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Summary[]

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about the fallout from Robinson Cano’s 80-game suspension, the league’s latest adjustment to Shohei Ohtani, Jason Castro’s injury and Willians Astudillo’s opportunity, and the resurgent Jordan Lyles, then answer listener emails about the topsy-turvy National League, the evolution of orthodoxy about bullpens, the impact of Willson Contreras on Cubs pitchers, preemptive PRP treatments, a Yankees and Padres roster-swap, streakers helping pitchers warm up, detecting called strikes by sound, expected prospect value and Mike Sirotka vs. Michael Soroka, the correlation between double plays and team success, Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, a pitcher who watches the wave, a player who always makes outs on the bases, sabermetric bar debates and advanced milestone stats, and judging players by their eras’ standards, plus a Stat Blast about bunting success.

Topics[]

  • Unexpected NL contenders
  • Changing ideas about how and when to build a bullpen
  • Willson Contreras' framing and impact on Cubs' pitchers
  • Hypothetical roster swaps
  • Mandating PRP injections for pitchers
  • Bunting success
  • Mookie Betts' home run clustering
  • Hypothetical player who never stops running
  • Sound of a strike
  • Double plays and team success
  • Using fan distractions to give pitchers more warp-up time
  • Pitchers using The Wave to distract batters
  • Identifying 'fun' sabermetric stats and milestones
  • WAR expectations for prospects
  • Judging players on expectations from different eras

Banter[]

  • Robinson Cano's 80-game suspension for a diuretic used to mask PEDs.
  • Cano's Hall of Fame chances, career trajectory, contract value, and impact on the Mariners' season.
  • Jason Castro has undergone season ending surgery. This gives Willians Astudillo a chance at the Twins' major league catching job.
  • Shohei Ohtani's adjustment to inside pitches.
  • Jordan Lyles took a perfect game into the 8th inning against the Rockies.

Email Questions[]

