Monday, February 19, 2018

2018 Yankees aren't just built to break records. They're built to break windows-Mike Lupica, NY Daily News

2/18/18, "Yankees are team to watch but Astros are still the ones to beat in 2018," Mike Lupica, NY Daily News, W. Palm Beach

1/28/18, Stanton and Judge at BBWAA dinner, AP

"The Yankees are the team to watch this season in baseball, without question. Are you kidding? They’ve got All Rise Judge, who finished second in the MVP voting in the American League and hit 51 home runs, and even hit some balls at the Home Run Derby in Miami that have just now come down in Georgia someplace. The Yankees now have Giancarlo Stanton, who won the MVP award in the National League and hit 59 home runs in Miami. And they’ve still got Gary Sanchez. They aren’t just built to break records. They’re built to break windows."

Sun., 1/28/2018, "New teammates in NY: Judge, Stanton honored," MLB.com, At New York Baseball Writers Dinner



Stumbleupon StumbleUpon

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

'Silly Goose: Mariano Rivera and the myth of the 7-out Save,' Baseball Prospectus guest author Kevin Baker, 10/31/2011. Fact Checking Goose Gossage: The 'thrill' of his coming in with bases loaded...was limited to the other team's dugout

Kevin Baker's 10/31/2011 BP article addresses Gossage boilerplate. Gossage's twelve+ year long smear campaign against Mariano Rivera has become a second career for him. Until Feb. 2018, the Yankees provided Gossage with podium and microphone to do his bashing.
Mariano Rivera
Goose Gossage

10/31/2011, "Silly Goose: Mariano Rivera and the Myth of the Seven-Out Save," Kevin Baker, Guest at Baseball Prospectus, "Baseball ProGuestUs." (Rivera retired after the 2013 season)

"I used to love watching Goose Gossage pitch. With that wonderful rising fastball he was one of the best examples ever of the pure power game....

That’s why I was happy to see him elected to the Hall of Fame, an honor he heartily deserved. Gossage’s approach to the Hall was as straightforward as his pitching style. He campaigned actively by pointing out how much harder relief pitchers were worked back in his day than now, and how much more difficult it was to run up impressive save totals.

His points were well-taken, and now that he’s in the Hall…
  • I wish he would shut up.
Over the last few years, the Goose’s advocacy for the pitchers of his era has turned more and more into carping about the closers of today, and especially Mariano Rivera. This is usually followed by some boilerplate about what a great competitor Rivera is, apples and oranges, blah blah blah. But more and more, it’s become downright pissy. Worse yet, it’s begun to influence those highly
  • impressionable young minds we call sportswriters and broadcasters.
“…when I pitched the ninth inning to save a three-run lead, coming in with no one on base, I felt guilty. I would go home and be embarrassed,” Gossage told Fox Sports online columnist Greg Couch last month. “Rivera is a great pitcher,
  • but what he’s doing is easy. It really is.”
Easy, huh?

Let’s have a quick show of (liver-spotted) hands: What springs to mind when you hear Goose Gossage talking about how “easy” it is to get through an inning without giving up three runs?
George Brett hitting a three-run homer into the upper deck of Yankee Stadium to clinch the 1980 ALCS for the Royals? Yes, thank you, Yankees fans!

Can I get an “amen” from the Padres fans out there? Remember Kirk Gibson going deep to wrap up the 1984 World Series for the Tigers with a three-run blast…the inning after Lance Parrish
  • had already homered off Gossage? You stay classy, San Diego!
That’s right, Rich Gossage’s two most famous moments in postseason history consist of him
  • surrendering mammoth, three-run homers.
But wait, that’s not really fair. Sure, it wasn’t strictly the postseason, but it was Goose Gossage out there on the mound saving the “Bucky Dent game,” the 1978 playoff between the Yankees and the Red Sox.

In that game, the Goose was actually given a three-run lead at one point…and barely survived, surrendering hits or walks to six of the last eleven Red Sox he faced. Save for a terrific head fake by Lou Piniella in right field,
  • Boston would probably have tied the game in the ninth.
Not so easy, holding on to a three-run lead.

Unfortunately, thanks to Goose, Fox’s Greg Couch joined all too many commentators in
  • damning The Great One’s record-breaking 603 saves with faint praise. [Rivera ended his career with 652 regular season saves in 1283.2 innings, 2.21 ERA, and 42 post season saves in 141 innings, .70 ERA. (Gossage post season ERA is 2.87). Rivera's 141 post season innings equate to 2 additional years of regular season relief pitching @ 70 IP per year. The equivalent two additional years of pitching are sandwiched into the regular season years. No stat exists to reflect this durability]
Couch claims that he doesn’t want “to doubt the greatness of Rivera,” but that there is “no way of knowing” if he is the greatest closer ever, due to the faulty, “fabricated” statistic that is the “save.” 

What would be a better one?

Well, Couch quotes approvingly a definition that’s been bandied about a lot recently. That is, a save of “seven outs or more”—or over two innings. Goose Gossage has 52 of these in the regular season, he informs us; Mariano Rivera…one, Trevor Hoffman, two. Optimally, what a real closer does, according to Couch and Goose, is to “come in during the
  • seventh inning, bases loaded, one-run lead.”
“I used to love that,” says Gossage. “They used to use and abuse us, but think of the pressure. You couldn’t even let them put the ball in play.”

I’m sorry, but just when did we start handing out style points for degree of difficulty? This is baseball, not gymnastics or figure skating. The idea is to win. If Mr. Couch covered music, would he be sneering, “Nice concerto, Mr. Heifetz. But let’s see you play it while crossing a high wire—riding a tricycle?”

I’ll concede that there are plenty of problems with the current save statistic. And some day, in baseball’s equivalent of punctuated equilibrium, a manager will climb out of the antediluvian ooze and try using his best relief pitcher in the most critical moment of the game, whether or not that’s in the ninth inning. (Although this is expecting a lot of prescience from the poor manager
  • and it still leaves that pesky ninth for someone to get through.)
But what the record shows is not that Mariano Rivera should be used more like Goose Gossage.
  • It’s that Goose Gossage should’ve been used more like Mariano Rivera.
The basic idea here is that a relief pitcher is a weapon, and like all weapons, it makes sense to use it as wisely and efficiently as possible. Someone—I think it was Roger Angell—compared the closer to the cavalry of Napoleonic era warfare, designed not to make foolhardy frontal assaults, but to exploit breaches in the line and turn an opening into a rout. I think that’s a pretty fair analogy. And when it comes right down to it, the weapon that was Goose Gossage was all
  • too often sent charging into the guns, in acts of idiotic bravado.
Let’s examine first the mythology of the seven-out save—we’ll call it a “Supersave.”

