Friday, December 6, 2019

All-Star Baseball 2001 - 20 years later

As I was rooting around the video games in my old room at my parents' house this Thanksgiving season, I realized that we are approaching the 20-year anniversary of the second-greatest baseball video game of all time: All-Star Baseball 2001 from Acclaim Sports. While the title would suggest that we won't hit that milestone until 2021, ASB01 was actually released prior to the 2000 MLB season, based on stats from 1999. (Remember that the naming conventions of sports games were a little wonky until 2006 - that's why you have both MLB 2006 and MLB 06: The Show released in back-to-back years for the same franchise.) Since my Nintendo 64 miraculously still works, and we still have a lot of offseason ahead of us, I thought this would be a good opportunity to extend my Astrology Baseball project into the previous decade... not to mention the previous MILLENNIUM.

In addition to featuring state of the art polygonal graphics and a hauntingly catchy menu song, ASB01 provides letter grades for each of the 1,092 players in the game, with just 32 of which earning the coveted A+ mark. I'll go over each of those players here, noting which sign they belong to, and touching on the overall Astrology landscape as baseball prepared to enter the 2000's. This should be enough to tide you over until I manage to create Astrology-themed rosters and simulate an entire season, using patented Controller Pak technology.

Three different signs had exactly five players with A+ grades, but I'm starting with Scorpio because their crop of A-plusses is by far the most impressive. Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez actually finished second overall in '99 fantasy points, but he did lead all MLB in points per game (minimum 40 innings) en route to the AL Cy Young award. I guess the game developers didn't think Pedro's real-life pitch mix was scary enough, because they replaced his changeup with a devastating screwball, which breaks just like his curve, but in the opposite direction. Joining Martinez in the Scorpions rotation is Phillies starter (and generally despicable human being) Curt Schilling, whose points-per-game average would have put his total in the 2,200 - 2,300 range if he had pitched a full season. (Five years before the "bloody sock" incident, Schilling was plagued with shoulder inflammation in '99 that eventually led to offseason surgery.)

Moving to the offensive side, the October/November team is led by centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr., who missed his third consecutive 50-home run season by just two, although he still led the AL in that category. In the game, Griffey appears on the roster of the Cincinnati Reds, following a February 2000 trade from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Mike Cameron and Brett Tomko, among others. Another offseason trade victim, outfielder Shawn Green took his power/speed combo (42 HR, 20 SB) from Toronto to Los Angeles, in what was the first blockbuster trade that I remember having an effect on my baseball life. ("With Raul Mondesi on the Blue Jays, we won't hear any more chants of RAUUUUUUUL at Dodger Stadium!?") In a roster-construction note, when I build these simulated lineups, I will likely put Green at first base, even though he didn't play there regularly until 2004, because SCO also has the likes of Griffey, Sammy Sosa (the sign's fifth A+ player), Gary Sheffield, Dante Bichette, and Johnny Damon available for the outfield/DH slots.

Sagittarius has the same amount of A+ players as the sign that precedes it on the calendar, but SAG's group totaled about 2,000 fewer fantasy points than SCO's in 1999. That's not to take anything away from Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who won the AL MVP award that year, with a 35-HR, 25 SB season. Pudge also took home the seventh of his ten consecutive Gold Gloves, and the sixth of six consecutive Silver Sluggers behind the plate. Or Rockies slugging right fielder Larry Walker, who led the NL in all three "triple slash" categories (.379 AVG, .458 OBP, .710 SLG) as well as OPS (obviously). Of course, Walker only made it into 127 games that year, and the rarefied air of the pre-humidor Coors Field might have had something to do with his production, but he's a top tier talent nonetheless. Rounding out the A+ hitters for the Archers is Astros second baseman Craig Biggio, whose inclusion really dates the piece, given that his son Cavan just made his debut this past season for the Blue Jays at his father's old position. Speaking of Sagittarius dads, Ivan's son Dereck Rodriguez came up a season prior as a pitcher for the Giants, but he struggled through a sophomore slump in 2019.

Moving to the pitching side, we have two Hall of Famers who were teammates on the Yankees for eight years. Last year, Mariano Rivera became the first player to be unanimously voted into the Hall following a career as one of the most effective and decorated relief pitchers of all time. While the ASB01 engine does not include a cut fastball, which was Mo's signature pitch, the game still finds ways to make him just as unhittable as he was in real life. Starter Mike Mussina was still with the Orioles, his original team, when this game was released, but he would sign a free agent contract with the Yankees the very next year, and stay there through his retirement in 2008. Despite finishing out the back half of a Hall of Fame career in New York, would you believe that 1999 was the last time Moose made an All-Star team in his career?

Of the five Leo players who earned an A+ rating from All-Star Baseball 2001, the majority of them have dealt with serious performance enhancing drug issues in their illustrious careers. Going by 1999 fantasy points, Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez nearly cracked 2,500 points on the year, despite playing in only 129 games due to knee surgery. Later he would be suspended the entire 2014 season stemming from his ties to the Biogenesis scandal. Giants left fielder Barry Bonds also suffered through an injury-shortened 1999 season, as he was limited to 102 games after surgery to repair a torn triceps tendon and bone spur. While his career didn't extend into the era where it was actually illegal to use steroids, his well-publicized link to them has kept Bonds and his thicc neck out of the Hall of Fame, despite holding the all-time records for home runs and walks. Yankees starting pitcher Roger Clemens is the most curious A+ player in the game, as his 1999 season (his first in New York) was decidedly pedestrian: a 14-10 record, 4.60 ERA, 7.8 K/9, and 4.3 BB/9 over 30 starts and 187.2 innings. I guess he was still dining out on his consecutive AL Cy Young awards in '97 and '98 with the Blue Jays. As far as his ties to PED's, Clemens was famously named in the 2007 Mitchell Report, which was released just months after what would prove to be The Rocket's final season.

Now moving to the (ostensibly) clean players, we have Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, who won the AL batting title in 1999 (the first of two consecutive times he would take home the crown, but we couldn't possibly know that at the time this game was released). When putting these rosters together, Nomar's presence will push A-Rod over to third base, where he would later play for the majority of his time with the Yankees, starting in 2004. Interestingly enough, this Lions team will likely consist of an all-shortstop infield, as Edgar Renteria of the Cardinals will occupy second base. Leo's final A+ player is Astros closer Billy Wagner, who leads a lights-out bullpen that also includes A-grade relievers John Wetteland, Troy Percival, and Jeff Zimmerman, not to mention B+ closer Danny Graves.

Remember how Pedro Martinez finished second overall in 1999 fantasy points? He was eclipsed only by NL Cy Young winner Randy Johnson, in his first year with the Diamondbacks (but his 35th year representing Virgo). The Big Unit would go on to win the next three Cy Youngs, in addition to taking home a World Series title in 2001, where he shared WS MVP honors with fellow ASB01 A+ starter Curt Schilling. During this simulation, Johnson will pitch to an A+ catcher (and fellow Hall of Famer) Mike Piazza, who finally settled in New York for '99 after splitting the previous year between the Dodgers, Marlins, and Mets. To round things out, Virgo has two A+ outfielders who had polar opposite career tracks: Albert Belle was known for his volatile personality and played for three different teams in his career ('99 was his first with the Orioles), while Bernie Williams had a charming, soft-spoken demeanor, and spent his entire playing days with the Yankees.

Remember how Barry Bonds has been frozen out of the Hall of Fame despite holding a monumental home run record? The same is true for Libra slugger Mark McGwire, who was the first major leaguer to hit 70 home runs, which he did in 1998, breaking Roger Maris's long-standing record of 61* in the process. (There's not footnote corresponding to that asterisk, it was just a reference to the Billy Crystal TV movie of the same name.) There was never really any doubt that Big Mac was juicing, but the ASB01 developers don't care how you become great, just whether or not you have A+ level talent. Joining him in a power-packed Scales lineup is outfielder Juan Gonzalez, who went from the Rangers to the Tigers in a blockbuster trade following the game's platform '99 season. Libra's last A+ player actually did make it into the Hall of Fame, as there are no steroid accusations tainting the career of longtime Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, despite a '99 season that was more excellent than otherworldtly.

