User Interview: Davis

Q&A with noted SimLeague Baseball user Davis

We recently met with HD coach, SimLeague Baseball owner and WIS consultant Davis, to discuss HD 2.0, recruiting, the NBA Draft, WIS HQ, Billy Grabarkewitz, Rudi Johnson and pole vaulting.

WIS

Who is Davis?

Davis

I am a 44-year old statistics professor, happily married and father of an about-to-be-in fourth grade daughter. I live in Mason, Ohio. I am also prone to writing very long-winded documents when properly motivated, as all of the poor readers of this space are about to discover.

WIS

How did you learn about whatifsports.com?

Davis

Like many users in the tri-state area, I first heard about it from Lance McAllister's sports talk radio show. (This was probably six or seven years ago now, I'd have to look at my profile to see when I joined. Editor's Note: November, 2000.) I went to the site and tinkered around with spring training baseball teams for a while - at one point, I had seven user ID's so that I could have more than one spring training team at a time. Once I started buying teams, I was hooked for good.

WIS

What games of ours have you played?

Davis

I believe I have tried every game on the site except for Hardball Dynasty. I have enjoyed them all; in fact, I greatly enjoyed the NHL sim leagues even though I don't know a ton about hockey history or tactics. I will probably pony up for some more hockey teams soon, but because of time constraints I stick almost exclusively to sim league baseball and Hoops Dynasty. I am afraid to try Hardball Dynasty because I have heard that it is even more addictive than caffeine, so I am waiting for some time in my life where I have less to do - that time DOES eventually come along, right? Please say yes!

WIS

Which is your favorite?

Davis

Hoops Dynasty. I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about it - playing games with players who never really existed? I didn't see how it could compete with sim league baseball. But after hearing rave reviews in the forums from coaches who jumped into the first seasons in Naismith and Wooden, I signed up for teams in Rupp, Smith, and Iba. I wasn't disappointed then, and (beyond my usual underachieving in the WCAA tourney every time I get in), and as time has passed I think the game has gotten better and better.

WIS

As a statistics & math professor in the Cincinnati area, you have worked to help WIS with its statistical modeling. How did this come about? What projects have you worked on?

Davis

I met Tarek (a.k.a. Admin, the head of the company unless you count Rupert Murdoch) and some of the other staff when WiS had a Reds night (back when the team was still playing at Cinergy). At that time, I had done some pretty extensive analysis in sim league baseball to find players who were serious bargains and was using the knowledge to have a lot of success. As I spoke with Tarek about the stuff I had figured out, it of course came out in the discussion that I was, well, quantitatively-abled. We exchanged e-mails several times after this, until at one point I sent him (unsolicited) a way-too-long document filled with various HD ideas... mostly ideas I had about giving teams budgets and having all kinds of things the coaches could spend the money on other than recruiting (things like a team plane, a team psychologist, Pete Newell's Big Man camp, etc.). I am still waiting on him to see the wisdom in implementing these great ideas, LOL - but I think what it showed him was that I was serious about wanting to make contributions to the site, and that I had a lot of ideas to go with my quantitative knack.

From that point on, Tarek (and several other developers) would occasionally farm out projects to me that were generally either analyses of some type or algorithm development. I've done a fair amount of work related to sim league baseball, the NHL sim, and Hoops Dynasty. With respect to the first two, a lot of the work has been projecting statistics or abilities for players who played before certain statistics were kept; for example, how do you model shooting percentage for hockey players who played before the statistic was kept? How do you quantify the quality of a catcher's throwing arm before CS was tracked for catchers? In terms of Hoops Dynasty, I haven't really looked at anything that was game-engine related, so it is not my fault and I can honestly complain when my 85+ PE guards continue to shoot 21% on treys. My work there has been more focused on tangential issues, such as the NBA draft, or figuring out when players should be put into games and taken out based on depth charts, target minutes, and foul trouble. (With the addition of subbing based on player fatigue, the days for this last algorithm may be numbered!)

WIS

What could you tell users about WIS (headquarters, site staff, etc.) that they may not expect?

