7 Tips to Build Effective Baseball Lineups

7 Tips to Build Effective Baseball Lineups

According to an article written by By F. C. LANE entitled “What Are The Odds“; without paying any attention as to how they arrived at the various bases the odds of scoring from first, second and third, are roughly as follows: from first base, 22.19%; from second, 42.77%; from third, 61.54%.

Do you have an effective strategy to build your baseball lineup to score runs?

New York Yankees Lineup Card

A major key to winning baseball games consistently is having an effective lineup strategy.  This article will share 7 tips you can use right now to build your lineups for any team to enhance your chances of winning.

To make it easier to remember, they spell out the word L-I-N-E-U-P-S

  • Leather
  • Instant runs
  • New base runners
  • Edge the base path
  • Understand your opposing pitcher
  • Pinch hitters – flexibility
  • Speed Kills

Leather

See Blog “Is Your Lineup Giving Up 28 Outs or 27?

Instant Runs

It’s the fastest way to score in baseball, the home run.  Even teams built for speed should have at least one true power in their lineup.  Considering your lineup will typically turn over about 4 times a game, it’s fairly safe to place your best home run slugger anywhere from number 3-6 in the lineup to ensure they will get enough cracks at putting you on the board in an instant, especially with good on-base percentage batter’s in front of them to bring them across the plate too as an added benefit of the long ball.

Though the odds of hitting a home run are 1 in 35.26 compared a double of 1 in 21.14 or a single of 1 in 6.44, what needs to be considered are the odds are of hitting a single and double within 2 outs (assuming a speed burner is the lead runner).  Thus there’s quite a bit to factor that needs to happen compared to hitting a home run such as what if the lead runner who reached based via the single or double was picked off or the single after the double was merely an infield hit, etc.  That’s what’s nice about the long ball, it happens in an instant, thus simple and very effective.

New Base Runners

Moneyball.  Get as many on-base percentage guys as you can in your baseball lineup.  Think walks.  They the poor man’s single that seems to merely make a whimper, but seems to score more times than not.  Consider this: if Chicago White Sox 2012 Adam Dunn’s walks were counted as singles, his batting average would have been .334 instead of his actual paltry .204.

Edge the Base Path

Even the speediest of base runners aren’t considered to be “in scoring position” until they are on second or third base.  That’s because it typically takes more than a single for them to score from first base.  Though you “can’t steal first”, you can steal second, third, or home.  Thus having some base stealers in your lineup are key, though just as important are those that excel at sacrificing their at-bats for the sake of edging base runners to the next base through a bunt or fly ball.  One day, a runner that intentionally grounds the ball out to the right side of the infield to advance a runner from second or third may be scored as a sacrifice too.  I think it should since it serves the same purpose intended by a bunt or deep fly ball out.  Meanwhile be sure to have at least 2 good base stealers and 2 good bunters positioned after good on-base percentage batters in your lineup.

Understand Your Opposing Pitcher

Okay, so lefty/righty has been used for decades now, and frankly it’s over blown when looking at most stats.  That’s another topic for another day.  Here’s a few ideas on this important point.

  • If they surrender the long ball, yet not much else, then stack your lineup with good on-base percentage batters.
  • Are they a strikeout artist?  Then paint your lineup with the long ball hitters.
  • Do they have a tendency to walk a lot of batters?  Get those edge hitters in the lineup to move them along into scoring position
  • How about the pitcher that gives up a lot of hits, but keeps the ball in the park?  Don’t fight it, by adding power hitters (typically with marginal batting averages).  Make sure your lineup is chalk full of good, high batting average hitters to keep the line moving.
  • Consider if the pitcher is a weak fielder, let alone the rest of the team.  Then have players in your lineup that make contact and/or can bunt to put the ball in play more often.  As covered in a prior post “Is Your Lineup Giving Up 28 Outs or 27?”, that 1 error could make the difference between winning and losing.

