OOTP Experiment — International All-Stars, Pt. 2: Regular Season

Monday, I introduced the International All-Star tournament, an OOTP 16 simulation involving national teams of the best major league players not born in the United States. Today, we get to the games themselves.

I gave the computer manager free rein to decide starting lineups, pitching rotations, and bullpen assignments. I did actually set up rotations for each team, but the AI, left to its devices, overruled my decisions. This did produce a few problems, such as with Panama, which the computer gave a five-man rotation despite having only four pitchers rated as starters.

This follows from my method of choosing representative seasons for the players. I did not cherry-pick years convenient for pigeon-holing them at particular positions. That means, for instance, Ramiro Mendoza ended up the reliever he was in 2001, rather than the part-time starter he might have been had I selected an earlier year for him.

This produced a few surprises in the field, too. I anticipated that Dave Concepcion would have to play second base for Venezuela, pushed off shortstop by Luis Aparicio. The computer, though, slid Aparicio over, despite his never having played a single game at that position in real life. It also chose some different starters than I did, such as Edgardo Alfonso over Pablo Sandoval at third for Venezuela and Pete Ward over Corey Koskie at third for Canada.

That’s okay. I’m not quite convinced enough of my expertise to insist on my decisions across the board. Besides which, I might unconsciously bias the simulation with my subjective selections. The OOTP AI does not have this problem. Or if it does, someone’s made a way bigger breakthrough than we realized.

Enough explanations. Time for baseball.

The 154-game season opened on April 1, running through to September 15. After the first month, there was the promise of a tight race, with some surprises popping up.

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Enjoy it now. This is the last time there’ll be competition for the top spot.

A stumbling Cuba was an early surprise, and a strong-running Canada maybe a bigger one. Having done a couple of dry-run sims, though, I knew these weren’t flukes. The Mariners were likely to remain a disappointment, while the Beavers might have the stuff to hang in the playoff chase.

Venezuela’s early lead was driven by a truly awesome April from Carlos Gonzalez. His batting line for the month was an insane .466/.530/.932, with a .596 wOBA and 3.0 WAR. He led the league in runs, RBI, homers, and triples. He would not maintain the supernova heat of his streak, though, a 0.3 WAR May pulling him back to the pack (though he still led the league in batting, slugging, homers, and runs scored at month’s end.)

The race took its true shape in May. The Dominican Republic compiled a 21-8 month (with just eight home games in that span) to take a 6 1/2-game lead. Venezuela and Canada were tied for second, with Puerto Rico half a game behind them. The rest of the league was effectively eliminated with 100 games to go: it was a four-horse race.

One result during that month I will note. On May 13, Pedro Martinez of the Dominican Saints lost a 3-2 decision to the Mexico Eagles when a ninth-inning rally fell short. This dropped Martinez’s record to 5-2. You will learn later why this is meaningful.

Truth be told, the league was still a horse race only in the sense that Secretariat at the Belmont was a horse race. A 22-4 June, including the last 16 wins of an 18-game winning streak, put the Dominicans 13 games clear of the field. The only race remaining was for the wild card postseason entry—but that was still very much a race.

Venezuela had the “lead” at the end of June, two games ahead of Canada and Puerto Rico. By the close of July, they had fallen to fourth, a game behind the again-tied Beavers and Sharks. Then it was the Oilers’ turn to hit the gas, a 21-8 August driving them three games clear for the wild card, with Puerto Rico third and Canada one more back in fourth.

By this time, the “Pennant Chase” function had kicked in, letting you preview at a glance upcoming games for playoff contenders. There I saw that Puerto Rico and Canada had an upcoming series together, starting the third of September. When it began, Venezuela was four games ahead of both. Whoever lost the series was all but sunk in the wild-card race.

The Sharks struck early, with a 10-7 win at Canada. Joey Votto’s perfect day—a homer, double, single, and three walks—won him the league’s Performance of the Day honors. It still wasn’t enough to overcome a seven-run PR sixth, sparked by a pair of errors.

But Canada stormed back. Rheal Cormier‘s four-hit shutout and Ryan Dempster’s eight innings of one-run, three-hit ball led the Beavers to 4-0 and 2-1 victories. They won the battle—but lost the war.

