There is SO much to the game that there is no way to put this succinctly. THE MOST IMPORTANT, AND, I THINK MOST DIFFICULT, THING TO AVOID IN YOUR FIRST SEASON IS TRADING. Don't trade without doing a TON of consulting with trustworthy owners. You don't want to screw up your team just to experience the thrill of "doing something". If you can get through your first season without any trades, you'll be on the right track.
That being said, here is some canned advice that I have shared with new owners participating in the HBD Mentor Program:
Put emphasis on training and scouting. The coaching budget is pretty much dictated to you at the beginning of the season (just pay attention when you are on the budgeting page). Also, you will only need about $6M to sign your rookies in the Amateur Draft as long as your choose "conservative" when signing your guys ... you'll see what I mean.
The rest will work itself out. International scouting usually ends up being too competitive. It may seem drastic, but I recommend that you cut that down as low as you can right away. I am presently at 0 in all of my leagues (International Scouting Budget) and I remain competitive. This is because I don't overbid on the international players like everybody else does, and I can focus on what matters most, ML scouting, Training, and Collegiate scouting.
In the long run, my scouting and training are pretty high, my medical is average, and my int'l is zero. That leaves my player payroll budget somewhere around $90M +/-. I have been VERY successful implementing this formula. (Note that, if you look, my overall record includes taking on failing franchises in order to bail out troubled leagues. My record within my mainstay leagues is outstanding, with only two seasons below .500).
Durability and Stamina are explained below, Control should be over 55, Splits should be over 55 ea., Velocity is not that important, Groundball ratio should be over 55 for most parks, One pitch should be over about 75, a second pitch should be over about 68, and not more than two pitches should be under about 45. (I always go for high Health and Makeup, too).
SETTING UP YOUR PITCHING STAFF:
Assuming a five man rotation, an SP with a Stamina above 60 and a Durability above 30 will be okay. Typically, an SP will have a Stamina of about 75 and a Durability of about 20. That, too is fine. The other kind of SP you will run into, which works equally as well, is the high Stamina, low Durability guy. He might have Stamina 85, Durability 17, and be just fine. Any Durability below about 15 is getting into an unsafe zone, except for certain rare circumstances in which you are running a 6-man rotation.
Your bullpen should have high durability guys mixed in also. If you have a 7-man bullpen, I'd recommend at least three of your bullpen guys have Durabilities over 40 ... preferably over 60.
To sum up, Stamina affects how long in each game a player can last, and Durability is how quickly he can recover.
MORE ON PITCHING SETTINGS:
Firstly, I use a somewhat unorthodox method, but my bullpen is always a strength of my teams. Make sure you have at least 11 pitchers all together, 12 is usually better. Once your rotation is set, and you have your bullpen players where you want them. (Note that the SIM does not choose lefty or righty specialists for you), the next thing to do is to go over to the player settings (under the Manager's Settings menu) and have the computer give it's recommendations as to how control your staff (how many pitches, etc.).
Go ahead and save those recommendations, even though they are not exactly the best. Now, once you have them saved, go through your starting staff and for each SP, increase their pitch-count by 10 pitches in the first column, and 5 pitches in the second column. The SIM always underestimates how many pitches a starter is good for.
The SPs autorest should be 90, not 85 like the bullpen.
Next, bump up the "Call Bullpen" rating by one for each SP, unless he is already at 4, in which case he probably kinda sucks. I NEVER have an SP set to 1, even if he is a GREAT pitcher. My #1 SP might have a 2, as may my #2 SP, but usually my other SPs are set at 3 unless he's a rookie or kind of a weak, innings-eater type of guy. Those more unpredictable pitchers at the bottom of the rotation will get a 4, believe it or not.
Now for the meat of the matter: The Bullpen:
The computer will have set the pitch-counts pretty well, although I will SOMETIMES slightly lower my long reliever's pitch totals if I see he is struggling week-to-week to keep up. Also, if my closer only gets 10/10, I will up his pitch-count to 10/15, no matter how low his stamina. You need your closer to be able to pitch a standard inning! As a side-note, I set my Closer's autorest at 90, just like my starters.
