Cardboard Play Ball – Part 1

Mize_1953Something I used to do all the time as a kid and occasionally still do today is take a stack of 50 or so baseball cards and make two teams from it–mine and that of some imaginary opponent. To go from stack to season, there are essentially three things you need to figure out–

  1. A fair and fun draft order
  2. An understanding of player value
  3. How to play a game

In this post, I’ll share some ideas for each of these, along with some preliminaries.

Preliminaries

Here are the main types of rosters you might consider for each team. This in combination with the number of teams in the league will inform how many cards you need. Of course, sometimes it works the other way around.

  • Basic – One player per position, including starting pitcher (and DH if you must!)
  • Basic Plus – Same as above, but with a 4-man (or 5-man) pitching rotation, plus optional relievers
  • Full Roster – Full team of 24 or 25 players just like a real MLB ballclub
  • Full Roster Plus – Same as above, but with “minor leaguers”

Draft Order

Here are several approaches, along with some pros and cons. Will assume four teams (A, B, C, D) here, but you can generalize to any other number. Will also assume that the first round draft order is A, then B, then C, then D unless otherwise stated.

  • Basic Order (ABCD ABCD ABCD) – This is the simplest. The four owners simply take turns, always following the same order. The disadvantage of this scheme, naturally, is that the owner who goes first has a decided advantage.
  • Jesus Order (ABCD DCBA ABCD) – This minor variation is sometimes called a “snake draft” in that it sort of zig zags back and forth. Were Jesus a fantasy baseball owner, I suspect this would be his favorite as it fulfills the prophecy that “the first shall be last.”
  • Circular Order (ABCD, BCDA, CDAB, DABC, ABCD) – An improvement upon the Jesus Order in that each owner picks first in some round(s). However, owner D can certainly complain that all the best players are gone by the time he picks first.
  • Random Circular Order – Same as above but each of the four sequences are determined randomly. For example, Round 1 may be CDAB and Round 2 may be ABCD.
  • Random Order – Draft order in each round is determined on the fly by randomly generating a permutation of ABCD. While Random Circular leads to only four possible draft orders, Random now allows for 24. For instance, the sequence DCBA is now possible.

In the most typical approach to drafting, the assumption is that the owner is either selecting from all available players or at least all available players subject to roster limits (e.g., no team can have more than two catchers).

Variations that are much more fun, though they can lead to unfair teams by increasing the role of chance, is to do one of the following–

  1. Position Restriction – Restrict selections to a position selected at random. For instance, owners are forced to draft shortstops in Round 1.
  2. Random Restriction – Restrict selections to a subset of four players, randomly selected from among all players.

Player Value

My goal here isn’t to open the door to any SABR-rattling. It’s simply to acknowledge the big questions that arise when, for example, it’s your turn to draft and you’re choosing between a 1975 Hank Aaron and a 1978 George Foster. Here are several approaches, with the last one being the most complex but still my favorite.

  • Year on Back – Assuming the back has stats, go with the last year shown (e.g., 1974 for Aaron and 1977 for Foster). And if there aren’t stats, look ’em up somewhere.
  • Year of Card – As a minor variation, go with the card’s year of issue. If you are using cards from multi-year issues (e.g., 1934-1936 Diamond Stars), I’ll leave it to you to come up with a scheme.
  • Best Season – Tailor made for Hack Wilson fans! Choose from among “qualifying seasons” only–i.e., avoid 1952 Ted Williams and his 10 at bats, .400 average, and .900 slugging percentage.
  • Career Average – Something like the 162-game average at baseball-reference.com works here. Or just divide the career stats by the number of seasons.
  • Random Season – Chance reigns supreme here, particularly for players with a single “career season” amid general mediocrity. Again, only include “qualifying” seasons.
  • Random Top Ten – One season is selected randomly from among the top ten qualifying seasons identified by the owner. (Where a player has fewer than 10 qualifying seasons, repeat the player’s worst season some number of times until ten seasons are reached.)

Playing the Games

In all honesty, playing the games will be the least fun aspect of all of this, but I’ll offer some ideas in a future post. In the meantime, you already have everything you need to play owner and draft a terrific team–everything except the cards, that is!

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