User Interview: Sweetsalve

Q&A with noted Hardball Dynasty user Sweetsalve

We recently contacted with WhatIfSports veteran, Sweetsalve, to discuss his Hardball Dynasty blog, the Big Sky Conference in Gridiron Dynasty, Soren Kierkegaard, Eric Davis, Al Lunar, Britney Spears, Jesus Christ and MMA.

WIS

Who is Sweetsalve?

Sweetsalve

I'm a 30 year old pastor from Ohio. I've been married for 4 and a half years with no kids. I also do some work outside of the church with youth in the city I live in and for my denomination on a larger scale. I also have a small grant writing business. Outside of work and my wife, there's not much more too me.

WIS

How did you learn about whatifsports.com?

Sweetsalve

My good friend, Evan43, and I both started back in the spring of 2002 through the Baseball Simleague promotion that ran on MLB.com back then. He actually found the site and started playing a simleague, showed me his team about 10 games into the season, and I immediately sat down and bought a 6-pack and started building.

WIS

Which games of ours have you played?

Sweetsalve

I played Simleague baseball for the past 5 and a half years or so. That was my first love and what really got me hooked to the site. And then I've played Gridiron Dynasty and Hardball Dynasty since those 2 games were created. I've tried out almost every other game at some point or another, but those are the only 3 I've really ever played for more than a season or two.

WIS

Which do you prefer?

Sweetsalve

That's a tough call. I just recently stopped playing Simleagues only because I invest all my time into the dynasty games now and just haven't kept up with what works and doesn't work in that engine. College football is by far my favorite sport in real life, so that gives me an affinity for Gridiron Dynasty. But Hardball Dynasty is without question the best overall game and the one with the most depth, so if I could only play one game on WIS right now, I would have to choose HBD.

WIS

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

Sweetsalve

My wife and I both love watching movies, so any free time we both have we usually head out for dinner and a movie. That's kind of our thing. I like to read about philosophy and religion since that ties in a lot with my job and my interests, so I'm always in the middle of reading something. I enjoy writing, so I have some articles and books I work on when I feel like it. And of course, I love sports like I would assume most every user on this site does. Ohio State football is the one season that consumes me when it is ongoing, but I also am a big Reds, Bengals, and Cavs fan and will catch a Penguins game every now and again. I've really gotten into MMA over the past few years too, so I spend some Saturday nights watching UFC pay per views.

WIS

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

Sweetsalve

I think there are a lot of reasons for the impact and importance of sports in our culture. Some type of competition has been big in every culture, so I think it is something wired in us. Competition stimulates us in a way we don't find in every day life - at least most people don't. But I think there are 3 bigger picture issues.

One, we are made to "worship" something. It's the same reason why Brittany Spears or Lindsay Lohan are splattered on the cover of every magazine. We put these people - celebrities, athletes, rockstars, etc. - up on this pedestal. It's a form of hero worship. We long for something bigger, something greater than ourselves, and for whatever reason, we hold these kinds of people in that place. We want what they have. We want the life they have, the money they have, the fame they have. It's not necessarily a conscious choice, but I think it's there in a lot of people. And their failures seem to only endear us more to them as it makes them more real and lifelike, more like us.

Two, so many of us are vicariously living through these athletes. We're reliving our glory days and the dreams of our childhood through these athletes. I was at best an average high school athlete, but on Saturday afternoons I can watch the right guard of the Ohio State Buckeyes pull on a counter play and identify with that hit he's about to put on that linebacker. I wanted to be that pulling right guard growing up, and still do on Saturday afternoons in the fall. My brother and I would write out all star lineups on notebook paper when we were kids and keep track of our statistics when we would play baseball in the backyard. So for an afternoon, I was Eric Davis or Barry Larkin or Nolan Ryan. I still think old men dream like I did as a child.

Three, we long to be a part of something. Cheering for a team gives us a group to be a part of. Asking if you are a Michigan or an Ohio State fan where I live is like asking what church you go to or what school you went to. It's a part of your identity, part of who you are. I could go on an on with more reasons of why I believe sports are so important in culture, but in essence I think it's more about who we are than the sports themselves.

WIS

Which five people, past or present sit at your dream roundtable discussion?

