Previously in this series:
Confessions of a Fake Manager: The Set Up
In an effort to become the perfect SaberManager™, I'm taking over the 2005 Cubs and leading them through a simulated season in Out of the Park. I'll do all of the things that I've told managers they should be doing, while paying attention both to how feasible strategies are in isolation and within the context of a baseball team playing a baseball season. For more details and a full explanation of why and how I've chosen to do this—and with 2005 Cubs of all teams—click here.
Game 1 (April 4) – at Diamondbacks; Loss 1-5; Record: 0-1
And … in the first inning of the first game, Aramis Ramirez hits one into the gap and beats the tag on the throw to second base for a double. And gets up limping. He’s done something to his knee and has to be removed from the game. All of that planning to set the lineup just right, and it all seems to go up in smoke. Fiddlesticks!
In the third inning, Corey Patterson ended up on first after an infield single. With Carlos Zambrano up and the D’Backs expecting bunt, I instead had Patterson try to steal second. I realized as I was about to hit the “steal” button that I was terrified. He made it, but I had a moment as the game scrolled through the “play-by-play” text. Is that what real managers go through after they put their left arm in and take their left arm out? How do they all keep such poker faces?
The game itself didn’t go well, and after the game, I got this message: “Aramis Ramirez has been diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He will be out for six months.” As a psychologist, I always encourage people to put a positive spin on anything. Aramis Ramirez will finish this 2005 season with a 1.000/1.000/2.000 line. Take that Ted Williams! At least I can move Nomar Garciaparra to third base and I don’t have to worry about his shortstop defense any more.
Game 2 (April 5) – at Diamondbacks; Win 9-4; Record: 1-1
Of course, the day after I lose Aramis Ramirez, the Cubs score nine runs. It was my first time out with the tandem starters. I'm annoyed that Mark Prior and Rich Hill combined to throw 109 pitches and only made it through 4 2/3 innings. Glendon Rusch, however, got through 2 1/3 on 21 pitches. Huh.
Game 3 (April 6) – at Diamondbacks; Win 6-4 (10); Record: 2-1
In the first inning with one out and a runner on first, Jeromy Burnitz hits a grounder to second. Second baseman Craig Counsell throws the ball to shortstop Royce Clayton for one out, but the return throw to first doesn’t get Burnitz, although OOTP’s “play-by-play” says that the umpire probably missed the call. For a moment, I’m glad for the human element of the game, because the inning is still alive. In 2017, Burnitz probably would have been out and the inning over after two minutes of umpires talking to their friend in New York. The Cubs, however, put together a few more hits, and before I know it, there are three extra runs on the board, for a total of four in the inning.
For the entire rest of the game—as Greg Maddux had a good but not great start and gave up three runs in seven innings—I was obsessed with the thought that but for that errant call, I would be losing instead of winning right here. I honestly felt a little dirty. In the ninth, the D-Backs tied the game at 4-4. The game went to extra innings, but the fact that I was around to see extras, rather than taking a loss, is again thanks to a blown call. And when my Cubs pushed across two in the 10th to take (and eventually hold) a 6-4 win, pushing me over the .500 mark as a “manager,” I had a strong case of impostor syndrome. I probably should have lost that game.
Game 4 (April 8) – vs. Brewers; Win 6-4; Record: 3-1
One trip around the rotation, and this time the tandem system worked great. Kerry Wood gave me three innings, and then Ricky Nolasco struck out eight and pitched 4 1/3 innings. In fact, 16 of the 27 outs my pitching staff recorded came via the strikeout. Maybe this will work out.
I’m realizing that I’m going to have a dry-humping problem. I’m playing with the “warmup pitchers” option turned on. I have to think ahead about my reliever usage, just like a real manager. In the bottom of the eighth inning, my Cubs were down 4-3 and two were out, but with a runner on second. I had already pinch-hit for the pitcher, which meant I needed to have someone up.
