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Vol. III, Issue #1 - March 2015

** Ray Murphy, Life at Baseball HQ **

(In our last issue, in December of 2014, during our interview of Matt Beagle, we introduced to our
readers one of the finest on-line Baseball websites and information sites that caters to Fantasy Baseball,
called Baseball HQ, started by one of the leading baseball analysts, Ron Shandler.  The liason
person who helped us at Baseball HQ was their general admin person Ray Murphy. He is here to
provide for our members more insights into Baseball HQ and how it all got started ..... )

(Comments from the Wolfman: In this interview, I not only talk to Ray about Baseball HQ but also ask him some questions how he was able to get his job working at Baseball HQ and his link to various fantasy baseball games.  Also if you missed Matt Beagle's interview, here again is the free newsletter they offer which you can sign up for, an offer made especially for all of our members, go to: http://www.baseballhq.com/som. Also at the end of this article is a link to our special page this month that does a review on the yearly baseball guide done by Ron Shandler called "Baseball Forecaster" which is a very special and comprehensive baseball guide that is published through Baseball HQ which Ray is also an editor for.)


Wolfman:  As you may recall in our December issue (last year) as a result of chatting with Matt Beagle, I also had a chance last year to meet Ray Murphy who is the main Administrator of BaseballHQ and has agreed to do this interview with me for our members.

Just a quick note before we begin.  BaseballHQ was started by well known baseball analyst Ron Shandler who is the author of "Baseball Forecaster" (now in its 29th year of printing).  Mr. Shandler has been involved with Baseball Fantasy play and analyst since 1985 and was one of the first to offer to the public what we know today as sabermetrics of baseball starting in 1986.  Their website is at baseballhq.com and besides all the great information that is offered on their site, you can also become a member and have access not only to their comprehensive newsletter but a great deal of additional in-depth information about all aspects of MLB and Fantasy Baseball.  Although today we have many websites and organizations now who are offering this type of information and sharing of various type of articles and stats linked to Baseball, if you just had one site to pick as your main source, BaseballHQ wouldn't disappoint you.  We also would like to thank Ray, for sharing a little bit about Ultimate Strat to the members of BaseballHQ via their own inner communiqués which brought us quite a few new members..

Ray I would like to welcome you to the Ultimate Strat Baseball Newsletter.

So according to your bio I read on BaseballHQ besides being the GM there, you also are an avid fantasy league player yourself who has won some leagues.  So when you were younger what was your link with fantasy baseball and the game itself?
Ray:  Funny enough, while I'm not a Strat guy myself, my first fantasy baseball experience as a kid was with Strat. My next-door neighbor and I had the game; the only card set we had was the 1981 season. We pulled that season apart from top to bottom, setting up tournaments, drafting All-Star teams, etc. It was great fun.

Wolfman:  Did you ever play in little league or on a high school team? If so what was your best position?

Ray:  I was a catcher in little league, but never played in high school. I like to blame that on a shoulder injury, but the more honest answer is probably just that I stunk.

Wolfman:  What (other) simulation baseball games have you played?  Why did you choose these games?

Ray:  As mentioned, my first introduction to sim games was Strat. But I converted over to APBA (ducking a lightning bolt) when a college friend brought me into his APBA play-by-mail league. That's a great league, it's got 24 teams and I've been a member for 20+ years. I actually just resigned from that league this month, as I just couldn't keep up with the time commitment. But that league and my experience in it represent the best aspects of this hobby, in that many of the guys have become my good friends. I'm out of the league (for now at least), but the relationships remain.

I'm also an avid Scoresheet player.... that's a great little game that is a hybrid of Strat/APBA/DMB style and in-season fantasy games: you make out a lineup card and set rules like defensive subs, when to bunt/steal, and pitcher removal rules; but you receive results (in terms of box scores and wins/losses) every week during the season.

Wolfman:  Since you have played Strat-o-matic Baseball before, as you shared, is there any otherr comments we wish to share about this sim game our members all play and what you have learned about sim baseball from the other similar games you have tried?

