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Not surprisingly, after I did
the ESPN chat last week,
I received about 400
e-mails from people who participated or read the transcript afterwards.
About 25% of those were from Derek Jeter fans/apologists, and his
defense, along with that of Omar Vizquel, appears to be one of the
hottest buttons in baseball. I’ll be discussing Jeter’s defensive career in
next week’s 6-4-3, so please save your nastygrams until at least
then.

I’m always surprised at the level of fervor when discussing defense; I
sometimes wonder if I’d get less hate mail if I were advocating California’s
secession from the union, or the sterilization of the unattractive, than I
do by suggesting that Omar Vizquel might not be as good a defender as most
people seem to believe.

Today, though, I want to focus on something that I hope is a little more
lighthearted. I want to discuss something that I really, really dislike,
apparently to the surprise of most people. It’s not something about which I
usually talk–not out of fear or secrecy, but for the same reason people
don’t usually discuss the effects of microloans on democratic reform in west
African nations: it’s just doesn’t come up. Anyway, here it is, out for
everyone to see:

I hate rotisserie baseball.

As someone who’s spent a fair amount of time in his life around games and
simulation, and around real baseball, I believe it’s a really lame pastime.
Not only do I find it a rather dull abstraction, it’s also a missed
opportunity, and an amazingly effective obstacle to promoting greater
understanding of real baseball among a subset of fans who have a very high
level of interest in the game.

Before I get into specifics, I want to make sure everyone understands this:
I don’t hate other forms of baseball-centric games. I love most stats-based
simulations I’ve seen. SSI’s Computer Baseball for the old Apple made the
entire exercise of creating computers worthwhile. Some of the best social
times of my life have been in simulation leagues, getting together with from
5 to 23 friends, drafting teams, then playing out a schedule of games. For
several years, we played Lance Haffner‘s
Full Count Baseball with about 8 to
12 teams, playing something like an 80-game schedule, with the draft/party
on Halloween, and the league generally filling the baseball gap between
November and February.

The best baseball simulations are not only great fun, but can be somewhat
justified as useful tools. Diamond Mind Baseball (formerly Pursue the
Pennant on the PC, not the analog version) is a complete blast, and
obviously a labor of love for Tom Tippett and everyone involved. Of course,
these games allow some managerial tinkering on the personnel and
game-tactics levels, but they don’t do what roto does, which is allow
"gamblingesque" results that depend on the ongoing drama of the
current MLB season.

Roto is popular in large part due to its simplicity and familiarity. I think
those are the same two reasons why I hate it. I’ve spent upwards of ten
years now screaming out about the evils of using half-assed or misleading
metrics to evaluate player performance. Metrics like pitcher wins, saves,
batting average, and RBI. Sound familiar? That’s the frustrating thing. Roto
attracts the serious baseball fan, (as opposed to the disturbed, borderline
obsessive/compulsive baseball fan that reads things like Baseball
Prospectus
) and then immediately reinforces a bunch of canards in the
minds of people who probably have a genuine interest in learning more about
the game of baseball. It’s maddening. Having people walk towards the fringe,
only to stop for a pacifier that you consider inferior can be downright
painful.

The real lost opportunity in roto isn’t in pitching my "Life is OBP,
and OBP is Life" mantra to a few hundred thousand more people. The real
lost opportunity is that there are better games out there, and people just
don’t know about them. One of the best game designers ever was
Danielle
Berry
, who created a bunch of computer games, including M.U.L.E., often
hailed as the first software to be pirated by over a million people. Berry
understood that the game should primarily serve as an catalyst that would
give a bunch of friends a focal point to laugh, have a good time, and engage
in friendly competition. The fun is in spending time with other people on
something of common interest.

For many people, roto is the same thing. My father-in-law plays with his two
sons in a roto league that’s been going on for at least 15 years, and he’s a
major stathead. He knows there are better games out there, but loves the
rituals, the competition, and the group of people. But you can get all those
good things in better baseball-based games than roto.

For games that depend on the ongoing season, there are a number of free
options available on the Web at places like
ESPN.com,
Sportsline,
Yahoo,
etc. Most of these games operate in a fashion similar to roto; you receive
points for what your stable of players does during the season, and you can
perform general manager functions like trades, acquisitions, and so forth.

Personally, though, I prefer Scoresheet Baseball. It’s based on the results
of the current season, allows a greater degree of control than most games,
and most importantly, it’s like real baseball. You play different teams each
week, and things like walks, doubles, and defense actually matter. Some
weeks, you get lucky and face Paul Wilson, Ryan Glynn, Omar
Olivares
, and a bunch of relievers that got smacked around. Other weeks,
you run into a buzzsaw of Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, and
a red hot Manny Ramirez. It also adds the extra bonus of anticipation
into the mix: your results for the week arrive during the day on Tuesday,
and in an addicted office, it can grind productivity for a halt for a few
minutes, at the very least.

So anyway, if you play roto, check out some of the other options. I’m not
affiliated with Diamond Mind or Scoresheet, other than being a big fan of
each. You can check out Diamond Mind at http://www.diamondmind.com/,
and Scoresheet at http://www.scoresheet.com/.

No matter what you do for in-season baseball gaming, though, remember this
one truism: no one, even a big roto fan, is interested in hearing about your
roto team. There is nothing short of a Carrot Top
comedy show that will make eyes glaze over faster. Want proof? Check out my
Scoresheet League at:

http://www.worldzone.net/sports/boness/murphy/murphy.shtml
.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by
clicking here.

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