How to Manage the All-Star Game
By Sky Andrecheck

One of the most exciting events of the season takes place tonight, as the AL and NL All-Stars play in the 80th annual All-Star game. The game, as I showed last week, takes on great importance to some teams, particularly those likely to make the World Series. Managers have always faced a series of competing interests in their managing strategies, and these dilemmas are perhaps even more pronounced since the game now “counts”. The main competing interest is between managing to win and managing to play everybody, but managers also have to have an eye for entertaining the fans, preventing injuries, and of course making sure that enough pitchers are available to finish the game.

These goals appear to be mutually exclusive. For instance, it would seem that if all players get in the game, then that means less time for the best players, and a lessened chance of victory. However, the purpose of this article is to show how, if a manager plays it properly, all of these goals can be satisfied. A smart manager can maximize his team’s chances to win as well as get most players in the game, while simultaneously showcasing the game’s greatest stars and making sure that the team is well equipped to go deep into extra innings without jeopardizing the health of any of his players. How can a manager do such a thing?

Managing the Pitchers

First of all, let’s address the pitching problem. The problem was brought to a head in 2002 when both managers ran out of pitchers and forced a tie. It nearly happened again last year when reliever Brad Lidge was brought in for the NL and a gimpy and unrested Scott Kazmir was brought in for the AL in the 15th inning. Had the game gone on only a couple more innings, both managers would have had a major crisis on their hands. How to prevent such potential disasters? The solution here is simple: Have the last pitcher in the bullpen be a well-rested starter who has the ability to throw a complete game if necessary. The manager should wait until the 13th or 14th inning to put him in and he should be able to finish the game. As a starter on full rest, he’ll be able to pitch 7 or 8 strong innings if necessary, which should be enough to finish even the longest of All-Star contests.

Had Carlos Zambrano, on 5 days rest, been the last man in the bullpen instead of Brad Lidge, he could have pitched well past the 20th inning without difficulty. Similarly, in 2002, if Freddy Garcia had pitched the 3rd and the well-rested Roy Halladay pitched the 10th instead of the other way around, the AL squad would have been able to potentially last 18 innings, forcing an NL forfeit instead of a tie. Instead, managers seem to have short-men or fragile pitchers as their pitcher of last resort, leading to potentially disastrous scenarios as occurred in 2002 and almost happened again in 2008.

Since this emergency pitcher will usually not get in the game at all, ideally this well-rested last man isn’t one of the squad’s best pitchers and has already made an All-Star appearance so he won’t mind not getting into the game. The emergency man strategy is a good one because most pitchers can still get into the game even if it doesn’t go extra innings, but if the game does go into extra frames, the team is equipped to go 20 innings or more without risk of injury or overwork.

The rest of the pitching staff is usually fairly well handled by the managers, with a few exceptions. With 13 pitchers on the staff, it’s not a bad idea to throw pitchers one inning at a time, as current managers usually do, so that they can leave it all out on the mound. Combining this with the fact that each pitcher is not necessarily well-rested, and this is a fairly good strategy for getting a lot of players into the game as well as maximizing (or at least not decreasing) the chance of winning.

While managers consistently use starters earlier in the game and relievers later in the game, statistically there is no difference as to when the pitcher enters the game – in a one-game situation, each inning is equally important since the expected value of the leverage in each inning is equal for all innings. The result is that a manager should make sure to get his best pitchers in the game regardless of the inning or score. This is opposed to Clint Hurdle’s strategy last year of leaving Brad Lidge, one of the better NL pitchers, in the bullpen, waiting for a traditional save situation. Hence, the pitchers reserved in case of extra innings should be among the staff’s worst, used in order of talent as the game gets deeper into extra innings, until the emergency pitcher is called in to finish the game.

Managing the Position Players

Except for an occasionally mismanaged bullpen, managers have handled their pitching staffs fairly competently over the years. However, when it comes to playing the position players, most All-Star managers have been baffled. Managers seem to be torn between playing the starters and maximizing their chances of winning, and replacing the starters to give the reserves more playing time. It’s possible to do both, but not when managers traditionally resort to the most caveman of strategies: position-for-position wholesale changes midway through the game. I had hoped for a change in this strategy when the All-Star game was given more meaning, but the basic tactic has still been employed. The only difference is that instead of removing the starters after 3 innings, they are removed in the 6th or 7th.

