Whimsy

Simulating … err … ruining the Phillies: Part 4

Our Daniel Walsh simulated the Phillies in a variety of experiments in the game Out of the Park Baseball. Each day this week, Walsh chronicles his simulations. 

The Ryan Howard Farewell Tour did not go perfectly, but it has given me a new mission: to win a game using a team of clones.

EXPERIMENT 3: ATTACK OF THE CLONES II: REVENGE OF NEW CLONES

Now that I know the team of Ryan Howards went 0-162, it’s easy to piece together why. In addition to playing out of position, being a terrible fielder, and not making consistent enough contact to piece together consistent run-scoring opportunities, Howard doesn’t know how to pitch. Even in his heyday, a batting order with nine Ryan Howards wouldn’t reliably score 22 runs per game, the average he allowed, so of course he wasn’t going to win games.

So my goal became making a team of 25 pitchers to limit the opponents’ runs and hopefully drag a few runs across the plate in the process. I knew they’d probably score fewer runs than the Howards did, but I used the opposite of the logic I used last time: If they were pitching a game where they don’t give up any runs, they could possibly bump a run in and take the W.

The question was which pitcher to choose. His actual pitching ability is a factor, but it’s not as simple as just picking the pitcher the game ranks most highly. I also preferred a starter over a reliever, if possible, because relievers lack the stamina to reliably get through a game. I’d have to use four to six relievers a game, and getting tired would affect their performance in the short and long run. I couldn’t afford to give up any extra runs because of fatigue.

I had to find which Phillies pitcher was an intersection of decent offense (for a pitcher), solid pitching and capable fielding at other parts of the field. Aaron Nola takes the cake with infield range, outfield range, turning a double play and infield error. The best batting ratings belong to Dalier Hinojosa, who was second best in most fielding categories, but his low stamina and the fact that I don’t think anyone wants to read about 25 Dalier Hinojosas made me pass him up.

The next best hitting pitcher is Vincent Velasquez, who is inexplicably listed as a switch hitter, but not by a wide enough margin that I think it will make any difference. Aaron Nola it is.

25 Aaron Nolas

My goal this time was simple: win a game.

And, strangely, it only took me until my third game to do so. Aaron Nola popped a home run in the second inning of a game against the Reds, while Aaron Nola also held them to one run. A win! A 1-2 record!

A team of Aaron Nolas is officially more viable than a team of Ryan Howards, if some strange and sorry circumstance ever puts you in a position to have to know that information. Granted, a 1-161 record isn’t better than a 0-162 record by a wide enough margin to be seen as compelling evidence and not a fluke, so I was hoping for more victories along the way. What if this team could win five games? Or 10? Or more?

It couldn’t, and it didn’t. Despite my early-season hopes, the team did go 1-161.

The inability to reproduce that result makes sense. While obviously the pitching was better this season than it was with Howard on the hill, it still had atrocious fielding and defense. While the 7.8 runs per game allowed is miles better than the 22-ish allowed by Team Howard, it’s an insurmountable deficit when your team hits .089.

If I could pretend this has any real-world application, it’s this: let this be the demonstration of why ERA is an imperfect measure of success and performance. This is a team of 25 of the exact same Aaron Nola, but each starter had an ERA over 6.50. He’s not a different or worse pitcher than he is in the other simulations I’ve run, but his ERA is the highest it’s been solely because his defense is so poor. When players don’t have the range to track down balls in play, they become hits and aren’t necessarily scored as errors. Instead, when more runs cross the plate, they’re still earned runs and inflate the ERA.

For this reason, maybe Velasquez would have been the superior choice. He strikes out more guys than Nola, meaning less balls would need to be fielded. Too little, too late.

Quick Notes

    • The team scored three runs in two different games – one against the Nationals and another against the Mets – but only scored 59 on the year.
    • Every starting position player Nola hit at least one homerun, and several even hit three of them. Five batters hit above .100.
    • None of the position players finished with a positive WAR, but all of the pitchers did. None of this is surprising.
    • Because the game monitors player morale, it’s possible that Nola’s pitching performance was made even worse by the anger radiating from the clubhouse. Losing affects morale, as does performance, so it makes sense that the solitary win came early in the season, before everyone was too mad at me to play baseball.
    • The single-season record for most strikeouts as a batter is 223, set by Mark Reynolds in 2009. The most by a Phillie is 199, set by Howard in 2007 and 2008. No one on my team set a new record, but four players broke Howard’s. To be fair, none of them topped 410 plate appearances, either.
    • There was only one attempted stolen base all season. He didn’t make it.
    • The most hits by a pitcher in a season is 151, set by Dave Foutz in 1887 in 423 at bats. The most by a pitcher since Integration came when Don Newcombe hit 42 in 1955. My players did not reach either milestone.
    • I tried to find an offensive stat at which some historical player with over 300 plate appearances would be worse than any of the Nolas: average, strikeouts, walks — anything. I couldn’t.

While I achieved my mission of winning a single game as a cloned team, I feel unsatisfied in my research. Would a team of Odubel Herreras be better than the Howards and the Nolas since he’s a good fielder who could play multiple positions and is, overall, a better hitter than Howard?

Either way, I need to go back to living my life and being a productive member of society. My next experiment will be the last one and will wrap this up while reminding us of simpler times.

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