Saturday, March 07, 2009

The ATJs report: Seeing victory and the moral high geekhood

One of us is owner of the the all-time Toronto Blue Jays team — the ATJs — in the Historical League (SHL). So how about those Blue Jays? At this writing, they are 56-49, clinging to a two-game division lead over the combined Arizona-Colorado D-Rocks .

Out of Left Field has a bone to pick with who's out in left field.

It veers dangerously close to that Warcraft episode of South Park, but it set the blood to boil to see "M. Teixeira, LF" appear in the boxscore of a recent 7-4 win over the Angels (Roy Halladay, FTW: Complete-game win and a two-run single which knocked Nolan Ryan out of the game). It just flies in the face of a personal geek code which puts a premium on verisimilitude in sports simulations, even if judging by the fact he's made eight errors in 28 games, Mark Teixeira probably has tried to catch a few flies with his face.

Truth be known, it's a huge dice-roll by Angels GM Chad Finn from Touching All The Bases to use Teixeira as a leftfielder. The current poster child for the armageddon has only played 25 major-league games in the outfield, all in 2003 when he was with a team not named the Angels. It gets another power bat in the lineup and this is a fun thing for a bunch of baseball obsessives, so fair play to Chad. The problems are all on this end.

It probably is classic projecting-all-over-the-place to have even picked up on something so picayune. The SHL uses only players' stats accumulated for that team, which means if you wanted to put Manny Ramirez on the Dodgers after he hit .396/.489/.743 for L.A. over the final third of the last season, go right ahead.

It's a similar story with Teixeira, who hit .358/.449/.632 (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) after the Angels brought him last season as a rental player (and never played him anywhere but first base, which is the only spot he'll play for the Yankees).

Some SHL owners will do that, and that's OK. For some, it all harkens back to the epitaph a friend unwittingly offered long ago, late on night over Madden: "Neate, you always try to play the game right." He was referring to actually punting when it was fourth down and forever, instead of having the quarterback scramble around behind the line of scrimmage and heave the ball downfield like Rex Grossman in his most fevered dream to get a miracle completion (to say nothing of people who would call fake field goals in every kicking situation).

As the years have rolled past like some sunny day, it's come to take the form of a left-handed compliment. Half the fun of getting into this was to go with the players who had lasting impact in Toronto, just like how the manager who got the Jays to the mountaintop, twice, Cito Gaston, could be loyal to his guys to a fault (see Joe Carter's 1997 batting splits).

Great hitters, but not out standing in their field!

The whole verisim-whatever thing was paramount in the construction of the All-Time Jays, for good or ill. Apparently, it is so be it, if it means having a team which played .500 ball since May 1 since someone had a Seamhead hang-up about running Dave Winfield out to right field every day, because he played only 26 games there while he was OPS-plusing 137 as the DH for the 1992 championship team. The same could go for having Paul Molitor, who played only 28 games as a first baseman across his three-year stint as the Jays' DH (OPS-plusing 138 in the 1993 and 143 in '94). Molitor might have been a better call at third base if not for a huge yes-but: He didn't play that position regularly for the Blue Jays.

What's it called if you cut corners and stop at nothing, by not staying true to your team's history? Uh, winning?

Believe it, all manner of history-affronting solutions have been contemplated as the Jays have eked their way through the past couple months like, well, a 32-year-old copy editor who shares a one-bedroom apartment. Third base, both corner outfield spots and the back end of the starting rotation have been troublesome. It still would have felt wrong to have Winfield or Molitor as an everyday position player.

On the mound, David Cone, based on his two partial seasons in Toronto (3.14 ERA over 183 1/3 innings during the '92 pennant drive and the turn-out-the-lights '95 season), might have bolstered a pitching staff whose ERA has ballooned to a garden variety 4.73, including 4.89 for the starters (both in the bottom third of the league).

Finn's gambit, though, has provided inspiration to call up 1980s-vintage first baseman Willie Upshaw, hitting .292/.354/.516 at Triple-A Las Vegas, so he can be about the sixth player to have a crack at holding down a semi-regular role in the outfield. Upshaw at least has a fielding rating in left field. His rating is 1. In the Out of the Park baseball simulation, by the way, the higher the number the better. Still, the other outfielders beyond Moseby and Devon White haven't been very good, producing McGlovin-esque stats:
  • Joe Carter: .761 OPS
  • Alex Rios: .684
  • George Bell: .637
  • Jesse Barfield: .580
  • Vernon Wells: .561
In the infield, Orlando Hudson, who is blocked by Robbie Alomar at the only position he's ever known, second base, is also coming up. The O-Dog, who's hit .312/.363/.481 for the 51s, might end up becoming some kind of utilityman, filling at third base and shortstop, since Troy Glaus has been useless vs. righties and Tony Fernandez has started all 105 games.

The road ahead, the final 49 games, are going to be tough, most notably a fast-approaching four-game series against the Arizona/Colorado team. Ultimately, it still feels like the right choice to have not kept Molitor or Winfield, or do something crazy like With no DH, having Carlos Delgado and Freddie McGriff rotate between first and the outfield, like how Hall of Fame sluggers Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda did for the early-'60s San Francisco Giants. Do you remember Delgado's short-lived stint as an outfielder in 1994? (King Carlos is still second in the league with a 1.041 OPS).

