Sunday, March 19, 2017

"Baseball Mogul is Horse Shit"

We got the following tweet a couple months ago:


... and then this (by someone else) ...


... and this (by yet another person):


I should be pissed off, but these made me smile. I love that people get emotionally invested into their Mogul teams. And it's nice to see people so angry about something other than politics.

These tweets also illustrate what people mean when they say that a game "cheats" or is "rigged". It's not just that the game is difficult — it's that the sim engine has "catch up" code — it waits until you get ahead (in a game or in a season) and then turns on the afterburners to kick your ass.

I briefly worked on the PC version of Madden in the 1990s, and know that it had strong catch-up code (and probably still does). On MLB Slugfest, we created different difficulty levels, but the game didn't cheat — the results were the same regardless of whether you were winning big or losing badly.

I assure you that Baseball Mogul isn't "rigged". There isn't a single line of code in the game that looks at the score (or the standings) and then adjusts the results accordingly. If your team goes 16-8 in April and then 9-18 in May, I guarantee that it's just bad luck. The cheating described in these tweets is purely in the minds of the players. And Baseball Mogul has never contained any catch-up code, so there isn't anything hiding deep in the simulation code that I somehow forgot to remove.

Although the simulation doesn't cheat, the diffculty level does affect the computer GMs' desire to do a deal with you. For example, GMs on "Fan" level will actually make trades with you that they would normally turn down (if offered by another computer-controlled team). Difficulty level also affects the revenue earned by any human-controlled teams.

Difficulty Level Artificial Intelligence
(Computer GMs)
Revenue Adjustment
(Human-Controlled Teams)
Fan Biased in favor of trades offered by human-controlled teams. +5%
Coach No
adjustment.
None.
Manager No
adjustment.
-5%
Mogul Biased against trades offered by human-controlled teams. -10%

As you can see, Baseball Mogul cheats in your favor on "Fan" level, and cheats against you on "Mogul" level. But this adjustment only affect your revenue stream — it doesn't pump up the losing team in order to keep things interesting, and it doesn't penalize your team just because you are on pace to win 100 games.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Football Mogul 17: Historical Seasons, Part 2

Here's some more info on the upgraded historical database in Football Mogul 17:
Lets go back to 1996 again -- a year when Brett Favre would win the MVP and lead his Green Bay Packers to a 13-3 record and 35-21 win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.

This is Green Bay's offense at the beginning of the 1996 season -- as viewed in last year's version of Football Mogul:


Here are a few problems I see with this screen:

1. All the ratings are too low. Future Hall-Of-Famer Brett Favre only has a 77 Overall rating.

2. Dorsey Levens is listed as the starting fullback, even though Levens was never a fullback.

3. Mark Chmura is riding the bench behind Keith Jackson (Chmura started 13 games for the Packers in 1996).

4. Starting tackles Earl Dotson and John Michels are shown as second-stringers.

And here's the 1996 Green Bay offense in Football Mogul 2017:


As you can see. the starting lineup is correct and the player ratings are more accurate.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Football Mogul 17 Preview: Historical Seasons

Football Mogul 17 has been delayed due to some personal issues in my life. However, we are doing final testing and expect to launch the game on Tuesday (November 8th).

This year's biggest upgrade is an entirely new historical database including over 250,000 lines of season data. Previous versions of Football Mogul included historical teams, but our database had a lot of errors and missing stats so we went back to the drawing board and assembled an entirely new database.

We were able to incorporate some stats, such as snap counts and Yards After Catch, that you can't find at sites like Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL.com. But the most important result of this upgrade is that the historical team and player ratings are much more accurate.

This is a screen shot from last year's version of Football Mogul, showing the AFC at the beginning of the 1996 season:


If you remember 1996, you may notice that the ratings are way off. The Patriots beat the Jaguars in the 1996 AFC Championship game, but the Jaguars are ranked 21st and the Patriots are ranked 24th (out of 31 teams in the league). 1996 was Drew Bledsoe's best season, but New England's "Quarterbacks" have a grade of "C-".

These problems have been fixed for Football Mogul 17. In addition to having more data, we've also rewritten the way that player ratings are calculated, correcting every line of a player's stats for that year's league averages and that team's strength of schedule.


This results in much more accurate ratings for individual players and across entire teams. The Patroits are now the 2nd best team in the AFC (behind Denver who went 13-3 that year and had a better point differential). The "Quarterbacks" column now has 4 teams with an A-minus or better: New England (Bledsoe), Miami (Marino), Denver (Elway) and Jacksonville (Brunell), Marino and Elway are now in the Hall Of Fame, and Brunell was at his peak in 1996, leading the NFL in passing yards and yards per attempt.



Monday, October 31, 2016

Thank You

My mother passed away a few weeks ago at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown, CT (due to complications from colon cancer). Thanks to a cot provided by the hospital, I was able to spend the last month by her bedside. Although the staff and volunteers at Middlesex are incredibly skilled and attentive, my presence was invaluable at times when she woke up confused or in pain. I was very lucky to have this time with her, and we talked about some parts of her life that she had never shared with me (such as the railroad tracks she played on as a toddler, and the brief affair she had with a married man before joining the Air Force in 1962).

