Strat-O-Matic Bullpen Management - Part One
D. Scott Nichols
One of the more interesting and enjoyable aspects of the Strat-O-Matic CDROM baseball game is the ability to control, in a variety of ways, the game-time use of its players. This, of course, is true for both pitchers and batters. In this article, I will confine myself almost entirely to the discussion of the various mechanisms of management of pitchers. As we will see, there are various settings for league and team set-up that result in literally hundreds of possible combinations with respect to starter and bullpen management.
The main thrust of this article will be to demonstrate the multitude of ways one can set up his league and team to allow for any chosen balance between "realistic" player usage (with respect to his major league usage) versus usage strictly controlled by the SOM player (that is, you). Some folks cringe unless a player is used within certain limits of how he was used in real life. Others want to be able to dictate exactly when and how a pitcher will be used and are not concerned with realistic "innings pitched" results. Most of us are somewhere in the middle on this issue.
In the following paragraphs, I will discuss the various ways that we can set up our leagues, teams and individuals to arrive at proper pitcher usage for any given need. Obviously, different types of leagues (ex. draft versus re-play) may well require different settings. By the way, when I was researching this topic, and playing scores of seasons with various settings, I occasionally noted some important things that I had simply forgotten over the years - I point this out, as I will be mentioning some things below that many may already know, but some may need some a little reminder. Much of what follows is the result of dozens of season re-plays and statistical analysis.
I. League Commissioner Decisions
The first important job, determining greatly the player usage in any given league, is the set-up of that league found under Options/Lineups and Usage. Here we find settings for 'minor leaguers' and 'over-usage'. Let me discuss them both briefly as they are very important .
II. Minor Leaguers
Eligible - This setting allows the computer full use of any minor leaguer at any time allows the most flexibility and therefore is the easiest setting of these four to arrive at 'realistic use' of players. (Let me define 'realistic use' as that use that most closely approximates the usage of the player in his actual major league season)
40/25- This is probably the closest approximation to the real-life situation. Here, we have 25 on the active roster for every game, yet are allowed to call up a player or two as needed when injury strikes (either long term or game-day). Also, as in real life, as of Sept. 1st, the active roster is set at 40 players.
Ineligible- Here no one is allowed on the active roster except those 25 noted. Minor Leaguers remain just that.
Automatic Tansactions - this setting is for those who desire to play using the exact rosters of that season. Whoever the 25 players were that were on the active roster on any given date, will be on that date in the replay as well (brought up or sent down as appropriate).
Fully Control - This is the best setting for your league if you want to have the players' usage reflect, as closely as possible, that seen in real life.
Try to Limit Over-Usage - This setting tries to meet at a nice middle ground between strict player usage numbers and the apparent intended plans of the manager of the SOM team as determined by his line-ups.
Ignore - The computer pays attention to the line-up settings and other manager settings to determine who plays and when, ignoring the real-life at bats or innings pitched.
Here is what my testing revealed concerning these three levels of control:
When the fully controlled choice was made, a superb effort was made my Hal to use pitchers based on there real-life innings pitched. The only other consideration appeared to be if they were listed as the set-up man or closer…… these settings were respected if the pitcher was available. Otherwise, choices were based on what pitcher needed innings most to keep his usage percentage near 100%. This makes sense with this setting as this setting suggests more interest in duplicating a season's records than achieving victory in any given game. Minor leaguers' usage was sacrificed here compared to those on the active roster. That is, the usage percentages of minor leaguers at season end were far off when compared to the close approximation attained with the active roster pitchers.
Surprisingly, when the setting was "try to control over-usage", the overall player usage approached that seen with the "fully control" setting - in fact, I did not note a statistically significant difference. It seems that the happy medium of "try to control over-usage" is a nice overall choice to allow ALL players a reasonable playing time and still allow for you to manage your teams the way you see best.
Here are some numbers so you can see for
1. Fully control over-use: set at either minor leaguers eligible or 40/25
2. Try to control over-use: set at either minor leaguers eligible or 40/25
In both situations above, when looking at each pitcher on the staff, they averaged pitching within 7-9% of their real-life innings (if we ignore those with under 15 IPs) - there was no statistical significance in my small amount of replays. On the other hand, when the setting was at ignore over-use, the computer did just that - no effort was made to use the pitching staff as done in real-life. In fact, each pitcher averaged being off by 34% in an average of three re-plays! Remember, though, one gets exceptionally good usage with the setting at "try to control over-use" plus the computer will allow you more control in the details! I highly recommend this setting.
