FAQ: How Sparky Uses His Bullpen Topic

I wanted to start a thread devoted to the topic of how Sparky manages in-game decisions related to changing pitchers. I have multiple reasons for wanting to do this:
  • I see a large number of comments – both in these forums and in the league owner’s forums – expressing frustration or confusion about why Sparky made (or did not make) a particular move. I believe in virtually all circumstances Sparky is following a specific logical algorithm and not making “errors.” I would like to have this eventually serve as an FAQ of sorts.
  • I do not claim to know everything about this – far from it – and would like to collect the wisdom of others on this topic. 
  • The knowledge base is very thorough on this topic, but not exhaustive. There are gray areas that are either not covered explicitly, or covered ambiguously.
For starters, I believe there are two separate algorithmic decisions that Sparky makes, and it is useful to separate the two. They are (1): Should the current pitcher be pulled? (2) Which pitcher should replace him? For the purposes of this thread I am ignoring the possibility of Sparky pinch-hitting for a pitcher who would otherwise have stayed in the game. We can add that complexity later. 
I believe that Sparky's overriding philosophy is to do everything he can to win the game WITHIN the instructions that you have provided him.  And he will interpret those instructions very precisely.  He will not override your instructions in order to give your team a better chance to win the game, unless he has no other choice (see algorithm 2c below).  No matter how "obvious" you may think it should be to make a move, if your instructions dictate something else, Sparky is going to do something else.
I am sure what follows below is not complete, and probably not 100% accurate. Please weigh in with your thoughts.
7/1/2010 2:11 PM (edited)
Algorithm 1: Should the current pitcher be pulled?
This would be better visualized as a process flow diagram, but that’s not possible here, so I am using a list of questions. Based on my game experience and the Knowledge Base, I believe this is how it works:
Q1.1 – After each at bat, ask “has the current pitcher reached his TPC”? If Yes, go to Q1.2. If no, go to Q1.3.
Q1.2 – Is there a rested pitcher (i.e. not set to “rest” AND his fatigue level is at or above his autorest setting) who is eligible to be used in relief and whose “inning available” setting is equal to or less than the current inning? If yes, go to Algorithm 2 (Choosing a Specific Relief Pitcher). If no, go to Q1.4.
Q1.3 – Does the pitcher’s performance warrant his being removed from the game, given his “pull” setting? If Yes, go to Q1.2. If no, let the pitcher stay in the game and pitch to the next batter. Then go to Q1.1.
Q1.4 – Has the pitcher reached his MPC? If yes, go to Algorithm 2. If no, let the pitcher stay in the game and pitch to the next batter. Then go to Q1.1.
Notes on this:
  • There is some ambiguity around whether a pitcher who has reached his TPC (but not yet his MPC) will stay in the game if no other rested pitchers are available. Article 41 in the Knowledge Base lists three situations in which a pitcher will stay in past his TPC. This is not one of them. But the knowledge base does not explicitly say what will happen in this situation. I believe – though I can not point to a specific game example right now to support this – that the pitcher will stay in the game in this situation until he reaches his MPC.
  • I have never seen a good specific description of how the pull setting works. We all know that generally speaking “1” means “keep this guy in regardless of how bad he’s pitching until he hits his TPC.” It’s obvious that the higher the pull setting, the faster Sparky will pull him as he starts to get into trouble. But I have no concrete info on exactly how this works. For example – starting pitcher allows first 5 batters to reach base. Four runs in, one on, no outs. I am reasonably confident that a pitcher with a “5” pull setting will be removed and that a pitcher with a “2” would not. But what about a “3” or “4” setting? I am not sure what the thresholds are.
  • I believe that Q1.2 is an area that throws off a lot of newbies. Whenever I see a “why did Sparky leave my pitcher in to absorb a beating, blow a lead, etc” I almost always assume that Q1.2 applied, and the answer was “no.” I am virtually 100% confident in the belief that Sparky will NOT take out your pitcher unless there is another pitcher who meets all of the criteria to come in. As an example, let’s assume your Set Up A is pitching with a lead in the 8th, and he’s getting shelled. You have closer set to “inning available” = 9. No other pitchers are rested. That Set Up is going to stay in until he reaches his TPC (and maybe his MPC), no matter how badly he’s pitching – even if he blows the lead. Worse, once he does reach his TPC (or possibly MPC), then your closer WILL come in, because he’s the only rested pitcher left. So you get screwed both ways. If you set your closer to 9th inning only, Sparky is NOT going to override that setting, no matter how badly the guy on the mound is doing, unless he has no other options available to him. If you don’t want this to happen, set your closer to be available earlier (but recognize that if you do, Sparky will occasionally use him – and exhaust him – before the 9th inning).
7/1/2010 2:11 PM (edited)
Algorithm 2: Which relief pitcher should be used?
Remember, this algorithm is triggered by one of three conditions. Either (a) the current pitcher has reached his TPC and there is at least one available pitcher to put in (b) the current pitcher has been pulled for ineffectiveness and there is at least one available pitcher to put in or (c) there is no available pitcher, but the current pitcher has reached his MPC.
Proceeding from situations (a) or (b) is similar, so we can consider them together. We’ll save situation (c) for the next post.
Algorithm 2a (or 2b): Which of the available relief pitchers should be used? I’m going to disregard the use of LH/RH specialists here.
By “available” relief pitcher, we mean a pitcher for whom ALL of the following conditions are true:
  • His “relief” box is checked in the advanced settings
  • His fatigue is at or above his autorest
  • The game is at or later than his “inning available” setting
  • If he’s a mop-up, and you have checked “use mop-up only when losing” then your team must be behind
  • If he’s a closer and you have checked “use closer in save situations only” then it must be a save situation.
If one or more of the above conditions does not hold, then that pitcher is not considered available, and will not be used if other pitchers are available. For example, in the situation I described above where it’s the 8th inning and your closer is set to be available in the 9th inning, if the only other available pitcher is your mop-up, then your mop-up is coming in the game. Regardless of how close the game is, Sparky is going to follow your instructions. You’ve given him 2 pitchers, but for one of them you have explicitly said “don’t use him until the 9th inning.” Sparky will choose the other guy. One way to avoid this – potentially – is to check the “only use mop-up when losing” box in the manager settings. But this may not solve the problem – now Sparky has to decide which of your two instructions to override, because technically you have no pitcher available (this will be addressed in the next post.)
If you have more than 1 available pitcher, Sparky will choose the one who best matches the game situation. 
  • Save situation means your closer is coming in. 
  • Late close game means Set Up A if you’re ahead or tied, and either Set Up A or B if you’re behind.  Sparky may possibly use your closer here even if it's not a save situation, provided you have not checked the "save situation only" box.
  • Early innings or a late game that’s not that close, you’re going to see Long A or Long B. 
  • If the game is reasonably close and none of the above pitchers are available, but you have starters who are allowed to come in as relievers, Sparky will likely use one of them.
  • Game out of hand, you’re going to see the mop up.
  • If there is no pitcher who correctly matches the game situation, then I believe that roughly speaking Sparky will move down this list until he finds an available pitcher.  So if it's late and close, but your closer and setup guys are not available, Sparky will next look at your Long A, then Long B, then starters, then mop up.
It’s very important to remember here, that once the new pitcher is in the game, Sparky reverts to Algorithm 1 in order to decide whether (and when) to remove him. Once your mop-up is in the game, if you’ve set him to a high TPC (or TPC = none) and pull setting = 1, then Sparky is not likely to pull him, even if the game suddenly gets close.
7/1/2010 2:12 PM (edited)

