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Big week for fantasy baseball leaguers

By Kenneth Broder
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
August 14, 1988

This column should have been written a week ago. I didn't want to write about Angel pitching -- and in the end, I didn't -- but lacking a truly decent subject I was forced to make do with cataloging petty gripes stockpiled over a frustrating season.

All the while I was champing at the bit, waiting for next week when I could share an insight stumbled upon while crunching numbers for the Hardball Rotisserie League, of which I'm commissioner.

The lead of the column would have gone something like this: "A thundering herd of baseball's best hitters is proving (once again?) that a certain disgraced ex-president was right -- "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

The inspiration for all this hyperbole was the discovery that the 63 hitters drafted by my fantasy baseball league had wrapped up the month of July by racking up their third best week of the year. In fact, three of the four best weeks compiled by this "All-Star" group of players had been registered since July 4.

What made this all the more interesting was the fact that National League teams were actually scoring at a slower pace on Aug. 1 than on June 27 and the American League was dead even. Hitters weren't getting better, just good hitters.

But somewhere along the line the thundering herd took a detour and last week compiled its second-worst hitting record of the year.

Wally Joyner hit .214 with no power, Dale Murphy went 2 for 21, Alvin Davis hit .136, Brook Jacoby was 3 for 22. They hit .266 as a group with a slugging percentage of .415 and an on-base percentage of .337 compared to a .286 average, .458 SLG and .366 OBP the week before. The only thing they did better as a group was steal bases.

Granted, these aren't all the best hitters in baseball. But because each general manager in our seven-team league only drafts nine hitters, three starting pitchers and a reliever at the beginning of the year, we tend to be a superstar spectacular.

Competition is so tough, Mark McGwire ranks as the worst first baseman; Ryne Sandberg is at the bottom of the pile at second base; and George Bell, Tim Raines, Eric Davis and Tony Gwynn are below-average outfielders.

So even though 12 of the 30 best hitters (listed in the Top Hitters chart) were not drafted by the astute GMs of the Hardball League, we must have done a few things right. As a league we're hitting .278, slugging .436 and have an OBP of .354. That compares favorably with the American League, where they're hitting .261, slugging .396 with an OBP of .323.

As good a year as it's been for Hardball League hitters, it would have been better if the major leagues' rules committee hadn't tampered with the strike zone, giving pitchers back the high, hard one they had been deprived of lately. The result was predictable. Teams in the American, National and Hardball leagues are scoring about half a run less per game than last year.

Batting averages are down (11 points in the NL), slugging percentages are down and, of course, walks are down. Conversely, pitching stats are much improved, even in the Hardball League where finding a pitcher who can put together good back-to-back seasons is harder than getting good back-to-back games out of Angel pitchers.

This year's 21 Hardball League pitchers have a .575 Won/Loss percentage and an ERA of 3.38, compared to a W/L pct. of .557 and 3.88 ERA in 1987.

As usual, the American League is outhitting the National League, and it's not just because of the Designated Hitter. Maybe it's the ballparks, maybe it's the quality of pitching, but up and down the big league rosters the junior circuit swingers are having better years than their senior circuit counterparts.

This is how the top 25 hitters in the two leagues compare: AL batting average .305, NL .293; AL slugging .383, NL .361; AL On-base pct. .502, NL .467; AL Runs Created Per Game 7.16; NL 6.19. That last stat, Runs Created, means that if a team had nine star AL hitters they would theoretically score 7.16 runs per game, compared to 6.19 by their NL counterparts.

The final measure of a hitter's worth used in the Top Hitters chart is W/L, a stat that tells you how many wins a player's offense was worth to his team. Basically, it counts positive things like hits as contributing to a win and outs as contributing to a loss. The difference between the two is W/L. The formula takes into account which league a player is in and how many runs it takes to win a game there.

And even using this formula, the National Leaguers don't measure up.

I can't really explain it. But i might note that Jack Clark, a star in the NL last year, is having a so-so year in the AL, and that ex-Tiger Kirk Gibson is having a career year in the NL. OK. OK. You don't have to remind me that ex-Seattle Mariner Phil Bradley, a quiet star in the American League, is about to be run out of Philadelphia.

He's the worst player on my Hardball League team.

American LeagueNational League

Puckett89.47.826.0Van Slyke78.56.625.6

Burks72.57.394.7Davis G.
Henderson69.77.494.6Davis E.61.06.534.4


* RC, or Runs Created, represents the theoretical number of runs a player's offense would produce. RC = (Hits + Walks - Caught Stealing) x (Total Bases + .55 x Stolen Bases) / (AtBats + Walks)
* RC/G, or Runs Created Per Game, represents the theoretical number of runs a team would score per game with nine such players in the lineup. RC/G = RC * 26 / (AtBats - Hits + Caught Stealing)
* W/L is the number of victories a player's hitting theoretically contributed to his team after subtracting the theoretical losses his outs contributed.