Primary with rest: HAL will use your first two line-ups, but will consider real-life usage to rest players
Primary: uses line-ups 1 and 2
Secondary: uses line-ups 3 and 4
Automatic: used to replicate previous season's real life game line-ups
Draft league: uses line-ups 1 through 4 (line-up 3 is for reverse lefty and 4 is for reverse righty)
Draft league with rest: uses line-ups 1 through 4 - but rests players for more "realistic" use
Note: remember to set up four line-ups when your league commissioner has set your league to 'draft league'!
Obviously, the Primary with Rest choice on this line-up screen provides Hal with the greatest leeway in using his players. This will result in better batter usage with respect to real-life, but may wreck havoc with your desired line-ups. If you pick this choice, you may very well want to pick SuperHal lineup depth chart so you will have control of the substitutions as Hal rests players throughout the season. Don't forget to check the box 'SuperHal lineup depth chart subs' in the Options/lineups and usage area if you want to use this. And, remember, you really need to do this (i.e. arrange each team's substitution pattern) for each team in the league as once you choose 'SuperHal for lineups' there is a default setting for all teams. In other words, you cannot just carefully plan your lineup substitutions for your favorite teams and figure Hal will substitute in his usual fashion for the other teams. That will not happen. Instead, the line-up subs will proceed according to how the SuperHal lineup depth chart happens to look for each team in the league. In other words, you should probably not use this particular SuperHal choice (for line-up subs) unless you are willing to take the time to see to it that each team is properly set.
Use SuperHal bullpen: this box is also found on the Options/line-ups page - clicking on this setting will enable SuperHal to be used for all teams in the league. Much discussion will follow as to the effects of this important decision.
Use SuperHal lineup subs: important when choosing primary with rest lineups as discussed above. This tells SuperHal who to bring in at each position when the regular is not playing that day due to injury or 'fatigue'. Set the line-up subs for each team on the line-up screen.
Allow extra start for certain pitchers: This selection will allow for some pitchers who started a great percentage of their team's games, to be used, without tiring, more than every fourth day.
VI. Rules of League play
Maximum Level - if this is checked (as well as "game injuries" being checked within this category) it will tend to result in players, who have exceeded their real-life usage, having a tendency for game-day injuries in order to bring their player usage more in line with "reality"
Use Closer Rule - This results in relievers who were the actual closers on their major league teams (as demonstrated primarily by their save totals) being much more effective in save situations than if just based on a pitchers stats such as ERA, hits/IP, etc. [SOM save situation defined as defensive team with the lead in or after the 9th inning and tying or winning run is on base or at the plate]
Do Not Use Closer Rule - Effectiveness is not altered whatsoever by late inning situations.
Do not use injuries: used when using automatic transactions and in other instances where you want to avoid this eventuality (i.e. loss of playing time due to injury).
Use injuries: players will get injured for a game or so based on their real-life player use
Use SADV injuries: a system that allows for 15 and 60 day injuries (to simulate the disabled list).
As you will see, the "Rules of Play" do not effect the player usage anywhere near as much as the Options/Lineups screen choices discussed next….. which makes sense. Yet one need consider, at least, whether to use daily injuries and reflect that choice on this screen when putting your league together. The choice relating to the closer rule will effect performance more than anything else.
That concludes the league commissioner decisions that will tend to effect pitcher usage to any significant extent. Next, we enter into the decisions made by a team's general manager. These include further decisions on the use of Hal versus SuperHal and individual player settings as well.
We will start by referencing the Update Computer Manager Screen. When using Hal, certain basic decisions are made at this screen. First, one should select his choices for set-up man versus lefty and versus righty. Follow this with your choices for closer, again versus lefty and righty. A list of starting pitchers is then filled out at the right of the screen (and whether these pitchers should ever be considered for a relief assignment). There are up to seven choices here. If you do not want a pitcher listed here to be used in relief, choose never and he shall only be used in emergency situations. Some control over your bullpen is available simply by clicking on never, sometimes or as needed in this starting pitcher listing.