Why seven outs and not, say, six, or nine? The whole idea seems at least as arbitrary and fabricated as the original save stat. For that matter, Gossage’s 52 Supersaves become a lot less impressive when you take into account the fact that he was a major-league pitcher for 22 seasons, and a reliever for 21 of them.

Thanks to the brilliant statistical work of Baseball Prospectus’ own Bradley Ankrom, we can report that the Goose was in fact only the master of the extended save
  • for a few seasons,
  • most of them near the beginning of that very long career.
He was at his best in 1975 when, as a 24-year-old hurler for a poor White Sox team, he converted 11 of 13 Supersave opportunities, throwing 141.2 innings. After flopping as a starter for the Sox the following year, he came back in 1977 to convert seven of nine Supersave chances, while throwing 133 innings.

Pretty spectacular. But this was clearly a young man’s game, and the Goose would not last at it. In 1978, at age 27, Gossage racked up six more Supersaves—but also blew six such chances. He had only two more good years at this sort of work—1980, when he converted nine of 11, and 1984, when he was six of seven.

After that, for the last nine years of his career, he racked up exactly four more saves of seven outs or more, while blowing two. Nor was the save rule always unkind to him; one of these “Supersaves” consisted of pitching four innings—
  • beginning with an eight-run lead.
At the same time, the Goose would, according to my count, blow 25 Supersaves—or about one-third of all his opportunities, a ratio that would be
  • unacceptable to most teams today.
Yet this was pretty much in keeping with Gossage’s entire career record. Looking it over—thanks again to Mr. Ankrom’s industry—the first thing that jumps out at you is
  • just how many games
  • Goose Gossage managed to lose,
  • compared to all leading closers today.
Even in 1977-78, two of his very best years, spent pitching for a hard-hitting Pirates club that won 96 games and a World Champion Yankees team, he lost a total of 20 games coming out of the pen,
  • and blew 22 saves—in other words, almost one-third
of the 129 total games those two teams lost. Nor was this an anomaly. Throughout his career—spent largely with winning clubs—Gossage ran up double figures in blown saves in six of the 13 seasons when he was either his team’s primary closer or at least shared the role.

Mariano Rivera, by contrast, has never lost more than six games in any one season, in his 15 straight years as the Yankees’ closer and another as their set-up man. He has blown more than six saves only once, in 1997, his first year as a closer, when he gave it up nine times.

It’s a big reason why Mo’s failures are so memorable. He reached almost ridiculous heights of efficiency in 2008 and 2009, blowing one and two saves, respectively, out of a total of 86 opportunities. It’s why his lifetime percentage of saves is a mind-blowing, all-time high of 90 percent,
  • while Gossage’s is only 73.5 percent.
Even in his heyday, the Goose routinely squandered between a quarter and a third of his save opportunities. In 1977, he managed to save only 72 percent of the leads he was sent in to preserve.
  • In 1978, just 69 percent,
  • in 1982, only about 77 percent;
  • 1983, 63 percent;
  • 1984, 69 percent;
  • 1986, 66 percent,
  • 1987, 65 percent;
  • 1988, 56.5 percent…
after which even unevolved managers decided they’d just as soon find more novel ways to lose games.  

Goose’s best years in terms of the percentages of games he would win and save out of the pen? Well, unsurprisingly, these tended to be in the seasons when he was used the most judiciously, if only by accident.

Limited to 36 appearances and 58.1 innings in 1979, when Cliff Johnson broke his thumb in a showerroom brawl, the Goose saved a career-high 90 percent of his 21 save opportunities. In 1981, limited to just 32 appearances and 46.2 innings by an owners’ lockout, he was nearly untouchable, saving 87 percent of his opportunities (20 of 23), losing only two games, surrendering just 22 hits, two home runs, and 14 walks, and compiling an ERA of 0.77.

You’d think somebody would have noticed just how much better the Goose did with more rest, and someone did—namely Dick Howser, the most perspicacious of all Gossage’s managers during this period. Howser limited him to “just” 99 innings in 1980, a full season…in which the Goose went 6-2 and saved 33 of 37 games, including nine Supersaves.

Unfortunately for Gossage and the Yankees, Howser was fired after that one season (in no small part because of Goose’s insistence that he could throw a fastball past George Brett, a concept he never would rid himself of). Then in his thirties, the Goose was once again given over to the care and maintenance of managers who refused to make much allowance for his age or condition.

I thought I remembered him being used in a particularly egregious fashion in 1983, which marked one of Billy Martin’s later and uglier incarnations as Yankees manager. Thanks once more to Bradley Ankrom, I was able to check if this was really so. Sure enough, it was.

To be sure, Gossage’s overall innings totals remained more limited. But day to day, his use seemed more mindless than ever. Here, for instance, was the Goose’s first appearance: entering the second game of the season with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning and the Yankees trailing Seattle, 6-2.

Why, exactly? To beat the spread? Because Martin had dinner reservations at the Space Needle?
This set a pattern. Gossage would enter seven more games that year with his team trailing in the seventh inning or later, four of which they were losing by more than one run. Only once would they rally to win.

If there ever was a manager willing to indulge a pitcher’s desire to get out on the mound and stay there, it was Billy Martin. Throughout 1983, Gossage—now 32 years old—would
  • attempt six more Supersaves but convert only one of them.
It wasn’t that Goose was finished, or close to it. He still threw hard, still allowed just 82 hits and 25 walks in 87.1 innings; still struck out 90, won 13 games, and saved 22 more while compiling a 2.27 ERA. But he did blow 13 savesin a year the Yankees finished seven games out of first—
  • and clearly seemed less able to get outs when he wanted them.
This leads us to the other part of Gossage and Couch’s blather about what a “real” save should look like. That is, how “thrilled” Goose always was to come in with runners on base, particularly “bases loaded in the seventh inning.”

Throughout that 1983 season, it struck me that Gossage—now an older pitcher who probably required more time to get ready—gave up more hits and walks than ever to the first batter or two he faced, then seemed to settle down. Yet Martin almost never seemed to use him to start an inning.

The record confirms this, too. Of his 57 appearances in 1983, just four of them started an inning. In all but four of these, there was already at least one man on base. As for the “thrill” of coming in with the bases loadedit was limited to the other team’s dugout. Goose faced that situation exactly four times all year
  • and every time, he surrendered hits that scored one or two runs.
Over the entire course of his career, Gossage would enter regular-season games with the bases loaded 48 times—far more than any closer, or even set-up man, is likely to do today. In those games he performed well…but slightly worse than he did in the rest of his appearances, compiling 16 saves and a win
  • but also blowing eight saves.
The whole notion of using Gossage this way in the first place is baffling. Why limit your big power pitcher by constantly making him pitch out of the stretch? Never mind pitch counts; do you really have so little idea of when your starter (or another reliever) is running out of steam?

