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Which Superhero Would Be Best at Baseball? A Scientific Study: Part 1

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Which superhero would most dominate sports? Who would be best suited for which positions? These hotly-debated questions have existed since Batman, Superman, and Robin played various sports on the covers of World's Finest Comics throughout World War II.

The debate becomes intractable, though, on a number of questions: Would Superman be able to throw out the Flash on a close play second? Is turning green and ripping out of shorts a side effect of PEDs? Would regulation equipment cause a "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" scenario?

Luckily, I think I've devised a solution. To the best of my ability, I've ported the superpowers of 100 of the biggest names in comic books into the hyper-specific sub-ratings of baseball simulator Out of the Park Baseball, simulated a 162 game season, and examined the sabermetric output.

OOTP is a text-based game that simulates a general manager's experience by assigning each player a ton of ratings, covering everything from the obvious (power, average), to the obscure (BABIP tendencies), to the intangible (work ethic). The game creates shockingly realistic scenarios that have the feel of a genuine alternate reality, thanks to the game's advanced detail and career-progression engine.

Rather than simply assign one-to-one equivalencies between certain powers and certain traits, I tried to ask, with each player, "what would really happen if he or she tried to play baseball?" So, for instance, the Flash has great pitch recognition because he can slow down time. But so too do the telepaths, who can anticipate the future pitch, the Kryptotians, who can perceive life at a molecular level, and Cyclops, with his mutated spatial awareness. The Flash family (all four of them) are top base-stealers, but so are the teleporters on the X-Men.

Here's a sample ratings page (click to enlarge):

wally copy

Tough choices were made. The line for acceptable powers was drawn somewhere between telekinesis and magic, with Professor X and Dr. Fate making the cut and Zatanna and Doctor Strange excluded. Other great characters just weren't useful --  Magneto peaked in college ball for some reason.

The superheroes are divided into four 25-man rosters: the Justice League, the Justice Society of America, the X-Men, and the Avengers -- 50 DC/50 Marvel.

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The Justice League

jla1

Strengths: The Justice League boasts an infield to rival the 1999 Mets, with Martian Manhunter-Superman-Wonder Woman-Captain Marvel all virtually perfect. Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman do sacrifice a little plate discipline, though -- Marvel because he's really 10-year old boy Billy Batson, Diana because Amazons don't walk.

They also boast exceptional team speed with Superman and three generations of Flash.

Here's what invincibility looks like in the game, to give you a sense of the scale. Typically, the ratings work on the 20-80 scale, though Superman exceeds the max everywhere:

Screen shot 2013-10-15 at 11.35.58 PM (Click to enlarge)

Weaknesses: A sizable powerless contingent constitutes D.C.'s pitching staff. Batman, Green Arrow, and their various sidekicks use their marksmanship and deep arsenals to finesse innings in the absence of put-away pitches.

Key Ratings:

  •  Aquaman's 26 overall rating (out of 80) is the lowest in the game because baseball isn't played on water, you useless joke of a hero.
  • The Flash (Wally West) has just a 55 eye/discipline rating, as being able to recognize a fastball outside at a fraction of its real-time speed is pointless if you're too hyper-active to lay off.
  • Elongated Man and Plastic Man make a great pitch-framing duo behind the plate with ability to snap even the wildest pitch back into the zone. Their weak, rubbery arms leave a lot to be desired in terms of controlling the running game and hitting, though.
  • Batman's perfect intelligence and work ethic ratings earned him this note on his in-game scouting report, "Teammates are in awe by the work Wayne puts into his game. Very intelligent player."

Lineup Card: When I asked the computer to automatically set up the lineups, Hawkgirl and Hawkman were platooned in right field.

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The X-Men

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Strengths: Telekenesis makes for one heck of a knuckleball. And like all knuckleball pitchers, it is passed down. Much like Charlie Hough taught R.A. Dickey to control his pitch by taking some off, so too has Professor X tried to rein in Jean Grey's limitless potential, with mixed results.

The X-Men also boast the strongest farm system around, both in terms of quantity of prospects and historical efficacy of development.