Pinch Hitters

One of the best ways to think of your lineup is beyond the 9 batters.  Your bench is essential to bringing up the right hitter at the right time in the game.  Today’s game is so specialized with relievers sometimes it’s hard to have all the right hitters on the bench to face a bullpen.  Though it’s always a good idea to have a good power hitter (doubles/home run) on your bench, a good on-base percentage batter, a reliable bunter, and slightly off-topic one excellent fielder as a late inning replacement for that great hitter/subpar fielder when/if you deem necessary.

Speed Kills

There are those games where a home run changes the entire complexion.  Then there are those games where a speed burner simply reaches first base and throws off the entire rhythm of the game for the opposing team.  Get those base stealers and great base runners in your lineup in droves as much as possible.  I like to think of them like wide receivers with great “yards after the catch” ability.  Whenever you can advance base runners without needing to do so via a hit, naturally your odds to score those runners increase quite a bit.

In 1974, Charlie Finley, former owner of the Oakland Athletics signed sprinter Herb Washington to be the official pinch runner.  It wasn’t the greatest idea in the world as Herb wasn’t a baseball player; he was a sprinter from Michigan State.  Herb never had a plate appearance; he had 29 stolen bases that season and 29 runs scored.  These results were marred a bit by the 16 times he was caught stealing.  Yet the Athletics did win the World Series that season, so it wasn’t a total bust by any stretch.

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Here’s a Baseball Classics 2012 Milwaukee Brewers batting order lineup I put together to face strikeout artist 2012 Washington Nationals Stephen Strasburg who doesn’t give up much besides the walk: (top 4 hitters upper row from left to right, followed by bottom 4 hitters)

2012 Brewers Lineup

Note this lineup matches up as well as possible against the mighty Strasburg by further taking advantage of getting on base via the walk and has home run power to provide instant runs.

Naturally even the greatest of baseball lineups like the 1927 deemed “Murderers Row” don’t guarantee a win.  Though of course they sure increase the odds to win.  What are your most effective tips and strategies when building your baseball lineups for your baseball board games play?

Is Your Lineup Giving Up 28 Outs or 27?

Is Your Lineup Giving Up 28 Outs or 27?

Did you know that most Major League Baseball lineups frequently give up ONE FREE OUT to the opposing team per game?  Risky, don’t you think?

In today’s era of MLB, frequently translates to approximately 64% of the time.  And if you essentially copying MLB lineups when playing your tabletop baseball board games you are doing the same.

Baseball Bat and Glove

Naturally when building a lineup, typically the first thought is where to place hitters in the batting order.  After all, the connotation of a lineup is all about the “batting order”, thus hitting better be a key right?  Well sure, though naturally fielding a team with great leather is critical when playing a tabletop baseball board game based on fielding ratings to reduce the risk of giving the other team that 1 extra out.

In 2012, National League teams committed a total of 1661 errors.

((1661 errors / 16 NL teams = 103.8125%) / 162 MLB games per team) = 64%

Let’s examine further to see how 64% of the time a lineup made translates into allowing 1 free out to the other team during a game.  Here are a couple of additional baseline factors to consider.  Hang in there, I will walk you through this, it’s rather fascinating.

There are 27 outs per 9-inning game, per team (barring a game shortened by rainout, etc.) and the average score of a Major League Baseball Game is 5-3.  Using these factors here is a sampling to conservatively project the impact fielding has when building a lineup.  So far so good.  Next I’m going to use some assumptions.

Approximate number of times a ball is fielded per 9 inning game by 1 team

27 outs  * 60% of the outs are fielded by one players to register the out

+ 27 outs * 40% of the outs are fielded by two players to register the out * 2

+ 9 hits * 1.5

+ 5 strikeouts

+ 5 miscellaneous fielding plays (stolen base attempt, pick off attempt, etc.) * 2

66.3     @ times a team fields a ball during a 9 inning game

The model above reflects that a team fields the ball 66.3 times during a game.  When applying an average team’s fielding rating (in today’s MLB era) of .983% it means that typically a team is going to field those plays cleanly 65.17 times during a game.