Goose coming in mid-inning in 1983 suffered all five of his losses and all 13 of his blown saves, compiling a 2.32 ERA. His four appearances starting an inning are too small to be statistically meaningful, but it is interesting to note that while he gave up five hits and two walks in those six innings, he surrendered just one run and saved a game.

The moral here is, take care of your tools—or your weapons—and they’ll take care of you. “Abused,” as he claimed, for most of his career, Goose was in serious decline as a relief pitcher by his early thirtieswhereas Mariano continues as one of the very best relievers
  • in the game at 42.
The abuse of the Goose was particularly unnecessary when you consider the fact that he played most of his career with very capable bullpen mates—Kent Tekulve and Terry Forster on the Pirates; Dick Tidrow, Sparky Lyle, Ron Davis, and Dave Righetti on the Yankees; Craig Lefferts on the Padres, etc.

It wasn’t a case of desperate managers trying to eke out an extra win with no one else to turn to. Goose and Couch assert that when Gossage appeared on the scene, “the bullpen was just a junk pile of washed-up starters who couldn’t throw nine innings anymore, or guys who weren’t quite good enough to start.”
  • But like so much else of which they speak, it ain’t necessarily so.
Managers had been dabbling intermittently with the idea of specialty relievers since the days of John McGraw, and by the time Goose Gossage came up in 1972, there had been quite a few good ones.  

That is, men who were outstanding pitchers, expected from an early age to throw mostly or solely in relief: Joe Page, Hoyt Wilhelm, Clem Labine, Ryne Duren, Elroy Face, Lindy McDaniel, Dick Radatz, Luis Arroyo, Ron Perranoski, Pedro Ramos, Phil Regan, Wayne Granger, Clay Carroll, Dave Guisti, Tug McGraw, Sparky Lyle, Rollie Fingers, to name just a few.

These closers threw different pitches and had different backgrounds, but they all had one thing in common: either they burned out after a few wildly successful seasons, or they
  • suffered mysterious “off years” throughout their careers. 
The answer to the “mystery” was, of course, that they were overworked. Managers were so thrilled by this new weapon, one that would preserve their every lead—or so it seemed—that they couldn’t help themselves from overusing it.

“Never save a pitcher for tomorrow. Tomorrow it might rain,” was Leo Durocher’s famous adage, and it became their watchword, even though it was never supposed to apply to relievers throwing on a daily basis.

Goose Gossage had enough arm strength, enough bulk, and enough mental toughness to endure much longer than this generation of abused pitchers, and he deserves all the accolades he’s won. But too often, his remarkable gifts were wasted—the baseball equivalent of blindly throwing cavalry at artillery batteries (a tactic that would be immortalized as, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”).

The very idea of a relief pitcher is that of someone who has one extraordinary pitch—and one only. If they have more, they are being wasted as a reliever and should be moved into the starting rotation. Overusing a reliever not only weakens his arm over the long run of the season or his career, it also provides hitters with the opportunity to adjust to his specialty pitch—and given enough opportunities, at least in the same game, major-league hitters will adjust to any pitch you can throw.

Here’s one more statistic to throw the trade-off between save and Supersave into full relief: over the course of his career, Goose Gossage threw some 600 more innings than Mariano Rivera (although 224 of these came in Goose’s one season used almost exclusively as a starter, while Rivera threw only 67.1 in 1995, when the Yanks gave him 10 starts).

However, by the year he turned 35, Gossage was throwing fewer innings per season than Rivera was for every year he was the same age. And throughout their respective careers,
  • Mo almost always logged more appearances.
So the cost of Goose’s Supersaves was more blown saves, fewer appearances, and a foreshortened career. Tell me again: Why is it better to have an athlete try to do something he can’t do as well when he overextends himself, especially when that something makes him
  • less available to his team and less effective over the course of his career?
Still, even if you could convince Couch and Gossage that it’s infinitely more rational to use relievers the way they are used today, rather than in romantic times of yore, they would argue that this only confirms Goose’s opinion that he was “abused” by his managers. It doesn’t answer the main thing they claim to want to know,
  • which is: Who’s better? Who’s the best?
In this sense, Couch is right—it’s arguing apples and oranges, and ultimately unknowable.

To wonder if Mariano could have carried Goose’s old pitching load without breaking down is about as useful as wondering if Roy Halladay could have pitched four hundred innings a year, the way Joe McGinnity and Happy Jack Chesbro did over a hundred years ago. (The answer is…yes, probably, if you started all the games in the late afternoon and handed Mr. Halladay a ball he could spit on, rub any sort of gunk on, and not replace until it had become a wobbly, soggy, gray mess.)  

Certainly, Rivera doesn’t have Gossage’s bulk…although as a young set-up man back in 1996, he did throw 107 innings, firing almost entirely fastballs that moved as much as the Goose’s ever did."...

[Ed. note: In 1996, Rivera threw 107.2 innings in regular season and 14.1 innings in post season for a total of 122 innings that year. In the 1996 World Series, he was used in 4 of the 6 games including 3 days in a row, Oct. 21, 22, and 23. In game 6 on Oct. 26, Rivera provided two scoreless innings, the 7th and 8th, his 121st and 122nd innings in 1996, entering with the score Yankees 3, Braves 1. Wetteland pitched the 9th, gave up one run, the final score Yankees 3, Braves 2.]

(continuing): "Could Mo have kept up that pace year in and year out, even with his famous cutter? Who knows? Gossage certainly didn’t; his effectiveness falling off as dramatically
  • as his yearly innings by his early-to-mid thirties.
Of course, what Couch and Gossage are driving at is how good Goose would have been in the modern era of relief pitching, free to just come in at the start of the ninth, with no one on base. I suspect he would have been spectacularly successful…
  • although again, who knows?
Rivera has pitched, after all, almost entirely in an era of bandbox ballparks and souped-up sluggers. While it would not surprise me to learn that any ballplayer today has used performance-enhancing drugs, it seems unlikely that Mo has ever done so, considering the course of his career, his body type, his declining velocity over the years, and his religious convictions.

This would mean that he has played his entire career with a handicap unlike anything that Goose was ever subjected to. Would a fastball pitcher with a wild streak, stubbornly maintaining that he could throw his ball past anyone, anytime, really have fared so well in an age of steroidal hitters who specialize in working pitch counts? Just how many of all those impressive Gossage innings included popping up bandy-legged shortstops on the first pitch, or getting batters to fly out to the far reaches of stadiums built mainly for football?

Maybe Gossage would’ve made adjustments. The great ones usually do…although it’s hard not to forget the famous footage of the Goose talking Dick Williams out of making him walk Kirk Gibson intentionally in the eighth inning of that 1984 World Series finale, while over in the other dugout,
  • Team be damned—it was all about how hard the Goose could throw.
There is one further indication of how Mariano Rivera might have fared in the Gossage era, and that’s his prodigious postseason record. During the regular season, along with those 603 saves, Mo has a 75-57 record and a lifetime ERA of 2.21—the best ever compiled in the live-ball era, depending on how you want to measure it—along with just 934 hits and 275 walks in 1,211.1 innings, and 1,111 strikeouts, figures so gaudy they’re almost absurd.