Ray:  I certainly know of Strat's leading status in the marketplace, even though I haven't played a Strat game in probably 25 years.  What I've learned from them is that, while the game engines themselves have their differences, the team-building strategies in any of those formats have a lot of overlap. For instance, every winter Matt writes a couple of articles for BaseballHQ analyzing the rookie draft class, and that article always had a lot of relevance to my own APBA draft prep. Over at BaseballHQ, we have subscribers who play all of these various sim formats. We have a great community in our subscriber forums at HQ, and the sim players there are always exchanging ideas and helping each other out, even across game formats. Again, the social aspect of these games is what makes them fun.

Wolfman:  Now how ever did you get to be the GM at BaseballHQ? Did you know Mr. Shandler personally? What type of person is Mr. Shandler like?  How involved is he in the direction or day-to-day activities at BaseballHQ?

Ray:  Oh sure, I know Ron pretty well. Ron hired me as a writer for BaseballHQ.com in 1999. My responsibilities grew over the years, and when Ron sold the business and stepped back from day-to-day management, I became co-General Manager. Brent Hershey is the other co-GM, so we're responsible for the day-to-day management of the site. Ron's still heavily involved too... he's still the founder and publisher, writes regularly for the web site, and has the final edit on the Baseball Forecaster book. So, we're sort of a three-headed monster.

Ron's a terrific guy; I've learned a ton from him over the years. He's been incredibly successful in building BaseballHQ into what it is today, that's a credit to both his baseball knowledge and his business savvy. He sets high standards for himself and others, which is another big part of his success. Brent and I are two people who are basically trying to do the one job that Ron did by himself for many years when he owned and ran the site himself, and we can barely keep up with it all. I have no idea how he did it himself for so long. But he's always available and approachable, has a great dry wit, and is always vulnerable to a good dig at his Mets.

Wolfman:  I saw on your website you have quite a few writers linked to BaseballHQ - how did you decide to go with these writers? What are all the various types of Fantasy Baseball Games discussed or covered on BaseballHQ?  What would you say Ray are the most popular type of fantasy versions of Baseball right now?

Ray:  We have a team of maybe 40-50 staffers... writers, data analysts, editors, programmers, customer service, etc. It's a veteran team; as I said, I go back to 1999 with BHQ, and there are more than a handful of guys on the staff who have been around longer than me. We post job openings for specific tasks as we need them, usually a couple every year. We accept applications from anyone, but most of the time we end up hiring from our subscriber base. The subscribers "get us" and know what we're all about, which generally leads to a better fit on both sides.

Rotisserie games are the most popular format these days, especially mixed league formats. We try to offer coverage of as many formats as possible, though. Broadly, those break down into these categories: Rotisserie, simulation, salary cap, and the newly-emerging format of Daily Fantasy Sports. There can be a bunch of variation in specific leagues, but they generally fall into one of those buckets.

Wolfman:  Do you think it is a good thing to link money to winning a fantasy league?

Ray:  It's a great question; we could probably spend a whole edition of your newsletter discussing this, and peeling back the onion of the various layers that go into answering this question. I think the answer is a very personal one. Some people don't care about money at all, they are entirely motivated by winning bragging rights over their friends, or content to win a trophy that has great sentimental value but no monetary value. At the other end of the spectrum, some people think monetary winnings are the only scoreboard that matters.

So, really, I think what matters is to first understand where you fall on that spectrum, and then play with like-minded individuals. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle... my APBA league never played for a dollar in prizes; my Scoresheet leagues don't either. But I also play in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship every year, where the top prize is $125,000. I've come close to winning that a couple of times, but take just as much pride in succeeding in my no-prize-money leagues.

Wolfman:  Now tell our readers, what type of information does Baseball HQ share that can help the fantasy player? How does the information you share help our members who might be in draft leagues or season replays?  Does the information shared on BaseballHQ only deal with the most current season of MLB or do you also share about seasons from the past?