Here is an interesting finding: When you do not have a pitcher listed as a starter on this opening screen, he will rarely be used as a starter during your season if you have chosen to ignore overuse as one of your pre-season options choices. But, if you chose either fully control overuse or try to control overuse, dual use pitchers (those who started and relieved in real life) will somehow be used by Hal to start approximately the number of games that they did in real life - even if NOT listed as one of your chosen starters! So you need to keep this in mind! The corollary is equally interesting. If you have a dual use pitcher listed as one of your starters - say the 6th starter - set to "never relieve" (and he is not set as a closer or set-up man), he will never relieve when the league is set to ignore overuse.
On the other hand, if he is listed as a set-up man, this setting will over-rule the inconsistent choice of "never relieve" and he will get a proper amount of relief work based on his season's total in real life. Third, if the setting again is as the 6th starter," relieve as needed" and he is not listed as a closer of set-up man, he will be given a rare start and relieve to a moderate degree……. but less than in real life on both accounts.
The upshot of all of this is the following:
1. A setting of ignore usage is very
powerful as it will cause Hal to truly ignore the amount of playing time a
player had in real-life to a great degree. Hal then will base all of his
decisions on the CM settings as best he can. He will bring in the game
starter based on the starting order you have listed, but will always bring in
the pitcher who is not tired that is highest on that list. Therefore, you
may well have pitchers starting over 40 games if they are listed at 1 or 2 on
the list of starters.
2. 'Try to control over-usage' gives results that are closer to 'Fully Control over-usage' than to ignore over-usage. This seems to be the best overall setting in my opinion at this stage of Hal and SuperHal development for realistic results tempered by a good use of player settings and Hal and SuperHal CM management as we shall see.
Here is the way that Hal works to determine who to bring in to relieve as far as I have been able to determine:
The pitchers that you have selected as your set-up men appear to be honored as are the closers - when these pitchers are not fatigued. When fatigued or in other relief situations, players are chosen primarily based on their real-life innings pitched. When the setting is set at "ignore over-usage", excellent relievers with low IPs may not make very many appearances at all. In multiple replays of the 1998 season set at 'ignore over-usage', Graeme Lloyd of the New York Yankees averaged less than 10 IPs. He actually had an excellent year, but his 38 innings pitched in real life keep him from being used as much as the other relievers at this setting. Therefore, in order to have more control over this situation, you need to set your usage settings at try to control over-usage or fully control over-usage.
Let me show you a few examples of how setting a pitcher up as a closer or set-up man, will effect his IPs in a typical season. I will use the set-up man in my examples. I could have used the closer with similar results.
In the following examples, only the item
mentioned was changed:
NYY with following settings for set-up men:
Nelson: as set-up man
not listed as set-up man (26G/39IP) difference -7
Mendoza:as set-up man (52G/147IP) not listed as set-up man (39G/134IP) difference -13 games
Lloyd:: as set-up man (31G/50IP) not listed as set-up man (22G/39IP) difference -9 games
The basic mechanism at work is sound. Hal will use the pitcher chosen as the set-up man if he is available and not fatigued. That results in his increased IPs and game appearances. Yet, the other relievers still get close to their real-life usage anyway as now Hal will attempt to use them in other situations (non set-up) to approach their proper usage as closely as possible (when the setting is at control over-usage or try to avoid- over-usage). By the way, if you have the setting at ignore over-usage, all bets are off as Hal will indeed use the reliever as the set-up man - or closer - as you have indicated, but will not attempt to achieve any 'balance' with the other relievers at all. Take a look at Graeme Lloyd's and Ramiro Mendoza's IPs when they WERE and then WERE NOT chosen as a set-up men in this scenerio:
With ignore over-usage setting:
Graeme Lloyd: as set-up man (36G/56IP) not listed as set-up man (2G/4IP)
R. Mendoza: as set-up man (36G/57IP) not listed as set-up man (22G/39IP)
As you can see, the disparity is markedly greater when we set the league up to ignore over-usage. You can particularly note that Hal will tend to really ignore those pitchers who did not have many innings pitched in real-life with this setting - Lloyd had only 38IP. Mendoza gets his share of work even when not listed as a set-up man since he had many real-life innings.