But in his postseason appearances, which by now have amounted to an extra season, or maybe two seasons, [it does amount to two extra seasons-at 70IP per season, total of 141 innings] of pitching, Rivera is even better…much better. Against the best teams in baseball, with everything at stake, he’s run up an 8-1 record, with 42 saves in 47 attempts, allowing 21 walks and 81 hits against 110 strikeouts
  • in 141 innings and compiling an ERA of 0.70.
Yet the most salient fact about all those playoff games is how dramatically Rivera changed his usual pitching habits in them.

You want seven outs? Mariano has provided four such appearances in the postseason; in none of them did he allow a run or an inherited runner to score. They included a couple of the most memorable playoff games in history; his coming out, a 3.1-inning victory over Seattle in the 1995 American League Division Series, and the three unforgettable innings he pitched to win the Aaron Boone game” against Boston in
  • the ALCS finale in 2003.
You want two-inning appearances? Rivera has run up 29 of those in the postseason, garnering four wins, 14 saves, and three holds.

You want more than one inning? Mo has another 24 one-inning-plus playoff appearances to his credit, earning another 16 saves and a hold.

In other words, 57 of Rivera’s 96 playoff appearances have been for more than one inning. In them, he has run up half of his
  • eight postseason wins and
almost three-quarters of his 42 postseason saves. 

You want inherited runners? In nearly a third of his playoff appearances—30 out of 96—Rivera has entered the game with runners on base; a total of 48 of them,
  • 14 of them on second, 11 on third.
He has prevented all but eight of them—or one-sixth—from scoring. 

And yes, he’s come into postseason games with the bases loaded. He did it in his first year in the playoffs against Seattle, age 25, and he did it just this fall, in the ALDS against Detroit, age nearly 42.
  • In each case, he struck out the next batter to end the inning.
Gossage’s record in the playoffs, while much more abbreviated, is also outstanding. In 19 appearances, he had two wins and eight saves, with an ERA of 2.87, and 21 hits, 10 walks, and 29 strikeouts in 31.1 innings. He inherited runners on six different occasions, ten in all, and allowed only one to score. In 1981, easily his best postseason, the well-rested Goose did indeed come into the seventh inning of a game the Yankees were winning 1-0, in the second game of the special ALDS that year, and retired Robin Yount and Cecil Cooper in a bravura performance.

That was the only time he ever did it. But he also managed to blow three of eleven save opportunities in his postseason career, as well as effectively taking San Diego out of that last game of the 1984 World Series. In 1980, he wouldn’t have even had to face George Brett had he not given up a two-out single to Royals’ shortstop U.L. Washington (who’s “embarrassed” now?).

Yet somehow these blips have dropped from most sportswriters’ memories, while one after another
  • felt obliged to bring up the fact that Rivera “had his failures in the postseason,
  • almost as if he were the Greg Norman of relief pitching.
It’s instructive to take a look at those “failures.” Mariano has blown all of five saves in the postseason. One of these was Sandy Alomar’s famous, opposite-field home run in the 1997 ALDS that barely cleared the right-field fence—
  • and only tied Game Five of that series.
One was the even more famous Yankees meltdown in the seventh game of the 2001 World Series, where Mo—after pitching a scoreless eighth inningwas victimized more by the fielding of himself and his teammates than his pitching (and when Joe Torre foolishly decided to move his infield in, behind a pitcher who specialized in weak pop-ups to the near outfield).

The other three came within a space of 13 days in the 2004 playoffs, after a season in which Rivera had set career marks in appearances and saves, with 69 and 53, respectively. In the midst of this period,
  • he had to make a hurried flight to Panama and back to deal with the tragic death of his cousins in a pool accident.
Nonetheless, Joe “Breaker of Pitchers” Torre decided to call on Rivera seven times in this span, including three two-inning stints and three more of five or six outs. One of the blown saves was when Rivera gave up the tying runs to the Twins in the ALDS, in a game the Yanks later won in extra innings.

The other two, of course, came against Boston. One was Game Five of the ALCS, in which Mo gave up a sacrifice fly to tie the game after coming in men on first and third—something that tells you most of what you need to know about the problems with the save statistic. The other was the famous “Dave Roberts game”
  • although here again, Rivera,
  • in his second inning of work, gave up the tying but not the winning run.
In other words, in 96 tries, Mariano River has never given up an earned run that lost a ballgame in the postseason. Used as he was “supposed” to be used—that is, the way he was used through most of the season, brought in at the start of the ninth inning—he has never surrendered a lead in he postseason, period. The only postseason contest where Rivera was really even hit hard was Game Two of the 2000 World Series against the Mets when, rushed in to save a floundering Jeff Nelson, he gave up a two-run homer to Jay Payton, and nearly another one to Todd Zeile. The Mets almost broke through—almost.

Throughout his career, Mariano Rivera has been the most brilliant of weapons, a stiletto expertly applied to win a great many ballgames with his one, unhittable pitch. What he has done is unique in the history not just of baseball, but all athletics:

appearing for a decade-and-a-half, only when the game is on the line, and succeeding nine times out of ten in preserving victory.
  • No other athlete in a team sport has ever performed so consistently under pressure.
Yet when jerked out of the security of his usual role and used in a very different role—when his managers have tried to use the stiletto as a meat axe—he has actually picked up his game. Taxed beyond his usual endurance, at the end of a long and wearing season, and against the best teams and hitters in the game
  • he has performed better than ever.
If they want to contribute something, Goose Gossage and Greg Couch should take up the worthy cause of getting some of Goose’s other contemporaries into the Hall with him (Sparky Lyle, anyone?). In trying to denigrate what Mariano Rivera has accomplished,
  • they only make themselves look foolish."
  • Among comments to above article at BP:
10/31/2011, "randolph3030 (17064)"

"Couldn't agree more. I would love to be able to love Goose, but he's such a jerk about Rivera it makes it hard. One big difference between the workloads of the two pitchers is the quality of the batter faced. In the 70s and 80s relatively few hitters were able to punish a pitcher in comparison those of the 90s and 00s. Rivera has been amazing during in an era when middle-infielders hit 30/40/50 homeruns in a season. Most of the SS that Goose faced didn't hit 50 in a career. I never could figure out a proper way to frame a study of results vs. top quality opposition to see who fared better against the best opponents. Results vs. players with OPS+;100? Per season? Per career?"
  • ------------------------
"delatopia (19303) 

To me this article is a perfect example of the difference between daily journalism and reflective, non-deadline sites like BP. Not defending Couch's point of view, the angle he took or the correctness of his pronouncements, which I think are seriously flawed, but the guy probably has to file three or maybe even four columns a week -- a pace I'd never want to operate at. When you've got to fill the maw of a beast that's never full, you're going to go oftentimes for the column that generates the most reaction while also being the easiest to file -- call the loquacious Gossage, do a little research, spend a couple of hours over the keyboard letting beads of blood form on your forehead (was that Red Smith's quote?), and that's one column down. Of the three that your job requires that week. That being said, those columns should be taken apart (as was done most excellently here), if only to correct the record and add a dissenting view in the marketplace of ideas. I don't like that newspapers and websites demand so much of their columnists. But I think it does mitigate the situation somewhat to understand what those guys are up against, and take these things with a grain of salt."