While those two were battering each other, Venezuela swept seventh-place Japan, adding a game to its wild-card lead. Worse, Canada’s next series was against the juggernaut Dominican Saints, while Venezuela drew last-place Panama. Venezuela would clinch the wild card with five games to play, though Canada ended the year on a six-game winning streak to make the final gap a respectable two games.

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How it ended. Poor Panama: two months out of first.

The gap between second and first wasn’t nearly as respectable. The Dominicans clinched first place on August 24, with 21 games to play. They finished the season an awesome 112-42, 22 games up on Venezuela. For historical perspective, the Dominicans’ record was two games better than the 1927 Yankees, one better than the 1954 Indians, and trailed only the 116-36 campaign of the 1906 Chicago Cubs. But remember: those last two teams lost the World Series.

The Saints excelled on offense and defense, their 883-572 runs margin leading the league in both categories. Albert Pujols’s .308/.403/.569 with 35 homers paced the team, producing 6.7 WAR; five other batters produced at least 4.5 WAR. Of the 14 position players, all but two had an OPS+ of at least 106. The lineup had effectively no weakness.

Starting pitchers were, if anything, better. Against a league ERA of 3.89, the top four starters in the Dominican rotation all had ERAs below three. The bullpen was surprisingly weak, with five ERAs over five and closer Rafael Soriano at 3.86. The fault is probably disuse: the starters were such workhorses that four of them had more inning pitched than the 226.2 of the entire bullpen! Three of those starters won at least 20 games, including Juan Marichal at 20-7, 2.64 and Johnny Cueto at 21-6, 2.92.

And then there’s Pedro Martinez. We last saw him in mid-May, dropping to 5-2 on the year. He finished at 25-2. For the last four months of the season, Martinez started 22 games. Two were no-decisions; the rest constituted a 20-game winning streak, active at season’s end.

Twenty. Games. Straight.

OOTP-PedroStreak-600by400

There are no words. Not at a “safe for work” site, anyway.

Okay, so it wasn’t pure skill. So he had the fourth-best FIP in the rotation; so he had the fourth-best WAR in the rotation. (Cueto led in both.) It’s still a 20-game winning streak. And counting.

Brian Kenny, we have just discovered the bitterest foe to your “Kill the Win” campaign.

Venezuela (90-64) had its own potent offense, aside from Luis Aparicio (51 OPS+) never getting comfortable shifted over to second. Carlos Gonzalez finished the year cold, but still piled up a .320/.395/.624 line, with his 35 homers tying Pujols for the league lead. He led outright in slugging, OPS, wOBA, and position player WAR at 7.1. (Cueto’s 7.7 led the league.) His batting average of .320 was good only for third on his team, behind Miguel Cabrera and league champ Victor Martinez.

Pitching was likewise a step behind the Dominicans, though not a long one. None of the starters managed 20 wins, but the 19-7 Felix Hernandez did take the ERA crown, his 2.42 besting Marichal’s 2.64. Johan Santana was right behind, with an 18-9 record and 2.66 ERA. Closer Francisco Rodriguez had a rough time (4.92 ERA), but setup men Ugueth Urbina and Rafael Betancourt picked him up with good work.

The also-rans in the league I will cover somewhat more briefly.

Canada (88-66) got offensive help from expected sources. Joey Votto led everyone in walks and on-base percentage, while Larry Walker and Russell Martin slugged very well. Martin posted the best catcher’s WAR in the tournament at 6.1. There was also an unexpected source in Pete Ward, selected as a utility infielder. Getting the starter’s role at third base, he hit an even .300 with 24 homers, just behind Walker and Martin.

Canada’s pitching was a bit peculiar. All five starters beat the league ERA average, but in a narrow 3.29 to 3.76 range. All five had winning records, but nothing overwhelming, led by Ryan Dempster’s 17-10 and Ferguson Jenkins’s 17-11. Likewise, Eric Gagne was an effective but not outstanding closer leading an effective but not outstanding pen. One real breakout performance among the pitchers might have driven the Beavers to the wild card, but they did not get it.