Sample 9 Inning Game Fielding Model For an MLB Team

66.3   A ball is fielded

– 65.17  Fielded without an error

1.13     Times the ball will not be fielded cleanly

Thus we can say the typical number of errors made per 9-inning game is 1 per team.  Essentially this means that 1 batter on the opposing team will reach base safely that would not have.  Considering the number of average plate appearances in a 9-inning game is 4, this means “awarding” the other team a free out for a batter in their lineup at some point during the game.

Is a player you put in your lineup who lowers your fielding rating be worth it by reaching base at LEAST 1 time during his plate appearances?  And that would merely kind of equate to giving up that extra out.

However wait a minute, because that still doesn’t really tell the story.  The real impact is giving the other team 4 outs in an inning at some point during a game.  Who knows when it will occur until you play?  It’s Russian Roulette with every fielding play.  Doesn’t it typically seem more times than not an error occurs at a crucial time?  Those are the kind that open the proverbial floodgates surrendering that big inning.  Then that 1 extra out looms much larger.

How many games have you watched when your favorite team could have won if they just didn’t extend that one inning by booting the ball?  Besides it turns the lineup over another notch, thus putting the most feared batter in the lineup to come up to the plate an extra time.

I sure have been guilty of building lineups that have quite frankly benched some far better fielding for those far better hitters that are lousy fielders.  The good news is that Major League Baseball players are just that, Major Leaguers.  Thus even the lousy ones are still going to be adequate in most cases.  Naturally even the most elite of fielders commit errors, consequently errors are part of the game.

With all this said, I’m not suggesting to bench your good hitters across the board in favor of a weaker hitters who are superb fielders.  Instead it’s to give additional consideration next time you make lineups playing your favorite tabletop baseball board games.  In so many cases, those great hitters are solid fielders as well, thus making your decision solely around where to place that hitter in your lineup.

By the way, studying the 2012 National League, the team that made the most errors were the Colorado Rockies with 122.  Meanwhile the NL team that committed the least number of errors were the Atlanta Braves with 86.  A whopping difference of 36 errors, I suppose the Rockies staff would agree it wasn’t pretty.  Atlanta went to the playoffs, Colorado got to catch their breath from chasing the ball around as they sat home watching post season play.

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In summary, you should consider that a lineup with an average fielding team will commit 1 error per game 64% of the games you play.  If you field a team with an fielding average that is very high, let’s say .986 or better then you reduce your risk that will happen to less than 1 error per game.

It may not sound like much of a fuss over, but lowering your risk to avoid giving up that extra out just may be the one that saves your team while playing your favorite tabletop baseball board games.

This is where Baseball Classics “traffic highlighting” comes in very handy.  Layout all your Baseball Classics player cards on top of the positions on the field they play.  Look for a sea of green (up arrow) and/or yellow (left arrow) as much as possible across all positions.
Baseball Classics Player Cards

Baseball Classics Player Cards

From the ground up, Baseball Classics baseball game was designed for baseball fans to enjoy a real, yet easy and fast playing experience.  I believed the key to success was centered around the design of our player cards.  The rest of the game design would then flow from the look and feel of our player cards to ensure seamless play throughout.

This post isn’t about comparing Baseball Classics player cards to the many other tabletop baseball board games past and present.  We leave that up to you.  Instead, this article will explain and highlight the design of our player cards in order to provide a next generation, new and fun baseball game play perspective.  It’s like finally seeing your favorite music artist perform in concert after years of listening to their music.  The next time you listen to their music there is a renewed sense of appreciation.  That is our goal with this post for you.

Just like a user interface is valuable to a computer software user, player card design is equally as important to tabletop baseball board game fans.  Consider when the first generation Apple iPhone hit the market.  Not only was Apple not known for producing cell phones, they had no confidence from the industry being able to deliver a great cell phone that would take the world by storm.  Mega computer industry giants like Microsoft and others did not take them seriously at all prior to launch.  However after one glance at the iPhone and user interface, it won over major mind and market share beyond the wildest dreams of the industry in record numbers.  Today, Apple still receives the sincerest form of flattery.  How many other cell phones have you seen since the revolution of the iPhone with that familiar grid of user friendly interface?  It easily replaced the popular flip phone and Blackberry which were dominating at the time and set the standard.

