OOTP Experiment — International All-Stars, Pt. 3: The Rest-of-the-World Series

It’s been a long road leading to this—if a prefatory article on Monday and the regular season on Wednesday can be said to qualify as long. The showdown has come: Venezuela and the Dominican Republic facing off, best of nine, for the championship of (non-American) all-time national baseball teams.

After Wednesday’s results, one could be forgiven for thinking this series a formality. The Dominican Saints ran rings around their seven opponents in the regular season to the tune of a 112-42 record. The Venezuela Oilers earned a wild-card berth, but finished 22 games back in doing so. What hopes did they have?

I spent a little time rummaging through the internals of the two teams, looking for some vulnerability in the Dominicans that Venezuela might be able to exploit. One brief hope was a fine Venezuelan record, 20-10, against southpaw starters. Too bad the entire Dominican pitching staff, starters and relievers, is right-handed.

This suggested the alternative of packing the Oilers’ lineup with lefties, but that doesn’t quite work either. Carlos Gonzalez was their only starter who bats left-handed, with main catcher Victor Martinez a switch-hitter. Backups Pablo Sandoval at third base (switch) and Bobby Abreu in right field (left) would help, but there could be no full-bore platoon assault on the Dominican arms.

Worse, Venezuela’s pitchers might be mismatched. The Oilers carried two southpaw starters in Johan Santana and Wilson Alvarez. They would face a Dominican lineup with just one left-handed regular, Robinson Cano.

The one weakness Venezuela could attack might be one they would scarcely see. Dominican starting pitchers led the league in ERA, but their bullpen came in last. Keep it close and get into the pen, and Venezuela could steal a few games. But with the Dominican starting five averaging almost 7 2/3 innings a start while posting 40 complete games, a bullpen strategy could be futile.

Anything can happen in a short series: that’s sabermetric gospel by now. Regardless, it felt like Venezuela would need something special on their side if they were to overcome a monster Dominican squad. I considered quitting my policy of computer control and managing the Venezuela Oilers myself.

Then I decided they had the odds stacked against them badly enough, and left it with the AI.

Thus began the Rest-of-the-World Series.

Game One

Alejandro Pena took the mound for the Dominicans, while the Venezuelans sent out Felix Hernandez. This looks like a mismatch to contemporary fans. It was, but the other way.

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Yes, that’s a young Albert Pujols on defense. Thanks for noticing.

I watched this opening game using the broadcast option. Play-by-play was given for each pitch; offensive and defensive ratings were shown for each player on the field; ambient ballpark sounds provided atmosphere, including “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” after six and a half. (It was admittedly incongruous to hear fans chattering in recognizable English during a game theoretically being held in the Dominican Republic, but you can’t fault OOTP for playing the percentages.)

The Saints touched up Felix for two runs in the second, then let Cesar Cedeno finish the work. He homered off Hernandez in the third, and tripled in the fifth, coming home on Vladimir Guerrero’s sacrifice fly. Felix would leave after five, down 4-0.

Pena made that score hold up. He faced just one over the minimum for the first seven frames, and completed his shutout in a crisp 96 pitches. Anyone anticipating a Dominican rout got no contrary evidence from this 4-0 blanking.

Game Two

I went with the webcast option for this game. Anyone who has followed a game on the MLB At Bat app will be on familiar ground, the story coming in pitch by pitch. There’s a pitch-tracking box, showing locations. (I must report the harsh realism of OOTP: the tracker will show umpires missing balls-and-strikes calls.) For pure nerdish pleasure, there is even a rolling win probability measure for the teams.

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Cueto really has his game face on. You can’t read him at all. (Actually, I just didn’t bother adding faces to players.)

Johnny Cueto got the ball for the DR, while Johan Santana started for Venezuela. The Oilers broke their drought early, scoring three in the first on two triples, an error, and two productive outs. Manny Ramirez brought Tony Fernandez home in the Saints’ first, but Venezuela immediately got that tally back on Luis Aparicio’s RBI single. A Carlos Gonzalez homer opened a two-run fifth that salted away the game, 6-1 to the visiting Venezuelans.