Lastly, and here is the clincher, I take my LRA guy and set the "Call Bullpen" number to 3 if he's REALLY good, or, more usually 4. My LRB guy gets a 5 usually. My Setup A guys get a 3 or 4, depending on how good they are ... usually a 4. My Setup B guys usually get a 5 ... if they perform significantly better than expected, I'll go ahead and promote them to Setup A status. Sometimes the computer misjudges Setup A vs. Setup B.
The Lefty Specialist (if you have one) should get a 5, and a Mopup guy (if you have one) should get a 4 or 5 and his autorest should be bumped up to 75 instead of 50.
That was very long-winded, but it represents a system that works VERY well for me. I also recommend having bullpen guys with very high Durability ratings. AT LEAST 3 of your bullpen guys should have Durabilities above 60. That would be the minimum. They shouldn't have to be called into a game tired ... that's how a bullpen falls apart quickly.
EVEN MORE ABOUT YOUR PITCHERS:
On your pitching staff you should have an ace starting pitcher and a solid number two. This allows you to break losing streaks, to match-up well against strong opponents, and to be more likely to win key playoff games. Your other starting pitchers will start less often and throw fewer innings per start, so they do not need to be as good. This is especially true for the fifth starter because with occasional days off in the schedule his spot will be skipped entirely. Your bullpen is going to be used to help the good starters close out the late innings of victories and to log tons of innings when your bad starters have to make an early exit. If the bullpen is good, you will still be competitive with your lower-level starting pitchers. This is because when you go to the pen the pitching improves and you get the benefit of pinch-hitting in the pitcher's spot. Starting pitchers should be righties, because most hitters are righties. But another option is a lefty paradox, which is better at getting out the righties (and switch-hitters). The worst starting pitching option is a normal lefty who is below average against righties. He is likely to only face righties and rather than starting he would be more effective coming out of the bullpen to face key lefty hitters that cannot be subbed for later in the game.
Choose a starting pitcher that may have platoon advantages or ballpark advantages. In Yankee Stadium, for example, it is easier to hit home runs to right field. Most home runs are pulled, so it is an advantage in those parks to bat lefty. Therefore, it is an advantage in those parks for the pitcher to be a lefty so that he has a platoon advantage against any lefty hitters. Or, if the opponent has entirely righty hitters, a mediocre righty pitcher with good breaking pitches may pitch better than a good lefty pitcher that is not as effective against righties.
You should have at least 2 lefty relievers, and 3 is also acceptable. At least once in the late innings there will be a situation where the opponent comes up and has 2 of the first 3 hitters batting left-handed. That's a good inning for one of the lefties to throw. Then, there will be another inning like that, or a few occasions where the star lefty hitter on the other team comes up with men on base and you will want to use another lefty reliever for just that one at bat. This is a good way to take lefty pitchers who are mediocre or downright bad at facing righty hitters and use them carefully to face lefty hitters most of the time. Another good tactic is to look at the statistics and to plan to have at least one or two righty paradox pitchers who are good at retiring the lefty hitters and switch-hitters that end up batting lefty. It is also useful to have a few paradox hitters to counteract paradox pitchers.
Starters: Durability should be over 75, Power is less significant (as long as you have sluggers placed in the middle of your lineup), Contact should be over 50, Splits should be over about 55, and Eye should be over about 55 ... these are the minimums, of course.
Sometimes you have a guy that has a Contact around 45 Power over 90, Splits around 45, and Eye over 90. This guy may not be your prototypical hitter, but his power/eye combo will lead to him being a good slugger with a high OPS. OPS is the name of the game, read below.
Defense DOES matter. I recommend your catcher, especially, be of the defensive variety. Arm Strength and Accuracy over 68 or so, accuracy seems more important when throwing out basestealers. Pitch-Calling over 70 if he's a good hitter, over 80 if he's a medium hitter, and over 90 if you just want a great defensive catcher and don't care as much about his bat. This is often overlooked by other owners ... having a good signal-caller is critical!