Algorithm 2(c): How Sparky Chooses a Relief Pitcher - When No One is Technically Available

This is one of the least well understood facets of the game in my opinion.  Everything here should interpreted as just my best guess.  The critical issue is that no pitcher on your team meets all of the "available" criteria I listed in the post above.

So Sparky has a problem.  According to Algorithm 1, your current pitcher must come out.  But you have given him no options.  So - and this is important - he has to decide which of your restrictions he is going to override.  I believe that many newbie questions about why Sparky made a particular decision are a result of not understanding this point. 

He has to do one (or more) of the following:

  • Use a pitcher who is fatigued below his auto-rest setting
  • Use a pitcher you have set to "rest"
  • Use a pitcher earlier than you have set him to be available for
  • Use someone in relief for whom you have not checked the "available in relief" box
  • Use your closer in a non-save situation (if you have checked the "save situation only" box)
  • Use your mop-up even if the game situation does not warrant it

I can not prove this, but I believe that Sparky's order of preference is as follows:

-- Use a rested, non-mopup pitcher earlier than your instructions dictate (if no one else is available, this will include your closer, even if you have checked the "only save situations" box).  UPDATE: See just4me's comment several posts below, which would seem to apply to this specific situation.
-- Use a rested mop-up, even if the game situation does not warrant it
-- Use a rested starting pitcher in relief, even if his "relief" box is not checked
-- Use a fatigued pitcher (probably starting with the "least fatigued" pitcher)
-- Use a pitcher who has been set to "rest"

If you get to one of these last 2 choices, then I am very uncertain exactly how Sparky chooses among the possible pitchers - but I am confident that these are his last resort choices and will only go to them if he has no other options.

This is another source of common SIM complaint: "my closer was available but Sparky put my mop-up in to blow the game in the 9th inning."  I am highly skeptical of any such claim.  After the game is over, you can't see what the closer's fatigue rating was before the game.  My guess whenever I see this is that in fact the closer was fatigued below his autorest setting.  If you've got a 94 closer with an autorest of 95, that guy is not coming in unless Sparky has no other choices available to him, regardless of the game situation.