The 5 Second Rule

If there is one thing we all know about any tabletop board game, the easier it is to play, the wider the adoption of play.  Baseball Classics cards are designed so that anyone could tell how to play in 5 seconds or less!  Sure there are sophisticated formulas that make up each card’s results and ratings, yet we wanted each card to be a canvas graphically painting them simply and elegantly as possible.  Baseball is a game for the masses to enjoy due to it’s easy look and feel.  Baseball Classics embraced that very premise.

Naturally the centerpiece of any baseball game player card are the type of possible results and how to achieve them.  I chose common household six-sided dice for our system, this was a key decision.  It was very interesting when testing out the initial design of play with 3 six-sided dice.  Notably how very smart people were a bit challenged in terms of time it took to add up certain combinations.  I liked that, good exercise for the brain.

For a good understanding on the odds to roll a result from our Baseball Classics player cards, check out the graphic to the right leveraging traffic highlighting with red, yellow, and green to reflect the probability of dice rolls using 3 six-sided dice.  25% of the time a roll of 10 or 11 will come up compared to less than 19% of the time any these rolls of 3, 4, 5, 6, 15, 16, 17, or 18 will come up.  The next time you look at a Baseball Classics player card, note these probabilities when making your line ups.

Next to each dice roll possibility of 3 through 18 on the actual player cards are the results for each roll based on the players actual statistics framed right next door.  In one glance not only could you tell how the player card was able to perform based on our “traffic highlighting”, but if you were more of a numbers person the stats were right there for the taking too.  This is a nice side-by-side vantage point for the Baseball Classics baseball game fan to get a very good feel for what they could expect from a player visually and statistically.

Name, Rank, and File

The next portion of the Baseball Classics player card design I focused on was the top quarter.  Unless you’re familiar with every MLB player, first I decided it was important to put an icon in the upper right hand corner of each card opposite of the name so anyone could quickly see if they had a position player’s batting card or a pitcher’s card.  With so many cards on a team let alone season, sorting through them to organize team cards is easier to do.

I chose a binary die roll of 0 (zero) to the pitcher’s card because it’s the shape of a baseball and 1 (one) for the batter’s card because it’s the shape of a baseball bat with hopes that would make it easier for our fans to remember.

Next was the decision to use traffic-highlighted triangles to indicate the strength or weakness of each players bunting, base stealing, base running, and fielding.  They provide a strong dual indicator with the combination of arrow direction and color representation.

This is important for the Baseball Classics fan when building line-ups and organizing their player bench and pitching staff to save time and easily identify which players they want to play when and where.  Thus being able to spend more time on game play and making managing decisions along the way.

I Was Told There Would Be No Math

What about the formulas to generate the Baseball Classics player cards?  Naturally this is the secret sauce behind generating any baseball game’s player cards.  It ‘s unlikely any tabletop baseball board game uses the same calculations to generate results for their player cards.  Behind each result and rating on our Baseball Classics player cards, there are math algorithms processing the statistics.

Believe it or not, we used to generate the results in a separate file then manually key them into the player card template for print.  This was automated a long time ago.  Today, once we have the statistics gathered from Baseball Almanac it takes only few seconds to generate 24 Baseball Classics MLB full team players cards with results and ratings in full color.

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One of the more popular questions we receive from those new to Baseball Classics is what type of card stock do we use to manufacture the player cards?  We use a high quality 110 pound white card stock.  Each player card team sheet is printed using a color laser printer before being processed to cut, sort, and bind.  Baseball Classics player cards dimensions are @ 3 1/4″ x 2 1/4″.

If you ever want a sample Baseball Classics MLB team PDF file to check out, post to this Blog with your request and we will email it to you.  Choose any Major League Baseball Team from 1901 to present!  Spread the word!

