Friday, May 25, 2007

StarCraft II

So StarCraft II is coming out, and I've been thinking about how to feel about it. I mean, I enjoyed the original StarCraft during its time, and I've been delighted with the improvements from WarCraft II to WarCraft III. Not to mention the fact that Blizzard hasn't made a bad game that I've ever seen. Logic says that the next iteration of StarCraft is going to be a hit.

So why am I feeling unsure about how this thing comes through? I think part of it is that I just don't have the same interest in the science fiction world as I do in the medieval fantasy world. I like the Star Treks and Star Wars, but I like the Lord of The Rings a lot more. A lot of StarCraft II's appeal for me is going to be dependent on how they handle the "interstellar" concept. Are there going to be space battles, or just battles in the air slightly above the ground? While I'm sure that'd be fun, it wouldn't really be any different from WarCraft III if you just changed the graphics.

That's what I want, I guess. I want a game that's truly different from what I've already played. I don't expect to buy StarCraft II when it comes out, but I'm happy to check out a demo before committing to waiting until it's $30 for the battle chest.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Pitching Revolution?

After watching Nate Robertson give up one hit through three innings a few weeks ago, I started to get pretty excited. A good outing from (the uncharacteristically strong so far this season) Robertson could really have bolstered my struggling pitching staff. Unfortunately, Robertson and the usually offensively challenged Seattle Mariners had other plans. By the time the fifth inning had ended, Robertson had been chased from the game, surrendering 6 runs and 9 hits over an inning and two-thirds.

While Robertson is by no means the reincarnation of Cy Young, he does have decent stuff and can get major league hitters out. Unfortunately for Nate, he was bitten by two "gotchas". First, it's tough in any sport to "lock it in" for a long period of time. Despite a rain delay, Robertson started the game focused and breezed through the Mariners lineup, but barring a truely special performance, that focus will wane sometime during the game. It's just too hard to be fully focused for over two hours every time a starter takes the hill. The second "gotcha" is that the more pitches a major league hitter sees against a pitcher, the greater the hitters chance of success. Despite being stymied for three innings, the Mariners used what they had seen from Robertson in their first at bats to go 9 for their next 16 and send Robertson to the showers. While I am certainly not a hitting coach, I bet seeing Robertson's release point and fastball during innings 1-3 lead to the Mariners success in innings 4 and 5.

Statistically there is definitely a drop off the second time a pitcher faces a lineup. Of the top 20 pitchers (by ERA as of 4/14), the average ERA increased from 1.10 the first time through the opponents lineup to 2.07 the second time. In fact, the only pitchers to significantly improve the second time through the line up were Josh Beckett and Brandon Looper, while 11 of the top 20 saw their ERA increase by over 0.9. Another example is John Smoltz. In the three years preceeding his move to the bullpen (and throwing out 2001 when he both started and relieved), Smoltz had an ERA of 3.04. During the three years that he was a closer, and following Tommy John surgery, his ERA dipped to 2.47. Of course upon his return to starting, Smoltz's ERA rose to 3.43.

Since baseball is a game of statistics, why would a manager allow his pitcher to remain in a situation where the advantage begins to slide toward the hitter? The answer, I suspect, is "that's how it has always been done." In the days before Tommy John surgery, pitchers regularly pitched 40+ games a season and often times did so while pitching complete games. Why would a manager send one guy to the hill that often? My guess is that there were fewer athletes with the ability to retire hitters in those days, so as a manager, you sent your stud out there as often as possible. These managers rarely used set-up men, closers or left handed specialists, mostly because the guy that started the game was the best for all situations (or at least perceived to be so). Today that is no longer the case, we know lefty-lefty match-ups tilt the odds toward the pitcher and that a closer has a better chance of getting the last three outs of ballgame than a starter who has already gone 8 innings.

Ok, so where does this revolution come in? If a pitcher is most effective the first time through a line up, why let them face the line up a second time? I propose using a "team of starters", three guys who pitch every three days and never face a line up for a second time. I predict this would be the best of both worlds, the "team of starters" would work on a set schedule, but would only be asked to focus in for three innings at most. Ideally a "team of starters" would be made up of a hard throwing righty, a crafty lefty and a guy who throws strikes (or a knuckleballer, those guys always screw up hitters). The idea would be that a hitter would be facing something completely different in his second at bat than he was in his first, increasing the pitchers chance of success.

Obviously this theory has some flaws. First a team would need nine "starters", teams have a hard time finding five quality starters, so nine might be a stretch. It also means that they would only have four additional bullpen spots. Any breakdown by the "starters" would require an effective mop up reliever. Second, it would cut number of innings that a manager would use his elite pitchers (of course those pitchers would be more effective and would effect more games). I'm guessing that a manager would be willing to pitcher his number one guy a little bit less to see his team give up 0.50 less runs per game.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Lure of the Can't-Miss Prospect Pitchers.

From the outside looking in, it should've been all too easy for me. I'd won back to back fantasy baseball titles, had arguably the best 8 keepers coming into this season, owned the three top picks of the 5th round in this years draft, to acquire quality pitching. So where did it go wrong, why did I feel the need to reach for the "can't-miss prospect" when seemingly all that my team needed was quality non-flashy veterans?

