I like to think of myself as a smart baseball fan. If you’re on this website and reading this article, you probably think that way too. Together, we know a lot of useful and useless statistics about our beloved game. Together, we have millions of opinions about things that will probably never come to fruition. But there is something all of us baseball fans have in common, “smart” or “dumb,” we love to be Armchair General Managers.
I started my days as an Armchair GM early. That’s one of the great things about growing up in the video game generation. In fact it’s pretty much how I learned how sports work. I’d slave away at Triple Play Baseball 2001 that had Jason Giambi on the cover. In 2004, EA Sports released MVP 04 and that game became my adolescent sweetheart. Later, I found true love and put a ring on it in the form of Manny Ramirez on MVP 05. I’d continue to play career modes on MLB The Show and even getting nostalgic about my very young childhood, I’d play season mode on Backyard Baseball. I’ve heard a ton of buzz about Out of the Park and that’s probably where I’ll take my Armchair GM-ing next for video games. So far, nothing matched the thrill of playing GM modes on MVP 05. There, I honed in my skill. I’d trade for players like Felix Hernandez and any other outrageously good player of young age and I would learn to flip them before they turned 30. I embarked on a perpetual cycle of potential overall future value and trade value: the perfect mixture. I continued my fix by competing and crushing my buddies in fantasy baseball. (I may have cheated once or twice, but hey, so did the 1951 Giants!) But you didn’t need to spend thousands of hours on a video game or playing fantasy ball to be considered an Armchair GM. Here is what you need:
1. Do you watch baseball? (Rhetorical question, I know)
2. Have you had opinions on the game? (See last parentheses)
3. You check Baseball Reference right? (Now we’re getting somewhere)
4. Have you been to Fangraphs? (That’s the bright beltway where the addiction begins)
5. Have you criticized a transaction? (Duh, Dan O’Dowd could’ve changed his ways)
Alright, great! That’s more or less all you need to be an Armchair GM. So you are one too? Join the club. What’s exclusive about it? Not much. We’re just the people that yell at the TV when “Walt should’ve had the defense halfway there!” or tweet into blank space “why are you putting Rex Brothers in to throw an 0-2 fastball to Matt Holliday?”(He hit .329 on fastball’s at 95 MPH or faster in 2014.) Sounds like you? Great! This one is all about you from someone who considers himself a master of the hobby. If not, here are some fun things in the day in the life a true Armchair GM.
You wake up on a dark December day shaking. Your addiction to baseball is in a trying time. You open up your computer and start checking MLB rumors from all your sources as if you were going to call Billy Beane and dish up a prospect for Brandon Moss or whomever your buddy Billy will deal today. As you’re off in your imagination and pop up MLB TV on your TV to stream the top games from years past. Oh dang you’re about to burn your eggs while Matt Cain is about to strikeout Jose Altuve for the second time in only the fourth inning for his seventh strikeout of the game. In what would be his masterful 2012 perfect game, how could you miss this part?
You haven’t even had breakfast yet.
Well what are you going to do for the rest of the day with your baseball life? Well you’ll probably kick the tires. Will you kick the tires about something big like evaluating Noah Syndergaard in a Troy Tulowitzki trade or something like the non-tendering of Kraig Sitton. One thing’s for sure, you’ll think to yourself, “there is no way the Yankees should have left Tommy Kahnle unprotected and what a steal the Rockies made in the Rule-5 Draft!” Or will you scream out about the Rockies letting Jason Hammel or Jeremy Guthrie go? Or the crazier folks will even start talking about Super Bowl Champion Russell Wilson’s time with the Asheville Tourists and whatever in the world the Rangers are doing by promoting a guy who hasn’t played baseball in several years to AAA.
But how do you evaluate your opinions or even form them? What do you do to consider yourself an Armchair GM? You can just sit in front of the TV in your La-Z-Boy with your Coors hollering about Josh Fogg. Or you can be nerdy like me and make up your own pitch framing stats to backup what you already know about Wilin Rosario. (Hint, he’s not a very good catcher.) Either way, you probably think you could do a better job than at least 3 of the real GMs in the game.
When trying to backup your arguments, you know Baseball Reference will tell the cold hard truth. There is a reason we here at Rockies Zingers link to them whenever we mention a player. That is, they provide everything from standard to advanced tire kicking needs. I use a combination of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs. I prefer using Fangraphs for more complex stats, but both are great websites. But there are more than just the regular advanced stats that the national media has started to use like WAR, FIP, and OPS+. There are places, in what I like to call the black hole of the internet, where you can calculate Nolan Arenado’s hard hit balls on soft pitches, on the outside of the plate, on 0-2 counts, at home. (He was 3-5 on such pitches with three singles up the middle.) There are even other places where you can see Joe West’s strike zone when the Rockies are pitching with a ball thrown outside of the outer half of the plate, with a left handed batter. (He saw such 29 pitches, six were strikes, three were called.) There is a reason I call this the black hole of baseball knowledge. I’ve spent days without leaving my couch finding these things out. Like, did you know Anthony Rizzo was 4-5 on breaking pitches, on the corners, with two strikes on him in 2014? Whereas, he was 0-12 on those same pitches in that same situation before this year in his career. Does this mean anything? Probably not unless you’re Steve Foster on April 10th. The point is, you can be Armchair GM Ned Colletti or you can be Andrew Friedman. Meaning you can sit there and blindly throw your pretend money at an ace over 30 or you can get all Sabermetric-ey and wisely spend your pretend money on guys who have had inefficiencies between their FIP and ERA. The point is, you and I are both spending ludicrous amounts of time and pretend money so we can dream about a pennant our ballclub will win with our non-existent influence.
I’m not saying we should stop, if anything, we should keep going. That is one of the great things about baseball. Everyday there is something new, and if there isn’t, you can spend your time learning about something before you were born, whether that be about Luis Tiant in the 75 World Series or about the St. Louis Browns’ relocation to Los Angeles that was prevented by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. There is always something to learn and I’m not saying knowing those details about the Orioles franchise will help you with your Armchair GM-ing. But where do you think Don Larsen came from and maybe you can learn something from the largest trade in AL history?
I feel like the last paragraph started off as a Jimmy Fallon monologue from Fever Pitch and ended with the knowledge of the great John Thorn. But that’s baseball – somewhere between romance, mathematics, and nostalgia. Our Armchair GM-ing uses all three for our opinions. The question is: which do you use the most?
Look, I’m not trying to write up some glorious document about our community, declaring our momentous powers. I’m not trying to bash my own people either for thinking they figured out a multi-billion dollar industry during lunchtime. But maybe you should stick to your day job or maybe you shouldn’t. I know I’ll continue to do the latter.
P.S. keep kicking those tires. You never know who you will impress or who you will aggravate.