The nurses and doctors kept asking me what my job was that allowed me to "take so much time off". The answer is that I work for Sports Mogul. And while it might cost the company some revenue when I postpone a new version of Football Mogul, it won't cost me my job. For this I am extremely thankful.

So, to everyone who has supported Sports Mogul over the years, thank you -- not just for your direct support that pays our bills, but also for the joy we get every time we hear how much you enjoy our games, and the time and effort that you invest in helping us track down bugs and improve the simulation. Thank you for all of it.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

UPDATE: Baseball Mogul Player Ratings

Back in April, I announced changes to the Baseball Mogul rating system for Baseball Mogul 2016.

To summarize:

1) Player ratings had crept up over the years (to the point that the average major league pitcher had an Overall rating of about 83).

2) Furthermore, this rating creep varied by rating. For example, a pitcher in Baseball Mogul Diamond with an 83 Control was in the top 40% of major leaguers. But a pitcher with an 84 Power was actually below average.

3) Because of these problems, Baseball Mogul 2016 featured a new system that defined 75 as the average across all ratings, and standardized the way in which ratings were distributed (the degree to which they clumped around the average value).

(This change had other benefits, such as more accurate historical simulations, and more realistic results in league that combined players from different historical eras.)

4) However, this meant that virtually all player ratings went down by 5-7 points in Baseball Mogul 2016, whether you were starting a game from scratch or resuming a game from a previous version. This came as a shock to many of you, eliciting some complaints that the player ratings were "broken".

Because of item #4, the most recent official patch (Version 19.17) included changes to the Player Rating Scale options (available in Options, on the Tools Menu). These are the four options that are now available:

Rating Scale
MLB Average
Notes
50-100
80
Current default for Baseball Mogul 2016 (version 19.16 and later).
The default rating scale for Baseball Mogul Diamond.
25-100
75
Default rating scale for Baseball Mogul 2016 (before Version 19.16).
20-80
50
Scale used by professional scouts (described on FanGraphs).
1-20
13
20-point scale provided for fans of Football Manager.

This means that if you started a game in Baseball Mogul 2016 before version 19.16, you will see a big jump (about 5 points across the board) when you resume this game with the current patch. If you would like to go back to the system with an average rating of 75, you can change this setting in the Options Dialog:


I'm sorry for the above confusion. I personally prefer the rating system centered around 75 (a "C" on the traditional academic scale). But I didn't foresee how annoying this would be to people who had become accustomed to having a team full of players with ratings in the 80s and 90s.







Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Football Mogul Predicts The 2016 NFL Season

It's that time of year again. We used the beta version of Football Mogul 17 to simulate the upcoming season 1,000 times. Projected standings are shown for each league, including average number of wins and losses for each team during the simulation. "Super Bowl Champs" shows that team's chance of winning the Super Bowl.




Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Only Rule Is It Has To Work


I just finished reading my favorite book of the year, The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team, by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller. As it is about baseball -- and it helped refine the way that I think about the game and how to model it -- I figured I would share my thoughts here.

This book may not be for everyone. But as someone who writes baseball simulations for a living, I have to say that this book is perfect.

The authors start with the sequence of events that landed them with the Sonoma Stompers for the Summer of 2015. One key reason is something that hadn't occurred to me: the general manager of a low-budget team spends most of his time selling tickets and keeping the concessions flowing, so he is happy to get free help building the roster (the task we associate most often with a team's front office).

Then Ben and Sam dig into the nitty-gritty of building a team. They do a great job of laying out all the numbers that they had in front of them for such tasks as: choosing which players to sign; making lineup recommendations; employing extreme defensive shifts; and building detailed reports on opposing pitchers for use by the team's hitters. Seeing the raw data made the book much more enjoyable than if they had just jumped ahead to the conclusions that they reached.

The authors also do a great job of conveying the storylines and emotions associated with the team. It's reminiscient of a movie like Bull Durham: the overarching plot is about baseball players trying to get a crack at the majors, but the most interesting and amusing and important events revolve around the players' individual growth and interpersonal relationships.

Finally, I found this book inspiring as a personal story of humility and frustration, combined with some great insight into how to "make friends and influence people". I would honestly recommend this book to aspiring business leaders or consultants. Ben and Sam are two extremely bright guys with great communication skills. So one could assume that they had an easy time showing up at the Sonoma Stompers and turning the team around. But I know that my life is never that easy -- and I have to admit it's nice to see that their lives aren't either. Although Ben and Sam are nominally in charge of the roster, it's difficult for two guys that never played professional baseball to earn credibility in the clubhouse. But if you keep reading you see that more often than not they are able to succeed at what they try to do -- relying on respect and candor and true generosity, more than on any spreadsheet.