By Jason Notte
The 2012 Major League Baseball season is costing fans a bundle in ticket and beer money, but smartphones and tablets are two places where fans can slide under the tag a bit.
Teams have a hand in fans' wallets the minute they step to the ticket counter, but free and low-cost apps for stat geeks, fantasy baseball freaks and fickle game watchers make it a bit easier to enjoy the game without dumping a truckload of money onto the field. It's also an incredibly long season that has almost five full months left to go, which makes an app purchase a huge value.
We went flipping through the various app stores and found the most essential baseball apps of the 2012 season. These apps are all top contenders for your time and money this season, even if your team isn't:
Platform: Apple iOS and Google Android
Price: Free to $14.99
Shocked that the MLB would charge nearly $15 for an app? It's the same league that thinks it's awesome to charge an average of nearly $30 a game for tickets, so don't sigh too deeply. At least those 15 bills buy you pitch-by-pitch updates, video highlights from games in progress and live radio broadcasts to go with free At Bat Lite content such as scores, news from MLB.com, schedules, rosters and team standings. Want a better deal? Download MLB's free At The Ballpark app and get a directory of your local ballpark, team schedule and ticket info and -- for Miami Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros fans -- mobile food and beverage ordering.
It's a one-trick app, but it does that trick better than anyone in the business. MLBTradeRumors.com is on top of trades from the offseason to midseason replacements, so if your squad turns out to have a fragile pitcher in the starting rotation or needs a bat for a second-hand playoff push, this is the app that's going to tell you who's coming your team's way and how much his services will cost.
By culling stories and information from 15,000 sources and breaking it down into 30 slideshow feed categories including trades, injury reports, roster updates and free agents, EvriThing is as close to baseball omnipotence as you can get.
Just point it toward your favorite team's news or favorite category and let the information overload begin.
The good news for baseball geeks is that the pages of stats, clever player bios and team forecasts found in the pulp edition are all here, with fans now able to sort stats however they choose.
The bad news? That $9.99 price is per league, which adds up to $20 for those who want NL and AL stats.
FanGraphs' neon green game data line separates the casual fan from the full-on baseball geek. The app has live box scores each game, lifetime stats for every player from 1974 to present and real-time win probability graphs based on in-game action. Throw in some minor league stats and salary data and FanGraphs starts to make that $3 look like less than two cents a game pretty quickly.