Use the computer recommendations (in the GM screen) when initially determining where players can play. However, I find that the computer tends to promote lots of 3B to SS ... use your judgement and make changes as necessary. I like my SS to have a Range and Glove no less than about 82 ea. Also, the computer tends to recommend a lot of LF players move to 2B. Once again, use your own judgement and don't be afraid to err on the side of good defense.
Speed and Baserunning ability depend on your management style, but I feel they are very important in maximizing your number of runs scored in a season. Some teams have a murderer's row of hitters, but they don't score as many runs as a fast team does because they don't know how to be efficient with their baserunners.
MANAGING YOUR LINEUP:
The leadoff hitter should have a high on base average (OBA). The ideal guy draws a lot of walks because a walk is as good as a single when leading off. By contrast, leading off with a base hit is a bit of a waste because there are no runners to advance. It's better to have your "walker" lead off and then be batted around by the hitters with the higher batting averages. Being fast and a good base-stealer is an additional bonus in leading off, so you are more likely to stay out of double play situations and score from second. The second hitter should be skilled at advancing the leadoff man. This can be achieved in many ways: by having a high batting average as a contact-singles hitter; being a good bunter; being a ground-ball hitter; or being good at avoiding strikeouts. Having a good OBA and running well also helps. The goal of the top two hitters is to have a runner in scoring position when the third hitter comes up. Being able to steal second, or to execute a hit and run, is useful because it gets runners off first base and into scoring position when the 3-4-5 spots come up. This not only puts runners in scoring position but it gets them out of double-play situations, which are most likely with the power hitters who do not run as fast.
The best overall hitter should bat 3rd. A good judge of "best" is the sum of OBA and slugging percentage, which is often called Total Average (TA) or On Base Plus Slugging (OPS). This statistic is the single most important measure of hitter or pitcher performance because it has the strongest correlation with runs scored. It doesn't really matter how your 3rd hitter got the highest OPS. He can be a power hitter like Sammy Sosa or hit for an average like Sean Casey. The batting average is nice, because if a runner is on second the best way to "plate him" is with a base hit of any kind. Your 2nd best overall hitter, with an emphasis on power, should bat cleanup (4th). He needs to "protect" your best hitter who just batted. You do not want your best hitter to get walked or to make an out swinging at bad pitches. Your opponent will not give good pitches to your 3rd hitter if they are not terrified of walking him and thereby having to face your cleanup guy. But your 3rd hitter is going to often be on first base when the cleanup hitter comes to bat, and the best way to score from first or to drive in multiple runners is with power. The 5th hitter should be your next best overall hitter, so as to protect your cleanup man and to get more RBIs, since your 3rd and 4th hitters will often be on base. The 6th hitter should be the next best overall hitter.
A key strategy regarding your lineup is to avoid leading off an inning with your 9th hitter, who will no doubt make an out and ruin your entire hopes for the inning. Another key strategy is to be in a position where your pitcher or #9 hitter can make a useful sacrifice bunt rather than an out or a double play. To set this up, the 7th hitter should be a good base-stealer and the 8th hitter should be a good bunter and/or your worst hitter. The 9th hitter should be your worst hitter or your pitcher, but hopefully a competent bunter.
Setting up the 7-8-9 this way gives you many useful options. If the 7th man gets on, he can steal. If he is out, the 8th man can get on base and still be sacrificed into scoring position by the pitcher. Then the leadoff man can drive him in. If he makes the steal, the 8th man can drive him in, or you can pinch-hit for him or the 9th spot with a man in scoring position. Even if the 7th man makes the 3rd out on a steal attempt, at least you have avoided leading off the next inning with the pitcher. Or you can use the 8th hitter to bunt the runner to 2nd base, and then pinch-hit for the pitcher to drive him in.
