Sports Simulation Board Games

HMB Pitching Strategies: Revealed!

I recently exchanged e-mails with PLAAY Gamer Mark Herman, New York, NY about the nuances of pitching strategy in HISTORY MAKER BASEBALL. We had discussed this briefly at last year’s World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, “Based on our WBC conversation I saw the basic advantages,” Mark wrote, “but additional thoughts are always interesting to me.” He added, “From a high level, it appears that a starter who has a bad run recovers to FRESH once the situation is resolved, but after watching the Yankee opener with the starter knocked out in four innings I was wondering if you still saw it that way? Has anyone written any articles or posts that talk to how to think about the advantages of relievers, closers in your fine system?”

I told Mark that there are scattered posts in the HMB section of the PLAAY Games Delphi Forum about the various pitching nuances, but I don't think anyone has developed a thread or created an article on it.  So—here goes!

First, there are a couple of advanced options that, I think, speak to the things Mark’s talking about...

• PITCHER FATIGUE: Once a pitcher allows his fifth run, he loses any remaining FRESHNESS and is given the SEMI STRUGGLER quality.  After his sixth run, it becomes STRUGGLER.  This is in addition to any other qualities the pitcher may have, such as STAR, ACE, WORKMAN, etc., and stays with him rest of the game. (This would address the situation Mark was referring to in the Yankees opener, or any situation where a starter gets rocked early.) Using this option presents a tabletop manager with some interesting decisions, especially when a high-grade pitcher gets clobbered early. The combination of, for example, ACE, STRUGGLER• is intriguing—I might be inclined to leave the pitcher in the game if the bullpen was marginal.

• WARMING UP A RELIEF PITCHER: Using this option will provide an extra level of bullpen strategy.  In order for a relief pitcher to gain the ACE quality facing his first batter, he must have been “warmed up” first.  That is, the current pitcher must face at least one batter while the reliever is “warming up.”  You may “warm up” more than one reliever at the same time.  However, a pitcher may only be “warmed up” twice--the second time, he must enter the game that inning or he cannot be used the rest of the game, “use him or lose him.”   I really like this rule, as it gives you a sense of what a real manager has to go through. It does add a little more time to the game, but some nice added narrative. And, if you use this in head-to-head play, it should be enforced rigorously—if you didn’t state that “so-and-so is warming up,” you can’t just bring him in at the drop of a dime and get the ACE quality! You have to either let your struggling pitcher struggle for one one batter, or bring the reliever in with no ACE bonus!

• SHUTOUT FRESHNESS: If a starting pitcher carries a shutout into the seventh inning, he retains his SEMI-FRESH quality into the seventh and eighth innings, until/unless he gives up a run.  If he’s still pitching a shutout into the ninth inning, roll the decider die at the start of the inning to determine if he’s SEMI-FRESH for that inning as well. This option attempts to replicate the phenomenon of the starter getting into a “groove” which offsets the normal fatigue that would naturally set in.

This option (along with the first two mentioned) is included in the game’s rules. But we've recently been talking on the forum about a new pitching quality, STRONG, which would apply to pitchers who are in a "groove," having retired a certain number of consecutive batters, or a starting pitcher who is pitching well into the late innings.  In the latter case, we as sports gamers typically will leave the pitcher in the game out of respect for "realism," even when a game's rules and mechanics would suggest that there's no benefit to doing so.  Obviously, it happens in real life, so there must be a reason--some intangible benefit that a pitcher gains as the game progresses.  The STRONG quality would attempt to capture that.  It would be placed in the PITCHING column of dice rolls 1-3-3 and/or 1-5-5, and 2-4-5 and would result in a ground out rather than a home run or hit.  Still experimenting with it, but I like the idea.

I do think the benefit of the ACE quality for the first batter a relief pitcher faces is sometimes missed.  In our recent "Time Machine Tournament," for example, Lenny LaFrance did a nice job as manager, both with relief pitcher usage and with his use of the manager strategy cards.  He was managing the '46 Red Sox, who didn't have a lot of bullpen strength.  At the end of the game, protecting a 4-2 lead, he brought in consecutive relief pitchers to face the final two batters, in order to get the ACE benefit.  Of course, the strategy COULD have backfired, had the '72 A's sent the game into extra innings.  But it was a calculated risk on Lenny's part, which paid off--he prevented a hit with one at-bat by having the ACE quality in effect.

The use of the manager strategy cards as they apply to pitchers can also add a great deal of strategy to the game. The “Walk To The Mound” cards are invaluable—seldom does a game go by that I don’t use them a couple times, especially head-to-head, but even in my solo ’74 Brewers project. (The way I play it, as manager of the Brewers, I can use cards as I see fit, but the opponent only uses cards when it makes obvious, logical sense to do so. If it’s “borderline”—“should he try for the extra base?”—I’ll use the decider die.) Also, the “Manager Influence” cards can be used effectively to help your pitcher. For example, if your pitcher’s in trouble—say the bases are loaded, nobody out—and he then strikes out the next batter, it can be effective to play the RIGHT NOW Manager Influence card, and take advantage of the pitcher’s temporary HOT status to—hopefully—get that second out. Or, if the pitcher’s suddenly COLD, and facing the opponent’s HOT batter, you can play a Manager Influence card to switch to a different intangibles mini-chart that might not be so disadvantageous, or perhaps might even turn a disadvantage into an advantage, using CHEMISTRY or EXPERIENCE.

Naturally, there are a couple down-sides to using the manager strategy cards. For one thing, they don’t always have an effect! (That’s by design.) Which leads to the second down-side: you can burn through your allotment of six cards really fast and once they’re gone, they’re gone. I’ve sometimes found myself in a late-game situation with, for example, my COLD pitcher facing the opponent’s HOT batter, with no strategy cards left to play. In that case, I have no recourse except to replace the pitcher, or leave him in there and hope for the best.