Davis

I think the company is smaller than most users realize. I don't know if users think the company occupies every office in a four-story building or something, but that isn't the case. I don't know the exact number of employees, and even if I did I don't suppose it would be up to me to publicly state it (Editor's Note: There may or may not be less than 12 and more than ten full-time employees) - but suffice to say that it is a small group of very dedicated people, whose passion for their work makes up for the fact that there aren't 150 people at the office.

I also think that people don't realize how much the staff cares about their games. There is a tendency in the forums for a user to rip the developers every time something unusual happens in a game, and to clog up customer support with spurious tickets. I have tried to tell people in the forums that sending in a ticket every time you get out-rebounded in HD simply wastes WiS staff time that could be better used elsewhere, and ultimately slows down every improvement that we would all like to see to the games. Trust me, everyone: as much as you want the games to be even better than they already are, your desire to improve them can't possibly match the desire of the staff at the company to put the best possible games out there.

Quick aside: my all-time favorite support-ticket story is from TZentmeyer, the developer in charge of Hardball Dynasty and sim league baseball, who had a user send in a ticket to complain when Ty Cobb went 0-for-4 for his team on opening day! (I am a huge fan of baseball history, so I was stunned that I was unaware of Cobb's 154-game hitting streak in 19-ought-whatever.)

WIS

Besides simulation sports websites, what are some of your other interests and hobbies?

Davis

I love card games of any type - poker, bridge, you name it. I love playing sports, not just watching or simming them - have played in a park district soccer league for about seven years in a row now. (I am out of commission for throwing sports at the moment, though, with some serious tendonitis and other damage in my throwing shoulder. It is my price to pay for bragging to people for the last few years that I could still throw as hard as when I was in my 20's - karmic payback!) I am a huge reader, mostly non-fiction. Music is another big interest; I have loved it forever, and finally took the plunge and bought myself a bass guitar for Father's Day. We will see how that goes!

WIS

Why do you think it is that sports are so big in our culture?

Davis

The drama that sports can offer tops anything you will see in any movie or read in any book. I also think the tests that it offers to a person are very meaningful. Finally, I think that the human body did not evolve to be sedentary - it evolved to be used. In my case, I can still remember some particularly hard training sessions from twelve or fifteen years ago, when I was seriously into distance running, as vividly as if they took place yesterday. I think it was because my body was in the state it was meant to be in at those particular times.

WIS

Who are your favorite players of all-time?

Davis

My favorite player ever, in any sport, is Reggie Miller. I used to tune in Pacers games just to watch him. If you ever wanted a clinic on moving without the ball, or on creating separation to get a shot off, he was the guy to watch and learn from. People think of him as a perimeter player, but if you look at the number of free throws the guy shot, you know he was doing a lot more than standing beyond the arc jacking up treys. I also liked that he was not falsely humble. I cannot stand false humility. Reggie was the greatest perimeter threat ever, and he wasn't going to lie to you about it if you asked him. I think to become the player he did, he HAD to be cocky - so I never understood why people held it against him.

My favorite active athlete is Tom Glavine. (As a lefty, of course, I've always been partial to left-handed pitchers.) He is another player to watch and learn from - try to think along with him and predict the type and location of his next pitch. You'll figure out why he has thrived for so many years without overwhelming physical attributes - you will have trouble finding the pattern, and realize that hitters who guess are going to mess themselves up more often than not. He wins partly with his arm, but mostly with his head.

I also like Mike Cameron a lot. I was probably the only person in Cincinnati who was disappointed when they traded for Junior - and that had nothing to do with Junior! I just was bummed that Cameron wouldn't be in the outfield for the Reds any more, and in hindsight it is easy to see that they should have included Pokey Reese in the deal instead of Cam.

Finally, Rudi Johnson - love the guy. He seems like he can be a bit temperamental off the field, but on the field he is all effort, all the time. Rudi! Rudi! Rudi!

WIS

Which are your favorite teams all-time?