Sweetsalve

Jesus Christ, but that one may be obvious given my chosen occupation. Henri Nouwen, who most people have probably never heard of, but I greatly respect him because of some of the tough choices he had to make in life and have come to understand a lot through his writings. Soren Kierkegaard, because I always identified with his path that led him to his existentialism, but I would have to flip a coin to decide between him and Friedrich Nietzsche. Woody Hayes, because you have to respect any man who wouldn't even spend money on gas in that state up north he hated so much and because, well, he's Woody Hayes. And of course Yogi Berra, because Jesus would need someone to drink and laugh with.

WIS

Who are your favorite players of all-time?

Sweetsalve

Baseball was my sport as a kid, so all my childhood favorites are baseball players. If they played for the Reds, I loved them. Chris Sabo and his rec specs were a big favorite, and Eric Davis and Barry Larkin are standbys for any kid who was a Reds fan in the mid to late 80s. But I loved them all. I still have pictures I took of Herm Winningham after a game I saw in 1989. I grew up near Pittsburgh and I hated all their teams except the Penguins. You couldn't help but want to watch Mario Lemieux. I wore number 66 in football as a tribute to Super Mario.

WIS

Did you play baseball growing up?

Sweetsalve

I played baseball from the age 5 through high school and then started playing football in high school. I wrestled for a couple of years too.

WIS

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

Sweetsalve

It's going to sound really strange, but I want to go to an NFL game, preferably in Cincinnati. Since I'm a pastor, I can't go to games on Sundays. I've tried to take vacation time or get tickets for Sunday night or Monday night games, but it's never worked out. I've seen the Buckeyes go to the Final 4, Major League and NBA playoff games, sat on the ice next to the penalty box to watch the Pens, been to a number of Buckeye football games, and I just want to watch the Bengals. Maybe the good Lord is being gracious to me in not granting that wish.

WIS

What would you consider your greatest WIS moment?

Sweetsalve

I made the World Series with my first ever Sim League Baseball team. I had no idea what I was doing in putting that team together. But I rode 1968 Bob Gibson as hard as any pitcher has ever been ridden and just got lucky on the waiver wire. That was a long time ago in Sim Leagues, so OBP was super cheap, there was a limit on player salaries, and 2 man rotations were seen a must have. I ran into ARomano in the World Series and got owned by his OBP monster of a team, but I think I'm still around today because of the thrill I had watching that playoff run in my very first season.

WIS

Tell us about your Hardball Dynasty blog.

Sweetsalve

It actually goes back to Gridiron Dynasty. I was in the Big Sky conference in DI-AA in the Rockne World from seasons 9 to 20. I believe there has never been a better all around experience in any conference in any world than being in the Big Sky in that time frame. So when HBD started up, all off the coaches from the Big Sky in that time frame got together and wanted to start a Hardball world to recreate the experience we had then. When we started the league, hurminator and few others started a forum and began posting some previews and evaluations like a lot of leagues do. But we didn't do this because it was what others were doing in HBD; we did it because we used to do this in the Big Sky. We would get about 20 pages out of a forum every single season, so we wanted to duplicate that in HBD.

Before this last season, I thought it would be a good idea to start a blog where hurminator and I could post some of these things we were always putting together. Occasionally, I'll make a comment about HBD as a whole, but really we try and do season previews, evaluate player performances, and give our opinions on what is going on in the Big Sky Alumni world. Hurminator and jrlenart contribute just as much as I do to the blog content. One of the best parts of the WIS experience is the community of people that you become a part of and come to know in a small way. This blog is really a reflection of not just how much I enjoy playing What If Sports, but more so a reflection of how much I enjoy competing with the people I've met on What If Sports.

WIS

In Hardball Dynasty, how do allocate your budget?

Sweetsalve

It really depends on what kind of situation your team is in. I never try to carry a player salary higher than 80 million, but I've taken over some bad teams where you were stuck with a high cap number so you have to adjust. I always spend as much as possible on Advanced Scouting. I really don't want to trade for prospects or trade away my prospects if I don't really know how good or bad that player is. I acquired too many prospects in season 1, when everyone's advanced scouting was no higher than 14 million, who were no where near what everyone thought they were. I also spend as much as I can on training. I'm not always at 20 million in training like I am with advanced scouting, but I try to be at least at 18 million.

