There is no Major League Baseball right now. What this article and several ongoing simulations presuppose is... what if there was?
A number of outlets are simulating the season in one form or another. Just two weeks into the fake season, I thought I’d check in to see how these imagined Cardinals teams are doing. (Results as of Tuesday.)
Do these results mean anything? Of course not. It’s two weeks into imaginary seasons. But following some kind of baseball season is one way to mark off the indistinct days as they roll by. And for the more statistically rigorous models, it’s interesting to see how the Cardinals perform in what the 2020 season might have been, or perhaps still could be in Arizona, Outer Space, or wherever they manage to play.
The Athletic Alternate Universe
Out of the Park Baseball
The staff at The Athletic is running a simulated season on Out of the Park Baseball, the highly tuned computer baseball simulation. Cardinals Beat Writer Mark Saxon is serving as GM of the Redbirds team.
At 12-6, Saxon’s Cardinals team is on top of the NL Central, 1.5 games ahead of the Cubs. But with a -4 run differential, this St. Louis team’s early success could be an illusion.
Paul Goldschmidt leads the team offensively, posting a 132 wRC+. Kolten Wong’s wRC+ sits at just 95, but with his sterling defense, he still ranks 2nd on the team in WAR behind Goldy. Dexter Fowler has performed well early, while Paul DeJong, Tommy Edman and Tyler O’Neill have not - despite BrO’Neill’s 3 HRs.
The pitching has been solid pretty much all-around, though Wainwright, Webb and Helsley are all injured, with Helsley expected to miss quite some time.
The Athletic league features some very nice presentation and a full complement of advanced stats. It’s also being run by real people and it’s dynamic, so yes, trades can be made. Wander Franco and Joey Gallo have already been swapped.
2020 Season Simulation
The folks at Strat-O-Matic were simulating seasons back when computers took up entire rooms, operated by dudes with crew-cuts and short-sleeve collared shirts. They are running a season simulation on their website, with the Cardinals currently at 9-8, tied with the Pirates for 2nd in the division, 3 games behind the Cubs.
In Strat-O-Matic style, the stats available are more of the old school variety. But Paul Goldschmidt is again off to a strong start, with a .295 average and 16 walks in just 17 games, plus 3 HRs. Paul DeJong is dramatically outperforming his OOTP counterpart, with a team leading 6 HRs and a solid .288 AVG, though also with a team-leading 21 strikeouts.
The Strat-O-Matic Cardinals pitching staff is posting much more pedestrian numbers, with all the starters ERAs between 3.50 and 4.20. The outlier is Carlos Martinez, sporting a 2.37 ERA over his first 3 starts, with 25 Ks in 19 IP.
The presentation of the Strat-O-Matic stats is fairly dated and unintuitive, but for those of us who once calculated fantasy stats by hand from the USA Today, numbers on a page are still numbers on a page.
MLB The Show Player’s League
MLB The Show (PS4)
The outlier here, this league isn’t really a statistical simulation. It is a live video game competition, with one real player from each team playing their respective video game team. The Cardinals are being played by Matt Carpenter.
So while the underlying projections which power each player in The Show are likely on-par with the modeling that drives OOTP or Strat-O-Matic, the results here are driven more by the video game skill of each team’s player.
I don’t know who in the Cardinals clubhouse plays video games, but I was surprised to see Carp would be the Cardinals guy. The reason is, quite simply, because he’s kind of an old guy. Old guys still play video games. I still play video games. But young guys are just better. My 12-year-old can kick my ass in literally everything.
Despite my ageism, 34-year-old Matt Carpenter held his own Monday in his first night of action. His Cardinals are in 3rd place in the division. Tied for first at 3-1 are the Cubs (Ian Happ, age 25) and the Reds (Amir Garrett, age 27). It’s worth noting that one of Marp’s wins came against Hunter Pence, who at 37, is Damn Near My Age.
I watched most of Carpenter’s first three games with my son, and I’ve got to say... it was fun. Was it weird? Of course it was. But what isn’t weird right now? Going to the grocery store is weird. And whoever setup this league presciently limited each game to 3 innings, so it’s over before it’s worn too old.
The advantage of the Player’s League is that you can ACTUALLY WATCH the games unfold, and listen to the player’s commentary to-boot. The best part on Monday was watching Carp when he was playing as himself. “This guy takes everything,” he quipped after watching a close pitch go by. After failing to reach 2nd on a ball into the gap, he asked “how are you not standing on 2nd base? Because it’s me. I get it.”
Finding the schedule and standings of The Players League, let alone where to watch is surprisingly hard. Some games are streamed through MLB or MLB Network channels on various networks.
Most of the players are streaming through their Twitch channels. Carpenter, in true Old Guy fashion, is live streaming via YouTube rather than Twitch.
Those are three of the many simulations that are going on right now. I know there’s a Fangraphs one I haven’t mentioned here. What else? Any other ways you are watching an imagined 2020 season play out?