Why Crashburn's Analogy of Baseball to StarCraft is Way Off

Written by airety
Dec 13 2011, 10:43 AM EST

Naniwa's an interesting player for sure, and very polarizing. Two months ago Offsadjh did a feature on Naniwa that took a closer look at the person behind all that competitive fire. If you aren't familiar with his past, it's a great read from right around the time Naniwa joined Complexity.

Now, let's look at this without involving any of our feelings of whether Naniwa's actions are right or wrong. If you haven't read Crashburn's comparison article you should. It's well written and well researched.

And it's completely wrong.

Now Crashburn is a fantastic writer, and I wouldn't question his baseball knowledge (even as a Yankees fan.) If you happen to read this, Crashburn, I have a question for you - what was the MOST likely reason that the Astros sent out that lineup and not their A-lineup? Obviously you can't know for sure, because you weren't managing the Astros at the time. But if you were on the Mike & Mike show (an ESPN radio sports show, it's very good) and they asked you, why did the Astros trot out a B-lineup, what would you response be?

My belief and what I THINK you would say - it WAS to make the Astros a winning organization. Playoffs were out of the question (and typically that means your A-lineup isn't cutting it, right? I mean if your A-lineup was so good, you would be in the playoff hunt at the very least.) So the Astros know their season is over, and they need to make serious changes to their lineup for next year. They have guys who haven't had a chance to perform (for whatever reason) and they gave them a shot.

The average age of the lineup they trotted out (excluding the pitcher) was 27.65 years old. Their starting lineup? 29.375 years old. If we just consider the replacements (guys who weren't normally part of the starting lineup) you're looking at an average age of 25.4 years old. There are two facts that are true in almost every case of a younger player: They are cheaper, and they haven't spent as much time in the big leagues as an older player.

While the minor leagues can prepare you somewhat, nothing compares with seeing big league pitching. The pitcher for the Reds, Bronson Arroyo is a pitcher with over 100 wins and 11 years of experience in the major leagues. You won't see a guy like that in the minor leagues. So for those guys with few plate appearances, this was a chance to face a quality pitcher and show the organization what qualities they have. The net result is that the management of the team gets a chance to evaluate their cheaper, younger talent. Perhaps none of them will prove to be stars, but if you find that one of these younger, cheaper players are adequate - you can replace the older players and then use the money you've freed up to pursue better players.

So you are right - the goal wasn't necessarily to win THIS game, but the goal was to win in the long term. This is one of the reasons in September rosters expand - to give young guys a chance to perform. For teams headed to the playoffs, they can use the extra depth to rest guys and try to prevent injuries. For bad teams, it's a chance to see what you have before you go into the winter transaction period.

Now, let's talk StarCraft! Crashburn's argument would hold up if Naniwa did some crazy build that he thought could really work, but he wasn't completely confident in it. For example, if he wanted to try a carrier build he'd been using on ladder, but hadn't really tested out against a real pro. He didn't. A worker rush may be a viable strategy, but he didn't make any effort to control it or make it work. He threw away a game against a top pro.

A more accurate analogy when talking about the strategy would be the baseball team that tells all its hitters to swing at every single pitch, or not to swing at any pitches. Technically, you could win either way (swinging at every pitch you can get some hits leading to runs, not swinging at any maybe a few walks and some stolen bases leading to runs) but is that the same as evaluating younger players?

From an effort perspective, Naniwa's decisions to a-move his probes and not make any effort to produce an effective strategy is tantamount to a hitter not "running" the bases, but instead jogging after hitting a sharp grounder. Crashburn, you and I both know that hitters that do that in almost every case get chewed out by their team, bashed by the media, and find a nice warm place on the team's bench.

I'm thrilled to have someone like Crashburn sharing his thoughts on StarCraft. But in this case, his argument is a bit off base. If you disagree, I'd love to hear from you (and anyone who reads this!)