12 related links:


1. 1/6/2006, "It's an insult to me to even be compared to Mariano Rivera, it really is....The job is easy compared to what we used to do. It's apples and oranges." "Gossage beyond compare," Denver Post, Jim Armstrong


2. 1/5/2008, AP--Gossage admits he had it easier than pitchers in the 1990s and 2000s:

"Gossage's strong opinions have not been limited to his own career. He thinks there ought to be some method of denoting in baseball's history books that offense increased in the 1990s and 2000s, partly because of smaller ballparks, tightly wrapped baseballs and a shrinking strike zone." (6th parag. from end). "Goose Gossage hopes Hall of Fame vote provides relief," AP via ESPN


3. 10/25/2001--CNN/SI.com, "Rivera Like Closers of Old," Jacob Luft, and here. 
(The original link to the 2001 CNN/SI piece appears to be dead. I copied it in Jan. 2008)

"In an era when closers often come with a "Handle with Care" label, Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera is a true throwback.

  • Most managers pamper their high-priced closers, bringing them in for the last three outs of a game after an unheralded setup guy wiggles out of the eighth-inning jam.
The inflated save totals end up devaluing the statistic, making a 30-save season seem downright pedestrian, if not easy.
  • But Rivera in October is different.
  • He's Rollie Fingers without the handlebar mustache,
  • Goose Gossage without the showmanship.
Rivera has the most postseason saves in history with 23 [as of Oct. 2001]. And that's not a soft 23, either, with 17 of them demanding more than one inning of work."... 

[Note: Rivera ended his career in 2013 with 42 postseason saves, 8 postseason Wins, and 1 postseason loss. 57 of Rivera's 96 post season appearances from 1995 ALDS through 2011 ALDS were multi-inning. Against the game's best hitters, under the greatest pressure, when most other relief pitchers were resting up to pad the next year's regular season stats.]


4. 2007, Michael Hoban, PhD: "At this point in his career, Mo Rivera is way ahead of the HOF standard and could emerge as the greatest relief pitcher to date." BASEBALL’S BEST: The TRUE Hall of Famers," by Michael Hoban, Ph.D. "Chapter 11, Two Special Categories of Pitchers," "Now, what about the true relief pitchers, that is, those who had very few (or no) starts and spent the bulk of their careers in relief? Is there any way that we can arrive at a fair standard for HOF induction for these pitchers based strictly on the numbers? Of course, we need a tough standard that only the truly outstanding relievers will meet." [This study didn't include post season or All Star].


5. 7/15/2010, "Just How good is Mariano Rivera," by Dr. Michael Hoban, Seamheads.com

Mariano Rivera is the best reliever in baseball history.” [Based on regular season only].


6. 3/6/2010, "Pinstripes Then, Now and Forever," NY Times, Joe Brescia

"A. (Gossage): When I was inducted into the Hall of Fame, I was told that I had 53 saves with seven-plus outs. I was told that Mariano had one and Trevor Hoffman had two. So I think that says it in a nutshell.

Q. (NY Times): How do you think you would do if you were closing games today?

A. It’s hard to say what my statistics would be if I was used for only one inning like these guys. I had longevity. When I got a one-inning save, I felt guilty. Guys would kid me: You’re going to take that? Does that count?”"


Talk to most players, and they will tell you that Rivera has been the most important stripe forming the pinstriped dynasty of the 1990s and 2000s. More than Derek Jeter. More than Andy Pettitte. More than Jorge Posada. More than Bernie Williams.

There is no equal.

"It's a huge psychological advantage when you've got a guy like Mariano and a great setup corps," Gossage said, "to know that it's a six-inning ballgame. You've got the lead, and it's over."

In the 2009 postseason, Boston's Jonathan Papelbon, Minnesota's Joe Nathan, the Angels' Brian Fuentes, Colorado's Huston Street, the Cardinals' Ryan Franklin and the Dodgers' Jonathan Broxton all blew save chances.


He went 5 for 5 [pitched a total of 16 innings in the 2009 post season which didn't end until Nov. 4]. Philadelphia's Brad Lidge, with three saves, was the only other closer without a blemish.

"That is so incredible. To be able to do it at that level, with that pressure. Try to do it in that environment, in New York, with them expecting to go to the playoffs every year," Eckerlsey said.

"He's made differently. There's a calm to him. And because of that, there's a calm to the team.""

8. 9/20/2011, "The Best Reliever of All Time, Mariano Rivera," FanGraphs, Steve Slowinski [Based on regular season only]


9. 4/25/2012, "A lot of times, people don't understand mentally and physically how you have to overextend when you go to the playoffs and World Series," (Dusty) Baker said. "You're still pitching while everybody else is home resting. That's a lot more. And you have less time to recover for next year. You have a shorter winter. Winning takes its toll, big time. There's nothing better than that, but it takes its toll."" "7 closers on DL, showing it's a high-risk job," AP, Joe Kay

10. Joe Maddon: "He's (Rivera) the best closer in the history of our game." NY Times, 5/4/2012

"His (Rivera's) ability to pitch multiple innings in October, the way the pioneering closers did, has made him invaluable."...NY Times

5/4/2012, "For Rivera, Maestro of Ninth, Injury Is Not Final Symphony," NY Times, Tyler Kepner

"Mattingly added: “I’d hate to see him end like this. I’d rather see him come back and pitch than thinking your last view of him is going down on the track.”

Joe Maddon, the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, had a similar reaction.

It upsets me,” Maddon said in St. Petersburg, Fla. “He is a very special person. You know that the moment you meet him. He’s the best closer in the history of our game. You don’t want to see him possibly ending his career shagging a fly in Kansas City. I think he’s the player most responsible for their success over the last 15 years.” 
Unquestionably, as Maddon said, Rivera is the best closer ever. His 2.21 [regular season] career earned run average is the lowest, with a minimum of 1,000 innings, since 1920, and he is even better when the games matter most.