In fact, maximizing the chances of winning actually does involve the use of most of the team's 33 players on the roster. First of all, in NL parks, teams should always pinch-hit for the pitcher. There are too many great pitchers and players on the roster to burn an at-bat with a pitcher hitting. This sounds obvious, but the manager has chosen to send a pitcher to bat as recently as 1998 when David Wells hit in the second inning (Mark Mulder also hit in 2004, but he was forced to remain in the game since he had not yet faced a batter). Pinch hitting for the pitcher every time up is an obvious way to use an additional 3-5 players and increase the probability of winning, but what to do with the other 7 or 8 other players left on the bench?

Similar to what good American League managers do every day, All-Star managers can pinch-hit good-hitting, powerful reserves for (relatively) poor-hitting players at defensive positions. Usually, there are a few positions on each squad which are relatively weak. In key situations with runners on base, these players can be removed for better hitting first basemen/outfielders/etc who are sitting on the bench. This maximizes the team's chance of winning by putting better hitters at the plate in key situations.

This tactic also has the benefit of getting an additional two players in the game - the pinch-hitter and the player who replaces him on defense in the next half inning. It also gets these players in the game without removing the presumably outstanding starter at the offensive position. If the 2009 NL team were to use this tactic, Albert Pujols could play the entire game, while Fielder, Howard, and Gonzalez could all hit in high leverage situations with runners on base. Using this tactic just twice gets an additional 4 players into the game, without removing the heavy-hitting starters who are the best players on the team. In AL parks this tactic can be used even more often since the manager does not have to worry about running out of players to pinch-hit for the pitcher.

The remaining 3 or 4 players on the bench can be used as either platoon guys, who can be substituted for the starter when a handedness advantage presents itself, or used as pinch runners or defensive replacements. All of these useful and legitimate reasons are preferable to the gratuitous replacement strategy which managers currently employ. The result is that usually all but 1 to 3 players can get in the game (most with an at-bat) and the four or so best players on the team end up playing the entire game. Imagine that - the same amount of players get into the game, but the biggest stars are showcased for the entire night and the team's chances of winning are dramatically increased!

One tactic All-Star managers do seem to employ is the double-switch, pushing the pitcher's spot further down in the order. While it's a good move in the regular season, it's not one I generally endorse in the All-Star game. For one, the manager wants to get a lot of players into the game, so being forced to pinch-hit is not necessarily a bad thing. Two, the players off the bench may be better hitters than the player who just entered in the double-switch, meaning that the team is actually hurt by the switch. And three, the having the pitcher's spot come up gives the manager extra flexibility in just who will come up in that spot, and that flexibility is a good thing. In fact, in some cases, it's reasonable to double-switch in order to bring the pitcher's spot closer in the order for the above reasons, especially if the new position player is a relatively weak hitter compared to his benchmates.

The key to employing the overall substitution strategy that I just outlined is patience and the ability to alter the game plan on a moment's notice. This is probably the reason that no manager has employed this strategy to date - they want to have a relaxing time and a predetermined plan to assure that everybody has a role. However, employing this technique requires much more strategy and thinking than even a regular season game does, precisely because so many players are available. Managers are also not practiced at this style of substitution, since the All-Star game is a unique situation. However, a few practice games of Strat-o-Matic (or even the simplest baseball board game) should get them the feel for their roster so that the moves they should make will become routine.

