It was sometime around the bottom of the fifth inning when things really started to go wrong for Brett’s squad. Randy Johnson had already given up two home runs when he took the mound in the bottom of the fifth inning against my eight-hole hitter, Ichiro Suzuki. He delivered a first pitch fastball, down the middle, and Ichiro produced a beautiful inside-out swing to launch the ball into the opposite field bleachers.
There’s just one slight problem with that. As Brett pointed out on our Twitter feed, Ichiro has hit only one opposite field home run in his 18-year Major League career.
If that wasn’t enough for Brett’s team, it was about to get worse. Randy Johnson gave up four more runs in the sixth inning, and was replaced by BJ Ryan. Ryan struck out the first batter he faced in Andrelton Simmons, then gave up an RBI single to Suzuki, an RBI double to Rickey Henderson, a walk to Pudge Rodriguez, an RBI single to Mike Trout, a walk to David Ortiz, an RBI walk to Nolan Arenado, an RBI walk to Fred McGriff, a two-RBI single to Andrelton Simmons, and a two-RBI triple to Suzuki (again).
Oh, yeah — BJ Ryan also gave up another nine runs in the ninth inning. Final score: Scott’s team, 26, Brett’s team, zero.
Needless to say, this is not real baseball. This is a simulated baseball league that has become an outlet for Brett and I to enjoy baseball in a new way during the pandemic-induced hiatus.
The concept is similar to the old Strat-o-Matic game, with a few modifications. League members are given a certain amount of money–in our league, $140 million–with which to build a 25-man roster. They can select the season of any MLB player from any year, though our league is limited to players from 1993 to the present. Salaries are based on the quality of the player’s season. For example, Randy Johnson’s 2001 Cy Young campaign is more expensive than Jordan Zimmermann’s woeful 2019 campaign.
Once you finish drafting your team, you have to start thinking about in-game strategy. You set one lineup for games against right-hander pitchers, and another for games against southpaws. You decide whether you want your team to be more aggressive on the basepaths, or more conservative. You assign roles to your pitching staff within the starting rotation and the bullpen. You select a home stadium for your team, hopefully choosing one that plays to their strengths while downplaying their weaknesses.
Then, it’s gametime. Matchups are simulated based on each team’s roster. Some players may perform better than their real seasons; some may perform worse. The league runs three simulated games per day, meaning a full season takes about 2 months to complete. And as luck would have it, Brett and I were matched up against each other in the first three games of the season.
My team came out of the gate ready to play. I took two games out of three from Brett’s team, then won my next five straight games for a 7-1 start. Nolan Arenado (.444/.474/.806, 13 RBIs) and Mike Trout (.457/.472/.657, 5 2Bs) have been my MVPs so far. I’ve had a strong defensive showing as well, turning 30 double plays in just eight games. My team also has a habit of coming in clutch; we’ve scored 26 runs in the seventh inning or later, and in five of the eight games my team has scored the go-ahead run in the seventh inning or later.
After dropping the first series of the season, Brett’s team bounced back with a win in his second series, bringing his overall record to 4-4. Ken Griffey, Jr. and Grady Sizemore have been powering the lineup with three home runs apiece, and Miguel Tejada has led the way with eleven RBIs. The pitching has been a problem, though. In their six games, his top three starters have given up a combined 28 earned runs, and the normally reliable Fausto Carmona has given up ten runs in just 6.2 innings.
What I’ve enjoyed the most about this sim league so far is the way it allows you to think through the strategies of the game first hand. When you’re building a roster, do you prioritize power? Speed? Defense? How do you balance right- and left-handed bats in your lineup? What about right- and left-handed pitchers? Do you load up on one side, or do you try to build a balanced roster at the expense of other statistical measurements? The machinations are far more complex and challenging than most fantasy baseball leagues, leading to a more interesting experience.
Live baseball isn’t happening in the US right now, and I for one am growingly increasingly pessimistic that it will happen at all in 2020. We’re all looking for ways to fill that baseball-sized hole in our lives with anything remotely resembling the real thing. MLB players have been streaming their competitions on MLB The Show. Others have adopted teams in the Taiwanese leagues, the only professional baseball league in the world currently playing games. Others can watch replays of classic games on MLB Network.
Me? I’ll be tinkering with my lineup, conserving my bullpen, and laughing maniacally as my sim team launches another home run off BJ Ryan.