a very, very small audience for that particular reference.

May 31, 2009 12:49 PM
rating: 0
Tim Kniker

ASL was just over my head. At some level, it just gets into too much detail. If I needed that type of game, I actually found Up Front suprisingly enjoyable.

Christina & Ken, maybe would should take the AH fun off-line. Have to admit, it's always fun to find fellow gamers like this in the most interesting places.

May 31, 2009 13:33 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

I was one of those weird third graders playing Dungeons and Dragons after finding a copy of my dad's old box set. I was also a big Axis and Allies fan, played many of the Avalon Hill games and enjoyed a lot of the Apple II games like APBA and non-baseball games like Baron. Later I "grew" into Battletech tabletop and Paranoia.

May 31, 2009 14:19 PM
rating: 0

Never played Strat, but this is a nice article introducing the game and explaining how one can maximize performance in the game, similar to how one can do the same for fantasy baseball stats.

I agree with the other comments that this is actually a 'sim' article rather than a 'fantasy' article, yet I'm giving it a thumbs up anyway. For what it's worth, over the past three years I've put far more money into online baseball sim games (whatifsports) than fantasy baseball.

May 31, 2009 17:42 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

Same here, OOTP and before that, Baseball Mogul were among my favorites.

May 31, 2009 19:44 PM
rating: -2

Then what you need is ASL Starter Kit. It will soothe your ASL desires without getting overly complicated.

Even that is too much for my tastes. I prefer my games in short doses and with fabulous bits. For the wargamer in you, that's Memoir '44.

Jun 01, 2009 13:20 PM
rating: -1

M.U.L.E is still great. I haven't played in a few years but the mere mention has me itching to mine some crystite and hunt the wampus!

May 31, 2009 14:03 PM
rating: 2

I have a fond place for Dune in my heart, mainly due to my Mom's expert analysis, "I don't understand these games, but anything that can keep 5 teenage boys up until 2:00 o'clock in the morning that doesn't involve women, alcohol or drugs can't be a bad thing.

I didn't even make it past the first 4 scenarios of the original Squad Leader, but Yaquinto's armor games rocked.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled baseball talk.

May 31, 2009 17:51 PM
rating: 0
Tim Kniker

Actually, let me rescind my first sentence. Paydirt (and it's college game equivalent Bowl Bound) were OUTSTANDING football board games. I highly recommend picking up an old copy of either of these on eBay.

May 31, 2009 16:20 PM
rating: 1

Or, for today's small amount of free time and simple rules, it has to be Pizza Box Football.

Jun 01, 2009 13:21 PM
rating: 0

Ken, your topic was far from expectations but within the topic, you offered rational analysis, and, most importantly, you made me smile.

Well done. Thumbs up.

May 31, 2009 12:53 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

I did like the article, but like others, I would've liked to see it tie directly into fantasy baseball. Why not take a strat concept like card probabilities and apply it to the kinds of players worth drafting in fantasy league drafts? Or, why not tie it into a league that simulates games based on real-life stats like Scoresheet? Maybe compare a person's Strat-o-matic card with their performance so far this season?

I don't think this article discussed fantasy baseball but I do like the outside-the-box thinking and I felt the actual subject matter of Strat-o-Matic was written very well... I just wish it had been a bit more releveant.

I'm on the fence right now.

May 31, 2009 14:25 PM
rating: -3
Richard Bergstrom

I'm giving this a thumbs up even though it didn't cover the topic per se... I love Ken's writing style and each week he has produced content that, though I had disagreements on last week's article at times, showed a good blend of storytelling, analysis, and most important to me, originality. Regarding this week, I thought his piece on strat-o-matic was interesting and informative. Some other finalists just aren't doing that yet without a bunch of clank and clutter.

May 31, 2009 16:19 PM
rating: -2

Easily the most worthless of this week's entries. Yes, I have played some Strat. No, the topic is not worthy of an introductory article at a site like BP. Solid writer, but topic selection skills are lacking -- and finding the right topic is more than half the battle...

