It Shouldn’t All be About the Numbers

I participate in a baseball simulation league that’s played over computer. The game program has all of the player stats from last season and if you choose, you can just have the computer play an entire season by itself if you like, making all of the moves based on numbers and situations. You can also put a human manager into the equation, which is where it gets fun. That human has all of the information that the computer has, but also factors in gut and instinct. That’s what makes the league interesting.

The way Gabe Kapler managed in game one of his managerial career, the computer basically ran the game. There was no equation to allow for the fact that Aaron Nola was cruising pretty well and likely could have thrown more pitches. With a 5-0 lead, even if he gave up a home run to Freddie Freeman, who has hit Nola well during his career, it would have been 5-2 and you could have considered a change at that point. Instead, Kapler went to lefty Hoby Milner because the numbers said that’s the move. Freeman was 0-for-5 against Milner last year and Milner hadn’t allowed a home run in 75 plate appearances last season.

Here’s where gut and instinct come into play. The Phillies want Nola to be their ace. He had thrown 64 pitches in his final spring game and was at 68 pitches Thursday in Atlanta. Surely, he had some gas left in the tank. Yes, he left a pitch up to Ender Inciarte that turned into a double, but he also came back and got Ozzie Albies on one pitch. Factor into the equation that Kapler knew he was without Pat Neshek, who was unavailable due to a mild right lat strain, and you have to figure that giving Nola one more batter couldn’t really hurt. Hopefully, he could have at least worked out of the inning.

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A new trendy issue is having a starting pitcher face a lineup for a third time in a game. Sure, stats show that a pitcher’s effectiveness wanes after the first two trips through a lineup, but again, this is where instinct comes into it. Your eyes have to tell you something about the game and there was no indication that Nola was on the ropes.

It’s bothersome too, that after the game, Kapler said he would do it all again. He spoke of having confidence in Milner and his “dudes” in the bullpen. He better have confidence in them because they’re the guys he has at his disposal. He has to say that. But he also has to realize that his job is to sometimes override the numbers, override the artificial intelligence manage.

Baseball isn’t just dumping a bunch of numbers into a computer and playing it all out. If that were the case, a robot would be named manager and every move would be calculated by artificial intelligence. Instead, baseball is a game of real intelligence; knowing the game.

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Chuck Hixson

Chuck has a wide and varied background in covering sports both locally and nationally. Living in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania, Chuck has the distinction of being the only person to have covered both the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and Lehigh Valley Phantoms in every season of their existence. Chuck began covering sports in 1998 when he was the first program director and morning host at WTKZ-AM in Allentown, Pennsylvania when the station switched to an all sports format. Chuck produced the stations coverage of the Allentown Ambassadors baseball team, which played in the independent Northeast League. From there, Chuck was the editor and writer of Pinstripes magazine, covering Phillies baseball. That led to Chuck founding Philly Baseball Insider in 2003. Chuck has done freelance work for national entities such as USA TODAY, CBS, FOX Sports, Washington Times and others.

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