By Al Wilson
As fans of HISTORY MAKER BASEBALL know, the game was designed with player-rating simplicity in mind. This allows gamers to create their own player cards based on their own opinions of player qualities or by using the basic stats found on the back of baseball cards. For "official" PLAAY Games HMB card sets, the process is slightly more detailed in its approach, but still uses readily available statistics from baseball-reference.com.
As I've worked with Keith Avallone to fine-tune the formulas used in player card creation over the years, I've developed some easy ways to address outlier players in the areas of fielding, running, and pitcher freshness, using additional data from baseball-reference.com. These rating tweaks will not be finding their way into the official card sets, so Keith suggested I share the principles with the user community so that gamers could choose what adjustments, if any, they might want to implement on their own.
Let's start with fielding. If you look at the Infield and Outfield DRAMA! charts in HMB, you'll notice that results focus on both a player's propensity to make errors (I refer to this as their glove) and their range. For player card creation, we use the Rtot/yr rating (if it exists) for grading a player's defensive ability. Rtot/yr is a "Total Zone" statistic that considers both a player's range, and their error totals, along with other data such as outfielder arm stats, turning double plays, and catcher data.
For most players, the Rtot/yr rating is a good indicator of both range and glove, but in some cases, they are given a GOLD or IRON rating based primarily on their range, leading to more errors than usual for that player. A great example is Greg Luzinski from the 1980 Phillies. His Rtot/yr rating in 1980 was -17. In HMB terms, he's an IRON fielder. But if we look closer, we see that his FLD% was .993. He made only 1 error in 143 chances.
We can use the FLD% stat to identify those players whose Rtot/yr rating was primarily due to their range, not their glove, compared to their contemporaries at their position. This will improve the accuracy of the game engine when using the DRAMA charts. Here's how the method works.
For GOLD or GOLD• fielders, take a look at their fielding percentage (FLD%). If it's significantly lower than the league average for that position that season, then it's likely that their range was the reason for their GOLD or GOLD• quality. For IRON or IRON• fielders, if their FLD% is significantly higher than the league average for that position that season, then it's likely that their range was the reason for their IRON or IRON• quality. In the formulas below, "POS FLD%" represents the league average FLD% for that position that season.
So how would these new "(R)" qualities be applied during the game? The trick is understanding the Infield and Outfield DRAMA! charts and knowing when they are testing a player's glove or their range. Of course, none of this is applicable when their running quality is being tested (more on that later!). DRAMA! results that test Fielding quality will result in either an out, hit or error.
If the possible non-out result is a HIT, then the test is against their Range.
If the possible non-out result is an ERROR, then the test is against their Glove.
Let's go back to the Greg Luzinski example. The league average FLD% for left fielders in 1980 was .976. Using the formula above: Luzinski is IRON, had 100+ fielding chances, and .993 is greater than .978. (.976 + .002) Thus, his new Fielding rating is IRON (R) or "IRON for Range, NORMAL for Glove." During a game of HMB, the opposing team rolls Outfield DRAMA! 3-4, Left Fielder IRON? This possibly results in an error, so the check is against Luzinski's glove, not his range. In this case, he is NOT IRON so he makes the easy out. But if the roll had been 5-6, Left Fielder IRON? on a looping fly ball (range check), the result would be a single.
While this adds more granularity to the defensive game engine, it's obviously not comprehensive. First, it does not address those players who received their rating primary due to their glove, vs. their range. There's just no easy, systematic way to accomplish this with available stats. Second, I do not take it as far as split defensive ratings. For example, with his great FLD% an argument could be made that Luzinski could be IRON for range and GOLD or GOLD• for glove. There is no reason why the system couldn't be expanded to include split ratings for both range and glove if the gamer wanted to do that.
Now let's look at running. HMB uses a player's stolen base percentage (SB%) to determine their running quality. Like fielding, this works great in most cases, but there are some outliers where a players SB% is not representative of their ability to run the bases or track down a ball in the outfield.
Using the Extra Bases Taken Percentage (XBT%) stat on baseball-reference.com, we can identify players who had speed on the base paths, but who may not have stolen enough bases to meet the necessary percentages of the standard HMB Running formula. Based on research of the players impacted by the change, I have also concluded that this safely applies to a player’s speed in the outfield, when their running quality is checked on the Outfield DRAMA! chart.
The application of the premise above may vary from gamer to gamer, but here is what I have settled on after some research and play-testing. The process is very simple, and the result will be a split rating:
Running Quality for Stolen Bases / Running Quality for everything else
Very few players per team will qualify for these changes, so it's a quick process to implement. For my own cards, I require that a player has a minimum of 200 PA to qualify for the rating change.
When attempting to take an extra base, or anytime the game book checks the baserunner running quality in a non-stealing situation, use the second quality if one exists.
George Brett, from the 1980 Royals, is a good example. He earns a NEUTRAL HMB running quality as he only stole 15 bases in 449 at-bats. But his XBT% is a staggering 72%, which is 27% higher than the league average in 1980. So his updated running quality is NEUTRAL/ACTIVE. (For space considerations, I write this as N/ACTIVE on his actual card.) He will still be NEUTRAL when stealing, but will be ACTIVE in all other cases. Pee Wee Reese from the 1956 Dodgers would get the same rating change.
I've now applied this tweak to over 60 teams and it really doesn't come up that often. It's quick and easy to scan the Team Baserunning/Misc. table on baseball-reference.com and identify the candidates for a change. Another "sanity check" that can be applied is checking the player's RS% (Run Scoring Percentage) as another indicator of speed on the base paths, but this is more dependent on teammates so it probably shouldn't be used as a primary indicator.
Finally, let's talk about pitcher freshness. As discussed in the HMB Rule Book, pitcher freshness can (and should) be adjusted based on the era in which you are playing. And while the rules provide a general guideline of freshness numbers through the years, it's very easy to be even more precise with just a little math, figuring out a pitcher’s average innings pitched per appearance. The tweak works for both starting and relief pitchers. Here are the formulas I use to address starting pitchers should have a freshness rating better than 3/3, and relief pitchers that should have a freshness rating better than 1/1:
Wrapping up, while I have discussed all of the tweaks in this article with Keith, they are still just "house rules." That said, they have undergone significant play testing and I am very happy with the results!