Three different signs had two A+ players, but only Gemini boasts two 3,000 point scorers among them. Astros first baseman and leader of the "Killer B's" Jeff Bagwell had such a great 1999 (he played in all 162 games and had a 40-30 season, while leading the NL in runs and walks) that he pushes fellow Hall of Fame first baseman Frank Thomas to the DH slot. Speaking of the Hall of Fame, Indians right fielder Manny Ramirez has been the victim of a PED-related freezeout, similar to Bonds, McGwire, Clemens, et al. Despite Aquarius's status as a perennial fantasy astrology bottom-feeder, the sign does boast some impressive talent at the top of its depth chart. Roberto Alomar was at the top of his power/speed game in '99 (although the jury is out on whether Manny's PED influence might have spread around the Cleveland clubhouse) and Vladimir Guerrero was in his prime as one of the game's best pure hitters. Aries has the curious distinction of having two A+ players who each failed to eclipse 1,800 fantasy points in 1999: Phillies third baseman Scott Rolen played in only 112 games after his season ended in August because of a back injury, but Hall of Fame Braves starter Greg Maddux has no excuse, having pitched 219.1 innings over 33 starts.

Of the four signs that had just one A+ player each, Taurus leads the charge with NL MVP winner Chipper Jones, one of six players who scored more than 3,000 points during the 1999 season. In a funny side note, despite Chipper's career-high 45 home runs and 1.074 OPS that season, the Braves third baseman was not named to the All-Star team, the only time he was snubbed between 1996 and 2001. Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was the face of the All-Star Baseball video game franchise from 1998 through its end in 2005. 1999 was arguably the Cancer Crab's finest season, as Cap'n Jeets put up career highs in runs, hits, homers, and all three triple-slash line categories. Speaking of people who are the face of things, Pisces pitcher Kevin Brown made the cover of the 1999 Sports Illustrated baseball preview issue, after signing a seven-year, $105 million contract with the Dodgers, the first ever nine-figure contract in MLB history. Rounding out ASB01's A+ players is Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez, who didn't have a phenomenal '99 season (although he did lead the AL in OBP) and offers nothing in terms of defensive value (he managed only five games at first base that year), but it's nevertheless fascinating that all 12 astrological signs have at least one A+ representative.

So there you have it, a 20-year retrospective into the underlying statistics behind All-Star Baseball 2001, one of the best baseball video games of all time. As it happens, in the same trip back home where I rediscovered my N64, I also found a copy of MLB 10: The Show for PS2 lying around. Remember, by the time of that game's release, the titles of baseball video games had changed to reflect the year of the upcoming season, which means I have the means to do both a 20-year AND a 10-year retrospective as we approach the 2020 season. I guess I know what I'm doing with my weekend now...

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Astrology Players Changing Signs 2019

As perhaps the internet's foremost researcher into Fantasy Astrology Baseball (prove me wrong, people!) I was recently quite disturbed to discover that the resource I had been using to determine star signs of major league players was very possibly inaccurate. I explain the situation in the above-linked post, along with a multi-part plan to set things right as far as my various baseball databases are concerned. I recently completed phase one, although as I cross-referenced the birthdates in my 2019 database, I basically threw out the sign-by-sign cusp comparison chart I made and checked everyone who was born between the 18th and the 24th of every month (with some 17th's and 25th's thrown in there for paranoia's sake).

The results weren't as earth-shattering as I might have feared, although I did have to change the signs of a handful of major league contributors based on my findings. Below are the seven players who saw MLB time last year whose signs were misrepresented in my previous databases:

Brad Hand: 3/20/1990 - Aries to Pisces
2019 Points: 1,687 (28.1 PPG)
Consequences: I had Hand as a major player in the Aries bullpen for the last four years (which includes the top five or six relief pitchers, with the sixth spot able to be switched out for a swing-pitcher or spot-starter). However, he wasn't in the "fantasy starting lineup" (top two relievers) in 2019. That honor was reserved for NL Rolaids Relief winner Josh Hader (2,149) and Kirby Yates (2,018). However, Hand would have cracked the Pisces top two this past year behind Aroldis Chapman (1,825), bumping Sergio Romo (1,165) to the proverbial bench. The Rams will have to scramble to replace those innings going back to 2016, but they've had a pretty deep bullpen crop recently.

Kyle Gibson: 10/23/1987 - Scorpio to Libra
2019 Points: 1,150 (33.8 PPG)
Consequences: Basically none, at least as far as 2019 rosters are concerned. As it stands, Gibson's point total put him well behind Scorpio fifth starter Masahiro Tanaka (1,337), and even if he had been in the Libra player pool, he would have finished just shy of Jordan Lyles (1,213). Going back to 2018, Gibson made the Scorpions rotation with 1,522 points, which is a high enough total that would have kicked Derek Holland (1,367) out of the Scales starting five. We'll see if his recent free agent deal with the Rangers will help elevate his profile, a la Mike Minor and Lance Lynn.

Didi Gregorius: 2/18/1990 - Pisces to Aquarius
2019 Points: 1,034 (7.9 PPG)
Consequences: Gregorius had four years as the Pisces starting shortstop from 2015 thru '18. The fallout isn't catastrophic, as Didi's presence pushed natural SS Jean Segura to 2B in all of those years (only one of which (2016) he actually played at the keystone), but there is the question of finding a replacement second baseman for those years, which will likely be the subject of another post. Or I'll do it later. I dunno. As far as Sir Didi's new sign, Gregorius would beat out Brandon Crawford for the second half of that four year stretch, but otherwise he's behind a crop of Aquarius shortstops that's surprisingly strong, given the sign's weakness as a whole.

Sam Coonrod: 9/22/1992 - Libra to Virgo
2019 Points: 330 (10.0 PPG)
Consequences: .... Surely you must be joking. I doubt if anyone outside of hardcore Giants faithful (he was the organization's #23 prospect heading into 2019) had even heard of Coonrod, who made his major league debut this past season. The only reason he was even on my radar prior to this year was because he appeared as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training camp with San Francisco in 2016 and '17. He represents the depthiest of fantasy astrology depth, but if I'm going to do this database correction, I'm going to do it down to the last player...

Josh Staumont: 12/21/1993 - Capricorn to Sagittarius
2019 Points: 100 (6.2 PPG)
Consequences: Alright, now this is just getting ridiculous. Ranked as the Royals #21 prospect prior to 2019, Staumont barely played in the bigs in his debut season, when he replaced experimental closer Wily Peralta. But he spent significant time pitching as a swingman/spot starter for Kansas City's AAA affiliate in Omaha, putting up 487 points and 15.2 PPG.

Brian Schlitter: 12/21/1985 - Capricorn to Sagittarius
2019 Points: 43 (7.1 PPG)
Consequences: Schlitter pitched 9 2/3 innings for the A's in 2019, his first MLB action since 2015 with the Cubs. Oakland apparently liked what it saw enough to bring him back on another minor league deal for 2020. But while he might be a fringe roster player for the Athletics, expect him to fall well shy of fantasy astrology consideration.

Chris Ellis: 9/22/1992 - Libra to Virgo
2019 Points: 5 (5.0 PPG)
Consequences: Ellis was taken from St. Louis (by way of Texas) in the 2018 Rule 5 draft, and his one inning of work in the Royals' third game of the 2019 season was his only MLB experience to date. He was promptly designated for assignment and returned to his former team, where he struggled in brief AAA action. If/when he returns to the majors, at least he'll be playing for the proper astrology team.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Valgod Chapter 2: The Rosebush

"It sure is nice to see the coastline receding again." Sebastian Tweet stands on the deck of a cargo schooner, watching the port city of Dar'Druev shrink in the distance of the southern coast of Valgod. "And it's even nicer to be a passenger on your very fine ship, Mr. Badger, sir."

"It's just 'Badger,'" replies the ship's captain. The middle-aged human stands a fair bit shorter than his half-elf swashbuckler companion, and a bit more wobbly, due to the rather sizable quantity of rum he'd already consumed on their young journey. But it's clear he was a formidable seafarer in his heyday. "And we're glad to have ye and yer friends on the Rosebush. I think the crew is enjoying having some new blood aboard."