  • Roland: "With the Yankees scraping past the Red Sox, the American League seems to be shaping up as expected - not exactly, but there are no real surprises here. Most predictions had NYY and BOS both vying, but NYY just edging it; CLE the only team in ALC to be worth a damn; ALW running HOU-LAA-SEA. The National League, however, seems to be all over the place. Compared to most predictions it seems like random shuffling. I appreciate it is only May, the sample is small and the season is long. Also, as discussed, it is more statistically unlikely that predictions end up being correct than otherwise. Is it unusual, however, for one league to be so out of kilter relative to the other? Is there a reason why? Or is it simply that this is an outlying snapshot and things will soon randomise/revert?"
  • Matthew: "For many years the prevailing wisdom was that bullpens were things that were best cobbled together during the regular season.  Smart writers would ridicule teams that expended scarce resources in trading for what were sarcastically called Proven Closers, and those teams would be compared unfavorably with those teams that tried out some no-name pitchers during the course of the season and for whom the unit gelled.  A few years ago that narrative changed.  And now we have reached a point where bullpens are assessed and ranked preseason, and where the expectations for teams are based, in part, upon the expectation that a bullpen can be built in the preseason in a way that the team can realistically rely on (at least as well as a team can assemble a lineup or a rotation). So my questions are: Is my recollection wrong, or has there been a change in the sabermetric prevailing wisdom?  If the latter, is this based on superior metrics or data measurement that enable teams and analysts to review relievers in a way that could not be done before? Or is there something else that is going on?"
  • Matt: "I'm flummoxed by how bad the Cubs pitchers have been recently. Quintana and Darvish have been down right bad and Hendricks - while still good - is not what he once was. Lester is also running into problems regularly in later innings..Chatwood is also sort of a mess. The starters FIP is all over 4 and, other then Chatwood, is all over 4.5. Quintana and Darvish have a FIP over 5. We have four arguably top 20 pitchers (three of them were top 10 in WAR in 2016) who now suddenly really suck and everyone can seem to hit. I've been wondering about why - could it be the new pitching coach Jim Hickey? But that doesn't make sense to me as he was great in Tampa Bay and Cubs pitching had issues last year as well (under Bosworth). Then I came across this ranking of Contreras framing - via some comments during an Athletic chat with Savdev Sharma. Check it out. He's the worst in baseball at -5.7 FRAA Adj, twice as bad as Chris Iannetta who is also terrible (-2.5). And this comes after he made a big deal about a new approach for framing - earlier this year - that would solve the problem. See article about that. His approach was suspect to me (just doing what he did before) and anyway, he's gotten much worse at it. I wonder if this framing is a factor for the pitching? In thinking about it, we have three pitchers who are very dependent on getting close calls for success as they don't have a lot of velocity - Quintana, Hendricks and Lester. This might not matter for Darvish (who has some velocity) and not for Chatwood (who does not have much command of where his pitches actually go). I watched the last few games and Contreras' glove is all over the place - he seems terrible at catching pitches. I also wonder about his pitch calling (maybe the fact that he can't go to the mound repeatedly is hurting him). HIs arm is so great I always thought of of him as an outstanding catcher outside of hitting but maybe that is not the case.  Anyway, curious as to what you guys think."
  • Ryan: "What would the response be if the baseball gods decreed that the Yankees and Padres must swap their entire rosters overnight? Let’s suppose this includes all minor leaguers in the systems. Would Yankee fans decide that the new Padres were the real Yankees and support those players over the new Yankees? Would they instead root for the laundry, and suddenly Franchy Cordero is the most popular player in the Bronx? Would the Yankees attempt to trade prospects for more established players? Would the Padres be compelled to trade high priced players to trim the payroll? How would the media coverage of both teams be affected, and how would it alter the pennant races?"
  • Joe: "I was thinking about how pitcher injuries can occur so suddenly. Would it serve teams well to provide their pitchers with annual platelet rich plasma injections or annual stem cell injections into the elbow? I have no idea how invasive these procedures are or how long the recovery takes. I would think this might impact their off-season workout regiment.  They could get it done at the end of the regular or postseason and then get back into the swing of things, assuming they take a couple weeks off from baseball activities anyhow. Will you please ask one of your baseball doctor friends who has an idea about these things?"     
  • Reid: "Listening to the Red Sox game and once again Mookie Betts, aka East-Coast Mike Trout, has a three homer game for the second time this season. My completely subjective sense is that he tends to cluster his home runs substantially more often than other players. This seems to be backed up by the fun fact that with this game he surpassed Ted Williams for the franchise lead in 3+ HR games. My question is, does Mookie Betts hit a disproportionate amount of his home runs in multi-HR games, and if so does this raise or lower his value as a player over the course of a season? My second question is, if Mookie Betts is not East-Coast Mike Trout, who is?"
  • Adam: "Could Mike Trout still be an positive WAR player if he got TOOTBLAN'd every time he reached base?"
  • CJ: "How valuable would a player be if he always got hits but never stopped running? No homers, of course, but any ball he puts in play is a hit of some kind. But he never stops at first, or second, or third. He keeps going until he either gets tagged out or scores an inside the park home run. In the event he hits a ground rule double or the ball is thrown out of play, he'll stop running, but he'll immediately start running again as soon as the pitcher gets the ball. He also says "vroom vroom" every time he touches a base for added strategic value. My gut instinct is that this player would be valuable, but I'm not sure. Are guaranteed RBIs worth guaranteed outs? Would VV be valuable enough to offset the insanity he'd bring to his team's fans?"
