Faking baseball history

Those of you who follow my tweets know that I’m a huge baseball fan, both of the game itself as well as the study of its numbers. What’s even more pathetic is that I also love to play a simulated version with cards and dice — think of it as Dungeons and Dragons for baseball nerds.

And because the Internet is on computers now, I’m able to play online using one of dozens of baseball’s greatest teams: the 1927 Yankees, the ’65 Dodgers, the 2004 Cardinals, and so on. You can play solitaire against a computer manager or in a tournament against other humans.

Recently, I played a tournament using the 1970 Baltimore Orioles, and my first opponent was the ’67 Cardinals. I decided to make Mike Cuellar my starting pitcher; my opponent countered with Bob Gibson. During the game, the dice were coming up aces for the pitchers.

In the 11-inning game, Gibson threw 10 innings for the Cardinals and was charged with just two runs. But Cuellar was even better: He threw 11 (!) innings and struck out an incredible 17 batters, earning the win after his Orioles won the game in the bottom of the 11th.

In real life, Cuellar threw 297.2 innings in 40 starts during the 1970 season. After my online game, I wondered if Cuellar ever had a similar game in real life. And thanks to the wonder that is Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, I could look it up.

I learned that during the 1970 season, Cuellar had only one game in which he’d pitched more than 10 innings. And in that same season, he’d had only two outings in which he had at least 10 strikeouts.

So with the magic of the tumbling dice, I was able to create a little baseball history. Or historical fiction, to be more accurate. And that’s just part of the fun of playing nerd baseball.

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