Indeed, Seb's two companions seem to be getting along swimmingly with the other sailors. Allen Gootfin stands at the wheel, eagerly taking notes as the ship's navigator Aiden, another high elf, explains the basics of nautical equipment. Meanwhile, Barak Ooda spars with the first mate Jenk, and quite a crowd of deckhands had gathered around to see the burly minotaur go toe-to-toe with the agile lizardfolk. They were having a competition, with the loser of each bout required to drink a swig of rum, although Barak had taken to drinking after each win as well.

L to R: Jenk trains with Barak, Sebastian to with Badger, Allen learns from Aiden
"We should reach Fairport in seven or eight days' time," remarks Badger. "We'll drop off our shipment, then you three can try to make nice with the Waveborn paladins, or find passage up the coast toward Smuggler's Cape, if yer business be of the more shady variety. I won't ask any questions either way."

"And we appreciate your... discretion," replies Sebastian, gratefully. "Although I assure you, our affairs are strictly above board and completely--"

But he is interrupted by a shrill whistle coming from the crow's nest above.

"Ship off the port stern!" cries Philip, the young deckhand, from his spot keeping watch. "She's still afar off, but gaining fast!"

"Perhaps I can help get a closer look," offers Allen, running up to the gunwale. He snaps his fingers, and his familiar, a celestial raven, pops into existence. "Good to see you again, Tim! We have need of your far-seeing eyes once again." The bird cocks its head, lets out an agreeable squawk, and takes to the skies.

In a flourish of magic, Allen's eyes go blank, as he begins to see through his familiar's eyes. (They make a big deal out of this in Game of Thrones, where it's known as "warg-ing," but it's just a first level spell, people, it's nothing too special.) As Tim the bird got closer, Allen could just begin make out the designs on the sails of the approaching ship, when a magic missile comes hurtling toward his field of vision, followed by a loud pop.

"Shiver me Tim-bird!" shouts Allen, as his senses return to himself. "I do believe they have a magic-user on board. I couldn't see much, but the sails were definitely a deep shade of green. And the magic missile that hit my familiar was in the shape of a skull."

"The Glass Skulls!?" groans Badger, taking a deep pull from his rum bottle. "What does Finnerup want with us now?"

"Did you say Glass Skulls?" asks Allen, his ears perking up in recognition. "You mean the same gang that ambushed us back by the docks, when we found that map--?"

"Allen must be mistaken," interrupts Sebastian, giving his companion a subtle 'cut it out' hand-across-the-neck gesture. "I've certainly never heard of the Glass Skulls before. But come Badger, let's go into your cabin, we'll have a drink, and you can tell us all about them."

Sebastian jerks his head at Barack to follow him. The minotaur grabs the bottle of rum from Jenk and stomps towards the door leading belowdecks, none of the crew daring to stand in his way. "Private meeting with the captain," he bellows, ushering his companions inside. As he closes the door behind him, he turns to speak: "And prepare to be boarded!"


"I should'a known Finnerup would catch up to us sooner or later," moans Badger. He drains the dregs from his bottle of rum, only to find another one at his elbow, gently nudged forward by Sebastian. Badger uncorks it and takes another long drink. "That miserable scallywag has always had it in for me."

"Don't despair, captain, we'll find a way out of this," offers Sebastian. "My friends and I are great problem-solvers. But you need to tell us as much as possible about this Finnerup character, so we know what we're up against."

Badger considers for a moment, then takes another drink. "I wasn't always in charge of a merchant ship. Back in the day, I was a fearsome pirate captain! And Finnerup was my first mate. Until he poisoned the minds of my crew, and took control himself!"

"So you're saying that you've been the victim of a mutiny before? Very interesting..." Sebastian throws a sidelong glance at Barak, who is drinking from his own bottle of rum, although the liquor has noticeably little effect on the minotaur. Meanwhile, Allen is taking detailed notes of Badger's story in his journal.

"I was forced out of the pirating life in disgrace," continues Badger. "Lucky to escape with my life, I was. But I was able to rebuild and start over, trading goods for hire. Meanwhile, Finnerup joined the ranks of the Glass Skulls and ascended to their leader. Until now, he had been content with my humiliation, but it looks like that's all changed!" Badger breaks down sobbing, his head sinking down onto his desk.

"There, there, Badger," consoles Sebastian, gently lifting up the captain's head and coaxing the bottle of rum towards him. "You just need some more liquid courage and everything will be just fine."

"What are you doing?" whispers Allen. "If he drinks much more, he'll be in no shape to face a ship full of pirates!"

"Don't worry," winks Sebastian. "THIS Badger is not going anywhere near any pirates..."


"Badger! I know you're in there! Come on out, I burn yer ship into the sea!"

The ship in question, the Rosebush, was anchored alongside a much larger and more heavily-armed vessel. The two ships were attached with grappling hooks on either side, and a boarding bridge in the center. Standing menacingly on this corvus was Finnerup the Fool, speaker of the above threat. The captain of the Glass Skulls has a physique somewhere between scrawny and wiry, a bald head under a green bandana, and shifty, darting eyes.

Standing on the deck behind Finnerup, his massive first mate in full plate mail was locking eyes (or rather where their eyes might presumably be, behind the closed visor of their helmet) with Badger's first mate Jenk, who was stoically defending his ship. Meanwhile, the Rosebush's navigator Aiden was sizing up his counterpart on the other ship, a buxom Dwarven woman who smelled faintly of lavender, and whose fingers sparkled as though she was ready to fire off another skull-shaped magic missile at a moment's notice.

Finnerup and the Glass Skulls
"Ye know I'll do it, Badger, ye old seadog!" growls Finnerup. "Ye don't wanna lose ANOTHER ship, do ye?" This was met with a chorus of laughter from Badger's former crew.

All of a sudden, the door to the captain's cabin bursts open, and Badger stumbles out, clutching a nearly empty bottle of rum. "Alright Finnerup," the gray-haired captain slurs. "I know when I'm beat. I get the MESSAGE!" Jenk hurries back to help his captain from falling, but the lizardfolk pauses at a dismissive hand-wave from Badger, who takes a moment to steady himself. "So what'll it be? Ya want our shipment of fine silks bound for Fairport? Or is it RUM yer after?" Badger drains his bottle, tosses it over the railing, then pulls another one from his satchel.

"Don't be coy with me, old salt," sneers Finnerup. "We'd been watchin' ye closely in Dar'Druev. We know ye picked up three passengers: a two elves and a minotaur. Or an elf, a man, and a minotaur."

"I believe the word you're searching for is half-elf?" offers Finnerup's navigator.

"Whatever they be," shouts Finnerup, "they stole sumthin' from me, and I aim to get it back!"

"Ya got me, Finnerup," admits Badger. "They were on board this ship. And the good-lookin fellow was in fact a half-elf," confirms Badger, throwing a lusty wink to the female dwarf at the helm, who blows a kiss in return. "But now, only one of 'em's left. Care to take a look?" The old former pirate takes a step back and gestures clumsily into his cabin.

Finnerup looks warily around, then nods to his first mate to follow him as he hops lightly onto the enemy ship. The armored figure takes hold of a giant halberd and clomps after their captain, with Jenk forced to step aside to avoid being trampled.

As Finnerup cautiously peers inside Badger's cabin, he catches sight of a large steel cage, inside of which sits the bound form of Barak Ooda!

"Well blow me down!" utters Finnerup. "How did you bilge rats manage to subdue a minotaur? That horn-head and his mates killed five of my best fighters!"

"Got the drop on 'em, we did," explains Badger. "They came to us seeking passage, so we made 'em feel safe, then we set on 'em during the night. Kept the minotaur alive to sell to the fighting pits."

"Seems I underestimated you, bucko," muses Finnerup, moving uncomfortably close to Badger. "But I don't care a wooden dubloon about no minotaur. I want the map."

"Oh, I've got the map," says Badger, producing the ornate tube from behind Barak's cage. "And you're welcome to have it..." Finnerup smiles as Badger leans in close, but his face changes to a look of surprise when the voice that speaks the next phrase doesn't sound like his old drunken captain, but rather like a charismatic half-elf adventurer. "...when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers."