May 31, 2009 15:00 PM
rating: -3

I enjoyed the writing very much, regardless of how "on topic" or "relevant" it might be deemed. So far Ken is my favorite in the competition, and has produced consistently enjoyable reads. So what if an article is overflowing with data, if I'm already bored with it's topic after the first two paragraphs, what's the point?

May 31, 2009 15:14 PM
rating: 1

As Goldstein pointed out....this article is limiting.

May 31, 2009 16:03 PM
rating: 0
Tim Kniker

So Ken, the one question I have is this. Given that I typically have limited time to both come up to speed and to play, but would like to get in to Strat-O-Matic, what's the best next step.

Also, the other issue is other people in my area who would want to play, so if there's an online version, that would likely be best.

May 31, 2009 16:55 PM
rating: 0
Ken Funck

No need to live near other players -- many leagues are geographically dispersed (mine has 12 owners in 7 states).

Best place to start is just to buy the game (www.strat-o-matic.com), probably with the 2008 season cards if you're interested in joining a keeper league. Lots of options -- you can get the box game if you want the actual cardboard cards along with the rules, or just buy the rules and charts if you don't want the cards -- but most importantly you'll want the computer game so you can play NetPlay with opponents anywhere. I do recommend getting the rules in addition to the computer version -- hard to really learn the game mechanics at first unless you read the rules. There may be versions of them posted online. Once you have the games and learn the rules, play some solitaire games, then maybe run a few season simulations.

It can be a little spendy to get started (version 14.0 of the computer game is $76 new, including the Card Image option which lets you see the cards themselves during gameplay -- I recommend that).

www.stratfanforum.com is a great resource -- they have a section where leagues looking for players or players looking for leagues can post, and the baseball forum is a great place to ask any questions you may have -- Strat players seem to be a particularly friendly and supportive bunch.

More details? Feel free to e-mail me directly (you should have my address, or just google me).

May 31, 2009 18:34 PM
rating: 1
Ken Funck

Oh, there's also a hosted version at The Sporting News website. I've never played it, and I don't know enough about it to vouch fer or agin, but you could take a look at that as well.

May 31, 2009 18:36 PM
rating: 0
Dr. Dave

I play in a Diamond Mind keeper league, so I was excited by the prospect of an article that might give me some new and useful tips that would help me there. As I read, I kept waiting for the "why sim baseball is neat" to end, and the "...and here's how a BP reader might approach it" part to begin. It never did, leaving me wondering what the point was.

May 31, 2009 20:21 PM
rating: 1
John Carter

I'll start with my quibble: " . . . an above average first baseman is usually less valuable than an above average middle infielder" No, they are the same. What you meant to say was that an above average first baseman is less valuable than a middle infielder who hits the same.

As always, Ken is a strong writer. However, he wasn’t strong enough to lure me into finding out how a Strat-o-matic card works. I know I ain't going to take it up and that is just one more thing I do not need to know. I refuse to make room in my brain for it.

However, the advantage of not needing to care about the day-to-day news of baseball was an intriguing idea. I've always considered it an advantage that Scoresheet (my fantasy game) results are based on what happens each week. You have no idea what they will actually do, you have to make the same guesses real managers and general managers do. The advantages are so overwhelmingly more interesting, I never considered there was a disadvantage to them Heck, why don’t we give up fantasy baseball altogether, then we can share the winters with our families stress free?

May 31, 2009 20:45 PM
rating: -1
Richard Bergstrom

Different tastes for different people. Some prefer leagues where you can fill out 8 hitters and win $10,000. Others like the instant gratification of rooting for their players live and reading through the box scores to instantly find out how they did.

May 31, 2009 20:54 PM
rating: 0
Matthew Avery

I clicked the "thumbs up" based on the title alone.

Then I read the article and liked a lot.

Not that I would have changed my vote; it just would've been a shame to waste a brilliant title on a mediocre article. :-)

I've always heard baseball people on the internets reference Strat, so this was a useful introduction to me and makes me want to perhaps try it out.

May 31, 2009 21:00 PM
rating: 0

AH Paydirt was the BOMB. Still have the 85-90 seasons in the back closet. Ran entire seasons, with statistics, playoffs and Paydirt Bowls. Great game.