Rivera’s postseason E.R.A. is 0.70. He has not allowed a postseason homer since the 2000 World Series. His (Rivera's) ability to pitch multiple innings in October, the way the pioneering closers did, has made him invaluable."


11. 4/7/2013, Detroit Tigers Manager, Jim Leyland: "I've gone on record, I think he's the best of all time. I'm not looking for arguments with people to compare guys. I know in my time he's been the best that I've seen." "Tigers honor Mo before finale with Yankees," MLB.com, Bryan Hoch


12. In 1984 World Series deciding game 5, 10/14/1984, Gossage wasn't asked to protect a lead, just to keep his Padres team close as it trailed 4-3, but he gave up two home runs to the Tigers, one in the bottom of the 7th (which he entered with one out and bases empty), and one in the bottom of the 8th with two men on--both put on by Gossage. His name wasn't involved in the decision. In the 7th Gossage gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Lance Parrish, making the score 5-3. Gossage came back in the 8th (bases empty), Padres trailing 5-4, facing hitters 9-1-2. He walked the first batter, put a second batter on, and gave up a 3 run home run to his 4th batter, Kirk Gibson making the score 8-4 which became the final score.

He appeared in only two of the five 1984 World Series games, in neither case was he asked to protect a lead and both of which his team lost. His season ended on Oct. 14, 1984 so he didn't experience the "abuse" of shorter off seasons and recovery times that Mo did. For example Rivera's 2009 World Series didn't end until  Nov. 4.




Stumbleupon StumbleUpon

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Curt Schilling's political views have likely hurt him in Baseball Hall of Fame voting-David Schoenfield, ESPN

Stumbleupon StumbleUpon

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

MLB's R.B.I. Baseball 18 will be released in March before 2018 opening day-Polygon, Sarkar

Jan. 22, 2018, "Brand new ballgame: A look at MLB’s in-house development of R.B.I. Baseball 18," polygon.com, by Samit Sarkar

"MLB Advanced Media started out managing websites. Now it’s developing its own video game."

"The New York Yankees weren’t the first sports team to don pinstripes, but the distinctive pattern is as closely associated with the baseball club as it is with boardroom suits. The Yankees’ home uniform, a simple design featuring thin navy stripes on a white background, is an enduring classic: It has barely changed in more than a century.

Basic though it is, the pinstriped design presents some challenges for the makers of baseball video games. In the kind of discussion that happens all the time at studios working on sports titles, the developers of R.B.I. Baseball at Major League Baseball Advanced Media were debating last fall how best to bring the Yankees’ uniform to life in the game. Areas where the pinstripes met a seam didn’t look quite right, so the team fetched some nearby reference material.

“We walked down the hall to Billy, who does all of our merchandise stuff — he manages the shop, he gets all the jerseys through,” recalls Peter Banks, director of marketing for MLBAM’s gaming and virtual reality department.

In this case, “down the hall” meant elsewhere in the company’s sprawling multilevel offices, which sit inside a former Nabisco factory in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood. MLBAM serves as the league’s digital media arm, maintaining its websites, apps and livestreaming platform. The firm produces some mobile games as well as one console title: R.B.I. Baseball, a 1980s franchise that MLBAM resurrected in 2014 amid dire circumstances in the baseball video game market.

Until recently, the company relied primarily on outside studios for development of R.B.I. Baseball and its other video games, with a small group at MLBAM overseeing production and managing publishing duties. That has all changed over the past year. Banks’ anecdote is a story from the development of R.B.I. Baseball 18, for which MLBAM took an unprecedented step: The company built a sizable internal team to develop the game itself.

As the only instance of a professional sports league producing its own console video game, R.B.I. Baseball was already a unique product. Now MLBAM is going further, hoping to cement the game’s place in the market by responding to feedback from critics and consumers with a major expansion in its scope.

In the Hole

Fifteen years ago, baseball fans were awash in video games. Back in 2003, no fewer than eight MLB-licensed titles were released on consoles. The plethora of choices included a now-unimaginable six simulation games, such as 3DO’s High Heat Major League Baseball 2004 and Acclaim’s All-Star Baseball 2004. Among the two arcade-style options was Midway’s MLB SlugFest 20-04, in which players could catch “on fire” and attack each other with wrestling moves.

Today, none of those three publishers exist, although a lack of success in the sports space alone didn’t necessarily cause them to close. Contraction has been the defining force in sports gaming over the past decade and a half. There was a bloodbath in the genre during the mid-2000s, as publishers succumbed to bankruptcy or market shifts like the rise of exclusive licensing deals.

Take-Two bought its way into the field by signing such a contract with Major League Baseball in January 2005. The deal, which was reportedly worth $200 million to $250 million over seven years, locked out all other third-party publishers from producing baseball titles — including Electronic Arts, maker of the beloved MVP Baseball series that constituted Take-Two’s stiffest competition. One year later, the sport’s only remaining games were Take-Two’s multiplatform Major League Baseball 2K6, Sony’s PlayStation-exclusive MLB 06: The Show and the last effort from Midway’s expiring licensing agreement, MLB SlugFest 2006.

Defeating EA ended up being a pyrrhic victory for Take-Two; the company would eventually regret ever signing the MLB agreement. And the failure of the partnership created an opportunity in the gaming market for the league itself.

Take-Two released a series of mediocre MLB 2K games and spinoff titles that never achieved much success, and the publisher eventually found itself losing as much as $30 million to $35 million annually on its MLB contract. By 2012, Take-Two was feeling the seven-year itch: The company declined to renew the deal on a long-term basis, but worked out an arrangement that allowed it to release one final entry in the franchise, Major League Baseball 2K13, in March 2013. The end of the MLB 2K series threatened to leave the league in an alarming situation: It would have no licensed baseball video game on Xbox platforms in 2014.

“We had nothing on the Xbox at the time,” says Noah Garden, then the executive vice president of revenue for MLBAM and now the EVP of commerce for the league, “and we just didn’t really want to be dark on [that] platform.”

Sony’s MLB The Show series was regarded highly enough that some baseball fans bought a PlayStation 3 for it. But that didn’t mean the league had any desire to leave Microsoft’s customers out in the cold. Although the companies were starting anew in November 2013 with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, respectively, the bulk of the potential audience would still be playing on the older systems by the time the next baseball season rolled around — including the 80 million or so Xbox 360 consoles that Microsoft had sold worldwide by then.

On such short notice, there was no chance of an outside company picking up where Take-Two had left off and still being able to ship a game by the spring of 2014. That was doubly true for a simulation sports title, a field in which fans’ baseline expectations for graphics, modes and features were rising every year. This presented a significant barrier to entry, not to mention that development costs had already skyrocketed during the transition to high-definition gaming in the mid-2000s.

With no better options available, MLB took the extraordinary step of deciding to produce its own video game. But the company never had any interest in going the simulation route.