So how can this strategy be specifically employed by Joe Maddon and Charlie Manuel tonight? Here are a few guidelines:

American League

Maddon has announced Roy Halladay as his starter, and I can't quibble with that. He should go two unless the AL bats around after two innings. After that, a good rotation would be Greinke, Hernandez, Jackson, Verlander, Nathan, Rivera, and Papelbon. Maddon needs an emergency extra-inning guy, and for me that player is Tim Wakefield. I feel bad since this means he likely won't get into his only All-Star game, but frankly he doesn't deserve to be there anyway. The only other pitchers on full rest are Greinke, Halladay, and Hernandez - all far too good to be left sitting in the bullpen. Josh Beckett and Mark Buehrle, guys who have been to the game before and are not the aces of this staff, are the other two guys left for extra inning duty. Fuentes, the only lefty reliever, can be used to play the lefty/righty matchup game along with Andrew Bailey as his right-handed counterpart.

Of the starters, Mauer, Teixeira, Longoria, Bay, and Ichiro are either head and shoulders above their peers at their position, or far too good of hitters to remove, so Maddon should plan to play them the entire game (the exception is Ichiro who can be pinch-hit for if the situation desperately calls for power). Second base (Aaron Hill) and shortstop (Derek Jeter) are the "weak" hitting positions that can be pinch-hit for if they come up with multiple runners on base. As righties against an almost entirely righty pitching staff, pinch-hitting for these players is even more appealing. After the pinch hitters take their hacks, Ben Zobrist can take the field at second and Jason Bartlett can play shortstop. Centerfield can be platooned, with Hamilton removed for Adam Jones when facing a lefty. He in turn can be replaced by Granderson if a righty re-enters the game for the NL.

I'm not a fan of the way Joe Maddon has constructed his bench, leaving two of the league's best hitters - A-Rod and Cabrera - off the roster entirely and leaving it surprisingly bereft of proven mashers. Off the bench, Justin Morneau is by far the best lefty and the biggest power threat. Kevin Youkilis is the best option from the right side. It doesn't matter if they are used early or late, as long as they hit in a big spot with runners on base. With three spots in the batting order to choose from (2B, SS, or P) that big spot is all but guaranteed to come.

Victor Martinez, Carl Crawford, and Carlos Pena are the other best pinch-hitting options since they are either lefties or switch hitters against a mostly right-handed NL pitching staff. They can be used according to the game situation. If Crawford enters the game late, he can also replace Bay in left field for defense. Nelson Cruz, Michael Young, and Brandon Inge should be held in reserve in case of extra innings. Young can also take over at either second or short in case a second big pinch-hitting opportunity arises at either of those spots in the lineup. In the case of Cruz, pinch-running late in the game is also an option, presuming Maddon has enough players left on the bench.

National League:

Charlie Manuel has announced Tim Lincecum as his starter, and as the ace of the staff he should go two innings, followed by Santana, Haren, and Billingsley. Ted Lilly and the hometown Franklin can divide the 6th, with Lilly coming in to face the left-handers. The 7th through 9th can be handled by Cordero, Hoffman, and K-Rod. The emergency pitcher should clearly be Zack Duke, a pitcher who is only a marginal All-Star and will be on three days rest. The only other NL starter on four days rest is Lincecum, who is clearly too good to be an option there.

With no left-handed relievers, Manuel can't play the matchup game effectively. Heath Bell, Josh Johnson, and Jason Marquis are the other pitchers who can go in case of extra-innings. Bell can also fill in if another starter gets into trouble (or if the NL surprisingly bats around in the bottom of the first and Lincecum must be removed for a pinch hitter).

Starters Albert Pujols, Chase Utley, Hanley Ramirez, David Wright, and Ryan Braun should be left in for the duration, as they are head and shoulders above their peers. While it was previously reported that Brad Hawpe would be forced to start the All-Star game in Carlos Beltran's absence, recent news lists Shane Victorino as Manuel's starter. If the former were true, I would advise Manuel to remove Ibanez from the order after taking his first at-bat in order to shore up the shoddy outfield defense. That doesn't appear necessary now.

The "weak" positions which can be removed for pinch hitters are centerfield and catcher. Molina, clearly the weakest hitter on the squad should be pinch-hit for early and then replaced by the superior, left-handed Brian McCann. Manuel should also pinch-hit for Victorino if a big situation arises, and then replace the pinch hitter with Hunter Pence. Pence in turn can also removed for a pinch-hitter if another key situation arises, and Jayson Werth can take over in center field.