Weaknesses: Everyone's good at something, but no one's good at everything. The teleporters at the top of the line up get on base on pretty much any fair ball and there's some serious power at the corners. But there's no Superman to anchor things. Beast is a Miguel Cabrera-type defender at third base, which is especially troublesome in a league in which so many fielders move at the speed of sound.

nightcrawler (Click to enlarge)

Key Ratings:

  • Longshot's ability to manipulate the laws of probability maxes out his BABIP rating, while his leathery, 3-finger hands make him a great receiver behind the plate.
  • Rogue can adequately feign playing any other player's position, making her a useful utility player in the Mark Derosa/Joe McEwing mold.
  • Closer Sway doesn't have great velocity on her fastball (sits around 87), but she makes up for it with her ability to decelerate her changeup's position within space-time.
  • Angel covers a lot of ground in center, and has a particular talent for robbing home runs. His need to start flapping his wings, however, gives him much slower jumps on the ball than rivals Flash and Quicksilver.
  • Nightcrawler's bunt-for-hit rating is exactly what you'd expect from a guy who can teleport to first base.

Lineup Card: Wolverine's ability to regenerate his UCL makes him the necessary workhorse of a pitching staff that features a paraplegic as its ace.

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The Justice Society of America

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Strengths: Having a weird number of lightning-themed heroes gives the JSA a strong stable of electric bullpen arms.

Weaknesses: Aging stars Jay Garrick (the original Flash) and Alan Scott (the original Green Lantern) can't compete with their successors. And because star hitter Hourman's powers are contingent on the drug 'miraclo,' he'll miss 100 games this season on a PED suspension:

hourman

Key Ratings:

  • Obsidian's ability to shroud objects in shadows gives him a changeup just a notch below Sway's.
  • Jay Garrick's speed (75/80) may not be at the level of the other Flash-family characters, but he makes up for it with cunning (95/80 steal ability).
  • There's a real lack of power across this roster -- both in terms of home runs and power-pitching -- befitting the dead ball era during which most of these characters were conceived.

Lineup card: Powergirl, the JSA's only Kryptonian, plays shortstop and bats third. Liberty Belle, whose powers are tied up in the ringing of the Liberty Bell, has requested a trade to the Phillies.

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The Avengers

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Strengths: Depth. The Avengers is a catch-all team for ersatz Supermen, machinations of Jack Kirby's mind, and everything in between. Their top bench players would start for the Justice Society.

Weaknesses: Without the benefit of someone who can slow down time, the Avengers don't figure to draw many walks. Thor, the Thing, and Hulk all represent a grip-it-and-rip-it mentality.

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Key Ratings: 

  • Reed Richards' rubber arm puts his durability up there with Wolverine's.
  • Scarlet Witch's magical powers are disqualified here, but she gets a high BABIP rating for sharing in Longshot's "probability manipulation" power.
  • The Avengers have four hitters with a power rating of 90 or better -- the Thing, Thor, Hulk, and Hyperion -- by far the most in the league.

Lineup Card: Powerful newcomer Sentry couldn't crack a deep lineup, so he splits time with various others.

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Opening Day

The X-Men and Justice League faced off on Opening Day on the mutants' home turf. Batman and Professor X were the starting pitchers. Here are the lineups:

Justice League

  1. Flash (Wally West) - CF
  2. Martian Manhunter - 3B
  3. Superman - SS
  4. Wonder Woman - 2B
  5. Captain Marvel - 1B
  6. Flash (Barry Allen) - LF
  7. Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) - DH
  8. Hawkgirl - RF
  9. Elastic Man - C

X-Men

  1. Nightcrawler - SS
  2. Longshot - C
  3. Warpath - LF
  4. Colossus - DH
  5. Gambit - RF
  6. Beast - 3B
  7. Cyclops - 1B
  8. Rogue - CF
  9. Hepzibah - 2B

Pitching and superhuman defense ruled the day, as no one registered a hit until Superman grounded a single down the thirdbase line in the fourth inning. He would go on to steal second and third that inning, but Wonder Woman couldn't drive him in with two outs.

Then, after trading runs in the fifth, the game went tied into the tenth inning, in which Booster Gold surrendered the walk-off sac fly to Warpath.

Gold (RHP)  tries to explain to starter Bruce Wayne why we blew the game. Gold (RHP) tries to explain to starter Bruce Wayne why he blew the game.

Here's the box score:

Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 12.57.10 AM

In part two, I'll sim through the regular season and examine the statistical returns. Stay tuned.

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