Once upon a time, The Editor's Disclaimer was a place to post weekly standings of Hardball, a private, non-profit fantasy baseball league run strictly for the amusement of me, Ken Broder, and the ever-changing cast of team managers. ... And then it mutated.
I am a journalist and mostly self-taught computer geek who started writing a program to crunch numbers for Hardball around 1985. I never stopped rewriting it and the program eventually evolved into a fairly elaborate interactive toy. I went online with the league a decade later in the hope of imbuing the site with all the features of the desktop program, and though sidetracked by numerous diversions am about halfway there.
Over the years, I have created a number of historical leagues and used the Hardball engine to determine the best players in various eras. It was a natural outgrowth of the league, which was conceived as a way of answering a simple question: Who are the best players in major league baseball? The last year of the Hardball league was 2000 and the stats from that season are still linked to from the home page. But the majority of pages on the site are now historical and "Best of ..." leagues of my own device.
Unlike most fantasy leagues, in Hardball there was only a token sum of money at stake and after the first couple weeks of the season there was no trading of players. In other words, this was not a general managers league. It was primarily a measure of how well our team owners knew baseball talent. Many of the formulae used to evaluate talent are derived from sabremetric principles. So if you think a Save is the sole measure of a reliever; if you think a Stolen Base is a major offensive weapon; if you think a Walk is for weenies, you would not have done well in this league unless the gods smiled upon you.
The first Hardball league was formed at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner newspaper in 1985. When the Herald folded in 1989, and took down our beloved draft site (Corky's Bar) with it, we moved the operation uptown to the Los Angeles Times. It died in 2001 after Tribune bought the Times and closed the Valley office, where I was the executive news editor. I moved downtown, killed the fantasy league and devoted my energies to gaming out who would be included in the next round of layoffs. I was let go on June 5, 2009.
I continued to use the Hardball computer program to generate seasonal statistics of baseball's best players. The site remains committed to preserving a part of the game we all grew up with. Before big contracts became the measure of baseball prowess. Before preseason predictions revolved around whether there would be a season. Before lame postseason competition between mediocre ballclubs with undisciplined, muscle-bound yahoos reduced us to the lamentation, 'It ain't worth spit.' Before all that there was our national pasttime and the parallel universe of The Hot Stove League. Baseball as we knew it may have slipped away forever, but Hardball still hovers in the clickable ether of cyberspace.
The Draft: Our league usually has between 8 and 10 teams, often including a Dregs team picked by the Gamekeeper made up of undrafted players. Players are selected in 16 rounds. It's up to each manager to decide whether to select a shortstop first or a relief pitcher or whatever. The only restriction applies to each team's two reserves; a reserve can't be selected unless he is expected to be a DH or until nearly everyone has selected a player at the position he normally plays.
The order of selection for the first round is determined by picking random numbers, with the order reversed for the second round, etc. No player can be selected at a position at which he is not reasonably expected to play regularly. (The position-by-position ratings in the preseason package should be the guide, though not necessarily the last word.)Reserves are selected in a separate draft after the position players and pitchers have been picked.
Hitters Rating System: Hitters are rated solely on offensive production; fielding does not count. Neither do RBIs or Runs Scored. To quote Bill James, the creator of a hitting formula similar to one we use: "Wins result from runs scored. There are two essential elements of an offense: its ability to get people on base and its ability to advance runners." In their crude way that's what RBIs and Runs Scored measure. But a better way, one borne out by how well the formula predicts the number of runs any given major league team should score, looks at just the essentials: At Bats, Hits, Doubles, Triples, Home Runs, Walks, Stolen Bases and Caught Stealing. The formula we use is the same as previous years; ERP = (2 * (Total Bases + Walks) + Hits + Stolen Bases - ((At Bats + Caught Stealing - Hits) * .605)) * .16. This formula, which is called Earned Run Production (ERP), regularly predicts with over 92 percent accuracy the number of runs that should be scored in the majors.
Very few hitters play every day. In real life, a backup is substituted. The problems involved in picking such backups for our game and factoring in their contribution are insurmountable, but fairness dictates that we provide some compensation for even the most minor lack of playing time. A player will receive additional ERPs, called Bench, based on three factors: the average player ERP at his position; his number of plate appearances; and the proportion of his plate appearances compared to the position leader.
Pitchers Rating Systems: The rating system for starting pitchers is too complicated to explain here, but basically it values ERA and Won-Loss percentages equally, giving extra weight to ERA based on innings pitched and extra weight to Won-Loss percentage based on number of decisions. The system for relievers is even more complicated and gives twice as much weight to Appearances, Saves and ERA as Hits/Inn, SO/Inn, BB/Inn and W/L percentage.
Oops: Every team is allowed to replace players anytime within two weeks after the draft. (First-come, first-served.)
ERP: Earned Run Production is the standard measure of offensive production. It is an aggregate number describing how many runs a player would contribute to his team.
ERP/G: ERP Per Game tells you how many runs a team would score in a game if its entire lineup were made up of players who played like a particular player. For example, a lineup of nine Chipper Joneses in 1999 would have scored 10.06 runs per game. This statistic is helpful in evaluating a player's potential when, for some reason, he failed to bat a significant number of times.
Bench: As explained above, Bench represents the number of ERPs a mythical reserve would produce. (Don't confuse this with the two reserve hitters each team selects in the initial draft.)
Change: This measures the number of percentage points a team or player changed from the previous week. If a player goes from being 10 points above average to 15 points above average (as measured in his final Rating) that is a 5-point Change, even though it is a 50 percent improvement. Change in a player's final Rating (more on Ratings later) is reflected in the Team Profiles, the Top 20 Who's Hot list and a separate list of all the player changes.
SLP: Slugging Percentage. It's like batting average, but a double counts for two hits, a triple for three and a home run for four.
OBP: On-Base Percentage. Again, it's like a batting average, only you divide Hits plus Walks by At Bats plus Walks. (We don't count HBP.)
ISO: Isolated Power. By subtracting a player's batting average from his slugging percentage you get a more accurate gauge of his power than Slugging Percentage.
Rating: Three main Rating numbers for hitters are used in the game: Final Player Rating, Best by Position and MVP. 1) Final Player Rating is ERP plus Bench divided by our League average. It is the number used in the Team Profiles. 2) Best by Position is ERP plus Bench divided by the average of those number at a given position. 3) MVP takes the Best by Position statistic and adjusts it for the hitting strength of players at the position. (For example, thirdbasemen probably would get a boost, catchers would be downgraded.)
PR: Pitching Runs. A measurement of ERA that factors in how much a starting pitcher pitched and is expressed in percentage above or below the average pitcher in our league.
W/L: Won-Loss. A measurement of Won-Loss percentage for starting pitchers that factors in a player's number of decisions.
Rating for starting pitchers: The average of PR and W/L.
Pitchers Rating Systems: The rating system for starting pitchers is too complicated to explain here, but basically it values ERA and Won- Loss percentages equally, giving extra weight to ERA based on innings pitched and extra weight to Won-Loss percentage based on number of decisions. The system for relievers is even more complicated and gives twice as much weight to Appearances, Saves and ERA as Hits/Inn, SO/Inn, BB/Inn and W/L percentage.