Art from "Deadeye Brawler" by Jesper Ejsing
The bottle of rum in "Badger's" other hand comes crashing down on Finnerup's skull, causing the pirate captain to stagger back towards the railing. Then the body that looks like Badger's launches into a nifty backflip, grabs hold of a piece of rope from the rigging, and swings into a devastating kick. Both feet that look like Badger's connect squarely with Finnerup's chest, sending him tumbling into the sea.

At the same moment, Barak lets out a rage-fueled roar and charges straight through the bars of his illusory cage towards Finnerup's first mate, who has taken up a fighting stance. The armored brute meets the full fury of the minotaur and goes sliding backwards, but the two appear evenly matched. Without missing a beat, Jenk leaps into the fray, unleashing a flurry of blows on the pirate's lower body, throwing off their center of gravity. Barak uses the opportunity to hook his horns under his enemy's arms and heave them over the side.

Seeing this situation unfold, the dwarven navigator leaps down onto the deck and begins to cast a spell as she rushes towards the boarding bridge. But as soon as she steps on the gangplank, it begins to rise up, seemingly of its own accord. She loses her balance and follows her companions into the sea, just as the formerly invisible form of Allen Gootfin reappears, straining with all his might to shove the bridge off the side of their ship.

"Weigh anchor and hoist the mizzium!" calls out Allen, as a bolt of fire flies from his outstretched hand and ignites the green sails of Finnerup's ship.

"It's actually MIZZEN, but I get the point!" shouts Aiden in reply. He grabs hold of the ship's wheel, shouting orders to the crew, as Barak finishes unhooking the final grappling hooks.

As the Rosebush beats a hasty retreat, a cloud of magical fog billows out around the form of Badger, who drops the illusion and morphs back into Sebastian Tweet. He laughs at the sight of Finnerup's crew, trying desperately to douse their flaming sails while fishing their captain out of the water.

"Who's the bilge rats now!?"

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

MLB Fantasy Astrology Awards 2019

With the 2019-20 offseason in full swing, it's time to look back at this past season's big award winners... through the lens of Fantasy Astrology! I'll be breaking down the seasons of the 2019 MVPs, Cy Youngs (Cy's Young?), Rookies of the Year, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, and Variously Branded Relief Pitcher Awards, all organized by sign, to determine if there are any patterns in who the stars favored this year. First of all, here's a reminder of all the signs, their colors, logos, and various astrological qualities. Then we'll go in award/calendar order, starting with a certain first-time MVP, who happens to represent both my home sign AND my hometown team:

Cancer Crabs (or Decapods, if you want to get technical / listen to the Moana soundtrack)

NL MVP: Cody Bellinger
2019 Points: 2,849 (18.2 per game)

The Dodgers' prized outfielder/first baseman won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2017, then went through a bit of a sophomore slump (not counting his NLCS MVP performance in the postseason, of course), before rebounding in a big way to take home not only the 2019 MVP trophy, but also a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove. His versatility is impressive, and kind of reminds me of the defensive profile of Lance Berkman, a famous Aquarius slugger from back in the day. Incidentally, Bellinger's father, Clay (a Scorpio) spent four years in MLB himself, mostly as a utility player for the Yankees.

AL Rookie of the Year: Yordan Alvarez
2019 Points: 1,552 (17.8 PPG)

Cancer also claims the Rookie of the Year winning Yordan Alvarez of the Astros. The slugging DH (and infrequent left fielder) didn't make his MLB debut until June, but he crushed 27 home runs in his 87 games with an OPS over 1.000 (1.067 to be exact). While Alvarez's light-tower power can't be denied, it's unfortunate that he won these accolades with a team that has been exposed as sign-stealers, but there's no evidence (as of yet) that this nefarious practice extended beyond the 2017 season... although Rob Manfred's assertion of that fact is likely motivated by an unwillingness to dig deeper into the problem at this point in time.

As far as other Cancer award winners go, Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu (speaking of versatility), and Twins DH Nelson Cruz (the opposite) both won AL Silver Sluggers. Cruz has two previous SS's on his resume, both while playing for Seattle, while LeMahieu (who also finished fourth in AL MVP voting) got his first SS, after three previous Gold Gloves at second base with Colorado. Picking up LeMahieu's defensive torch is Yolmer (formerly Carlos) Sanchez of the White Sox, whose bat might keep him out of a job in Chicago next year, despite his defensive excellence.

Leo Lions

AL MVP: Mike Trout
2019 Points: 2,568 (19.1 PPG)

I don't usually advocate for anything Astros-related these days, but I must say, I think Aries infielder Alex Bregman did more for his team than Trout this year, and the fantasy points bear that out (A-Breg finished the year with 2,739 points and 17.5 PPG). Of course had Trout's season not ended early due to injury, the two-time MVP (and also former ROY) likely would have eclipsed his division-mate to the east. But it's also true that the Angels finished far out of the postseason in 2019 - although their star player likely didn't have the assistance of sign-stealing trash can-bangers... not that he needs it. Trout also took home his whopping seventh Silver Slugger award (out of eight seasons in the bigs), although he has never won a Gold Glove.

The only other awards showing for Leo in 2019 were two NL Gold Glovers: Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Diamondbacks left fielder David Peralta. Rizzo defends his GG from the previous season, and adds it to a third one from 2016, a year he was also named the Silver Slugger at first base. Peralta actually switched accolades from 2018, where he took home a SS in the outfield with a 30-home run season. He takes home the GG for the first time, despite playing in fewer than 100 games in 2019.

Pisces Fish

AL CYA: Justin Verlander
2019 Points: 3,235 (95.1 PPG)

I heard (and agreed with) a reasonable proposal towards the end of the 2019 season: have teammates Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole share the AL Cy Young Award! It makes sense: they were the top two pitchers in the league (in EITHER league, in fact), and they were SO CLOSE in 2019 production; the Virgo Cole clocked in at 3,148 points and 95.3 per game. So what pushed Verlander over the edge? Was it his no-hitter against the Blue Jays in the fall, the third of his career? Or was it the previous MVP and Cy Young award that he had on his mantle from 2011 (plus a ROY in 2006)? Or could it have been the one win and 10 more innings he pitched than the now-free agent Cole, or the slightly lower WHIP (.803 to .895)? It certainly wasn't strikeouts (Cole had 6 more) or ERA (Cole's was .08 lower). Either way, they're both great, and after this winter, they'll both be rich to boot.

AL Reliever of the Year: Aroldis Chapman
2019 Points: 1,825 (30.4 PPG)

Previously known as the Rolaids Relief Man Award, then re-named for Mariano Rivera upon the legendary closer's retirement after 2013, Aroldis Chapman steps into the former Yankee's shoes with the 2019 version of the award. This was the first major awards consideration for the Cuban fireballer, and he took home the honors despite being out-fantasy-scored by Aquarius Roberto Osuna (who might have been overlooked for non-baseball related reasons) and Cancer Liam Hendriks (who, granted, did not occupy the closer's role from day one of 2019).

The other star Pisces for 2019 was Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto, who won both a Silver Slugger (his second consecutive one) and a Gold Glove (his first) in his first year for his new team. D-Backs shortstop Nick Ahmed joined him in the GG department, and with the recent revelation that Didi Gregorius is now an Aquarius (more on that in a later post), Ahmed should have some more playing time in the Fish's middle infield.

Gemini Twins

NL CYA: Jacob deGrom
2019 Points: 2,495 (77.9 PPG)

The NL pitching champ defends his title in 2019, as the Gemini man took home top pitching honors in the NL for the second straight year from atop the Mets rotation. Actually, Leo Max Scherzer outscored deGrom in 2018 (3,020 to 2,827), but no pitcher in the NL topped deGrom in points in '19. Like the winners of the other three big awards, deGrom also earned a Rookie of the Year nod in his first season (2014), and he's been a mainstay on pitching leaderboards ever since. The only other Gemini to garner any awards consideration was NL MVP candidate and top free agent position player Anthony Rendon, who won a Silver Slugger while playing for the World Champion Nationals.