Davis

This is a tough one, because I tend to have favorite players moreso than favorite teams. I didn't grow up anywhere near a city with pro teams (just outside of Pensacola, FL), so I didn't develop a lot of allegiances the way some kids do. My favorite team in general would have to be UNC basketball. I really liked the late-90's Yankees dynasty because they had so many individual players (Posada, Tino, Jeter, Brosius, O'Neill, Cone, Pettitte, Rivera) who struck me as classy and tough - which is funny, because I dislike Steinbrenner as much as the next non-Yankee fan. It was strange to find myself rooting for the Yankees! Also, having lived in New Orleans for so many years, I am partial to the Saints. Now that I live here, of course, I have become a Reds fan (hard as this is, given their performance over the past few seasons) and Bengals fan. I think it is natural to gravitate towards the team you read about in the paper every day.

WIS

Did you play much basketball or baseball (or other sports) growing up?

Davis

Whatever was in season, which where I grew up meant mostly the Big Three. My first love was baseball, but when pitchers started throwing harder and moving the ball more, I just didn't have the bat speed to be successful. I was always too skinny to play football. Basketball was probably the sport I played the most from about sixth grade on, but the sport I ended up playing at the varsity level in high school was soccer. We had a team for the first time in my junior year. None of us knew much about the sport - the coach just had us run for the first week or two in practice, watching us for speed and endurance. I was one of three or four skinny kids who could run forever, so he said "you are a midfielder." Then he found out I was left-footed, and he said "you are a left midfielder." I said "OK, what's that?" We were pretty awful as juniors, but as seniors, thanks to a great keeper and an amazing exchange student, we were actually respectable. I loved the non-stop action of the game from the moment I first played it, and also the fact that being skinny actually helped me (in terms of speed and stamina) instead of hurting me. I ended up playing every minute of every game except one as a senior; in that game, I got a concussion when hit in the temple by a flying elbow during a corner kick. Funny to me that the only time I ever was knocked unconscious was in a sport that some uninformed people think isn't "tough."

WIS

What is your greatest sports moment?

Davis

Watching my daughter score a hat trick in soccer. I coach her, and it is so cool to see a kid put into practice what you've been preaching and achieve some success with it.

WIS

What is the top sports related thing you want to do in life that you have not yet done?

Davis

I'd love to go to the Final Four, or to a World Series game. I think the NCAA tourney and the World Series are the two greatest sporting events in this country. I also would like to attend a soccer match in the English Premiere league; I have been to England a couple of times, but never during the season.

WIS

What is your greatest WIS moment?

Davis

I think the sim league team I am most proud of was a 1924 team I had in a single-season theme league. The team put up over a hundred wins in the regular season; then, instead of falling victim to the "best team goes out first" jinx, they swept everyone in their path on the way to the World Series title. They just never had a bad patch. I have to say, though, that if I ever manage to win a national title in Hoops Dynasty, I would have a brand new greatest WIS moment!

WIS

Do you draw on the philosophies of any past or present coaches in HD or SimLeague Baseball?

Davis

In baseball, I don't tend to use stolen bases or bunting as a weapon. I guess I have read too much Bill James! I usually try to collect players who slug at least .400, though they aren't always traditional sluggers. For my pitching staffs, I seldom take a pitcher with HR/9 above one. I guess you'd call it an Earl Weaver approach, although I don't worry about homers on offense - just extra-base hits.

In HD, I focus a lot on SPD, ATH, and WE. I figure if you take a guy who has speed, is a good athlete, and is willing to work, he will be useful by the time he is a junior. I probably don't worry about "core ratings" as much as some (more successful) coaches do. Finally, I love having big men that can pass. I haven't analyzed the results of my games to see if it actually helps my teams, though - it is just a personal preference based on my own playing experience. I don't know if this approach corresponds to any real-life basketball coach.

WIS

Which five people (or more), past or present sit at your dream roundtable discussion (need not be sports related)?

Davis

This is the one question I have been dreading, because I have too many lists! I'd have to give you a list for each of my different interests (the space program list, the dead President list, the sports history list, the musician list, etc), and I've already set a record for verbosity in an interview. I'll just assign one seat, and we can have a random draw for the rest.