The pitch
As the sports gaming market shrunk in the mid-2000s, the first casualty was the small but popular subgenre of arcade-style games. While simulation titles are released every year for seasonal sports like baseball and basketball, and have a built-in returning audience that provides a level of guaranteed revenue, it’s more challenging to annualize arcade sports titles and get customers to come back year after year. Rising budgets made it harder for publishers to justify the investment required for games like NFL Blitz or NBA Street. When MLBAM was figuring out the kind of baseball video game it wanted to make, its executives kept returning to that gap in the market.

“There wasn’t another option for baseball fans to try a different type of baseball game,” says Jamie Leece, vice president of gaming and VR for MLBAM. “If you go back to the original R.B.I. [Baseball], or you go back to NHL ’94, or even some of the early FIFAs, even PGA Tour back then, it was just simple, pure fun. And regardless of whether you had a video game background or familiarity with controls, you could play a sports game, and it was an equalizer.”

A less complex baseball game would have the potential to reach a wider range of gamers and baseball fans, and it would be more conducive to development across consoles and mobile devices. What’s more, it wouldn’t run any risk of being seen as a competitor to MLB The Show, Sony’s incredibly realistic — and intimidatingly complicated — simulation franchise. MLBAM’s next step was tying the product to an old-school brand, for some name recognition and nostalgia.

The story of R.B.I. Baseball can be traced back to a Japanese baseball video game named Pro Yakyuu Family Stadium, which Namco released on the Famicom in December 1986. The U.S.-based Atari Games, a maker of arcade machines that was formerly a Namco subsidiary, brought the game to American arcades in 1987 as Atari R.B.I. Baseball. It was one of the first baseball video games with real-life MLB players, although it did not feature actual team names, logos or uniforms.

The following year, Atari Games released an NES version of the arcade game under its console gaming imprint, Tengen, called R.B.I. Baseball. It spawned a franchise with annual entries from 1990 through 1995, when Time Warner Interactive — the gaming division of Time Warner, which had acquired Atari Games in 1993 — released R.B.I. Baseball ’95 on the Sega 32X.

“We looked at it and said, ‘Hey, it’s a great franchise to revive.’ Everybody looks back [...] we all loved R.B.I. Baseball,” says Garden, adding that he was a big fan of the series himself as a high schooler in the late 1980s. “We settled on R.B.I. in our mind because we thought that that game was the best to translate to what we were trying to accomplish.”

Atari Games’ rights to the “R.B.I.” trademark expired in 1995, and the name lay dormant until 2007, when a game studio called Six Degrees Games registered a new trademark for “R.B.I. Baseball.” After deciding on that brand — knowing that it would evoke memories of the old 8-bit and 16-bit games — MLB acquired the rights from Six Degrees Games in 2013.

Rough early innings

MLBAM didn’t have to look too far to find a development team for the project that would become R.B.I. Baseball 14. Leece had joined the company in the spring of 2012, after spending nearly three years at Montreal-based independent studio Behaviour Interactive. That was the company that MLBAM hired to make the game.

The development cycle for R.B.I. 14 wasn’t necessarily rushed; Leece told Polygon prior to the game’s launch that MLBAM had known for some time that Take-Two was getting out of the business. But MLBAM and Behaviour still had to build a baseball game from scratch, and it showed in the final product, which launched in April 2014 to a poor reception. Complaints cited the skimpy selection of modes; simplistic, generic graphics and animations; gameplay that was faithful to the first titles in the series, to a fault; and the lack of online play.

MLBAM went with a different Canadian developer, HB Studios, for the next two entries in the franchise. HB has an impressive track record in the sports genre, and the company was able to work with MLBAM to take some notable steps forward in R.B.I. Baseball 15 and 16. Yet even at at the same budget price of $19.99, the games failed to excite critics.

Despite continuing unfavorable reviews, the series proved to be commercially viable. Garden says sales rose “pretty dramatically over the first few years,” and he stresses that the company wouldn’t take a hit on the game just to ensure that an MLB-licensed title continues to exist outside the PS4.

“If we didn’t think it was a business where we were going to make money, we wouldn’t do it to lose money for the rest of our lives,” says Garden. But he does acknowledge that MLBAM is still in a tough spot: If the company were to cease making R.B.I. Baseball, other parties would be unlikely to jump in to address “this middle market [where] there’s a tremendous amount of fans” whom the league wants to reach.

“We just don’t think that there’s a lot of folks out there that would necessarily want to invest the effort to do the sort of game that we’re doing,” Garden says.

R.B.I. Baseball’s first three years of sales indicated that it was worth dedicating more resources to the series, according to Leece and Garden. And it appeared that it would take a significant investment to deliver the kinds of improvements that the franchise needed.

Coming inside

The development cycle for R.B.I. Baseball 17, says Leece, was “really a transition year of realizing that we kind of tapped out what we could get out of external developers.” He clarifies that that’s not a knock against Behaviour or HB, or work-for-hire studios in general. But the executives at MLBAM realized that outsourcing didn’t fit with their greater plan across video games and other media, including broadcasts of MLB games.

MLBAM likes to be at the forefront of emerging platforms and experiment with the possibilities that they present. When Apple launched the iOS App Store in the summer of 2008, MLB.com At Bat — the league’s official app — was one of the original 500 apps in the store. The company has kept up that adventurous spirit with forays into virtual reality and, soon, augmented reality. All of MLBAM’s interactive efforts, including those experiments and video games such as R.B.I. Baseball, complement each other. And bringing the R.B.I. team in-house was a way to increase the benefits of that cross-product synergy.

Leece explains that MLBAM’s internal development teams leverage each other’s work on multiple pieces of software, so that everything feeds into everything else. “We’re building systems in other products or assets in other products that are helping R.B.I., or are coming out of R.B.I. and helping other products,” he says. That kind of workflow is much tougher to achieve when you’re trying to coordinate with an outside development team, according to Leece, especially since the studio may not be inherently tied to your vision.

“We felt that building a team ourselves — having a vested interest in both the technology and the project — would raise the quality of the product, and therefore give us a better foundation going forward,” says Leece of the decision to spin up a full development team for R.B.I. Baseball within MLBAM.

The gaming unit works in the same office as groups that deal with many other aspects of the league’s online presence. That physical proximity also pays dividends — an idea that comes to mind as Peter Banks, the marketing director, continues his story of hunting down authentic MLB gear for the developers to work off of: batting gloves in addition to uniforms.

“We bring them down here, and then Zack’s in here modeling exactly how the light’s reflecting off the surface,” says Banks, highlighting a member of the R.B.I. team. He acknowledges that it’s not unusual for sports developers to have access to real-life equipment, but says, “I feel like there’s something that happens when it’s all just right here that feels really unique to me.”