It's just that using a player who was only with the team for a brief period isn't true to what it's like to follow a team down through the years. You want to take in their bad seasons, their struggles as a young player, the years after they peaked. Granted, that is pretty self-serving coming from someone who did take Roger Clemens, who only pitched in Toronto for two now-tainted seasons, but let's not go nuts. There's a division title at stake and he has proven to be the one sure thing in the starting rotation.

He must have been winded: Pitchers having to run the bases is the 11th-most hilarious aspect of National League baseball (Nos. 1-10 are all actual teams), so what happened to Jimmy Key in a recent 10-7 win over the Angels did not escape notice. With two out in the bottom of the third, Key came around to score for first base on a two-out double by Rios on a 3-2 pitch, putting the All-Time Jays up 7-0. The next inning, presumably still winded, he was touched up for six runs and was yanked before he could qualify for a win. B.J. Ryan picked him up with 3 1/3 innings scoreless relief.

Rance Mulliniks The Player also scored the first run of that game without the ball leaving the infield (walk, sac bunt, up to third on an infield out, wild pitch). Rance Mulliniks The Broadcaster then spent the next five innings talking about the need to manufacture runs.

That's about the low point: The absolute teeth-gnasher has to be a four-game sweep at the hands of Florida/Tampa Bay which included three losses in extra-innings, which must have had the Jays Talk knowitalls going on about the team's lack of heart and scrappy grit. A potential comeback win in the opener turned into an 11-9 loss when Conine ripped a three-run homer off Tom Henke in the bottom of the 10th. Two nights later, the Terminator couldn't hold a lead for Pat Hentgen, as Derrek Lee hit a tying, two-run homer, and then homered again in the 12th for a 5-3 win.

Conine also got another 10th-inning game-winning hit off Henke in a 3-2 win the next day. That was set up by a triple by Hanley Ramirez, whose RBI double in the eighth sent it to extras. (For some reason, Roger Clemens was allowed to start that inning even though he was at 119 pitches after seven innings.)

He just has it in for Hall of Fame closers: A three-game sweep of the Padres included Robbie Alomar hitting a game-winning homer off Goose Gossage. It actually came in the seventh inning, so Robbie probably didn't throw up his hands as he started toward first base like he did in October 1992 vs. Dennis Eckersley.

'Spos daze: The All-Time Jays are 0-6 vs. Montreal, the team mastermind by Jonah Keri. Despite all that help, nos amours are still second in the Expansion Two division.

Take that, Seaver: The Cincinnati version of Tom Seaver has been roughed up whenever he's faced "us." Delgado hit a pair of two-run homers off him in a 7-5 win July 28, but has gone yard only once since, which is kind of a drag.

What's coming up: A four-game series on the road against the Arizona-Colorado D-Rocks.


Chad Finn said...

Wait 'til you notice this:

Vlad Guerrero, shortstop, Montreal Expos.

Seriously, I can see where you're coming from. Since I have no real attachment to the Angels -- I'm a Red Sox fan -- I suppose there's not much sentiment involved. (Other than carrying Lyman Bostock on the 25-man and Butch Hobson and Jerry Remy on the 40-man roster) The fun for me is trying creative things to see what works and what doesn't. And given that Thompson and Teixeira are probably my two best hitters, I had to try something creative (or dubious) to get them both into the lineup. I have a feeling it will end with a ball bouncing off Teixeira's head to cost me a shot at the division, but at least it'll be fun along the way. (FYI, he made an error that led to six unearned runs the other day. Nolan Ryan now hates his guts.)

Always enjoy your stuff, Neate.

-- chad

sager said...

Thanks, Chad, means a ton coming from a bona fide baseball writer ... I'm actually inspired to work in Hudson at third base and try Upshaw a little in left field.

The latter I can justify ... Upshaw was 6-feet tall, batted and threw left and wore No. 26, just like Adam Lind! OK, that's pretty tangential.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

I like Chad's idea here, actually. For me, sports games are about trying new and unconventional moves that you might not see in real life (the Madden punting one you cited is a great example; I refuse to punt unless it's 4th and more than 10 yards, and I think real teams might do surprisingly well if they tried that strategy). Thus, Teixeira in LF might make sense depending on the rest of your lineup, even if the "real" GMs haven't tried that. That doesn't mean the realism/historical approach is wrong, either; for me, they're different ways to appreciate sports, so they're both valid. I just personally prefer trying something new instead of limiting myself by what's been done in the past.

sager said...

Andrew, you have seen Teixeira play? He doesn't have an outfield skill set.

Yes, I'm still bitter I didn't think of it before Mr. Finn.

milway said...

I must say, this entire process fascinates me. And I would totally be the guy with Delgado splitting time behind the plate (first 2 games of his career!) and in LF (your 1994 Opening Day Starter!), Molitor at 3B (he started there for the 15-14 game against the Phillies), Glaus at SS (now let us never speak of this again), and so on.

These posts are always entertaining, and always make me spend a solid 30 minutes on