If there are two outs with a runner on 2nd or 3rd, some managers will walk the 8th hitter to get to the pitcher, hoping to get a sure out that ends the inning. There are three flaws in this strategy hence I rarely use it. First, the 8th hitter is probably bad anyway, why give him a free pass? Second, even bad hitting pitchers get hits 10% of the time, and now they will be hitting with 2+ runners on base. Or, the opponent may be able to pinch-hit for the pitcher. Finally, you throw away the opportunity to force the pitcher to lead off the next inning. My typical strategy is to try to get the lousy 8th hitter out and end the inning and force the pitcher to lead off the next inning so you end up getting out of two innings.
When in doubt, bat better hitters (ones with higher OPS) higher. In a typical game if you have 41 plate appearances, only the top 5 hitters will bat 5 times, and the others 4 times. This cutoff will vary, but the lower a hitter is in the lineup the less often he will bat over the course of a season. In addition, if you pinch-hit for your pitcher he may bat only 2-3 times and if your 8th hitter can usefully bunt at least once he will only need to swing away 2-3 times with his lousy OPS.
Near the end now, I have general advice about how to manage your lineup. Here goes:
The ideal team has 14 position players (hitters) and 11 pitchers. This includes 2 catchers, 6 infielders, 6 outfielders, 5 starting pitchers, 1 long reliever (who can also spot start, known as a "swing man"), 2 middle relievers, 2 quality "setup" relievers, and 1 great closer. Many teams will carry 3 catchers (and 5 outfielders) and use them carefully because they are more prone to injury and cannot play every day. I actually usually carry 12 - and even sometimes 13 - pitchers because I rely heavily on my bullpen; however, 11 is enough if you have the right guys. It's quite a luxury to have that extra player on the bench.
Among the hitters, the ideal balance is an equal number of lefties and righties and starters that are well-suited to the special lineup spots. Lefty bats are hard to come by since more than 2/3 of hitters (and pitchers) are right-handed. But since most of the pitchers are righties, there will be a platoon advantage if you have more lefty hitters. But if you have too many lefties you will be vulnerable to lefty pitching. Ideally you will have some star players that play almost all the time. This allows you to stockpile your bench players to provide good platoons at the other positions. If you have an average LF but he is backed up by 3 other guys that can play LF as well, and 2 are lefties, then you can be guaranteed of the best match-ups in that slot throughout the game. So a weakness can become a strength. To make this work you will need to have one or two utility players that can play a lot of positions so you don't have to spread your bench so thinly that each position has only one backup. If the latter occurs, you will be outmatched by pitching changes.
Regardless of your platoons, you want to have at least 2 righty and 2 lefty hitters in reserve on the bench. Save your best ones for later in the game. If you have one guy who crushes lefty pitching, just having him sitting there on your bench can "freeze out" your opponent from being able to even bring in any of his lefty relievers for fear that you will pinch-hit. To make good on this threat you want to have every position covered so that you at least have the option of pinch-hitting. And avoid using your last lefty or last righty until the end of the game, otherwise you will endure long periods of bad match-ups because you will not have the hitter you need to drive the pitcher out of the game.
Make sure your bench is versatile enough to cover all of your weaknesses. That includes good defensive backups for positions where your starting players are bad defenders. You should have at least one excellent baserunner that can come off the bench, and avoid using him as an early pinch-hitter. You should have platoon-mates for your weakest starting hitters and backups for the platoons so you can handle at least 3 pitching changes. The best backups are guys that have solid batting averages and play many positions. Batting average is key because in many pinch-hitting situations all you need is a single to score a key run from second.
Lastly, think of the use of the bullpen and bench like a chess game where you are trying to checkmate your opponent by creating a match-up in your favor that the opposing manager cannot counter. Baseball is all about match-ups. To do this your bench needs to have all the weapons and you have to be careful not to waste them too early in the game. Save them for when the game is on the line and a single run can be the deciding factor. If you are going to use them earlier, it should be for a big opportunity, like the chance to pinch-hit a three-run homer when you are down by a run.
I know this post was overly long, but I think I covered most things in it. Most questions can be answered, by the way, by reading through the HBD Forum section. It takes time, but you'll learn a lot by reading through them.