Sagittarius Archers

NL ROY: Pete Alonso
2019 Points: 2,456 (15.2 PPG)

A teammate of deGrom in 2019, the Mets tabbed Pete Alonso as their opening day first baseman, flying in the face of the tried and true (and much maligned) strategy of delaying a star player's debut in the majors in order to gain an extra year of team control. The bold move paid off, as Alonso hit 53 home runs, a record amount for a rookie, while also winning an extremely exciting Home Run Derby along the way. Sagittarius has serious firepower in the lineup to put around the man known as "Polar Bear" in Christian Yelich and Ronald Acuna Jr. Last year's MVP Yelich won his third Silver Slugger award in 2019 (he also has a Gold Glove to his name), while Acuna earned his first SS in his sophomore season, after taking home NL ROY honors in 2018.

Aries Rams

NL Reliever of the Year: Josh Hader
2019 Points: 2,149 (35.2 PPG)

The winner of the NL version of this award two years running (which is named after Padres great Trevor Hoffman), Hader saw his fantasy point totals skyrocket in 2019 after transitioning from a high-leverage reliever into the full time closer. The lanky Maryland native does have a couple of marks on his resume - most notably a collapse in this year's NL Wild Card Game against Washington, and some racist tweets uncovered during the 2018 All-Star Game - but his blazing fastball and wipeout slider should continue to strike fear into opposing batters, even as he enters his arbitration years.

Aries had a strong cast of supporting awards characters in 2019, including two Silver Sluggers and three Gold Glove winners. Both SS's were first time winners of the award: returning Indians first baseman Carlos Santana, and the above-mentioned Alex Bregman, who took home the award at third base, despite also spending significant time at shortstop. Speaking of third base, the Rockies star at the hot corner Nolan Arenado took home his stunning seventh consecutive GG award (one for every year he's been in the majors), while also breaking a run of four consecutive Silver Sluggers. Joining him on the NL side is Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain (his first time winning the award), while Athletics first baseman Matt Olson won his second consecutive fielding trophy.

Rounding out the rest of the signs, Libra starting pitcher Zack Greinke took home both the NL Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards for his position, despite the fact that he was traded away from the National League at the deadline. Former AL MVP Mookie Betts followed suit with a SS+GG season, his third such campaign - he missed out on the Silver Slugger in 2017, but still has a run of four consecutive Gold Gloves. Sticking with the Scales middle infield, Betts's teammate Xander Bogaerts won the AL Silver Slugger at shortstop, while Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong took home the NL Gold Glove at the keystone.

Sticking with the middle infield, Scorpio boasted two top-notch shortstops in 2019, as Trevor Story of the Rockies took home the NL Silver Slugger (his second consecutive one), while Francisco Lindor of the Indians won his second AL Gold Glove - the first one came in 2016, which means his two GG's bookend two SS's from 2017 and '18. Scorpions starting pitcher Mike Leake took home the AL Gold Glove for pitchers, despite the trade that sent him to the NL at the deadline. What Scorpio was to shortstops, Capricorn was to catchers, as Twins slugging backstop Mitch Garver took home a Silver Slugger, despite his injury-shortened season, while Indians stopped Roberto Perez earned a Gold Glove for his defensive prowess. Another Sea-Goat, Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies, won the NL Silver Slugger for second basemen in his third year in the bigs.

The 2019 Fantasy Astrology champion Virgo Maidens (or maybe Damsels, if you want to get old-school) boasted two Silver Sluggers in Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (who won the Gold Glove the previous year) and Astros outfielder George Springer (his second SS in three years). On the other side of the field, the Taurus Bulls had two Gold Glove winners: Matt Chapman took down his second consecutive Gold Glove as the A's third baseman, while Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier earned his third such award. And bringing up the rear, we have the seemingly always-lowly Aquarius, which has Royals Gold Glove winning left fielder Alex Gordon, who has taken home a GG seven times in the last nine seasons.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Astrology Baseball: What's the Deal With Cusps?

When I first got into astrology, it wasn't because I believed that everyone's personalities are influenced by their date/time/place of birth. (I'm still not convinced of this, so please like, leave a comment, and share my posts with all your astrology friends to try and convince me.) No, I first got into astrology so that I could sort my database of MLB players by birth sign, and play a season with astrologically-inspired rosters on my favorite baseball video game: MVP Baseball 2005 - despite the fact that this was in 2009 and the stats in the game were already five years out of date. To do this, I used a boilerplate table of dates, such as the one you'd find on Wikipedia. (i.e. Gemini: May 22 - June 21 / Cancer: June 22 - July 22 / Leo: July 23 - August 22 / etc.) While I was aware of the concept of cusps, this table seemed to provide a hard beginning and end date for each sign, so when confronted with a player like Royals slugging first baseman Mike Sweeney (born July 22, 1973 in Orange, CA), I didn't think twice about assigning him to my "home sign" Cancer Crabs.

I revisited this project again in 2012, this time in order to plug my astrology rosters into ESPN's Fantasy Baseball client and simulate a 12-team fantasy league based on the signs. However, by this point, I had come across some research stating that cusps can shift from year to year (whether from the Moon's gravitational pull or because of leap years, I wasn't really sure). To address this wrinkle, I found a comprehensive spreadsheet (an excerpt of which is pictured left) that broke down each sign by year. Sadly I did not note the URL where I found this spreadsheet - I just copied-pasted it into an Excel document of my own - but it looked legitimate, I swear. Now looking back, if I had used this information in my above MVP 05 experiment, I would have placed Mike Sweeney with the Leo Lions, since his birthday fell on the day when the sun enters Leo. It wouldn't have mattered too much to those '05 Crabs, since they already had Carlos Delgado, Sean Casey, Aramis Ramirez, and Vinny Castilla to rotate between the 1B, 3B, and DH spots... But it's the principle of the thing: if I'm going to spend countless hours on a pointless exercise that no one will ever see based on pseudoscience and an old video game, I'd at least like it to be accurate.

So I used this spreadsheet for the inaugural 2012 Fantasy Astrology League, and continued using it for each subsequent season... until this offseason. With my 2019 database up to date, following this season's thrilling conclusion, and my Astrology All-Decade rosters complete from 2000 thru 2019, I decided to see how far back into the past I could push these astrology lineups. I encountered my first problem in 1998, with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, who played his final season that year for his hometown Minnesota Twins. My precious spreadsheet only covered the years 1960 thru 2009, and Molitor was born in 1956, on August 22, a date that traditionally falls on the Leo/Virgo cusp. After an Internet deep dive, I came upon a site called, which has a Zodiac Calculator that confirmed Molitor as a Leo. I perhaps could have gotten a hint had I looked at his full name - Paul Leo Molitor - although that could have been a coincidence; maybe his grandfather is named Leonard...

While my immediate question was answered, the discovery of this resource opened up a rabbit hole that I had to follow to its logical conclusion. On a whim, I inserted Mike Sweeney's birth date and location (I haven't bothered to look for his birth time) into the Calculator, and he came up as a... you guessed it: Cancer.

Needless to say, my entire worldview was thrown into disarray. Has my spreadsheet been wrong all these years? Or is this calculator inaccurate? Or are they both wrong, and we should all just embrace the Ophiuchus mess? Upon realizing this inconsistency, I immediately formulated a plan and jumped into action: I compared four different date tables to determine a range of cusps for all 12 signs, which I will cross-reference with every birthdate in my baseball database, confirming each borderline case using the helloastrology calculator (since it goes all the way back to 1920, and looks pretty serious, what with the measure of degrees and all). If any of you astrology buffs out there have any better ideas, or explanations of what's going on in the stars, I'm all ears. Until then, if you need me for anything, I'll probably be done with this endeavor by the time the sun enters Pisces...

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Batman: Arkham Knight Let's Play #15 - Bruce Wayne

As I was going through the long and arduous process of re-uploading my Batman: Arkham Knight Let's Play videos in glorious HD and then updating the corresponding blog recaps, I realized that I had never written one for the finale! Perhaps I simply forgot; or perhaps I just didn't want the adventure to end... and in a sense, it hasn't yet! So here's an in-depth look at the thrilling conclusion of my own personalized version of Batman: Arkham Knight:

Episode 14 ended with the revelation that Robin (i.e. Tim Drake) had been abducted from the movie studios by Scarecrow, forcing us to deal with the game's main villain on his terms. In an interesting behind-the-scenes tidbit, even though I featured the completion of the Riddler side mission in the previous episode, that actually would not be possible when playing the game itself - the image of Robin's defaced and empty quarantine cell is one of the Riddler challenges you have to scan in order to gain access to his final boss fight. But I rearranged the order so as not to interrupt the flow of the story heading into the final installment. Incidentally, this episode was also where I first got the inspiration to record my voice-over commentary from the perspective of the game's playable character, although I wouldn't explore this concept fully until my Let's Play of Batman: Return to Arkham Asylum (which will hopefully be getting its own HD re-upload in the near future).