It does seem that the middle ground is indeed the best here - that is, try to avoid over-usage. Using this setting with the player control devices that follow, give the best overall results.
Another very powerful method of pitching control is found by going into Update Computer Manager/Category/Manager Tendencies. Here you have a great deal of control of your general use of the bullpen. Not on an individual basis, but on a team level. For example, let me show the following data:
Using Relief Choice Relief Innings Starter Innings CGames
Deadball Era/Regular Closer Use 291 1216 64
Extreme Aggressive/Max Closer Use 462 1024 8
*Extreme Aggressive/Max Closer Use 617 818 0
*see below for explanation on this third possibility
Quite obviously, with just the simple use of these controls, you can turn your team into one that depends heavily on the starters going the distance into that same team depending on relievers to finish EVERY game (and everything in between)! There is no individual control with just these controls, however. But, that brings us to the following feature of Hal.
The use of individual controls/player 'switches':
Here are the available pitcher settings
for tailoring the computer manager to our liking:
Avoid lefties or righties - checking this will decrease the IP
Quick hook - to decrease the IP of poor pitchers
Slow hook - used to increase the IP of excellent pitchers
Mop up - will increase players IP, but use only for those pitchers who you can afford to lose quality IP
Max 6 IP - will limit pitchers usage to some degree
Max 7 IP - will limit pitchers usage to some degree
Can relieve when tired - will increase usage
Avoid using during blowout - will limit usage for more important occasions
Avoid using before 6th, 7th, 8th or 9th -this setting will limit IPs
Max 1-2 IP - to limit IPs
Max 2-3 IP - to limit IPs
IW less with this pitcher
* recall the third line in the chart above. This remarkable effect of having starters NEVER complete a game, and increasing relief innings by over 100% that seen in deadball era type management, was arrived at by setting the individual switch to MAX 6IP and quick hook on ALL starting pitchers! In this way, for example, David Wells went from going over 6.0 IP in 27 games to NEVER going over 6.0 IP in any game with the only difference being two these individual switches turned on!!! Even without the quick hook being turned "on", starters would not go over 6 IP, but they would not be removed as early in games based on their fatigue or performance. Therefore, I set both switches to see how much I could maximize relief innings pitched.
As you can see, there are many ways in which you can either limit a pitcher's relief work or increase it by adjusting the settings above. Let me just give four examples:
1. a great reliever but with limited IPs - I might check MAX 2-3 IP (or 1-2 IP), avoid using during blowout, avoid using before 7th inning (or even 8th inning).
2. I would review all of my starters and place an appropriate quick hook by the lousy ones and slow hook by the great ones. The bad starters would also maybe get a MAX 6 IP and MOP UP, whereas the great starters would certainly get a check to avoid using during blowout.
3. I might click on avoid righties by a reliever that was dominant against lefties but was 'lit up" by righties. That would help him avoid his "Achilles' heel".
4. For a great closer, I would tend to choose: MAX 1-2 IP, avoid using during blowout, avoid using before 8th inning (some may even choose 9th inning).
The point here is that by selecting each pitcher's settings carefully, more control is certainly available to the manager than if these settings are ignored. If you think for a moment, you will realize that there are multiple millions of combinations possible to effect the desired result in your pitcher utilization. Let me review the effects of just a handful of choices to give you the basic feel" of how these 'switches" affect utilization.
The following players stats will be monitored over multiple seasons with and without the switches chosen:
Everything else will remain unchanged! I will use minor league 40/25, 'try to avoid over-usage' and SADV injuries + game day injury settings.
1. Mariano Rivera with a setting at MAX
1-2 IP vs no switches
2. Jeff Nelson with mop up switch turned on vs no switches
3. Mike Stanton with switches for MAX 1-2 IP versus MAX 2-3 IP versus don't use before 6th versus don't use before 8th versus no switches used at all
4. Hideki Irabu with MAX 6IP and quick hook vs no switches
5. David Cone with and without slow hook switch on
6. Compare the stats with the switch on vs off for avoid lefties for Orlando Hernandez (an 8R pitcher)
and for the reliever Eckersley (also an 8R)
7. Mike Buddie - compare with no switches to when he is listed as set-up man/mop-up and just mop-up
With switch turned on
Games IP Games IP
1. Mariano Rivera 59 75 58 70 [Max 1-2IP]
when NOT set as closer and NO switches - 45 G 78 IP 3 saves 10 games finished
when NOT set as closer but switch on of only "avoid using before 8th", Rivera had the
following stats: 53 G 56 IP 36 games finished, 6 saves.