The rest differs for me based on the situation. For instance, my team in the Big Sky Alumni world is a top tier team with veterans. I want to make sure I have a lot of training to keep those veterans at the top of their game, but my salary is higher because of the veterans I have too. So I don't spend money on international scouting and I don't pour a lot into prospect bonus, but with my maxed out advanced scouting I try to pick up undervalued players through trades instead of trying to land a huge international free agent. But with one "trash heap" team I took over, I have to spend on internationals and prospects because I have no minor talent and little major league talent and need to get some impact players to bring that team back to life. So other than spending 20 on advanced scouting, 18+ on training, and at least 14 million on college and high school scouts, everything else varies for me based on the situation.

WIS

How do you approach off-season events with players such as arbitration and free agency?

Sweetsalve

I'm not a big free agency guy. I think I've only signed 2 or 3 class A or B free agents in 15 off seasons. I usually wait and see if anyone has slipped through the cracks after spring training starts. I don't want to get into bidding wars and overpay players for extended periods of time, so I avoid free agency. But I have found a lot of quality players after all the dust settles, so I usually am picking guys out of the leftovers. As for arbitration, I don't typically sign any long term contracts. In the first year of arbitration, I always go to arbitration with the player and offer him somewhere around 90-95 percent of what he is asking for. In year 2 of arbitration, occasionally I will sign a player long term if they are asking for less in a long term deal than they are in arbitration. Then I usually offer a 2 year deal that would take them through arbitration eligibility. I don't like to tie down my future payroll, so I usually let players remain arbitration eligible and then let them walk as free agents if they aren't one of my core players.

WIS

What is your general strategy for hiring/re-hiring coaches?

Sweetsalve

I like to rehire as many coaches as possible. I think that's the strategy of most coaches as it makes the process a lot less tedious. With hiring coaches, I get the best guy for the best price on the major league level. I don't need the top guy, but I'll pay one of the second tier coaches that a lot of people won't look at. I don't really like to promote coaches from lower levels - and have stated before that I think it would help the process along if we weren't allowed to promote lower level coaches except for promoting our own lower level coaches before coach hiring starts. I try not to spend anything above the minimum in rookie league and low A as I don't put good prospects in Low A normally and rookie league is so short. But I try to gauge what prospects I have at High A, AA, and AAA and spend more money on coaches where my better prospects are. If my stud starting pitching prospect is in AA, I'm going to try and get the best AA pitching coach money can buy. If I have a bunch of 6 year free agents at pitcher in AAA, I'm going to get a mid level pitching coach for the minimum. You've just got to be smart with the minor league coaches in matching good coaches with your good prospects and never letting yourself take on a really bad coach anywhere at any level.

WIS

How do you finalize rosters at each level? What role does spring training play in your decision making?

Sweetsalve

I usually figure out my needs before the previous season is over. You really need to determine what you're going to do with your own free agents and with your prospects before the next season. If I know I am in need at a position, I hit the trade chat during the playoffs and start finding out who will be available once the next season flips. I like to figure this out before the next season because I want to be to budget correctly. I promote players during the playoffs of the previous season to try and lose as few players to retirement as possible and keep my minor leagues fully stocked. Unless I have a full roster and can't move somebody in a trade, I try to leave one roster spot open to try and grab a veteran position player for my bench on the cheap. I like to have a veteran utility player just in case I lose someone to injury and that's usually the last player I sign.

As for spring training, I don't even pay attention to it. I usually play my prospects as much as possible s I think it gives them a slight boost. More so, I don't want to grab my players extra innings or at bats that could lead to more fatigue during the season. So I play my regulars sparingly and limit my starters to 25 pitches or so. With that small sample size, you can't really pay much attention to the stats.

WIS

What is your basic strategy for setting your starting lineups and pitching rotation?