  • Spencer: "I like to watch games with the park audio overlay feature of MLB.tv enabled. When I am working on other tasks (ie. not watching the video), I like to think I have a decent sense of what happened on a play based on just that park audio. Most of the time this is because of sounds external to the play, like the sound of the crowd or the umpire making a call. However, I also feel like I am getting better at hearing balls and strikes. Specifically, it feels like pitches that are called strikes have a different sound signature than pitches that are called balls. Obviously this is excluding swinging strikes and pitches in the dirt that aren't really caught. Is there anything to this? Are either of you aware of any research on how the sound of a caught pitch affects how it is called, and if there is, does that have a noticeable effect on a catcher's framing ability?"
  • Jenny: "I have had this question for a while: Is there a correlation between double plays and how good a team is? A few years back, someone asked Rangers Manager Ron Washington how he feels about the Rangers successfully turning a lot of double plays in the context of it being a good thing, and his response was “That tells me we’re letting too many guys get on base”. It made me wonder if there is something to that. Is it a sign of something negative? or is it just situational? (i.e. Perez is an extreme ground ball pitcher and can induce the double play)"
  • Chris: "I was watching the Boston at Toronto game, and a Jay's fan ran onto the field. This was after Smoak homered off Price in the sixth and allowed Carson Smith to warm up and replace Price before another at bat could occur. This was obviously an advantage for the Sox and it got me wondering - how many times could a team have a hired fan storm the field to get such an advantage before the league noticed? How much would this be worth in the postseason? Where would you recruit people for this? What if the Braves used the Freeze for a distraction?"
  • Mike: "I was at the Red Sox game last night (May 1) against the Royals and in the 8th inning saw what could (should?!?!) be a new strategy for pitchers to take advantage of distracted batters. Just before Perez (I think) stole third and Jay (also, I think) got caught in a rundown, Matt Barnes watched the wave. From appearances he watched it go around, cross home plate, and continue. He watched and he waited. Then he watched the wave go by AGAIN and at the perfect moment got into his delivery and pitched, timing it so that the wave was behind him, right in the batter's eye. Since it was a night game, people were sitting in all the bleacher seats, no carved out black tarp zone. I don't think I've ever seen a pitcher take advantage of the wave before. If this isn't common, should it be?"
  • Henry: "I've been meaning to write since your recent disavowal of "milestone stats." I'm an old fan, completely converted to new statistics. Yes, RBI, Wins, and other counting stats are deeply flawed, ERA and Batting Average can be red herrings, but they are easy stats, and their application in ballpark, break room, and barroom arguments is fun. WAR is not fun - different formulas, opaque math, and shifting figures make it too easy to dismiss with beer in hand. So, which advance stats have the best potential to be fun? What stats do you look at when you want to convince your buddy that your team's guy is better than his team's guy? Or when a new team comes to town and you want to see how their big boppers are doing this season? Goldschmidt only has 11 RBI... but it's much more interesting that he's 44 points off his career OPS+. Is that where you go? And what do you use for career arguments? If we don't use Home runs, Wins, or even no-hitters, what should the Cooperstown stats be? What would you put on the plaques, since WAR might change and that would be awkward if it was in bronze?"
  • William: "There has been a lot of research about the low odds of a prospect realizing his potential in the Major Leagues. Talk about Atlanta Brave pitching prospect Mike Soroka has me thinking about the similarly-named former White Sox pitcher Mike Sirotka. As a reminder to the latter's case, Sirotka pitched five years for the White Sox (three as a starter) and accumulated just under 10 WAR before being traded to the White Sox (with parts) to the Toronto Blue Jays for David Wells (and parts). Almost immediately following the trade, damage to Sirotka's throwing shoulder was revealed that ended his career. The Blue Jays filed a grievance and Bud Selig took over a dozen pages to literally say the words caveat emptor. White Sox GM Kenny Williams was quoted as saying he was "pleased with the outcome." With this background, if Soroka pitched 5 years for 10 WAR before being traded for a solid player and promptly retired (wouldn't want to wish injury on anyone), would the Braves be pleased with the outcome? How high does a prospect have to be on a list for 10 WAR over five years be a disappointment? That's more than double Tim Beckham's career WAR, for a modern comparison. I guess what I would be interested in knowing is exactly how disparate a front office's measure of success is versus the casual fan of a club."
  • Andrew: "Let's say one day during a play index you find a player named Johnny 'Can't close' Jenkins. This guy pitched 12 seasons in the early 1900's. He had a middling ERA and win-loss numbers, so nobody thought he was all that special, though he did have competitive innings totals. What you discover about this guy was that he'd absolutely fall apart in the eighth and ninth, hence the nickname. However, he was lights out before then. So much so that you figure if he pitched during an era when pitchers weren't always expected to go the whole game, he might be a hall of famer. Does this guy have a hall of fame case for being born in the wrong era and/or misused? Or do you always have to be evaluated against usage patterns and expectations of your era?"