Santana went eight, giving up just three hits and the lone run. He was pulled for Wilson Alvarez to pitch a garbage ninth despite having thrown just 84 pitches. Cueto took the loss, the first time all year he lost consecutive decisions. The Dominican bullpen belied its seeming weakness to pitch four scoreless innings. Oddly, Pedro Martinez was among the relievers, retiring a lone batter in the ninth. Didn’t they have other uses for him?

Regardless, Venezuela had managed to split the opening games held at the Dominican Republic. Their task was down to winning four of seven rather than five of nine, and they now had the home field advantage, for whatever that might be worth.

Game Three

I had to stop dallying with the snazzier methods of game-watching and strip down my viewing experience, lest I be running this replay well into the weekend. A pity for me, as this was the first game of the series that cried out to be savored.

Juan Marichal of the Saints and Kelvim Escobar of the Oilers got the call, and pitched a close-fought duel. Escobar got help from three double plays in the first four innings to keep posting zeroes, while Vladimir Guerrero’s muff of Richard Hidalgo’s fly ball hung Marichal with an unearned run in the second. Both pitchers held the line until the seventh, when Vladdy atoned with a RBI single to tie it, and Edgardo Alfonzo took Marichal deep to untie it.

Ugueth Urbina pitched a perfect eighth to set up the save for Francisco Rodriguez. Miguel Tejada greeted him with an infield hit, and one pop-out later, pinch-hitter Felipe Alou singled him to third. Cesar Cedeno tied the game 2-2 with a base hit, before K-Rod buckled down to strike out Guerrero and Manny Ramirez.

Venezuela weathered the disappointment of the blown save. Victor Martinez jumped on Rafael Soriano’s first pitch for a single. Bobby Abreu grounded out, but Edgardo Alfonzo worked a walk. Pinch-hitter Melvin Mora laced a single to right, so fast to Guerrero that Martinez was held up at third. This proved the sound play, as Luis Aparicio lined the walk-off hit over short to give Venezuela the 3-2 win.

Game Four

The starters for this game were close to a shock: Felix Hernandez and Alejandro Pena again. Three-man rotations for a playoff series being held in the 1980 era certainly weren’t strange, but the pitcher being excluded was. Would Pedro Martinez not take the mound to defend his 20-game winning streak? Would the Dominicans really try to win it all without starting him?

By purely analytical standards, this was no outrage. I observed myself that, by FIP, Pedro was the fourth-best starter on his team that season. yet it felt so wrong that I almost intervened with the AI.

Almost. But the game went on.

The Saints broke up a scoreless contest in the fourth, Carlos Santana driving Albert Pujols home. Venezuela tried to limit the damage with a two-out intentional walk to Tony Fernandez, bringing up the pitcher. Pena made them pay with a bases-clearing double.

That was effectively the ballgame. Both teams scored in the seventh and eighth without really altering the balance of power, and the Dominicans cruised to a 6-3 win to pull the series back even. Pena got his second straight win against King Felix, while Rafael Soriano pitched the ninth for the courtesy three-run save.

Despite the downbeat end, it was another split. The challenge was down to three out of five, as the series went back to Dominican turf for the next two.

Game Five

Cueto and Santana on the mound again. The three-man postulate seemed confirmed. I could only trust that the AI knew what it was doing in holding out Pedro.

This one got away from the Oilers quickly. Pujols rang up a three-run dinger in the first, and added a solo shot in the third that put the Dominican Republic ahead 5-0. Johnny Cueto recovered from his Game Two struggles to register a four-hit shutout, his sinker producing 19 ground-outs on the day. The 6-0 whitewashing gave the 3-2 series lead to the Saints.

Game Six

There is something about Game Six that, even more so than Game Seven, produces memorable baseball. Think back on the World Series of 1975, 1986, 1991, and 2011. Now this Game Six can, in its modest way, join that group.

(Yes, I know those were seven-game series and this one is nine. Leave me alone: I’m being poetic.)

This wonderfully crazy game was defined by its pitchers, but not the way you would expect. Marichal and Escobar both gave up first-inning homers, Miguel Cabrera with a two-run shot and Manny Ramirez with a three-run dinger. Bats cooled off for a couple innings, including a half-hour rain delay in the second, and then the fourth inning turned things upside-down.