Sweetsalve

I play every team and ballpark differently, but I follow a general pattern. I like contact, eye and speed for my leadoff guy and then high contact and splits for the guy batting behind him. I like to hit my best hitter in the third spot and then usually my second best hitter in the fourth spot. Occasionally I'll flip those 2 if there are some durability issues with one of them. I like a high average hitter in the 5 hole and then a power bat in the 6 spot. I'm very big on defense, so I usually have a defensive specialist somewhere in the lineup. I bat that specialist and the catcher 7 and 8. I bat my catcher 7 or 8 no matter how good he is hitting wise because their durability is typically lower and I want him to play in as many games as possible. With AL teams, I like to hit a player with speed in the 9 spot. Sometimes that player is the defensive specialist.

I always run a 5 man rotation, but I look for high durability and high stamina starters so I can occasionally run a 4 man at key points in the season. The high durability always helps during the playoffs too. I like to have 2 setup men with stamina in the 30-40 range and then fill the rest of the staff with setup B pitchers to eat some innings and pitch in the 6th and 7th innings when needed.

WIS

What do you believe are the most important individual player ratings for performance?

Sweetsalve

Splits are important for both hitters and pitchers. Sometimes I think we overemphasize them and I've seen hitters with high contact and power numbers but poor splits hit the cover off the ball, yet I'll still take the player with the higher splits any day. After that, it really depends on your ballpark. You've got to figure out what types of players are going to work best in your setting. I have a team in Tacoma, which is the most extreme pitcher's park you can get. I won a World Series with contact hitters who could play great defense and a solid pitching staff. That kind of team can win games on the road too, but they win at home especially in the playoffs. I have a team in Toledo that is plus 1 in homeruns, so I really want a good pitching staff and I want power from the 3-6 spots - and maybe even the 7 spot - in my lineup. If you don't pay attention to your ballpark, you won't win.

WIS

How do you approach in-season player events like the draft, international prospects, waivers and promotions/demotions?

Sweetsalve

I just try to make my team better. I emphasize quantity in my farm system over quality since a lot of my teams are already competitive and I don't have the payroll flexibility to chase one big international player. So I try to acquire veterans down the stretch who may be class A or B free agents and then hope to hoard supplemental draft picks for the next season. Of course, I can only do that if I have expendable talent in the minors. I don't use the waiver wire a lot once the season starts, but I check it often with the rebuilding projects I've taken on. If I can get a better player than one I already have, I feel I have to upgrade unless the contract situation is out of hand. Like I said before, I never like to acquire contracts that run past the current season with a few exceptions. If I have a small payroll budget, I'll invest into international free agents, but normally I let others roll the dice on internationals and then try and trade for the ones I really like in a season or two.

WIS

Do you think your strategy is conducive to building a multi-season dynasty? Or, do you feel that your team may be great for a couple seasons, but then must rebuild?

Sweetsalve

I think my strategies build multi-season dynasties because my strategy is fluid. I'm always moving new players in and out around my core. I'm always working on deals and always looking to the future. So I look at my starting rotation with my Toledo team and see I have 2 starters who are 34 years old. I figure with my high training, I can count on one or two seasons more from those 2. So I have to make sure that I have 2 pitchers in my minor league system who are going to be ready when those 2 are done. That's where my quantity over quality philosophy is successful, because even if I don't have what I need in my minor league system, I have the pieces to go out and acquire the young talent I need. Sometimes it creates a log jam and you have to move some talent that you don't want to lose, but you never have to rush prospects through the minors with my system after you get it built and you're never lacking in players to bring up or to trade.

WIS

Do you have any favorite players from any of your HBD teams?

Sweetsalve

I'm the kind of owner who gets attached to players even if they aren't real. I had Al Lunar with my Toledo team and it took everything I had not to resign him and let him go, but I had to stick with my philosophy with that team and let my young players come up and I ended up with a supplemental pick from him. Felipe Marin has probably been my favorite player overall. He's not amazing ratings wise, but he's performed really well for me and has been on my first team since day 1, so no one else has ever had him. I could list players all day long, but he's probably at the top of my list.

WIS

How much time do you spend on your Hardball Dynasty teams (not including the blog)? How much do you think is necessary to be competitive?

Sweetsalve

I've acquired more teams lately than I probably have time for, but I am currently running 5 teams. During the season, I probably spend about an hour a day on my teams. I don't check my minor league everyday. I've found that if you give Sim AI enough players to move in and out, he keeps your players pretty well rested in the minors. But you've got to fill the rosters up to pull that off. If I couldn't let the sim do that, I couldn't have all my teams. Mostly I make sure to check 3 times a day to rest fatigued pitchers, read box scores, and make any changes to my lineup that are needed. I am usually watching a few players on other teams too for possible trades and like to check in on them every now and again. On the weekends (if my wife is working), I spend a lot of time checking on my prospects.