Stat Blast[]

Percentage of bunts that stay fair

  • Cody Bellinger bunted on a 3-0 pitch recently. He ignored the take sign, presumably seeing an opportunity to beat the shift. He failed to reach base.
  • The last player to bunt on a 3-0 count was... Cody Bellinger! He did the same thing last year. Over his career so far, Bellinger has been 6 for 9 on bunt attempts that stay fair.
  • The only other 3-0 bunt last year was from Brandon Belt. He bunted foul. Curiously, this bunt attempt was made before Belligner's, but the announcer said, "Belt taking a page out of the Cody Bellinger play book," referring to an event that hadn't yet occurred!
  • Jeff looks into what percentage of bunt attempts stay fair, going back to 2008. Jeff counted foul bunts and missed bunts as attempts. He didn't count bunt attempts that were pulled back, treating them the same as check swings (i.e., not a swing at all).
  • In 2008, 48% of bunt attempts were bunted fair. The percentage was 50% for the next three years, and then dipped slightly to 47-48% for the next three years after that.
  • In 2016, the rate had fallen to 45%. In 2017, it was 46%.
  • In 2018 so far, the rate of fair bunts is down to 43%.
  • You might have expected bunting to improve because people are trying to attack the shift, but in fact it's getting harder.
  • Jeff figures this is because pitchers are getting better, and they are throwing fewer fastballs (which are the easiest to bunt).

Notes[]

Robinson Cano

  • Jeff doesn't care about the Hall of Fame, so he can skip all the articles about how the suspension affects Cano's Hall of Fame changes. "Frees up some time in my day."
  • Jeff thinks that within the next 10 years, because of an influx of younger voters, the Hall of Fame will have known PED users elected.
  • Jeff quips, "he is ineligible for playoff participation much like the Mariners for the past 16 years."
  • Jeff considers it an odd loophole that time spent on the DL counts retroactively toward the suspension.
  • Ben notes that Cano has no reason to take PEDs. He is one of the top players in the game and has $300 million of guaranteed money. One possible story is that he started before he became a star. Ben doesn't think it's likely.

Willians Astudillo

  • Jason Castro's injury brings Willians Astudillo to the cusp of being a major league catcher with the Twins, behind new starting catcher Mitch Garver and backup Bobby Wilson.
  • Jeff is excited about this potential as is Ben, who selected him in the Episode 1166 2018 Minor League Free Agent Draft.

Shohei Ohtani

  • Pitchers started out throwing Shohei Ohtani a very high percentage of inside pitches: 49.2%, highest among left-handed batters.
  • Since May 1, Ohtani has seen only 18.1% inside pitches, the lowest percentage among left-handed batters.
  • Ben is astonished that the pendulum has swung so hard so fast.
  • Ben and Jeff jokingly give obvious advice: Mix it up!

Jordan Lyles

  • Jeff is amused that, among pitchers with at least 300 batters faced last year, Jordan Lyles had fifth worst OPS allowed. "He's bad!"
  • Jeff didn't event realize that Lyles was in the Padres starting rotation. Jeff says that Lyles's performance is part on him and part on the fact that the Rockies are bad.
  • Jeff remarks that the entire NL West is pretty bad this year.

Why the NL is so topsy-turvy this year

  • Ben doesn't think the imbalance means much. He welcomes the instability, since people had worried that it would be a totally predictable season.
  • Jeff reminds us that in 2015, we had the reverse: By mid-season, the NL was aligned with predictions, but the AL was almost the opposite of what was predicted.
  • Jeff says that even at mid-season, the projections still carry more weight than the actual standings.

Conventional wisdom on building a bullpen

  • Jeff doesn't think reliever performance is sustainable from year to year, partly due to small sample size. For example, last year, A.J. Minter threw 15 innings with 2 walks and 26 strikeouts. "Absurdly good!" So far this year, in 17 innings, he has 12 walks and 15 strikeouts. "Boring! Bad reliever!"
  • Jeff thinks "it's dangerous to invest in non-elite relievers before the season."
  • Jeff fells that there is less consistency year-to-year in reliever performance. There is a stronger correlation between first-half and second-half performance that can be relied on more when building a bullpen.

Cubs pitching woes blamed on framing

  • Baseball Savant says that the Cubs have been getting 45% called strike calls on borderline cases, fourth worst in MLB, which averages 48%. Jeff thinks that catcher Wilson Contreras is a factor, but most of their woes are on the pitchers.
  • Ben notes that the framing component of Baseball Prospectus's "Deserved Run Average" calculates that the Cubs pitchers have been among those who have lost the most runs to framing, but adding up across their rotation totals to only one loss. So while it's true that the Cubs pitchers are suffering from bad framing, Ben agrees that the effect is small, and the problem is in the pitchers.