Venezuela scored two in its half, capped by pitcher Kelvim Escobar’s RBI single. In the home half, Juan Marichal got his own run-scoring hit with two outs. He then advanced on an Escobar balk, and came home on Cesar Cedeno’s single that knocked Escobar out of the game. Both starters had driven in runs, and there was more to come.

The Oilers tied the game at five the next inning on a two-out rally, but lost a chance to go ahead the next inning when Dave Concepcion made the final out trying to go first-to-third on Cabrera’s single. The bottom of the sixth saw Marichal contribute again with the bat, another two-out RBI single that made it 6-5 Dominican.

Marichal got lifted in the seventh for Bartolo Colon, who promptly balked Carlos Gonzalez home to level things at 6-6. After the stretch, Oilers reliever Rafael Betancourt fought through a jam left to him by Anibal Sanchez, but with second and third and two gone, intentionally walked Carlos Santana to get to Adrian Beltre. The Dominicans countered by pinch-hitting David Ortiz, but he could only roll one over to third to snuff the threat.

Here the madness, or at least the scoring, subsided for a long while. The bullpens locked up the game in the eighth and ninth, and on, and on. Closers Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano came and went, and the deadlock remained. By the 11th inning, both teams had exhausted all their position players, meaning the long-relief pitchers now in the game—Carlos Zambrano for Venezuela and Ramon Martinez for the DR—had to bat for themselves.

Those who know something of Zambrano can guess how this ended. With two gone in the top of the 15th, Zambrano grounded a ball past Robinson Cano, bringing Carlos Gonzalez home from second. Then, in his sixth inning of relief work, he tottered from hits by Cano and Miguel Tejada, but hung on to secure the 7-6 victory.

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Only thing missing was the threat of Mike Scott pitching the next day.

 

Having secured another split, this one very hard earned, the Venezuelans returned home. The five-of-nine mountain was down to a two-of-three crag, and as hosts of the next two games, they had a chance to win it all at home.

Game Seven

The sequel, as usual, could not top its predecessor. Robinson Cano’s two-run homer in the second gave Alejandro Pena an early lead, and a tack-on run plated on Dave Concepcion’s second error of the day seemed ample insurance for the Saints. But Pena began cracking in the ninth, surrendering his fourth and fifth hits of the day and bringing the tying run to the plate. Rafael Soriano came on to retire Magglio Ordonez for the final out. The Dominicans had their third shutout win, 3-0, and were now within one game of the title.

Game Eight

For the third time, Johan Santana faced Johnny Cueto. It looked like the bad Cueto of Game Two had arrived, with a pair of bases-loaded jams in the first two innings. He got double plays each time to emerge unscathed, and settled down to allow just one more Venezuelan baserunner the rest of his day.

Support came from Felipe Alou. He homered in the fourth to give the Saints the 1-0 lead, then in the sixth singled Manny Ramirez home as part of a two-run frame. It was still 3-0 when Cueto was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the top of the seventh. He had retired 11 straight Oilers at that point, but his pitch count was over 100 and the manager wanted a fresh bat to go for the kill. Julio Franco would strike out looking in Cueto’s place, on the way to a goose-egg seventh.

Venezuela would not capitalize on the opportunity offered. They would manager baserunners each inning against Bartolo Colon and Armando Benitez, but the closest they came to converting was getting Magglio Ordonez up in the eighth with two on and two outs. He would fly out to center, and an inning later pinch-hitter Andres Galarraga would fan at Benitez’s full-count heater to end the game and the series.

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Champagne and instant-merchandising caps are not a DLC.

This series turned on pitching. The Dominicans hurled four shutouts, half the games played, without even using Pedro Martinez to start a game. Their bullpen beat expectations by yielding only two runs in 17 innings, though both runs were the decisive tallies in the pair of one-run games the Venezuelans pulled out. Alejandro Pena was the no-brainer series MVP, with three wins, a 1.05 ERA, and more strikeouts (15) than hits allowed (14). Among batters, Albert Pujols was the standout, going 12-for-31 with four walks. His three home runs and five runs batted in led all players for the series. For Venezuela, Miguel Cabrera with two homers and Edgardo Alfonso with a .407 on-base percentage were offensive achievers.

