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A bullpen mismanagement tale in simulated pandemic baseball

Which pitcher would you have chosen in this Strat-O-Matic situation?

Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Baseball ends up breeding discussions, or disputes, over strategy. Some of them are healthy, some are horribly divisive. With no games of importance being played, now seems a good time for discussing a bullpen move, with a hope to make similar future discussions easier.

Through the hiatus, I've been playing quite a bit of Strat-O-Matic Baseball. My SupraLiga (the league's name) has 52 teams. One for each state, and one each for Toronto and Montreal. Many, including the two extras, have a lean toward their locales.

Rosters are very deep. Teams have 40 players, and four player/coaches, who can be subbed in when players are injured. To prevent teams from playing 30 guys in a game (which I would do), I've instituted a few rules Rob Manfred might like. The starting pitcher has to go seven innings unless injured or 'fatigued' (the game specifies fatigue), and a pinch hitter can't appear until the eighth inning, except for injury or a change of pitcher. The eighth inning arrives with loaded bullpens, though pitchers are limited to one start and two appearance per week limits.

In a recent game, I made a bullpen misplay. Given the chance, I'd probably handle it the same way. Which likely makes me a slow learner. Both sides had a Cubs player included, but the story plays, regardless.

Dave Roberts was a left-handed pitcher in the 1970s, with his career curling into the prior and succeeding decades. He spent a season and a half with the Cubs, starting half of his appearances for the North Siders. He started in my SupraLiga game for Alabama, against a much better Texas team, in my league. Over the first seven innings, he was brilliant, tossing a two-hitter with four walks. Alabama led 4-1, thanks in part to Ben Zobrist snapping a season-opening 0-for-14 slump with an RBI triple.

Roberts' bullpen was ready when needed. It's not up to league standard, as Alabama is far from a SupraLiga elite squad (like, for instance, Illinois). Roberts was to face Cesar Cedeno and (Hall of Famer) Travis Jackson, both right-handers, to start. Lefties Rafael Palmeiro (I said both teams had Cubs representation) and Josh Hamilton (who was sort of a Cub for about 30 seconds) next as left-handers. Cedeno singled. No worries. A good base-runner, he was held on base. It wouldn't matter, as Jackson homered to trim the lead to one.

By now, the bullpen is getting ready in a hurry. Righty Ken Ryan was throwing in earnest. Roberts still had the lead, and had been good through seven. Palmeiro tipped over the tea-kettle. His back-to-back homer pushed the pitcher into the "fatigued" category. Taking the dice as reality, Roberts was done. However, I preferred the lefty against Hamilton.

Many baseball fans are "what happened"-based, as opposed to "what is the optimal strategy"-based. Wait until what happens, happens. If it doesn't work ideally, the manager screwed up with his bullpen usage. If the strategy works, and bullpen usage is your nugget of annoyance, disregard the moves that work, and amplify the screw-ups. Even if the screw-ups made sense.

Should I leave in the fatigued pitcher? Or bring in the right-handed reliever to face the lefty? Either move could work. Or misfire. Both have their weightings for and against. If you're a front-seat driver, you should have already decided for yourself. Roberts or Ryan to face Hamilton? The fan that thrives on complaining after-the fact won't commit until the move is made, the result is in, and rain down the criticism after.


Who should face Josh Hamilton?

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    Dave Roberts
    (12 votes)
  • 33%
    Ken Ryan
    (6 votes)
18 votes total Vote Now

I stuck with my initial decision. If you've played Advanced-Level Strat baseball, you've seen them often. A positive result, followed by a dot. Had Roberts been short of fatigue, Hamilton would have been retired routinely. Instead, he singled. Ryan entered, and two of the next three hitters singled. Texas used their closer (Robb Nen) aggressively, and won 6-5.

Bullpen usage is difficult, whether on paper or in real life. As baseball struggles to return, real pitchers' arms have limits. The people I most-often tend to respect in these decisions explain the "which and why" in advance. In that fashion, if they make a good enough case, I can change my mind because of it. Honesty and integrity matter quite a bit to me. Did your bullpen decision change based on what happened in this instance?