After surrendering to Scarecrow and getting into the back of a truck, we are launched into a fear-toxin hallucination where the truck crashes right into Crime Alley - the murder scene of young Bruce Wayne's parents - and we're forced to fight an endless stream of Jokers. I scored this sequence with a track from the Official Arkham Asylum soundtrack called "Playful Joker." This cue originally goes with the downloadable content where you play AS Joker, but I found it just as compelling to use it here in combat AGAINST Joker.

Speaking of music from Arkham Asylum, I use the music from the first game's opening sequence as we return to the actual Arkham Asylum, where Scarecrow has somewhat predictably set up shop for his endgame. I've noted several times throughout this playthrough that I've been pleasantly amazed at how perfectly the music from either one of the previous Arkham games or Batman: The Animated Series fits perfectly with many segments in Arkham Knight, and the part where Scarecrow unmasks Batman is a prime example. The music here is actually from the sequence in Asylum where Joker murders his Arkham guard escort and escapes from his comically flimsy restraints, but check out how it builds perfectly to Scarecrow's cameras revealing Batman's identity for all the world to see. I had to quickly fade in another track from Asylum for when Batman is administered with a quadruple dose of concentrated fear toxin (it's the part where Harley Quinn sends the secure elevator crashing down), but some editing work is to expected to make every moment land.

Speaking of editing work, this next segment is definitely one of the top three music edits I'm most proud of in the whole series. Batman's next hallucination features a group of villains crowded around our unconscious captive hero... who is revealed to be the Joker! (The implication here being that Batman's infected Joker blood has taken hold, and his transformation into his arch nemesis is complete.) For this bit of villains vs. villain banter, I used Stuart Balcomb's theme from the Animated Series episode "Almost Got 'Im." The comparison is appropriate, because here too, the contingent of rogue's gallery members ALMOST gets their man... before the Batmobile crashes through the wall, crushing Killer Croc, and drawing the attention of the army of henchmen. This one took some effort - the music track didn't line up perfectly like it did in the above example - but I think we can all agree I made it work pretty well.

At this point in the game, we take control of Joker as he slaughters dozens of henchmen with the "Jokermobile" and massacres the remaining supervillains, accompanied by the first licensed external music in the game since the opening sequence: "Only You" by The Platters. Later on in the hallucination, after the part where Batman shuts off the lights in an effort to regain control of his own psyche, I did some significant internal cutting to streamline the action here. In order to get past this part in the game, you have to do a lot of quiet, aimless, first-person wandering through the crypt-like halls of Batman's mind palace, which makes for some tense and creepy gameplay. But since my goal of these videos was to have as little empty space as possible to fill with commentary, I basically picked the best parts of Joker's inner monologue, and then trimmed the game action to fit the audio. Also, just to pat myself on the back once again, I have to say that the choice of the game show music from the Animated Series episode "Christmas With the Joker" to go under the Good Evening Gotham segment was particularly inspired.

But the number one top best music moment of this entire Let's Play follows soon after this, during the moment where Batman reveals that he knows Joker's greatest fear, and thus how to defeat him once and for all: "You're afraid of being ashes. You're afraid of being forgotten. And you will be forgotten, Joker... because of me." At this point, we regain control of Batman - immediately after he utters one of his most famous catchphrases ("I am vengeance. I am the night. I AM BATMAN!") - so that we can give the Joker one final beating and lock him away inside the dungeons of our mind. The above mentioned catchphrase comes from the Animated Series episode "Nothing to Fear," so it only makes sense that I would use music from that episode to punctuate this moment in the game... but the funny thing is that the music that (once again) just HAPPENS to fit perfectly here* is from a different part of that same episode!

* Since we're not talking about a cutscene, the perfect fit is partly dependent on how I happened to play at this point, and even then it required a bit of a trim in the editing process.

After Batman regains control of his senses, he is freed from his shackles by none other than Jason Todd, who has abandoned the Arkham Knight moniker to become the Red Hood, and injects Scarecrow with a taste of his own medicine. The resulting scene of Dr. Jonathan Crane being scared shirtless when confronted with Batman's toxin-enhanced visage, is a direct lift from the oft-referenced "Nothing to Fear" episode, and the music from that sequence once again works well here, even continuing into the denouement with Commissioner Gordon. (In the show, this part of the music goes under Bruce Wayne visiting his parents' grave, after he talked himself out of the toxin-induced belief that they would see him as a failure.)

The game then concludes with a series of cutscenes, interrupted briefly when we have to activate the Knightfall Protocol by making our way up to the Bat Signal on top of GCPD. This plan involves the shocking demolition of Wayne Manor, with Batman and Alfred seemingly inside at the time! I don't think anyone seriously believed that Bruce Wayne would commit suicide, or even less so that he would take his loyal butler down with him, and the idea that Batman isn't really gone is confirmed in a special 100% completion post-credits scene, where a seemingly fear-toxin wielding Batman terrorizes some criminals in an alley. I speculate on three possible interpretations of this scene in the last moments of my commentary on the video: 1) Bruce Wayne returned because he couldn't stay away, 2) Jason Todd gave up his Red Hood and took on the Bat-mantle, or (most controversially) 3) Scarecrow himself became Batman, succumbing to his greatest fear. There are several other possibilities - Tim Drake, Dick Grayson, even Azrael, whose side missions I left out of the Let's Play (maybe I'll include them in a bonus episode sometime down the line?) - but the use of fear toxin imagery leads me to believe it's one of the top three.

What did you all think of the ending of Batman: Arkham Knight? I'd love to hear your takes in the comments of this post, or the video itself. And of course stay tuned to this blog and the ryskmonger42 channel for more Baseball, Batman, and Video Game related content!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

MLB 2019-20 Free Agents by Astrology Sign

One week ago today, MLB Trade Rumors posted their list of the top 50 free agents, complete with predictions of where they would end up for next season. Because I'm a compulsive list maker, I quickly organized a hypothetical roster out of the highest fantasy-scoring players on that list. That roster is presented below (along with MLBTR's rankings and predictions at the left), and after that, I present a look at some of the more high-profile names on this list through the lens of my unique baseball perspective, Fantasy Astrology!

Number 1 ranked MLB Trade Rumors free agent Gerrit Cole has also been the number 1 fantasy point scoring starting pitcher for Virgo over the past two seasons, both of which he spent with Houston. But he's been in the Maidens starting five for 4 of the past 5 years, dating back to his time with Pittsburgh. Speaking of the Pirates, Cole is actually their leading All-Decade starter, finishing ahead of his former Astros teammate Charlie Morton (a Scorpio) by just three games. VIR doesn't have another ranked FA until number 18, where Mike Moustakas puts his newly earned second base eligibility to use, as there are actually a couple of pretty decent third basemen ahead of him on the depth chart. Moose made the Virgo starting team at 3B 2 of the last 5 years, but was a regular feature at the hot corner with the Royals, with 885 all-decade games.

Will Harris, Cole's teammate and Astros playoff goat (not the same as the acronym G.O.A.T.), checks in next at 22. His first of three years making the Virgo bullpen (in which I keep track of up to 6 dedicated relief pitchers) was the same as Cole and Moustakas's, and he also leads Houston in all-decade appearances at 309. Ten spots later is center field-eligible Brett Gardner, who has the most fantasy astrology starting experience of Virgo free agents, with five seasons as a starter, although they came over a span of 10 years - the same span as my All-Decade project. Speaking of which, Gardy also has the most all-decade experience among VIR FA's, as he racked up 953 games in left field, plus another 422 in center, for the Yankees.