Since Rivera was set as the closer, it really did not make much difference, if any, to restrict his innings pitched to 1-2 IP. When not set as closer, however, this resulted in him being used much more often in mid-inning situations, less games and he finished less games as well. The "avoid using before 8th" alleviated this problem, but not having him listed as the closer, kept him out of these situations for the most part.
34 52 (set-up)
26 40 (No setup)
12 18 [Mop up]
Jeff was used in accordance with his real-life IPs when no switches were chosen. He was able to garner more innings pitched when he was picked as a set-up man, which only makes sense as Hal was 'told' to use him in these situations. Interestingly though, when he was picked as a mop-up man, he was generally avoided unless these situations were present! Don't use this switch unless you really want the pitcher to be used ONLY when it is a mop-up situation.
58 72 (Max 1-2 IP)
46 52 (don't use before 8th & MAX 1-2 IP)
63 91 (don't use before 6th & MAX 2-3 IP)
[set-up vs. lefties in these example]
Mike Stanton has his innings limited with the first switch, but did get approximately the same number of games. We do limit his use in the other two examples above as well. No surprises here. Depending on the league and our desires, any one of these choices may be best.
[Max 6 IP and quick hook]
Irabu pitched nearly one inning longer per start when Hal was left to remove him without any of our advice - when Hal was directed to consider a quick hook and never to let Hideki go over 6 innings, he responded appropriately. If you say to not let a starter go beyond a certain quantity of innings, he will not…… even if he is pitching superbly.
Cone pitched a about 1/3 inning longer per start when Hal used a slow hook.
.82 [avoid lefties]
.82 [avoid righties]
The reliever, Eckersley, pitched considerably less when told to avoid either lefties or righties. In viewing the games, Hal was very effective in yanking Dennis if he was about to pitch to a batter he was told to avoid (or a likely pinch hitter that batted from that side of the plate).
22 157 (7.14 IP/G)
21.5 156 (7.02 IP/G) [avoid lefties]
The "avoid lefties switch was ignored by the starting pitcher, Hernandez - that makes sense. These two switches (avoid lefties and avoid righties) work nicely to keep your pitcher from facing those batters who tend to "light them up". In fact, I noted that approximately 40% of the time, when these switches were used, the pitchers were in for less than or equal to one only out!
35 53 as set-up man/mop-up
22/49 no set-up/mop-up
When Buddie was checked to use as ONLY in mop-up situations (only a few of them), he had only 10/38. When listed as set-up man & checked to mop-up he was 22/49 - when NOT checked at mop-up (use as Hal sees fit, that is), he was at 35/53.
Remember that listing someone as a mop-up
man limits him a lot for use in any other situations. So, when Nelson was
listed to use in Mop-up action, he actually was saved for that purpose as his
total innings pitched decreased (he tended to be used mostly in those
situations - and there were not that many of them). The same was true for
the poor pitching Mike Buddie. He also was used less when he was checked
to be used in blow out situations, all else being equal
As you can see, there are sometimes subtle but still important effects that can be obtained from the use of these individual player settings, the most detailed part of Hal.
So, as can be seen, there are a vast array of mechanisms that can be use to effect pitcher usage in any given league. The league set-up itself makes a big difference and it should not be taken lightly. Also, Bob Winberry has given us many different ways that we can tailor our bullpen management to our specific needs. Many examples of these have been enumerated.
For years, this was the extent of the options for bullpen and starter management. In recent years, however, a younger manager, SuperHal, has come onto the scene. He has a variety of controls at his disposal that the older gentleman, Hal, does not. Hal is "old-school', you see… he manages a certain way. Many SOM players will be perfectly satisfied with his style. Others will want to see what the 'new guy" - SuperHal - has to offer. Part II of this article will show the differences in these two guys and how these differences affect your pitcher usage and results. There will be much solid data presented to help you decide whom to choose to manage your team. Stay tuned!