Ray:  BaseballHQ's approach is based on component skills analysis. You can read more about what that means here (http://baseballhq.com/content/why-hq), but basically what it comes down to is that we break down a player's performance into it's basic individual parts. When you analyze a player based on their skills rather than their results, you get a better idea as to whether that player's performance is repeatable or not. We're very much an open source, "teach you to fish" operation: our statistical formulas are available on the site for you to manipulate as you see fit. We give you the tools to do your own analysis and reach your own conclusions. But if you're in a hurry, we'll also just give you the fish: our tools can be used to generate player ranking lists in any number of categories/formats, and our writers are always publishing articles that "do the analysis for you", making recommendations about individual players to target or avoid.

All of our tools are geared toward the current season, but certain features (for instance, our Dynasty League strategy coverage, and our comprehensive coverage of the minor leagues) take a longer-term future view. In terms of past seasons, our statistical database goes back to 2002, so there is plenty you can do with that data too.

Wolfman:  Does BaseballHQ have any new future projects or services it plans to come out with that will be unique and different or would greatly benefit its members?

Ray:  Always! Ron's philosophy has always been "to stand still is to move backward", and we're still adhering to that. We have a good feedback loop with our subscribers, many of our enhancements come directly from the minds of our readers. Sometimes the improvements are incremental, and sometimes they're a great leap forward. We have a web site facelift coming soon, we have some new tools on the way that are going to support those daily games I mentioned earlier, and we have some new statistical tools that we're rolling out soon as well. We're always trying to push the bar upward.

Wolfman:  What Information or Services do you offer that other baseball fantasy sites don't which makes your service distinct from the others? What type of information do you specialize in due to the link with Mr. Shandler?

Ray:  Ron was the pioneer of component skills analysis, as mentioned earlier. For a long time, we were the only ones who even approached fantasy games with that mindset, which was a huge advantage. In some ways, it's harder now, because this approach has spread all over the place now. So, now the challenge is to keep finding the next edge, the next metric or strategy  that gives our subscribers an edge in their league.

Wolfman:  How closely linked are you with your members and the baseball fantasty and fan community in general?

Ray:  I alluded to our subscriber forums earlier; they're perhaps the best part of our site. They are, without exaggeration, the home of some of the best baseball discussions on the internet. They're intelligent, high-level, and entirely civil conversations about everything to do with real baseball, fantasy baseball, and our site. Our staffers hang out in there quite a bit, directly interacting with our readers. As I said earlier, that feedback loop is incredibly beneficial to us.

In the larger fantasy community, we also have some great relationships with other sites. Every November, we host First Pitch Arizona (http://www.baseballhq.com/seminars/arizona.shtml), which is a weekend symposium held at the Arizona Fall League. It's an absolutely awesome weekend... we catch 4-5 ballgames in three days, and hold conference sessions in between the games. The speakers and presenters aren't just from BaseballHQ; we invite representatives from other sites and providers, and everyone is an open book in presenting their best ideas. It's the best weekend of the year, I can't say enough good things about it. (Mark your calendars: November 5-8, 2015.)

Wolfman:  What link do you have with Baseball Info Solutions (we interviewed their President John Dewan last year who is also a strat gamer)?

Ray:  BaseballHQ.com uses BIS as our stat provider, so we have a close relationship with them. They do great work, we have a terrific partnership.

Wolfman:  Does BaseballHQ have any close connections with MLB itself? Does you site ever share interviews with current or ex-MLB players?

We leave the interviewing to other outlets, as we don't think that player comments have a lot of relevance to our analysis.

As far as connections with MLB, Ron and a few BaseballHQ staffers spent a year as advisors to the St. Louis Cardinals front office back in 2004. Ron reportedly directly to Jeff Luhnow, who worked for the Cardinals at the time. Of course, he is the Astros' GM now.

Deric McKamey was our lead Minors analyst for many years, now he is a scout for the Cardinals.

When we look at the distribution lists for our Baseball Forecaster every year, there are always a bunch of them being delivered to MLB Front Offices. We write with a fantasy baseball focus, but our tools and analysis are certainly applicable to the actual game as well.

Wolfman:  Is there anything else you wish to share Ray either about your own personal experiences with fantasy baseball or about BaseballHQ that you think would be important for our members to know that was not asked before?