Game That Inspired Baseball Classics

Game That Inspired Baseball Classics

It was a sunny, summer Saturday morning in the early 1970’s and for some reason that day I slept in well past my usual early morning wake up time.  I woke up to the feeling of a package that just arrived, one of my family members gently placed at the foot of my bed.  I laid still and didn’t peek, and continued that way for several minutes after they quietly left.

I knew what it was and to this day still remember that special feeling one gets when something arrives they have been looking forward to.  For a moment if felt like Christmas morning.  When I opened my eyes, there it was, a long rectangular-shaped cardboard box containing the game I ordered and had been anxiously awaiting.

The tabletop baseball board game that was an inspiration of Baseball Classics

After carefully opening up the box, I was not disappointed one bit.  There it was, a game with the throwback feel and yet new design, different from all the heavily text-based others.  Colorful and had the greatest MLB players of all-time, the very best through the early 1970’s.  16 teams, featuring their best franchise players including my all-time favorites Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle, though so many more.  As well as other’s I never heard of before and came to appreciate like Rudy York, Eddie Joost, and Three Finger Mordecai Brown to name a few.  It wasn’t long before I came to know them based on their contributions once I started playing game after game rotating through these 16 teams of greatness across the eras.

I played Strat-o-matic, SherCo, APBA, and so many others that were great fun, but this game, now this was special.  This was Sports Illustrated All-Time All-Star Baseball Game, it was released in 1973, I was hooked.  It was the inspiration behind Baseball Classics.  Sadly, there was never to be any revised editions in subsequent years.  The game can be found for purchase from time to time on sites such as eBay, typically ranging from $100 to well over $200 or far more depending on the condition.

When I designed Baseball Classics, this was the game that came to the forefront of my mind.  It had a great combination of one I thought was the most fun to play, easiest to play, fastest to play, minimum charts, had MLB greats across the eras, realistic, and accurate.  This is a combination I embraced and built the Baseball Classics business model around.

Game Design

Sports Illustrated All-Time All-Star Baseball Game Player Sheets

The SI All-Time All-Star baseball game had a new design, full color team sheets compared to the black and white, plain font lettering of other games.  Everything from batting stance, batting vs. a lefty or righty pitcher, bunting, and the result of an at bat and plays such as stealing, base

Matrix Edition Card

running, etc., all color-coded.  Baseball Classics eventually adopted full color-coding, we like to call “traffic highlighting”, for all player card ratings (bunting, base stealing, base running, fielding) results, and the Play Chart.  This enhances not only the look and feel of the game, but also makes it easier and faster to glance through your players to see which ones are strong in the areas you’re looking for as you build and/or insert into your lineup and pitching.

Upon showing a Baseball Classics to a friend one day to get his opinion, he said “In 5 seconds you can tell how to play!”.  Formerly, Baseball Classics carried the Matrix Edition, some may find it resembled the SI game player look and feel most.

Perhaps those familiar with SI may have another point of view, but in mine their game gives that design feeling of throwback and modern baseball.  Providing All-Time All-Time Star players from yester year such as Ty Cobb and up to the early 1970’s with players like Reggie Jackson along with their mostly black and white game box cover gave it such such charisma.  The Baseball Classics name and logo were designed to embrace both the throwback and modern eras MLB; we hope you feel they do.

Play Any Major League Baseball Team

This is another area of the game that truly inspired our offering any Major League Baseball season or team from 1901 to present!  The SI game featured the greatest players of all-time, some spanning into the late 1800’s like Honus Wagner for example.  Naturally, Baseball is such a historic icon with many fans appreciating the glory of yesterday we were surely wanting to provide access to all these great teams and players as well.

From the beginning, Baseball Classics offered not just the All-Time greats, but any MLB seasons and individual teams dating back from 1901.  Our most popular season is always the current season available.  Next would be seasons and teams from the 1960’s and 1970’s.  However it is probably not a surprise that so many other seasons and teams are purchased including 1901.  We have had many requests to offer Negro League, Minor League, and the Federal League of which we have noted.  Yet, with over 100 MLB seasons to supply, we have plenty to focus on and provide for our customers.  I feel it is important to serve the mass of baseball fans and their variety in taste to ensure they can manage all the MLB teams and players they want.