My father passed away when I was nineteen. He was only 54. It is safe to say that I think of him at least once every day. He was a mix of contradictions, a boat captain who gave meaning to the phrase "curse like a sailor," but who would then quote Shakespeare two minutes later. (His favorite thing to say every time I would enter a room was "Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look," his silly way of saying "Geez, you are one scrawny kid!".) Twenty-five years later, I wonder what he would think of the person I have become. I think we would argue a lot, because my views about the world are very different than his were (and mine were at that time), but that would be fine. I would love the opportunity to have the arguments.

WIS

Hoops Dynasty recently underwent a massive update. What are your general thoughts on HD 2.0?

Davis

I think it was an improvement in terms of the visuals. Honestly, though, I am not too worried about the appearance of the game; while it has improved, I am more interested in the substance. If it increases the appeal for new coaches, then I am certainly all for it! My favorite visual improvement is the way the team colors show up; my UMass Beacon team color is Carolina blue, which I'm pretty happy about!

I like some of the added functionality that has come up in the past six months. For example, the "compare recruits" feature in recruiting is pretty cool; I use it more and more each recruiting season. I think the way coaches can access practice plans and update them is a nice improvement as well.

WIS

In Hoops Dynasty, how do you approach recruiting?

Davis

With my DIII team, I focus almost exclusively on drop-downs. I rarely even begin recruiting until shortly before signings, other than to make a few cursory calls to see which players are willing to consider my team as a back-up auction. I've seen the 'pole vaulter' response a million times, which is actually a good one to get in that situation! I'll only go after a guy who is listed originally as a DIII if he is a perfect fit for what my team needs.

My DI teams are all pretty high on the prestige list, so I use one of two strategies there. If it is a season where I have a huge budget, I will try to get onto a recruit's list ASAP, to discourage competition. On the other hand, if I only have one or two slots open, I will choose a few recruits to monitor closely, in terms of what schools jump in after them, and what other battles those schools might be fighting. At some point on signing day, I will jump hard into whatever situation looks the most promising. I don't like doing that to other coaches, but at the same time, the dynamics of the game make it the optimal strategy in such situations (IMO).

WIS

What style offense/defense do you choose to run? Does it vary based on the school/roster? And, what, if anything, do you change when winning/losing late?

Davis

My only rule - recently developed based on my underachieving Villanova performance over the past two seasons - is to never use the fastbreak offense in DI. I have had talented senior-laden squads there for the past two seasons, and still got killed by turnovers. Other than that, I don't have strong preferences. As for DIII, I think you can play any combo there as long as you recruit players who fit into it well. In the end, I think your level of talent and your game-planning have more to do with HD success than your choice of offense and defense. Executing the plan is more important than the plan itself there.

WIS

What is your basic strategy for setting your depth chart?

Davis

I tend to go ten deep and play up-tempo; at times, I have even used an 11-man rotation. I will often use a SG with decent rebounding numbers at SF, because he will often have a speed advantage against an opposing SF. I rarely slate anyone for more than the 19-23 minute setting. I have not worked enough with the new "sub based on fatigue settings" to say for sure how I'll use it, but it seems like a good idea and I intend to experiment with it.

WIS

Approximately how much practice time do you devote to offensive/defensive sets?

Davis

This is a function of how experienced my team is. If I have a ton of freshmen and sophs, I might go with 25 minutes each on offense and defense. With an older team, I might go as low as 15 each. I also have two teams running Press + Zone combo defenses, so I closely monitor the IQ's on those teams to make sure my players become competent in both defenses.

WIS

How do you approach allotting individual practice time?

Davis

I have a similar approach to most coaches - I don't waste any minutes on categories where players are in the single digits or in the 90's. I may spend more time on conditioning than most coaches, because I place such an emphasis on SPD and ATH. I am looking forward to the introduction of potential, because I think if it is properly designed it will force all of us to re-think our allocation of practice minutes. With that said, I also think that potential should not become part of the game unless the assistant coach software is up to the challenge of helping us know where a player has peaked and where he can continue to improve.

WIS

Do you have any favorite players from any of your HD or SimLeague Baseball teams?