Ray:  I think our Cardinal Rules for Winners make for a nice final reminder:

Our Three Cardinal Rules for Winners:
1. Revel in your success; fame is fleeting.
2. Exercise excruciating humility.
3. 100% of winnings must be spent on significant others.

If you cherish this hobby, you will live by these rules or die by them.

Wolfman:  If someone wanted to contact you directly would this be possible and what is the best way for them to do so.

Ray:  Twitter is probably the best way to contact me, my handle there is @RayHQ

Wolfman:  Thank you Ray for taking time out of your schedule to visit with us.  Continued success at BaseballHQ and if Mr. Shandler might ever consider to do an interview himself, please let us know.

Ray:  Thanks for the invite, Wolfman!

(NOTES from the Wolfman: Well, as you can see, Baseball HQ could become a kind of secret place for you to gain more insights into the existing MLB players that could help you in building your team.  Plus all of my dealings with Ray Murphy have been down to earth and friendly. I truly get the sensing that the staff helping to run this site love baseball and helping their members. Also Ray was good enough to send me fairly quickly Ron Shandler's 2015 Baseball Forecaster, which I do review for this issue and there is some totally different and interesting information for Fantasy Baseball in this guide I have not seen before. To check out my review just click here.)


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Contained inside this exciting issue of Ultimate Strat Baseball Newsletter:
(to view the various interviews, articles, columns and special sections click on the links {underlined}
and this will take you to the appropriate webpage)


  REPORT, "BILLY SAMPLE CHALLENGE", Ex-Major Leaguer Billy Sample accepts our challenge to play Bryan Swank, one of our members in a best of 3 games series in SOM as Billy takes the 1983 Texas Rangers, a team he was a member of, verses Bryan's 1983 Red Sox. Read the full report, which comes in three parts and also watch the video recorded by Mark Wasserman.

  INTERVIEW with JIM CALLIS, Senior Writers  MLBPipeline.com (MLB.com), as Jim discusses his feeling about key young players who will be a factor in the 2015 MLB Season.

  INTERVIEW with SEAN RILEY, Strat Tournament Player's Club 2015 World's Champion

  INTERVIEW with JIM GARY, Council Member of the Strat Tournament Player's Club, West Region

  SOM BASEBALL WORLD NEWS with WOLFMAN SHAPIRO, editor of "The Ultimate Strat Newsletter" discusses the latest Baseball products offer by the Strat-o-matic Game Company, Recommendations of on-line Projection Systems for the performance of Major League Baseball Players in the upcoming season, a summary of the recent new Videos Ultimate Strat has released on their Youtube Video Challenge and what is "The Bruce Foster Challenge" that is underway.

  REVIEW OF KEY BASEBALL PUBLICATIONS with WOLFMAN SHAPIRO -- Wolfman gives to our member a review of the latest strategy guides and books published which includes "Bill James Handbook 2015" (Acta Sports with Baseball Info Solutions); "Ron Shandler's 2015 Baseball Forecaster" (Baseball HQ) and the "Rookie Review, 2015 Edition" (Stratogists.com).

  RECOMMEND ON-LINE SOM RESOURCES -- On-line Strat-o-matic and Baseball related websites
that offer amazing information, special tools and products to improve your game play that we strongly recommend. In most cases, we have had personal contact with these sources who agree with the principle to work together and help promote each other.

  BOOKS TO DIE FOR and Become a BASEBALL GURU -- This page is specifically about special books we are finding that either will expand your insights about the game of Baseball, help you in the creation of your current league teams or with your replays and learn more about the Strat-o-matic Baseball Game and Game Company's history.  We have a special arrangement with Acta Sports, who is a publisher of a number of great baseball books (including Bill James Handbooks) to offer for our members a 10% discount. We will continue to add more books to this page in the future as we uncover other gems our members should know about.


Contact Us for Questions or Submissions:

Wolfman Shapiro
Founder/Editor, the Ultimate Strat Baseball Newsletter

twitter: @StratBaseball4U

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