7/1/2010 2:12 PM (edited)
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Adding to what crazystengel said ... there is little doubt in my mind that what the pull settings mean is influenced by what pitchers are available in your pen. It is my experience for example that a pitcher getting bombed in the 6th inning with a pull of 1 will throw far fewer pitches when someone in the pen has a 6th inning availability than when no one in the pen has anything before a 9th inning availability .... kudos contrairian23 on putting this together ....
3/5/2010 10:40 PM
Thanks for the additions guys; at some point in the future we'll know more about what the call bullpen settings mean, but for now, as you point out, it's not certain.
3/6/2010 7:59 AM
perhaps we can create a gigantor experiment whereby we recruit a cadre of users that set up spring teams with very specific requirements and have them report in this thread or a separate thread the results. For example, one guy sets a team up "Sparky Pull1" and is required to have all pitchers set to 1. Report on pitcher changes in a very specific way...pitcher's TPC/MPC, bullpen fatigue/ readyness and in game situation. Another guy sets a team up "Sparky Pull 2" and so forth so that we have a number of teams involved with these various settings so we can get as much information collected as possible.
3/6/2010 9:31 AM
Quote: Originally Posted By crazystengel on 3/05/2010

But in one game my starter was pitching well, and heading into the 5th inning was leading 2-0, with plenty of pitches to his MPC. Starting off the 5th he got an out, then gave up a walk and home run, and was pulled. This set off a chain of events that resulted in me not only losing the game, but tiring out my entire pen.

I was unhappy about my starter being pulled so quickly and contacted Admin. The response I got that was that, because the score was 2-2, the SIM felt it had to make a change in a close game (the implication being if my team had had a 10-2 lead, no change would have been made).


This scenario makes no sense. How many actual games have you seen where the starter gets pulled in the 5th inning after only allowing the game tying HR? Most major league managers would at least allow the starter to stay in to see how he responds. That's just awful logic and you had every right to be ******.
3/6/2010 1:25 PM
One other situation that I didn't see covered and one that I've sent in a few tickets on over the years, is the tie-game that is in the 9th or later inning and the only two pitchers available from an autorest perspective, or that have not already been used in the game, are your mop up and closer, both have their respective boxes checked (only use: when losing and in save situation). As the tie game is neither a save situation or a game you are losing Sparky has to break one of your dictates in either case.

In this situation Sparky will go to the mop up first and then the closer. This was admin's response on my last ticket on sparky's extra inning logic in this scenario: "The mopup comes in here because there is no way to know how long the game might go and it would be best in these situations to save the closer as he can only usually pitch an inning or two whereas the mopup could take them pretty much as far as they need to go." In this case in particular it worked out to my advantage as my team took the lead and my closer came in and got the save the next inning, but I've also been on the other side of that equation where my mop up has blown the extra inning game with a rested closer available.

If you read into admin's response I think it also offers clues as to how algorithm 1 works and seems to imply there may be one additional criteria regarding the likelihood of the game ending soon via a tied or close game in late innings.
3/6/2010 3:06 PM

My question is why does it have to be ambigious at all?

Why do we have to "guess" and "assume" what the Algorithm is?

Why do we have to look for "clues"?

It should be spelled out somewhere for us to look at. Whether we understand it or not is one thing, but not having access to it doesn't seem like the best option for WIS. 95% of the players will not care or even look at it, but the few who are anal enough to care, should have that choice and ability.

3/6/2010 4:10 PM
just4me: thanks for that input; I have incorporated your situation in algorithm 2c.

skinndogg: I don't know, but I can imagine that it could be any of a number of things. My most likely guess is that WIS may feel that this particular part of the SIM is a core part of their intellectual property. They have never, for example, shared how to identify AAA players. It took the heroic effort on the part of several owners - most prominently merkle - to decipher this, and although merkle's procedure is undoubtedly correct, WIS has never acknowledged this. It's their IP, they can feel free to share or not share whatever they want.
3/6/2010 4:21 PM
set up a theme league. ask people to join and set aside egos and ambitions and follow very regimented instruction on how to set pull settings, rest level, set up a, set up b, mops, closers etc. Create a thread in theme league owners forum so situations can be reported on in a formatted way continuously throughout the season. we could create enough data to crack the code so to speak. get 8,12,16 guys willing to pony up a season and follow strict instruction regardless of wins/losses.
3/6/2010 7:08 PM
winnetka, if you're up for it, by all means go ahead...it's not something I can take on right now
3/6/2010 7:13 PM
quit reverse engineering my sh*t

signed, whatif
3/6/2010 8:36 PM
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FAQ: How Sparky Uses His Bullpen Topic

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