David S. Neft and Richard M. CohenThe best benefit I enjoyed when playing SI’s game was learning about cool new players I never heard of.   Their performance piqued my interest, I wanted to them research them further.  It steered me to books like the Baseball Encyclopedia and The Sports Encyclopedia of Baseball by David Neft and Richard Cohen.  The first one I purchased of the latter was the 1985 edition.  Since the SI game didn’t provide player stats, I was curious to see just what was behind their colorful player ratings.  The 1986,1987, and 1988 editions of Baseball Classics used stats from the aforementioned books.  There are many other baseball books that I have read and flipped through to gain more insight into these older ball players well before my time.  One I keep handy is Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Lineups.  It’s one of my personal favorites to learn about so many players across the MLB eras, an easy, insightful, and enjoyable read.

Game Play

SI is easy and fast to play!  It is a straight dice roll that refers to either the batter or pitcher.  The overwhelming majority of tabletop baseball board game fans want to be able to crank out a good number of games played in a relatively short period of time.  With SI, I typically was able to get 3 to 4 games played within an hour.  A perfect pace for making some good progress towards a slate of games and if one created standings, say National League and American League teams (8 each), then some movement in the standings too would be had in that time.  Baseball Classics was designed from the ground up with player results that could garnered quickly.  Over the years we updated our formulas and player cards to ensure very high accuracy.

SI player results consisted of lefty and righty for the batters, all within an easy view for comparison to see if you should bench or play someone based on the pitcher they are opposing.  Though the game didn’t account the same for pitcher’s lefty vs. righty results, it was still good enough.  I considered this righty and lefty results for player cards in Baseball Classics, though after researching it decided it was not a wise idea.  Here’s why:

  1. Frankly, though for some players there were some clear differentiation when they faced a lefty or righty, the overwhelming majority of the players didn’t have that much of a difference to split their results out.
  2. Our player card design is our marquee; it would have been too disruptive towards the look and feel, hence potentially sacrificing game play ease and speed.
  3. Statistics for lefty vs. righty are not easy to get, especially far back and for pitchers; this matters a lot when offering any MLB team or season from 1901 to present.
  4. Statistics for players are typically listed as the sum of their results and widely discussed that way.  For example, when was the last time you heard or had a conversation with someone when speaking of Hank Aaron’s career home run total in terms of how many were hit off lefty vs. righty?  Instead most everyone simply states 755 homers.
  5. Since most all stats are the sum of a player’s performance, it already represents their lefty vs. righty total, so assuming a batter faced the same pitcher the same number of plate appearances, the results should be within an acceptable margin.

I respect the baseball purest that would still only want to play a tabletop baseball board game that offers lefty vs. righty game play ratings.  However I stand behind the level of high accuracy and fast, easy playability being a fundamental combination requirement not to be sacrificed.

The play charts in SI are easy to read, thus simple to follow and keep the game flow going.  They embraced the same great color-coding consistency that really made it smooth to play.  SI used the same dice for at bat results as play results such as base stealing and then referring to the chart was only necessary when a play beyond the at bat occurred.  This really keeps the pace of game play on track and yet still embraces the drama of play.  Baseball Classics incorporates the same theme throughout to seamlessly move from player card results look and feel to looking up play results in a simple to read condensed chart sporting the same look.  Keeping it simple, yet effective, that’s our policy and I tip my baseball hat to games like SI that deliver on this.

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In conclusion, I would be so appreciative to hear from those who have played Sports Illustrated All-Time All-Star Baseball sharing your favorite memories, what you love about it, and/or any inspiration from it you would care to share in the comments.  I always brought mine with me on our family summer vacations throughout the USA, so it was well traveled and made the car trips go by fast and inspired a new game the next decade named Baseball Classics for all to play and enjoy.