I realized that one of two things were going to happen. Either I would go to the top of the ninth still down a run, a situation where my decision tree calls for a lower-leverage reliever (Sergio Mitre was on call). However, I might tie the game or even go up, which would call for closer Ryan Dempster. I had Mitre warming up at the start of the inning, but when the runner got to second, I got Dempster up alongside him. When Nomar Garciaparra hit his second home run of the game, and the deficit turned into a lead, I suddenly found myself hoping that Dempster could get warm fast enough. Thankfully, Derrek Lee hit a home run right after Nomar, giving Dempster a little extra time and an insurance run to work with.
I’ve often wondered why managers use an inning-based system for their reliever decisions. Here I was in a high-leverage batting situation, and the two possible outcomes called for me to either use one of my low-end men or my closer! I look at reliever usage in broad samples after the fact. For example, in that situation, I might have had a middle-ground reliever, like LaTroy Hawkins, ready, so that I didn’t have to throw someone like Dempster in a losing effort, but whom I could trust to protect a ninth-inning lead for a batter or two. It’s a “spit the distance” sort of strategy. That’s the type of nuance that gets lost in a large-N, post hoc, end-of-season analysis of reliever decisions. There are cases where you just don’t know what’s going to happen next and you have to prepare for two very different eventualities.
Game 9 (April 13) – vs. Padres; Loss 3-4; Record: 4-5
The Padres just came to Wrigley and swept a three-game set. I’m starting to have my doubts about this tandem starter experiment. I’ve written about this before, but one of the problems with a tandem starter setup is that it minimizes variance in how long the starter goes. With the traditional one starter/100 pitches model, if the starter is having a bad day, he might last three innings. If he’s having a good day, he might last seven. If the starter goes seven, the manager simply rejoices and thanks his lucky stars that he only needs two innings from his bullpen. If the starter goes three innings, then the manager throws out the long reliever/sacrificial lamb and tosses him aside after the game is over.
I’ve previously found that the average starter gets about nine outs within the space of 50 pitches during a normal start. That means if we’re allotting our two tandem guys 50 pitches each, and one of them has a good “start,” he might get 11 outs. The problem is that the other half of the tandem isn’t likely to duplicate that 11, but instead to get nine, leaving the bullpen with seven outs to get. On the flip side, the initial starter might get only seven, and the second banana might get nine, which is nice because it means that you still get 16 outs with your “starter” but that you’re likely getting consistently between 4-6 innings from your “starter.” Usually, that’s too late in the game to bring in the sacrificial lamb, but it means that even on good days, the bullpen will still need to provide three innings of work. I’m starting to see that problem in the ”status bars” of my beleaguered pen.
Down 4-1 in the top of the ninth, I finally deployed my 13th pitcher, backup catcher Henry Blanco. It was partly because the bullpen was wearing thin (closer Ryan Dempster was the only one available at that point) and partly because the chaotic streak inside me wanted to see what might happen. Blanco threw a scoreless frame. In the bottom of the ninth, a Corey Patterson RBI single (on which he was promptly hurt), and a Nomar Garciaparra sacrifice fly got me to within one run, and singles by Neifi Perez and Todd Walker loaded the bases, with two outs and Derrek Lee due up. I found myself calling to the bullpen to warm up Dempster, because there was a real chance that Lee could tie the game. It turned out that Lee hit into a fielder’s choice to end the game, but that would have been interesting to have my closer trying to preserve the win … for my backup catcher.
Game 10 (April 15) – at Pirates; Loss 5-18; Record: 4-6
Trailing 7-1 in the bottom of the eighth, I called on Henry Blanco again to save the bullpen. By the time the Pirates were done, It was 18-1. As a Sabermanager™, I should probably be worried about my team’s Pythagorean record.