The most coveted position player on the free agent market should be world champion third baseman Anthony Rendon, a stalwart on the Gemini fantasy astrology team for 5 of the last 6 seasons. But who remembers that he actually broke into the league in 2013 as primarily a second baseman? Injuries and a position change across the diamond for franchise player (and Libra) Ryan Zimmerman cemented Rendon at the hot corner, where he has blossomed into one of the game's top players with the glove as well as the bat. But it's fascinating to imagine the prospect of him returning to his old defensive stomping ground to facilitate a signing with a team that already has an even better defensive third baseman. (Matt Chapman just won his second Platinum Glove in a row, I'm just sayin'...) The only other member of the astrology Twins on my list is sometime Cubs closer Steve Cishek, since I did the rankings by fantasy points rather than MLBTR rankings; which is also the reason why #4 ranked SP Zack Wheeler (1,635 points / 52.7 points-per-game) isn't up there, as he finished just behind Aries Jake Odorizzi in both categories.

The Cancer Crabs fantasy astrology team has been consistently pitching-poor since as far back as I've been able to measure (which is at this point the late 1990's), but for 7 of the past 8 years they've had a bona fide ace in Stephen Strasburg. I was frankly surprised that the Nationals' leading All-Decade starter (239 games) decided to opt out of the remaining $100 on his contract, given his low key nature and the unpredictable (almost collusively so) free agent market, but there's little doubt he'll beat his previous guarantee based on his absolutely incredible platform season. Teams will be wary of overpaying given his resume, but the adage that "past performance doesn't guarantee future results" cuts both ways with Stras, as it applies not only to his checkered injury history, but also to his World Series MVP-winning 2019 performance. The top relief pitcher on the market, lefty Will Smith, led the Cancer bullpen this year, and his role will be even more important given Blake Treinen's nosedive and Felipe Vazquez's criminal proclivities. Not listed is Strasburg's teammate and fellow playoff hero Howie Kendrick (he was ranked #30 with 1,398 points and 11.5 PPG), who I in all seriousness would like to see sign with the green and gold next year to replace Pisces Jurickson Profar at the keystone.

So far I've profiled signs from the Earth, Air, and Water elemental "divisions," and I'll close by looking at one player from each of the three Fire teams. NL ERA leader and first time All-Star Hyun-Jin Ryu led the Aries rotation after playing second (or more accurately sixth or seventh) fiddle behind Rams legends like Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, and Felix Hernandez since 2013. Speaking of second fiddle, Madison Bumgarner had been number 2 in the Leo rotation from 2013 thru 2016 (he led Lions starters in 2011 and '12, but settled in at number 4 in 2019, after a two-year gap), and each time he finished behind Max Scherzer. Although he's the DH in this lineup, Josh Donaldson is known almost as much for his glovework at third base as his potent bat, where he took over as the heir apparent of David Wright on the Sagittarius team - although he has twice been frozen out by other Archers such as Matt Carpenter and Justin Turner since he took the reins in 2013.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Valgod: a DnD Fan Fiction

art is from Swaggering Corsair by Scott Murphy
A half-elf and a minotaur walk into a tavern. This tavern is dark and dingy, as are most taverns in the port city of Dar Druev, but especially so on this part of the docks. And it's also filled mostly with out of work sailors... as are most taverns on the southern coast of the continent of Valgod. In fact, the dashing half-elf looks like he'd be more at home in a ship's rigging than on dry land, with a flowing mane of dark brown hair and a rapier at his side. The minotaur, on the other hand, cuts quite the figure of hired muscle, constantly throwing side-eyed glances at the patrons, never letting anyone get into a threatening position. For his part, the massive horned creature, with fur and skin so grey it looks almost blue in the right light, receives plenty of similar glances, as his undersized companion sidles up to the bar and orders two ales.

"Ah, now that's a foine ale you've got the-yeah," remarks a sturdy-looking high elf sitting on a nearby stool, in a heavy Earth-British accent. Next to him on the floor is a homemade sandwich board sign that reads Allen Goodfin's Knowledge Emporium! And underneath in smaller print, Where Learning is All In Good Fun... "Despite being known for its relatively cheap price, this particular batch is actually quite good quality, owing to its being made from a surplus of the finest wheat and barley from the southern valleys..."

As Allen Gootfin turns to the minotaur and goes on talking, the swashbuckler and his bodyguard give him a once-over. The elf is wearing polished scale mail, adorned with religious imagery, has a short sword and shield strapped to his side (both of Elven make, of course), but atop his head sits not a helm, but a tall pointed and brimmed hat best associated with Merlin, Gandalf, and other wizardly types. The two companions share a knowing glance.

"...the distillation process of grains from this district..." continues Allen, now addressing no one in particular.

"Thanks for the information, friend," the dashing rogue interrupts. "In fact, barkeep, kindly get one more ale for...mister Gootfin, is it? No, it's no trouble at all! My name is Sebastian Tweet, but my friends call me Seb. And this is my companion, Barrack."

"Of the Uda clan," pipes in the minotaur loudly, as he drains his ale in one shot. "Barkeep, another ale!"

"Why thank you very much, and pleased to make your aquaintances, Seb Tweet and Barrack Uda!" replies Allen gratefully. "And especially you, Mister Uda, as it's certainly rare to see a minotaur in these parts." Alan turns away from his new friends and addresses a random patron who has just approached the bar. "Originally from the land of Krynn, the minotaur are known as ferocious sea raiders, who rank as some of the most dangerous sailors in the world. But they are equally at home in the gladiatorial arenas of their homeland, which..."

"Excuse me, my friend," Sebastian breaks in once again. "But if you're truly in the knowledge trade, I might have some business for you." Seb reveals a ring that he has fastened on a chain around his neck. "You see, I came across this ring in my... travels, and I believe it holds great power. But I haven't been able to find out anything about it. Would you mind giving it a look?"

"Certainly, my lad," Alan eagerly begins inspecting the ring. "Hmm, it doesn't feel inherently magic. But I also sense that it could be used as a focus to channel great magical power. And... hang on a minute, what's THIS? It looks like there's a symbol carved onto the underside of the ring."

Elvish Rejuvenator by Winona Nelson
Allen holds the ring up for Seb and Barrack to see. "This symbol is associated with Desha, the Harmonist, one of the gods of the old pantheon of Valgod. These gods are now, of course, long forgotten, as they've all been missing since the destruction of the city of Old Stilgeras in The Tempest," Alan continues, this time turning to the barkeep, who has been doing his best to ignore these diatribes all day. "But the legend of Desha states that she was estranged and reclusive, and that she saw herself as the ultimate balancer. With full control over the forces of life and death, the dark deity held the greatest influence over the mortal world. She was a selfish and power-hungry figure, not at all like the patron deity of my clerical order, Ora Sen, the Skeptic, who champions thought and reason above all else..."

Sebastian only smiles and nods as Barrack continues pounding ales and Alan goes on pontificating long into the night.


As night falls over the harbor, three humanoids exit a tavern: a dashing half-elf, a gigantic minotaur, and a high elf carrying a homemade sandwich board under one arm.

"Well, Allen, it was a pleasure to meet you," says the half-elf, shaking Allen's free hand. "Thanks for the information about the ring, and good luck with your emporium business."

"You're very welcome, Sebastian," replies the full-elf. "And this knowledge DISPENSING business is only temporary. Once I drum up enough gold to pay for ship's fare, I'll be on my way in my quest to circumnavigate the continent of Valgod, so I can get back to more knowledge ACQUIRING..."

As Allen droned on, the minotaur perked up his ears and nudged Seb between the ribs.

"What is it, Barrack?" the rogue asks. As the minotaur points down the road, the three companions could make out the figure of an old man running towards them as he crested over the top of the hill. He was soaking wet, as if he just emerged from the sea, and he carried an ornate cylindrical container.

As the old man approaches, Barrack turns his six-foot, six-inch, 338 pound frame to block the path of the fugitive, who surprisingly continues running at full speed until he collapses into the arms of the minotaur. He thrusts the container into Barrack's hands and gasps, "Keep it safe!" before crumpling to the ground. At this point, the heads of five armed humans in pursuit also crest above the hill.

"Don't panic, old man, we'll help you out!" shouts Sebastian, frantically looking around, and then ushering the old man towards an unattended barrel on the side of the road. "Get in there and let me do the talking."

The man complies and crawls inside, as the water continues to drip off him and slowly fill the barrel. Sebastian plunks the lid on the barrel and sits on top of it as the five armed men reach him and slow to a halt.