Manuel has three incredibly dangerous left-handed bats on his bench in Howard, Fielder, and Gonzalez, and he should use them for pinch-hitting situations with runners on base when any of the three light-hitting positions come up in the order.

Other options for pinch-hitting for the pitcher are Miguel Tejada, Ryan Zimmerman and Justin Upton. Brad Hawpe provides yet another potent left-handed bat. If a left-handed pitcher enters the game, Manuel should also take the opportunity to replace Ibanez with Werth or Upton - this should also be done if the NL gets a lead to improve the outfield defense. Freddie Sanchez and Orlando Hudson can be used as the last men on the bench if the game goes to extra innings - they should by no means be replacing Wright or Utley in the batting order.


Will Manuel and Maddon follow this advice, playing their best starters the whole game, while still getting a majority of players into the game? If they are anything like the previous All-Star managers, we'll see wholesale changes mid-way through the game, and hence the inferior reserves will be taking the big at-bats at the end of the game.

Taking my own advice and playing several sets of simulated games, I was very successful in getting 26 to 29 players for each side into the game (about as many as previous managers have done), while still making sure that the biggest bats are up in the biggest situations and keeping the best players in the whole time. Of course, sometimes the game played perfectly into my strategy and other times I was not as lucky, but no matter the course of the game, the main goals were achieved every time. The key is to stay flexible and let the game dictate the decisions. It's a strategy that's best for the players, the fans, the teams, and the game. I'd love to see it tonight, but I'm not holding my breath.


I just have to give Yadi some props. His hitting is constantly downgraded, but he is absolute clutch. Just ask the Mets. Yes...I know compared to the other NL guys he's clearly the worst offensively, but he's better then he gets credit for.

I was asked by email why the leverage is the same for all innings (in a one-game situation only), and I'll answer that here. It's not that the leverage of every inning is equal, but that the EXPECTED VALUE of the leverage in each inning is equal. If you pitch your ace in the 1st inning, it will necessarily be a medium-leverage situation. If you wait until the 9th, it may be a very high leverage situation or it may be a very low leverage situation depending on the score, but it averages out to the same leverage as the 1st inning.

Looked at it another way, one scoreless inning in the 1st inning is of the same value as one scoreless inning in the 9th. So if your ace can only give you one inning, it's the same whether it comes in the 1st or the 9th.

This doesn't hold during the regular season because an ace can't pitch every game, hence it pays to save him for only the high leverage 9th innings (while sitting him for the low leverage 9th innings).

Sky, are you SERIOUS?

"he’ll be able to pitch 7 or 8 strong innings if necessary"

Come on! LOL

Why wouldn't a fully rested starting pitcher be able to go 7 or 8 innings if he's pitching well? (if he's not pitching well, he'll have lost the game and it will be a moot point) Of course it's not ideal, but if the game goes 20 innings and you haven't stretched anybody past the limits of their normal workload, I'd say you're doing pretty well - probably a lot better than the guy in the other dugout. And a lot better than Bob Brenly, Joe Torre, Terry Francona, or Clint Hurdle.

You are living in Candy Land if you think a player, let alone the club who has multiple millions of dollars invested in him, would allow himself to throw that many pitches in an All-Star game. If he goes 7 on Tuesday, he wouldn't be able to pitch agian until Sunday. In other words, he is basically skipping one of his regular season starts. Ain't happening.

Teixeira head and shoulders above Youkilis?! Stick to soccer...

Jack, If a pitcher throws 7 scoreless innings and wins the All-Star game in the 20th inning, it will be the highlight his career - of course he will want to finish the game. Pushing back a regular season start one or two days is not that big of a deal...besides, is there a better contingency plan for a 20-inning game? Selig will not and should not call another tie game.

Nic, I'm not saying Tex is head and shoulders above Youk, but you don't want to take Tex's bat out of the lineup unnecessarily. It's optimal to use Youk as a pinch-hitter in a big situation and leave Tex in the game (rather than blindly substituting one for the other as Maddon will likely do). I'd be saying the same thing had Youk had been voted in as the starter.

