Lou Brock (DPK)

I started college in August of 1975.  The neighborhood group had stopped playing Strat a couple of years before that, and another few years passed before a group of us formed a league in college.  The members were a subset of the Iowa Wargaming Confederation, a union of boardgames devoted to simulations of Gettysburg, Stalingrad, and the like.  There was also an overlap in the club with the Dungeons & Dragons craze that hit campus when I was a freshman.  

This second period in my Strat-O-Matic life was interesting in that the strategies of player usage and analysis became much more sophisticated.  It was perhaps no coincidence that the Bill James Abstracts were starting to apply sabermetrical analysis to the game as well, but the initial boost was from a smart group of strategy-gamers trying to get an edge on the competition.

As a gamer, I had long understood the probabilities on a 2-12 curve, but Keith Neill was the first guy I knew to count a player's ‘on-base chances’ (which he would pencil onto the individual cards).  It wasn’t quite as detailed as the breakdowns you get in the StratFan booklets, but was definitely more accurate than measuring a player’s value by his batting average or slugging percentage. 

This was also my first serious encounter with a draft league and the joys inherent in drafting your team.  Various roster strategies were tested.  At one extreme was a franchise whose theme was defense, trying to field as many 1’s as possible.  Another took the opposite tactic, for example moving Darrell Evans from third to short — where he was rated an awful 4e48 — to test the hypothesis that it would be best to play as many big bats as possible.  Those were fun times!

Baseball has gone through several eras, and in the late 1970s speed was at a premium (in part because of all the artificial turf) and emphasis was also shifting toward on-base %.  My friend Keith embraced this trend, and his teams always racked up a ton of steals and walks.  His favorite team was the Cardinals, and one of their stars in 1968 was the great Lou Brock, who would retire soon after our college league got started.

Currently, Brock leads the IBC with 12 steals and has a nice .317 average.  His team, the Davenport Knights, went 5-1 this week and has jumped into third place.  Given the pair of clubs forming this franchise met in the World Series in ’68, it comes as something of a surprise that they only have a +3 run differential at this point.  If it weren’t for their luck in tight games — currently 6-0 in one-run games — this might still be a sub-.500 group.  We are early in the season, of course, but let’s begin by looking at the possible effect of moving the Knights into a neutral ballpark.

Here are the historical ballpark ratings for the Tigers and Cards (note all CBA parks are 9’s across the board).  It turns out that Detroit is an extreme hitter park, and SL tilts strongly in favor of pitchers.

Ballpark Effect     Detroit     St. Louis
Lefty Singles         12            1  
Righty Singles         3            6
Lefty Homers          19            1
Righty Homers         16            4 

These numbers are eye-popping, and are illustrative of the importance of taking ballpark effects into account (or of “counting on-base chances” if you want to take winning seriously).  I have not been doing that with the IBC, so have (generally) preferred the Tigers’ hitters only to find every one of their lefty sluggers — Jim Northrup, Norm Cash, and Dick McAuliffe — to be a real drag on the offense thus far.  Now that our season has pushed into its second month, I definitely plan to look at current stats more and more when choosing a lineup!

The Knights look like a team that should dominate, with a nice blend of speed, defense, and power.  Its weakest defender is slugger Willie Horton (.285 and 36 HRs), but with him at DH the fielders are all 1’s and 2’s.  The starting outfield is Brock (.279 and a 2 in left), Curt Flood (.301 and a 1 in center) and Jim Northrup (.264, 21 HRs, and a 2 in right).  The depth is amazing, with 33-yo Al Kaline (.287 and a 1 in right), Mickey Stanley (a 1 in center), and Roger Maris (.255 and a 2 in right).  Maybe not as much power as one would like, especially after taking into account Detroit’s ballpark effects, but definitely the kind of defense that will help the pitchers win tight games.  It is also nice to have an even mix of lefties and righties to platoon.

Bill Freehan (.263, 25 HRs) is a 1 at catcher with a -2 arm.  He mates well with lefty-swinger Johnny Edwards (.239 and a -1 arm), but the Knights will ride Freehan hard — his defence, power and .366 on-base % just scream "all-star.”  By the way, the 1968 World Series featured an interesting confrontation between the arm of Freehan and the legs of Brock.

Around the infield, my favorites on this team play on the right side: 33-yo Norm Cash (.263 and 25 HRs in 411 ABs) and Dick McAuliffe (.249, 16 HRs, and 82 walks).  As mentioned, thus far the transition away from Tiger Stadium has not been kind to them, so their righty platoon partners, Orlando Cepeda (.248 and 16 HRs) and Julian Javier (.260) will see more playing time as we move forward.  At third incumbent is Mike Shannon (.266 and 15 HRs) is merely solid, but he’s a lot better than Don Wert, whose glove is a 1 but unfortunately his bat produced a meager .200 in ’68.

Sometimes these combined teams will cover up individual weaknesses, such as the way Shannon gives the Knights a much better option at the hot corner.  The same dynamic helps them at short.  Historically, the position for the Tigers was a black hole.  The bulk of the ABs went to Ray Oyler and Dick Tracewski, neither of whom hit above .160 and who had just 5 HRs between them.  Yuck!  Neither of them were rostered by the Knights; instead the position is mostly covered by Dal Maxvill (.253 and a 2 on defense) and 33-yo Dick Schofield (.220).  The pair combine for under 600 ABs, which makes the position a little thin.  The team has several other options, such as Stanley and McAuliffe, who are 4’s at SS, but given the theme of this franchise is great defense I cannot bring myself to use them here.  Note, however, an interesting article on this topic, where gloveman Ray Oyler was benched by the Tigers in favor of Mickey Stanley (normally an outfielder) during the 1968 World Series.

Some hitters with the sorting requirement of 360+ ABs and/or a WAR of 0.5+ didn’t make Davenport's 30-man roster.  Tim McCarver (.253/5/48) was a tough cut at catcher, but his +1 arm made him expendable.  22-yo Bobby Tolan (.230/5/17) has some speed, but ultimately lost the last spot on the bench to Schofield.

Here is a link to the Strat-O-Matic league file after 4 weeks of play, and the current standings:

1968IB-1-29-2019.lzp

5/5/68 Iowa Baseball Confederacy        Won   Lost    Pct     GB
Council Bluffs Falcons (A’s-Giants)      15      9    .625     —
Iowa City Regals (Red Sox-Phillies)      14     10    .583    1.0
Davenport Knights (Tigers-Cards)         12      9    .571    1.5
Sioux City Crusaders (Indians-Reds)      13     10    .565    1.5
Waterloo Sailors (White Sox-Braves)      13     11    .542    2.0
Ames Little Cyclones (Orioles-Pirates)   12     11    .522    2.5
Cedar Rapids Saints (Twins-Dodgers)      11     12    .478    3.5
West Metro Maroons (Angels-Mets)         10     14    .417    5.0
Des Moines Scarlets (Yankees-Cubs)        9     15    .375    6.0
Dubuque Golden Eagles (Senators-Astros)   8     16    .333    7.0

I’ll cover the Davenport Knights pitchers next time!

© John Kisner 2019