Puerto Rico (85-69) likewise had a strong team, just not quite strong enough. Four regulars batted over .300: Alomar, Clemente, Cepeda, and Ivan Rodriguez, though Clemente’s was an empty .310. (Bernie Williams batted .315, but Carlos Beltran was given center field ahead of him, so he got just 173 PAs.) Carlos Delgado put 30 over the wall, with Beltran adding 25.

Front-end pitching was very good. Juan Pizarro yielded a league-low .222 batting average against while posting a 17-11, 2.67 record. Even better by FIP were Javier Vazquez and Joel Piniero, though Piniero posted a lackluster 12-15 record. But the back-end starters were sketchy and the bullpen past Willie Hernandez’s 2.06 ERA was middling, and the Sharks came up short.

Cuba (67-87) wound up mediocre across the board. The only leader in a major category was hurler Camilo Pascual, who threw 263 innings while notching five shutouts, tying him with Juan Marichal. Best in the field were catcher Yasmani Grandal, knocking 24 homers, and Tony Oliva, more solid than spectacular while starting nearly every day. Constant play did much worse for Yoenis Cespedes, who started all but three games and staggered, exhausted, to a -1.3 WAR.

Mexico (66-88) was as punchless as predicted. No player hit double-digit home runs, and the top position player WAR was the 2.1 of Carlos Lopez. Any strength the team had came from its closer, Joakim Soria with a 2.12 ERA and 33 saves, and its starting pitchers, though none of them managed even a .500 record. Fernando Valenzuela scrabbled to a sub-three ERA and a fourth-best 166 whiffs, but it was no repeat of 1981 for him. The team was saved from a worse fate by massive overachievement, beating its Pythagorean projection by nine games.

Japan (59-95) had the weak offense I foresaw from lack of position players in MLB: Hideki Matsui was the only regular whose OPS+ beat the average. The lone offensive highlight was the league-leading 67 stolen bases by Dave Roberts (he was born on Okinawa: he counts), though his 64 percent success rate made it a hollow honor.

Starting pitching wasn’t the strength I anticipated, though Hiroki Kuroda and Hisashi Iwakuma held up well. Yu Darvish went a horrid 4-21, despite leading everyone in strikeouts (186) and K rate (7.9/9 IP). The bullpen was the tournament’s best, led by Takashi Saito’s 1.70 ERA, but it was too little, too late.

Panama (49-105) suffered the pitching “death spiral” I feared for them. Bruce Chen, at 12-17 and 4.24, was the “ace”. Juan Berenguer was hopeless at 1-13, 7.20, while Ed Acosta was the staff punching bag, absorbing a horrific 24 losses. Even Mariano Rivera suffered, with a 4.34 ERA and 24 saves, league worst for a closer. Presumptive batting superstar Rod Carew could only scrape together a .276 average and 90 OPS+, making Carlos Lee and Ben Oglivie the lone batters above league average.

Overall, the league had a notable tilt toward starting pitchers, with seven of the top 10 WAR scores going to hurlers. This is likely due to the managing AI playing to the “home era” of 1980, a time when 250 innings was a solid year’s work and complete games weren’t the rarity of today. It also severely curtailed relief innings, but since I generally gave the teams six-man bullpens rather than a modern seven or eight, this was somewhat mitigated.

So the regular season is over. History has been made—112 wins; Pedro’s 20 in a row—but there is more to come. See you back here Friday, for the Rest-of-the-World Series.

(Full disclosure: In order to conduct the simulation, I was given a complimentary copy of Out Of The Park 16. I gratefully acknowledge OOTP’s generosity. I even more gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Brad Cook, along with Lukas Berger and Chuck Hauser from OOTP for leading me through the nuances of some unusual roster creation. Had I been less boneheaded, you might have seen this series sooner, and I thank them for pulling me through.)





A writer for The Hardball Times, Shane has been writing about baseball and science fiction since 1997. His stories have been translated into French, Russian and Japanese, and he was nominated for the 2002 Hugo Award.

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Johan Santa
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Johan Santa

Hey guys, I’m still here!

Paul G.
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Paul G.

So what did Ichiro do?

Ludwig von Koopa
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Ludwig von Koopa

I personally can’t wait to see the champion here go up against the Adam Dunns for true supremacy.