I think that some of the allure of playing fantasy sports, especially keeper leagues, is that you want to go out and grab that gem athlete. The next Johan Santana or Barry Bonds or Kevin Garnett, or Peyton Manning. It doesn't matter that you're sitting there with a very formidable line-up, you want "the next big thing" to be on your roster and not somebody else's. For instance, take the SexyParties' first title season of 2 seasons ago. Mid-season acquisitions of Ryan Howard and Zach Duke were catalysts on the way to a title. And if such players are not kept, they should in theory, bring back picks or players by way of the draft. Thus, going out and getting a future star, for little to nothing, should benefit your team, if not now, than in the future.

Last season's top rookie pitching prospects coming into the year were Cole Hamels, Jered Weaver, Anthony Reyes, Francisco Liriano and Justin Verlander. Three of the five of these young gunslingers remained healthy and were kept coming into this current season, setting a huge precedent and lust for young arms. The 2007 season had a glut of young rookie arms available to owners. Matt Garza, Homer Bailey, Mike Pelfrey, Philip Hughes, Andrew Miller, Tim Lincecum are just some of the names that have already been on a Middle Earth roster.

Granted, hitting just one big-time player per year is worth it for a keeper-league, but the question about my team is 'Did I really need to take chances on these guys?' or 'Should I have left the meat market up to the other 11 owners?'. Currently, three rookie pitchers are taking up space on my roster, and so far this season, they have totalled a combined 0 innings pitches, with 0 wins, 0 Ks, and 0 saves. I suppose it might seem foolish to the perennial 10th place finisher that the team with the inside track on winning the league is wasting such roster space.

In the end, however, taking chances on guys like these and seeing them succeed (or even fail) is what makes this game fun. Looking at my eight keepers from last season, 4 of the 8 guys, (or 1/2 if you're good with fractions) were on my roster as rookies, and numerous players on other teams were dealt by me after successful rookie years. So, perhaps the rookie phenom isn't the way to win a title this year, but it makes that game more enjoyable, and hasn't failed me so far. So, be quick, fellow Middle Earth franchise owners, because chances are that I'm watching those can't-miss prospects that you're contemplating picking up, but don't fret, because if you miss out, maybe you can get them after the season for a 3rd round pick.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Something's Gotta Give

I know. It's not going to last. I don't have a first-place quality team. Jimmy Rollins and Ian Kinsler aren't going to hit 40 homers apiece. Adam Dunn's batting average will dip below .240. This team will fall apart, and it'll be that much more disappointing because it really looked like we'd be in it right up to the end.

How do people deal with the rigors of being in first place, year-in and year-out? How do you do it, Plundo? I'm up 20 points on the next closest team, and I'm scouring the waiver wire for a "savior." Am I simply insane? Maybe this is why I've never competed in the past; I just don't have the head for it.

Chip, save me some room at the bottom. I'm comin' for you.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Golden State

I don't have a whole lot of new comments, I've been getting my face kicked in by school over the past week. However, I felt like I just had to comment on the Golden State/Dallas series. I mean, wow. Baron Davis is playing like a man possessed, and the whole team just knows they can win games. Stephen Jackson, despite being a loose cannon - and he is most definitely that - can absolutely play basketball; he's only a notch below guys like Paul Pierce and Tracy McGrady. And what's great is they're just a fun team to watch. Tossing up crazy shots and knowing, just knowing that they're going in. Dallas got jobbed, this was a tougher 8 seed than anyone's had to face in the NBA playoffs.

By the way, are the Pistons from some other, higher league than the NBA that we don't know about? It seems like nobody has any business on the court with them.

My prediction is still Suns/Pistons with the Suns winning it all, but a Warriors/Nets final would be just fantastic. Here's hopin'.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Is World of Warcraft a reasonable investment for the casual player?

I think you'll find that most World of Warcraft (or "WoW") players would tell you that if you can't invest at least an hour or two on most days, you're wasting your money on a subscription. And sometimes I think they're right.

But recently, since I'm right at the end of my semester, I've only played for a total of maybe 3 hours over the past two weeks. I don't feel like I'm wasting the money I've spent on my subscription (which at $14/month is rather paltry when measured against a single meal at Outback Steakhouse). I have a few characters at varying levels of accomplishment within the game, and they each offer different opportunities for gameplay. If I have all day, I can play with my higher level characters and undertake long, group-oriented quests. If I've got a few hours, I can use a mid-level character and complete a few smaller quests or a single run-through of a low-level "instance" (dungeon). And if I've only got an hour, I can hop online with one of my beginner characters and do an early quest, or use any character to peruse the auction house for valuable gear.

My point is that, as video game players, you are only restricted by the limitations you place on yourself. If you refuse to have any lower level characters after you've built up other characters, then it's your own fault that you have to set aside 5-hour blocks in order to enjoy playing.

We casual players are those who you stumble upon on your way to the top who don't know all the ropes, and maybe we take things a little more slowly, but we're the best teammates you could have. Because to us, it's just a game. So we joke and ask questions and maintain a level of politeness, because we know there's a person on the other side of that computer.

We also usually don't make the stupid mistakes like pulling aggro in an instance when we're underpowered. We are smart enough and sensible enough to be scared when we see that "Elite" designation for the first time. And we're happy to help when we can.

See you in Azeroth.

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