“It’s 24/7 baseball around you,” Leece adds, describing the MLBAM offices, “and I think that influences the product.”
R.B.I. Baseball 18

MLBAM’s gaming department now consists of more than 30 people who are working primarily on R.B.I. 18, many of whom were hired within the past year, plus some external contributors to help with specialized fields.

Leece describes MLBAM’s first effort, R.B.I. 14, as something that “felt like this betwixt-and-between product,” characterizing the response as “it kind of in some ways looks like a Sega Genesis game, yet it’s on my Xbox 360.” The team was aiming for an art style that was neither cartoony nor photorealistic, and the result didn’t resonate with players.

The R.B.I. series “has suffered a little bit of an identity crisis in the past,” admits Alexander Reyna, director of experience design for gaming and VR at MLBAM. “We want to have a visual identity that feels consistent for our product.”

Improving the visuals became MLBAM’s top priority for R.B.I. 18. The team “reworked literally everything,” according to Reyna. That includes character models and the way they’re rendered — there aren’t just three body types anymore — as well as animation systems. The developers added true-to-life animations for elements like batting stances and pitching motions, so Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka now has his deliberate windup represented in the game. And players will be able to recognize their favorite baseball stars, now that MLBAM is implementing hundreds of character models using data from face scans.

That’s not to say everything is perfect now; in the games I played in pre-release versions of R.B.I. 18, I encountered some wonky animations and strange interactions. But even in the early builds I tried during multiple visits to MLBAM’s offices over the past few months, serious problems seemed much less prevalent than in previous years.

Plenty of work has gone into presentation elements, too. A more dynamic camera system zooms in on players in certain circumstances — which makes the face scans all the more important — and is smarter in providing the right perspective on fielding plays. I saw this in action on bunts and dribblers in front of home plate, which were much harder to pick up from the camera angle in R.B.I. 17.

MLBAM has also replaced the amateurish sound effects and music snippets found in the older titles with licensed music, and overhauled the menu interface with a modern tile-based design. The result is a game that immediately feels more contemporary and polished, and less like the kind of experience you’d expect from a budget title. (In fact, MLBAM is raising the price this year: R.B.I. 18 will cost $29.99 on PS4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One — up from $19.99 — and $6.99 on Android and iOS, up from $4.99.)

The team’s other major area of focus in R.B.I. 18 is the game’s array of modes. For the first time, the series will let players partake in a Home Run Derby contest. I found it to be a quick and fun offering that’s well-suited to R.B.I.’s pick-up-and-play ethos. The mode builds off of MLBAM’s existing work over the past few years with its popular Home Run Derby mobile game. While the mode in R.B.I. 18 doesn’t support head-to-head online play, it will offer networked leaderboards.

The second feature that’s new in R.B.I. 18 is on the opposite end of the complexity spectrum: MLBAM is going above and beyond the fans’ most common feature request — the ability to trade players — by introducing a full franchise mode. It’s a major expansion of the existing setup, which allows for playing multiple seasons but without any persistent year-to-year tracking of statistics.
Franchise modes are commonplace in modern sports games, though less so in nonsimulation titles. Jason Schreiber, director of development for MLBAM’s gaming and VR division, notes that the team’s main design challenge was to figure out, “What does [franchise] mean for R.B.I. Baseball?”

MLBAM decided on a mode that runs for up to 10 seasons. Upon completion, it rates the player’s performance with a letter grade that’s based on their win-loss record and the number of World Series titles they won. Built into the mode is some “weighted randomness” in player progression, which Schreiber explains as a way to introduce variability in the arc of each athlete’s career. The game maps existing players onto various preset trajectories: Older athletes are more likely to retire within a few seasons, while younger stars will stick around.

The franchise mode supports trades and injuries, although the AI won’t initiate trades. There’s a fun wrinkle to roster management: Over 100 MLB “legends” from bygone days are available in the free agent pool, split into two sections — those who retired in 1990 or later (guys like Nolan Ryan and Chipper Jones) and those who retired before that year (Hall of Famers such as Ted Williams and Phil Rizzuto).

From what I’ve seen, R.B.I. 18’s franchise mode is a basic, no-frills setup, which seems to be a good fit for this kind of game. But the mode does contain a key option that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in any other sports title: It allows users to import roster updates after they’ve started playing.

Say your favorite team calls up a prospect halfway through the 2018 season, and MLBAM adds him to R.B.I. 18 in a subsequent downloadable roster. Even if you started a franchise in March, with the opening day rosters, the game will let you import the latest file to get your playthrough up to date. 

You’ll have two choices: overwriting the rosters entirely, or adding new players only. Either way, you won’t lose any progress or accumulated statistics. This is a great option to keep the rosters fresh, since the franchise mode doesn’t include any minor leaguers; as older ballplayers retire, it generates fictional ones to replace them.

“We wanted to still keep it simple, and not have stuff like managing your minor league rosters,” says Jason Teirstein, a producer at MLBAM. “We figured that this was kind of a nice balance — this gives you a deeper franchise experience, without a lot of that managing the overhead.”

Along with minor league players, money is nowhere to be found in R.B.I. 18’s franchise mode; users won’t have to worry about negotiating contracts or setting ticket prices. Schreiber says that “the core for R.B.I. Baseball is maintaining a streamlined, fun experience,” although he notes that MLBAM can always go deeper in future years if fans ask for increased complexity.
Rounding the bases

R.B.I. 18 will be released in March, before the 2018 season's opening day, which means that at this point in January, the development team has about six weeks left to finish polishing the game before it must be ready to get printed on discs and cartridges.

The final product is taking shape, which makes this the perfect point for Leece to take a step back. He says that around this time every year, he examines the previous year’s R.B.I. game and the one that will soon be released, comparing them directly to see how far things have come.

“This time, it’s a remarkable achievement year over year in looking at it,” Leece says. “And it’s a real proud moment, because we’ve worked on this together as a team here internally.”

Leece is beaming, and he’s confident that the leap that R.B.I. Baseball is taking would’ve been impossible if MLBAM hadn’t brought development in-house. “There’s no way we could’ve done this with an external team,” he says, expressing excitement that the developers — and the game — will benefit even more next year from having a year of experience under their belts.

There’s a diverse mix of experience levels, with old hands who have seen the game evolve over the years and can offer perspective to the newer hires. Garden has been with MLBAM since its inception in 2001; Leece was his first hire when the company decided to get into video games. Banks and Schreiber joined the team less than two years ago. Reyna was the third employee in the gaming department, and Teirstein has also been around for every iteration of the franchise under MLBAM. 

Of course, the bulk of the team came on within the past year, as the company staffed up for R.B.I. 18.

“We certainly invested more in this version of R.B.I. than any version prior to this,” says Leece. “But at the same point in time, we know as a league the kind of product that we want to deliver to our fans, so we’re investing more for that.”"

Stumbleupon StumbleUpon