For the whole season, Carlos Gonzalez won the MVP Award, with Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez 2-3 in the voting. The Cy Young went to Felix Hernandez, a bittersweet award given his nightmare 0-3 postseason pitching against Pena. (Cueto and Pedro were second and third.) Willie Hernandez of the Puerto Rico Sharks got the nod as the league’s top reliever.

There isn’t really much arguing with the result of the Rest-of-the-World Series. The Dominican Republic dominated the regular season in historic fashion, and brought superb pitching to bear to grind out the final triumph. But the Venezuelans need not hang their heads: they made the Dominicans play their best to earn that glory.

My thanks to David Temple, Grand Poobah of TechGraphs, for the opportunity to do something a little out of the usual TG wheelhouse. Signing out.

(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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Bradley Woodrum
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Member

I really enjoyed this. Thanks for all the effort!

Eric F
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Eric F

This was fantastic Shane! I’m really glad TechGraphs gave you the green light for this, and I’d look forward to a lot more OOTP-related experiments and such if that was something TechGraphs did every once in a while.

Paul G.
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Paul G.

I agree. That was very fun.

It is somewhat strange to see Alejandro Pena as a starter. I always thought of him as a pretty good setup man.

Matt
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Matt

A fun experiment to see. Now I wonder how the Dominicans would fare if matched against the US in a series.

Matt
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Matt

This was a lot of fun. I’d love to see the idea expanded to other what-if type seasons and tournaments. How about pitting the last 25-30 World Series champion teams against one another? (I say 25-30 to selfishly make sure the Blue Jays’ back-to-back wins would make the cut). Or, maybe more interestingly, what about a ‘best of the rest’ season/tourney for the teams that LOST the last 3 decades of world series? Or rosters of the best players in each franchise’s history? Or get some of the Fangraphs/Techgraphs writers together and do a fantasy draft of some kind (current rosters, or all-time, or some set time period or any stipulations you might want) and pit those teams against one another? The possibilities are endless

a eskpert
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a eskpert

Basically, generate some OOTP content every week and we’ll read it.

Shane T.
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Shane T.

Matt, the Dominicans would be swamped by an all-time American team. No doubt. When Henry Aaron is a bench outfielder and Stan Musial perhaps can’t even make the squad, you are on an entirely different level.

As for future what-if scenarios, I could possibly be persuaded, though persuading Mr. Temple is also key. An all-state tournament does come to mind: is there anyone who can beat California?

In any case, thank you folks for the appreciation. I was worried this might be a bit off-topic for TechGraphs, so I’m glad you decided otherwise.

Paul G.
Guest
Paul G.

You can try to level the playing field for a Dominican Republic / United States match-up by limiting the American players to those that were playing when Dominicans first started entering the major leagues. The first Dominican major leaguer was Ozzie Virgil, Sr. in 1956, though he was never really a starter. Felipe Alou comes around in 1958 but does not become a true regular until 1960, the same year Juan Marichal breaks in. So you could have an American team with only players who started playing in 1960 or later and that should be fairly comparable.

I suppose the cutoff date could be pushed to a further year when the Dominicans started producing more star players which would give them a better chance. However, a Dominican team without Marichal and Felipe would be weird so perhaps the Dominicans should be granted all their players while the USA gets limited. Anyway, that’s the thought.

If you want to be really macabre you could have a league with players divided up based on where they are buried. Might want to save that for Halloween.

Jovins
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Jovins

Even then, there wouldn’t be much of a competition. Using the best single seasons of players since 1956 by WAR without thinking about it too much, the US could throw out 3 of 4 outfielders in Yastrzemski/Bonds/Mantle/Mays, an infield of Alex Rodriguez/Ripken/Morgan/Banks, with Bench catching.

On top of that, the Americans could throw out a rotation of Gooden/Carlton/Clemens/Wilbur Wood (?!)/Randy Johnson.

The bullpen would just be a bunch of the starters who were worse than the guys in the rotation. I can’t imagine how terrible the bullpen would have to be for this team to not win games though.

Brad
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Brad

This was a blast! Thanks for doing it.