Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ned Colletti and Brandon League ($22.5million): A Good Relief Pitcher Strategy

MLB 2K9 was a pretty good baseball simulator for its time. The game balanced the players well, had decent playing mechanics (aside from a propensity for outfielders to run into each other), and had a mediocre at worst General Managing experience. I spent perhaps a few too many hours constructing teams, simulating seasons and playing games, and because of the time I invested in the game I noticed one significant glitch: the designated closer on my team would rack up the requisite 30-40 saves, appear in 50-60 games, and usually post a decent ERA, but he would have only thrown about 25 innings!

It didn’t take me long to figure out that during the games simulated by the computer, the “designated closer” would almost always be brought into the game in a save situation to face only the last batter of the ninth inning. The closer would retire this batter, rack up a save, and look incredibly valuable to a surface analysis.

Though I had yet to truly become immersed in Sabermetric analysis, and would not have applied it to my video game teams even if I had, I noticed the potential to cheat the system. So I traded away the closer, installed a mediocre relief pitcher in the “designated closer” spot, and kept my best pitchers in the set-up and middle relief spots. The game, unable to perceive my genius any better than it could fix its flaws, doggedly kept trying to switch them back. My plan was brilliant, my best relievers threw lots of innings, my mediocre “closer” racked up saves and actually put up decent peripheral numbers because he was not actually facing the best hitters in the toughest spots, and my team won big.

I bring up my crowning moment in computerized baseball not because I think video games can apply directly to real baseball, I don’t, unlike fantasy baseball, in which success is directly predictive of one’s ability to be a major league GM (third place in my 8-team league!!!!). I mention it because the real world usage of major league closers is only slightly less absurd than that of the pixilated closers in my glitchy game.