May 31, 2009 21:43 PM
rating: 1
Tim Kniker

In my office, a friend of mine (who is from Chicago) continue to play '84 Bears vs. a late '70s Steelers team.

There's almost a guarantee that total points scored will be below 17.

Jun 01, 2009 04:27 AM
rating: 0

I am a Strat guy myself (actually just get a lot of enjoyment playing the game by myself), and also loved the RM reference title. However, I find myself in a quandary as to what to make of the article. It is aimed at someone who hasn't played Strat before, and hits that goal. But it's very hard to fit it into the criteria of the week.

May 31, 2009 21:44 PM
rating: 1
Richard Bergstrom

I know what you mean, I had the same dilemma and I'm actually not a Strat guy. If he hadn't accomplished his intention with this article so well, it would've been a harder decision. I gave him a thumbs up though because it accomplished what he intended and thus, I didn't even have to ponder the caveat that he filed the article from a remote location while on vacation as Christina had indicated. Ken's definitely outside the box, and in a good way like his TGF article. The problem is if this was a later stage of the game and only a few quality finalists in the end, if he strays from the topic too much, it could hurt him.

May 31, 2009 21:50 PM
rating: -2

I'm not a Strat guy but this article (among others) has peaked my interest. What's the proper avenue for the non-initiated to get started? There seem to be almost too many options to sort through.

Jun 01, 2009 14:32 PM
rating: 0
Ken Funck

Scroll up to my response to Tim K's similar question for more detail, but again I highly recommend the stratfanforum website. Wiser heads than I will be more than happy to steer you in the right direction.

Jun 01, 2009 15:37 PM
rating: 0

Thanks for the direction, Ken. I'm now the happy first-time owner of Strat computer version 14 (awaiting delivery). Let the obsession begin.

Jun 03, 2009 09:06 AM
rating: 0

Remember, it's a total vote count as a go-forward. I vote thumbs up for my six best so that what I consider to be the 9th best artcle has a lesser chance of sneaking past the fourth... Decent read, thumbs up for KF this week...

Jun 01, 2009 00:18 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

I inherited a Strat team this year and did some decent wheeling and dealing, while picking well in the dispersal and annual drafts, and my team is geared for the future. My minor leagues/farm system: Adam Jones, Madison Bumgarner, Neftali Feliz, Pedro Alvarez, Andrew Miller.

Jun 01, 2009 04:57 AM
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Do we need to learn details about Ken's life in every column? Folksy is not what I'm looking to read.

Jun 01, 2009 08:54 AM
rating: -7
Tim Kniker

YES, we do! I want to live vicariously through Ken. Madison is a fun town

Jun 01, 2009 15:30 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

They have a pretty good acapella group at the University of Wisconsin at Madison too...

Feel free to geek out to this: :)


Jun 01, 2009 18:31 PM
rating: -1

I've actually wanted a detailed description of Strat for a long time, and here I got it from a fellow grognard. And even more applause from me for stretching the theme.

I almost (but not quite) voted for Ken's article last week, but this one gets my vote. He's my first non-repeat winner.

Jun 01, 2009 10:05 AM
rating: 0

I love Ken's writing, and I've been playing some form of Strat since the mid-70's, but there needed to be more of a link between Strat and fantasy baseball.

Jun 01, 2009 14:26 PM
rating: -2

Ken, I'm rooting for you. Here's a little free advice that is almost certainly worth right around the price. You are definitely the most readable of the bunch. You walk the line of a little to precious from time to time but that's a quibble. Most of the jokes work. Tone is pretty much on pitch. I don't think you're going to be able to crunch numbers with some of the other writers and the charm is potentially going to carry you only so far. What I'd like to see is something that demonstrates you're a hard core baseball guy if not necessarily a hard core numbers guy. Some really sharp observations about on the field stuff. Dabble in scouting. Maybe go the route of going out of your columnist style to some reporting. Get in touch with some people in the game.
Unsolicited .02 cents.

Jun 03, 2009 13:19 PM
rating: 1

More baseball sim articles please.

Jun 04, 2009 12:47 PM
rating: 1
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