"Nothing to see here, fellas," Sebastian calls out, doing his best to act casual.

"Hand over the old man, now!" shouts the clear leader of the group, wearing a finely crafted breastplate and armed with a distinctive bastard sword. He and the rest of his colleagues all wear green bandanas.

"Uh, I think he went that way," offers Sebastian, pointing down the street in the opposite direction. "If you keep running at top speed, you might just catch him."

"Are ye daft?" questions the leader. "I saw you stuff him in that barrel a minute ago! He's got something that belongs to us."

"Forgive me sir, but who is US?" asks Allen, his curiosity getting the better of him.

"You're telling me you don't know about the Glass Skulls?" laughed the leader, incredulously. "We OWN the streets of Dar'Druev, and anyone who gets in our way is gonna have to answer to the captain."

"Well, pardon me, but I'm not FROM Dar'Druev," answers Allen. "I make my home in Calphania, the High Elven city, far to the north. Our main exports are..."

"Shut up and give us that map!" yells the leader angrily, realizing that Barrack is still holding the old man's bundle.

Labyrinth Minotaur by Anson Maddocks
Barrack looks down at the bundle innocently, then back up to the leader. "Make me," the minotaur says.

The leader just chuckles and raises his sword. "Have at 'em, lads!"

Two of the thugs flank their leader and get ready with their spears, while the two in the back run up a nearby staircase and take sniping positions with their crossbows. The leader and the minotaur are already exchanging heavy blows, the former with his sword, the latter with his razor sharp horns, while the swashbuckler engages one of the lackeys in a dueling stance with his rapier.

Allen simply turns around and says, "As soon as I saw Barrack take that threatening stance in the middle of the road, I knew there was gonna be trouble. And I'm saying to myself, I just met these guys, I don't know what they're capable of, and I definitely don't want to get in over my head. But then there's this dripping wet fellow in the barrel, and I don't know WHAT to make of him..."

Meanwhile Sebastian runs his sword through his opponent's gut, just as Barrack is pierced by a crossbow bolt. This leaves him stunned enough that he couldn't dodge a tremendous hack from the leader's greatsword, briefly staggering the blue beast.

Allen's face suddenly turns grim with steely resolve. "But looking at the situation, I just didn't like the looks of these Glass Skull characters. So that's when I decided to let loose with a MAGIC MISS-eye-ull!" (The last syllables of which was of course the verbal component of the first level spell Magic Missile.)

In an awesome display of power, Alan whirls his hands in an arcane gesture, and sends FOUR magical bolts of energy at the leader, each shaped like a large library book. Each of the projectiles hit home, the last one tearing a hole in the warrior's throat.

Immediately the two snipers turn their attention to the magic user, allowing Barrack and Sebastian to double team the final spear lackey. However one crossbow bolt soars over Allen's head, while the other plinks harmlessly off his armor.

"Hey, you might hurt someone with that thing!" mocks Allen, looking derisively at the archer who came the closest. "I COMMAND you to DROP!"

Without a word, the archer lets their crossbow fall and drops to the ground. Their friend up on the ledge panics and runs, only to be met by the full fury of the Barrack's horns on the way down.

By the time the panicked archer had recovered their senses and reached for their bow, Sebastian had already deftly leapt up to the balcony and had his sword at their neck.

"Not so fast there," threatens the swashbuckler. "Why don’t you tell me what's so special about that map?"

"I-I-I don’t know," the archer replies, terrified. "Just sumthin the boss wanted, I swear!"

Sebastian looks them over and considers a bit. "Eh, I believe you," he concludes, running them through with his rapier. "Let’s find out what else that old wet dude knows."

But when Barrack opens the lid of the barrel, only water remains. The three adventurers look at each other, then at the map, then back down to the water.

"Anyone thirsty?" asks Sebastian with a coy smile.

Valgod: a Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Adventure

Thursday, October 24, 2019

All-Decade 2010-19 - World Series Edition

A couple months ago, I outlined the parameters of my "All-Decade Teams" project. At the time, I only had one full decade's worth of stats to work with (2000 thru 2009 - yes, I'm starting the decade at 00 and not 01, deal with it), but since then, with the conclusion of the 2019 regular season, I've been able to start creating a new database for decade #2. In honor of the World Series off-day, I'm going to take a brief look at the all-decade rosters of the two competing teams. Specifically, I'll be profiling just the players who are both all-decade leaders (according to games played) and currently on the roster. I'm starting with the Nationals, not because they're currently sitting on a 2-games-to-none series lead, but because the Washington franchise sported a better overall record than Houston over the course of the last decade: fourth overall, in fact, at 879-740, good for a .543 winning percentage.

Beginning with the starting rotation, both pitchers who have wins so far in the World Series are members of the Nationals' all-decade starting five. Former first overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg is not only the pitching staff's all-decade leader in games started, he also has the distinction of starting a game for the club in every year of the decade. Game 1 starter Max Scherzer technically slots in as the SP4 (remember, for this project I go strictly by games played), but in terms of pure talent and durability, he has unquestionably served as the team's All-Decade ace, AVERAGING just over 2,711 fantasy points per season since he signed with Washington prior to 2015. On the bullpen side, the current Nationals roster contains no top 5 all-decade relievers, a group headlined by Tyler Clippard (371 appearances) and Drew Storen (355).

While Ryan Zimmerman is technically behind Adam LaRoche by a handful of appearances at first base, it becomes clear why I gave him the starting nod when you look across the diamond (and past all-decade second baseman Danny Espinosa, who is not within the scope of this post). When you add in Zim's games at third base, he actually becomes the most prolific Nationals all-decade position player with 1,015 games total (he narrowly edges the recently departed Bryce Harper, who totaled 978 appearances between the three outfield spots). Another reason I included the second base tally in this excerpt was to remind everyone that Anthony Rendon, the clear all-decade leader at the hot corner, started his career primarily at the keystone, racking up a combined 928 games between the two infield positions. The only other all-decade starter on the WAS World Series roster is currently serving in a bench role: Michael A. Taylor amassed an agonizingly close 419 games in center field (beating Denard Span's 361), and hit a home run last night after coming in as a defensive replacement.

Hopping over to the Astros, the only two all-decade starting pitchers who were with the team in 2019 are not occupying those roles in the World Series, for various reasons. Collin McHugh (who also made 85 appearances out of the bullpen this decade) ended the year on the injured list, presumably for elbow issues that initially placed him there in May. Brad Peacock (add 94 relief appearances for him) has a game "started" on his resume during the postseason, but it was in an "opener" capacity in that pivotal Game 6 of the ALCS. I extended this excerpt to Houston's top 11 all-decade starters so we could see how Game 1 and 2 starters Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander fall in the rankings. On the bullpen side, Will Harris leads all Astros pitchers with 309 all-decade appearances, while Chris Devenski, who made his first 2019 postseason appearance last night, sits in third place with 214 games.

It's kind of crazy that Houston finished this decade with a losing 789 and 831 record (.487) considering that their very impressive offensive core are predominantly all-decade starters. I guess that cluster of 100-loss tanking seasons didn't quite even out with the current streak of 100-win seasons. The overwhelming leader in games here is Jose Altuve, former AL MVP and reigning ALCS MVP. I heard somewhere that he's the only player to appear in every season since the Astros migrated from the NL to the AL, and I have no reason to doubt that (or to double check the numbers). Outfielder George Springer finishes second, when you consider his 258 appearances in center field - his multi-positional status is why his name appears in italics (see also Zimmerman, Rendon, McHugh, and Peacock... although I couldn't tell you why Lance McCullers is underlined up there). Next is Carlos Correa, who impressively put up almost 550 appearances, despite a lengthy injury history. During those injuries, Alex Bregman took over his customary shortstop spot, and adding his 129 games there would vault him past Jake Marisnick... until you add the 104 games that Marisnick played in the outfield corners. Yuli Gurriel would have some more games on his ledger if you consider his handful of times he appeared across the diamond at third, but even without those, he still finished comfortably ahead of Brett Wallace at first (remember him?).

There's a lot more to unpack in this database, which is still far from being finished. But until then, please continue to enjoy the World Series on your local FOX network, for at least the next two nights!