Now during the off season, it's a whole different story. I feel like I'm always on the site during the offseason, working trades and checking on coaches. I'm hoping some of the new changes to hiring coaches take some away some of the tedious nature of that process. I probably increase to 2 hours a day during the off season, only if I have time. That much time isn't required, and I'm usually doing other things while I have the page up (multi-tasking is essential to my success). For any new owners reading this or owners who have been scared off by how much is involved in HBD, just take on one team. Once you get through the offseason, your time commitment really isn't that bad. With 1 team, you could get away with 15 minutes a day and be successful. The offseason will take a little more time since you'll have to check more times throughout the day, but even that is not as bad as it looks. I think with 1 team, you could spend 15 minutes a day and build a dynasty once you settle into the game.

WIS

Who are the users you respect the most?

Sweetsalve

There's too many to ever remember. Evan43 is my close friend, was my college roommate, was in my wedding, so he's obviously high on my list and doesn't get enough credit for how good of an owner he is. All of the Big Sky Alumni are obviously on my list. Hurminator adds a dimension to your leagues that no one else can. Mlownds, eriadoriii, hwaters397, slep24, bkdries, trystero, finnski, eblitz24, kdforester - I'm sure I'm forgetting someone - they are all Big Sky Alumni who make this game so much more enjoyable for me. On the Gridiron Dynasty side, letsgo01/sudden_death and I have been in a number of conferences together and we've had some absolute wars. He's gotten the better of me lately. Plague went on a ridiculous run in Bryant last season and has built great teams everywhere he's been and ddingo/crunkjuice is probably season in and season out the best coach in the worlds I'm in. And I can't forget the baseball simleague owners like Aromano, PennQuaker, JohnGPF, and the others who are still keeping the Original Blacklist them league running strong after 20 plus seasons.

WIS

What is your favorite aspect of HBD?

Sweetsalve

I love the level of interaction you get to have with other owners. The aspect that trading brings to this game is unlike any other has or probably could have. But my favorite thing is how your success or failure affects you long term. A lot of coaches bail on teams quickly, but I love the fact that I have 5 pitchers in the minors who I am planning on making up my major league rotation in 3 seasons. I love that I can't predict whether one of them is going to blow out his arm or is not going to develop like I expect or if he's just going to bomb performance wise. The aspect that your decisions in season 1 could affect whether or not you are successful in season 5 is my favorite. It gives you the chance to think long term with your teams that other games do not.

WIS

What is your least favorite aspect of Hardball Dynasty? As it is still a relatively new game, if you could change three things about HBD, what would they be?

Sweetsalve

Coach hiring is tops on the list, but I'm hoping the changes that have been made fix some of the problems I've seen. I think everyone is frustrated with that process, so I'm hoping it becomes less of an issue now. I would also change somewhat how prospects work. The Diamond in the Rough has been a bust in my opinion. There's no way you would find a Richie Sexson or Albert Pujols or Mike Piazza or Don Mattingly in HBD drafts. When is a 13th round HBD draft pick going to make the majors let alone turn into the most dominant hitter in the game? The flip side would of course be we'd have to see more first round busts, but I really think we see more of that than we give credit for. Last would be retirements. Players should retire. They stick around far too long. Guys should quit in the middle of their contracts at age 32 or have a career ending injury. I know some owners would probably leave the game after their star pitcher blew their arm and is never coming back, but when you can basically predict how long every player is going to stick around as a pitcher or hitter, the game is too static and needs more variables. People would be upset, but as long as there is some pattern to why it happens in their ratings (health, makeup, patience, temper, etc.) or have some warning that a player is looking to call it quits, we would all get used to it and accept it as an integral part of building you teams.

WIS

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

Sweetsalve

I would be in Gridiron Dynasty. I would be a DIII walk-on offensive lineman who most coaches would cut as soon as they could. Or I'd be a Tryout camp pitcher who no one would sign for their Rookie League teams.

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