Loved the article, but I've got a question about your last comment:

Why shouldn't Selig call another tie if the game goes 20? Obviously it didn't, but if it had, what would the problem be? It's an exhibition game, and I'd rather see an (irrelevant) AS game tie than my team's best pitcher pushing his start back to the end of the rotation.

Thanks Avery, The game, as I showed last week, is about 30% as important as a regular season game due to the HFA - so if it's between forfeiting the game and pushing back a starter two days, he's better used in the All-Star game, simply from a statistical standpoint.

From another perspective, if a tie is a possibility the game loses credibility to the fans. I am quite confident that after 2002, Selig will never call another tie - he'd force the managers to either play on or forfeit - probably what he should have done then as well.

As a final follow-up, we saw Halladay bat last night, and we once again saw Pujols and the other big bats gratuitously removed from the game. Sigh...maybe next year.

...and Halladay struck out, then proceeded to give up three runs in the following inning!

i was a little confused when manuel didn't pinch hit for miguel tejada in the bottom of the ninth against mo. was there nobody else on the bench? i guess the idea was that tejada makes contact?

Pence and Sanchez were the only remaining players, neither with significantly more power than Tejada. But, Tejada should never have been in a situation to get more than 1 AB in the game to begin with - after he pinch hit, he should have been removed. Under my strategy David Wright should have still been in that spot in the batting order in the 9th.

No pitcher will EVER throw 7 innings in an all-star game. End of discussion. Bold, underlined, exclamation point, period.

One minor problem with this approach is that it works best with an unbalanced roster in the positions without a dominant starter. Unfortunately, the selection process is more likely to pick backups who are good overall but not necessarily specialists. Are we comfortable taking this to its logical conclusion and encouraging the managers to fill out their benches with a +25 BRAR -15 FRAR 1b and a -15 BRAR +10 FRAR cf player when a +15 BRAR +2 FRAR cf is also available. The 3rd player is clearly the best of the 3, yet he is useless if the starting cf is +20 BRAR +3 FRAR. If our focus is winning the ballgame, the fact that the 3rd player is more deserving won't matter, but is it?

Good comment Telnar. It's true, if say there is a really weak crop of catchers, it might be worthwhile to select 3 or 4 of them so they can be pinch-hit for every time. But, yes, that is the best way to construct a roster for victory.

However, if there are only two (or even sometimes three) players that can play the position, a lot of times the back-up will come up to bat once (usually in a lower leverage situation) so there's still a place for CF #3.

Overall it's a still balancing act because the goals are not totally aligned (though they're a lot more aligned than most managers realize). In roster selection I'd say pick the best players, and err on the side of guys who help with strategy. In the game I'd say manage to win, and err on the side of getting more guys in the game.

Oops, I slightly misread your comment. Yeah, if there is an MVP CF already on the team, then the +15 BRAR +3 FRAR CF is not as valuable as the +25 BRAR -10 FRAR 1B. Not much room for a good-field, no-hit CF on that team either.

Sky, I think you've got the right basic idea for balancing the selection process in the direction of deserving players rather than optimal players. One way to do that would be to reduce the number of picks that the manager gets and then let him make optimal picks.

The alternative (selecting a team for maximum chance of winning) leads a surprisingly large amount of distortion. The right fraction of 1B/DH types on a one game 33 man roster is a lot higher than on a 162 game 25 man roster (since, as you pointed out, it would be easy to carry 3 or 4 good field no hit players at a position or two without a dominant player and then pinch-hit for them every AB). I don't really want to see an all star team with 20 position players broken down as 3 C, 3 SS (1 of whom can cover 2B/3B if there's an injury), 8 1B/DH, 4OF, 1 2B and 1 3B, yet that might well be the right way to set up the team if none of the best candidates to pinch-hit is a good fielder (7 chances to pinch-hit isn't an unrealistically large number between the pitcher slot and pulling the C/SS anytime there's decent leverage -- e.g. not just with RISP, but also when leading off an inning).