Fantasy Game Benchwarmer Baseball Is A Throwback

I’m going to write occasionally on this blog about Benchwarmer Baseball. It is a complicated simulation-style fantasy game that I’ve really enjoyed. This first post will be an introduction.

Robot Baseball

First, some background. My introduction to fantasy baseball in the late 1980s was a thing I did with my Dad called Robot Baseball. My dad used to get The Sporting News, and there was an ad in there for it. My memories of it are vague. I was around 12 or 13 years old and was just starting to really get into baseball.

I remember it cost somewhere around $100 per season. I also remember it was extremely complicated. The thing that stuck with me was that they played a 150 game season and whatever a player did in a real game would appear in one of the 150 fantasy box scores. Your batting order, pitching rotation, bullpen, and bench all played a role in the result. So this made it much more like a real game than a typical rotisserie fantasy league where you are trying to win categories of counting stats or averages.

This was way before the internet, so everything was done via mail. It had to be a huge pain for the people running it to deal with all that paper. We would get a mailing once a week with the results for the six games that week. We’d have to mail in any lineup changes, and players we wanted to sign on a form. When a player would get hurt, it was a challenge to figure out who to try to pick up to replace them.

We did it a few seasons but were never that successful at it. I don’t know if my Dad and I quite understood the best way to build a team from year to year (I know I sure didn’t). After a few years we stopped playing and the whole thing went defunct. The rise of the internet pretty much killed all the play-by-mail games like that. Since then I have played rotisserie style fantasy baseball such as Yahoo!, but those were kind of unsatisfying. There was no pennant race, batting order didn’t matter, no carry over of players, and so on.

Enter Benchwarmer Baseball

Benchwarmer Baseball is basically an internet revival of Robot Baseball. Some of the rules have been tweaked and updated but the main features are still there. I’ve really enjoyed getting back into it. It took me a season or two to learn how to build a team.

You don’t get “live” results like on Yahoo! or others. Results of the games are generally posted two or three times per week. Sorting through what players to sign is much easier now with the internet though, although probably not as easy as Yahoo! or others.

The first season I played it, I took over an orphan team that had been abandoned by a previous owner. It was an OK team with a few good players in a weak division. I had a really tight pennant race that year. The final 3 games of the season were against the opponent chasing my team for the division crown. We were tied heading into the last game. I ended up winning the last game of the season by 0.01 runs to clinch the division. I’m not making that up. In the playoffs, that team won the first round, but lost in game 7 of the league championship round. This is the kind of stuff you don’t get from Yahoo!. I was hooked.

A Quick Overview of Benchwarmer Baseball

To field a team you need 26 players – nine starting position players, five bench players, seven starting pitchers and five relief pitchers. During the season you can also carry two extra players (called the “taxi squad”) and up to 12 minor league players.

Players do have salaries. You get a limited amount of money to sign players. The amount you end up with is based on a number of factors. I will go into that more in later posts.

There are 16 teams in a league, with two conferences of eight teams, with two divisions in each conference. The 150 game schedule is is unbalanced so you play teams in  your conference and division more often.

They use actual statistics from box scores and put them into a very complicated formula to come out with a score for each team to determine the winner of each game. In the formula, the batting order positions are weighted so that some stats of players in the top of the lineup are a bit magnified and players at the bottom are depressed. Batting order also matters because of “clustering”. For example, it is worth more if all the batters with runs and RBIs are close together in the batting order than if they are spread out.

Starting pitchers’ performances are kind of put into a “pool”. When it is their turn in the rotation, their next unused start is the one used in the game. The bullpen is only exposed if the starting pitcher does not throw a complete game. The deeper the starter goes, the less the bullpen is a factor in the outcome.

A pitching score and a batting score is calculated for each team. Your team’s final score for a game is your team’s batting score averaged with the opposing team’s pitching score. So a low pitching score is good, and will bring down your opponents’ final score.

The blog posts that I will do during the season will be about strategies that worked or didn’t work, things I’ve learned from it and other stories that may come up.


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