Game 12 (April 17) – at Pirates; Win 4-2; Record: 5-7
I had a fairly “normal” game today. Greg Maddux threw six innings, and then three relievers (Mike Remlinger, Michael Wuertz, and Ryan Dempster) each pitched an inning to finish it off. However, when I went to warm up Dempster, I realized that he hadn’t pitched in nine days. I think I spent so much time worry about making sure that I didn’t have Dempster pitch in an non-approved situation that I forgot to occasionally have him pitch. Whoops.
Game 14 (April 19) – at Reds; Win 6-3; Record: 6-8
I’m having a small crisis of worth. OOTP is nice because it allows for a lot of customization of exactly how much of the game you want to control. I’ve been focusing mostly on decisions that involve who plays when, slipping in a reliever here and a pinch-hitter there. But before this game, I realized exactly how much information I’m ignoring. For example, I’ve got the game on “one-pitch” mode, in which I don’t have to worry about things like calling pitches, or even pitch-to-pitch whether to have the batter take or to give him the green light.
I also realize that my evaluation of game situations is rather basic. The Cubs just finished a two-game set against the Reds, which they split. In both games, the 2005 Reds trotted out a lineup which featured lefties Sean Casey, Ken Griffey Jr., and Adam Dunn all bunched in a row. It’s the sort of spot in a lineup which calls out for a left-handed reliever. In Game 1 of the series, my normal lefty specialist, Mike Remlinger was unavailable. I did have Glendon Rusch on the roster as well. Rusch’s job is usually to pitch in lower-leverage situations and preferably over multiple innings, but given Remlinger’s unavailability, I reserved him for that string of three lefties. The next “day” Remlinger was rested enough that he drew that assignment.
What I did might seem perfectly reasonable. It might have even been the correct course of action, but what if both Remlinger and Rusch would have been available on the same day and Casey-Griffey-Dunn had been due up in the eighth inning of a one-run game? Who should I send out there? The answer probably involves looking at the types of pitches that they throw, compared to what those three hitters are vulnerable to. It’s the sort of thing that I would probably know if I were a real manager, or at least had a real pitching coach standing next to me in the dugout.
Chess grandmasters, when they find themselves in a specific place in a chess match, can often visualize multiple moves and the consequences of those moves down the line. At the time they face that situation, there might be a “best move” but the fact that they are such experts in the game means they can at least understand that they have options. I’m the guy (both as a baseball manager and a chess player) who only really knows one move and I just have to hope it’s a good one.
Game 19 (April 24) – vs. Pirates; Win 4-3 (10); Record: 10-9
Getting above .500 feels like an accomplishment. The Pirates just came to town for a three-game series, and all three games went to extra innings. Even though I’m not really at the ballpark, my heart skipped a couple of beats. After dropping the first game, my virtual Cubs were a lowly 8-9 looking up at the Pirates in first place, and it seemed like they’d never get a hit ever again. When the Pirates took a 1-0 lead, it felt insurmountable. As a therapist, I realize that I was catastrophizing. OOTP puts win probability numbers on the screen at each point in the game, so not only should I know better than that, I should know exactly by exactly how much.
Still, on the next two nights, a pair of 4-3 wins, one of them powered by—surprise!—the heroics of 34-year-old Calvin Murray, who was only playing because both Jerry Hairston Jr. and Corey Patterson were injured, I felt exhausted but invincible. It’s a crazy rollercoaster of emotion. They say that part of the job of the manager is to make sure that his team doesn’t get too high or too low over the course of the season. If I were doing this for real, how would I do that if inside, I’m jumping and sobbing with every little twist and turn. And um … I’m trained as a therapist. I know a thing or two about keeping emotions in check.
Game 21 (April 26) – vs. Reds; Loss 3-15; Record: 10-11
It was exactly as awful as it sounds. Third baseman Scott McClain came on in relief in the eighth inning. In the ninth inning, he went back to third base.
Game 22 (April 27) – vs. Reds; Win 1-0 (10); Record: 11-11
There is no known problem in the universe that can’t be cured by Greg Maddux going eight shutout innings, followed by a walk-off win in the 10th.