Davis

I have had 1970 Billy Grabarkewitz and 2000 Jorge Posada on many, many teams in my time here. Since the latest salary changes, the only thing I have settled on is my "standard bullpen," consisting primarily of a bunch of middle relievers I never heard of (Gary Waslewski, Duke Maas, Bud Daley, etc.). I had an unbelievable season out of Marty Pattin (I don't recall which year) at some point and have been partial to him ever since. I will never, ever, EVER allow Jim Brewer to be on one of my teams after he blew up in multiple games in a seven-game World Series and cost me the title.

In HD, I have too many favorites to list, but will at least talk about my first recruit ever. I was at Delaware Valley in season #1 in Rupp. I didn't know what I was doing in recruiting, so I ended up signing only one player when I had three open slots. He was a PF named Ron Graham, and I just looked at the team record page to see that he is still in the top ten in points, rebounds, blocks, steals, and FT%. He was not a bad signing for a coach who was as clueless as I was at the time!

WIS

Who are the users you respect the most?

Davis

Again, too numerous to name them all. Bgreenblatt deserves a shout out here, though; I have known him for a little over 20 years, he was my best friend in grad school. We tend to enter a lot of the same theme leagues in baseball, just to compete. He usually runs my baseball teams for me when I am not able to get on-line. Bruce and I used to play backgammon for a quarter a game; I bet we played hundreds of games, and probably were within 75 cents of one another at the end of all that. We argued incessantly about the doubling cube; he always thought I used the doubling cube too aggressively, and I always thought he was too reluctant to use it. If I could double him in the franchise league we are in right now, I would! (My Cubs are several games ahead of his Reds at this moment, LOL.)

I would feel funny naming others, because there are just so many high-quality baseball owners and HD coaches on the site that I don't want to slight anyone. There are a lot of great competitors here! I especially enjoy coaching with people who are active on the conference message boards, and I think that describes a large number of coaches in every one of my current conferences.

WIS

What is your favorite aspect of HD?

Davis

I like the way you have to rise through the ranks to get to a prestigious program, if that is what you want - but I also like that you can stay at a DIII school and make it a dynasty if that is what you'd rather do. I think this allows people with various goals to get a lot of enjoyment out of the game. I also like watching players develop over the course of their careers. I really enjoy it when you get a recruit who you sign as an afterthought, and then he turns out to put up great numbers as a junior and senior; those guys are more fun than the guys who are obvious choices to recruit, I think. (This has happened to me several times, where a guy I signed just to fill out my recruiting class becomes an all-American. Love those rags-to-riches stories!)

WIS

What is your least favorite aspect of Hoops Dynasty? If you could change one thing about HD, what would it be?

Davis

I would like to see game engine results tied in a bit more closely to ratings. I think we can all point to crazy upsets, whether we were the perp or the victim, where the way the game played out seems to make no sense when the individual player matchups are considered. We can all point to players with high ratings in the appropriate categories who shoot 18% on treys. So I think all of that could be tightened up a bit. And of course, kids who are unwilling to redshirt when they have signed with an elite program and have three studs in front of them at the same position. How dumb can they be?!?

WIS

What is your ultimate goal in Hoops Dynasty?

Davis

Originally, I wanted to coach UNC, but I am pretty happy with all of the schools I have; in fact, when I moved to Arizona in Rupp, I could have landed the UNC job. Arizona just looked like a better situation at that time, so my desire to win right away was stronger than my desire to coach UNC. At this point, I'd just like to win a national title, no matter which of my teams might do it.

WIS

If you were in one of our games, which sport would you play? At which position? And, what would you be rated/how much would you cost?

Davis

I've always joked that in baseball, I grew up wanting to be Reggie Jackson but turned out to be Garry Maddox instead - so Garry Maddox (in a relatively weak year at the plate) would be my sim league match. In Hoops Dynasty, I'd be a SG or a SF with decent ratings in most categories (for DIII, of course!), plus an exceptional SPD rating. My drawbacks would be a fairly low DUR and a not-so-impressive FT grade. I've always been a pretty good shooter in the flow of a game, shooting on the move and in traffic, but was prone to some inconsistency at the line; I'm sure I could put up enough 3-for-10 FT stretches here and there to drive my coach bonkers!

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