Yankees and Padres swapping teams entirely

  • Jeff: "I'd be furious if this happened at 11pm."
  • Jeff reasserts that we root for laundry. "This would, of course, be the greatest test of that in baseball history."
  • Jeff notes that that Padres would likely trade most of the expensive players back to the Yankees because they can't afford them. Ben agrees that the Padres would have to trade away a lot of guys.
  • As for media response, Jeff has no idea. He figures he and Ben and everyone else would write an article that just said, "What?!"
  • Ben figures that the Yankees would recover after a few years because the Padres farm system is pretty good. They also would have a low payroll and could afford to buy talent back. But the fans would not be happy.
  • Ben wonders if this would be an exception for rooting for laundry. Would Yankee fans start rooting for the Padres?
  • Jeff imagines that the Padres could conceivably realize "The rest of the division is terrible, we can win this" and keep all the expensive players, at least for one year. On the other hand, the Yankees would immediately start trading their good prospects to accumulate talent, and he wonders how quickly they could recover. (Tricky because the players the Yankees most want are now on the Padres, who are holding onto them for a pennant run.) Returning to reality, this makes Jeff wonder how quickly the Padres could get a lot better by trading away their young talent.

Pre-emptive pitcher treatments

  • Ben calls upon exercise physiologist Corey Dawkins who used to cover injuries at Baseball Prospectus and now works for Baseball Injury Consultants.
  • Corey says, "It's a good idea, but ultimately I don't think it will work." (1) The injections are an invasive procedure, which makes it hard to sell to players. (2) PRP and stem cells are promising but nowhere near close to guaranteed effectiveness. (3) Effectiveness varies depending on the nature of the injury, and we don't know exactly how. (4) Players would most likely have to take 8-12 weeks off before beginning a weightlifting or throwing program.
  • "In summary, I think not knowing the effectiveness sweet spot and the downtime would make it very difficult for players to agree to it."
  • Jeff quips that we could gather more data by mandating that everybody undergo it!

Vroom Vroom Guy

  • Jeff decides that the Vroom Vroom Guy who never stops running would be most valuable as a pinch hitter in high leverage situations. "He would be a very valuable and infuriating weapon off the bench."
  • After only two minutes of discussion, Ben says, "I love the Vroom Vroom Guy."
  • Vroom Vroom Guy developed into a podcast folk hero, with many subsequent references.

Hearing balls and strikes

  • Ben prefaces Spencer's question by saying, "Spencer is either brilliant or completely deluded. I don't know which."
  • Ben thinks that balls and strikes sound different because of the way they land in the catcher's mitt. Catching the ball in the pocket, either as a result of being in the strike zone or locating the pitch well, would result in a more defined 'pop'.
  • Sam used to claim that he could tell whether a coin was heads or tails based on the sound of it landing, "which to me," says Ben, "is more far-fetched than Spencer here."
  • Jeff notes that if Spencer can hear balls and strikes, then he can hear pitch types (fastball, curve ball, etc.) because fastballs are more likely to be cleanly caught. Jeff extrapolates this to mean that Spencer can hear grips, which means he can hear catcher signals.
  • Ben mentions crack of the bat research from Episode 519 and beep baseball from Episode 1080. Jeff notes that Vroom Vroom Guy would also excel at beep baseball.

Double plays as an indicator

  • Ben found that over the last ten years, the correlation between total double plays and team winning percentage is −0.19 (weak inverse correlation). A team with lots of double plays likely has a good middle infield, but on the other hand is also allowing lots of baserunners. Jeff adds that it also means that they have pitchers who allow more contact.
  • Jeff found that the teams with the fewest double plays over the past three years are the Yankees, Dodgers, and Cubs.

Hired fans on the field to delay the game

  • Jeff notes that you can't use the same fan over and over again (much less the Freeze in full costume). That would give it away.
  • At best, the league could find circumstantial evidence that the team is behind it and ask them to stop. Jeff wonders if fans would take the initiative and do it on their own with tacit approval of the team. Would fans of the visiting team travel to the game to support their team in this way?
  • As for whether it's an advantage, Jeff emphatically says "No", it wouldn't matter much at all. "But it would be funny."
  • Ben notes that it is not common that a team is caught without a reliever ready when they need one.

Pitchers exploiting the wave

  • Ben says, "I want this to be true. I want to watch this." Jeff tries to find video of the pitch. Unfortunately, the camera angle doesn't reveal where the wave is, although the audio makes it clear that the wave is definitely in progress.
  • Jeff thinks the effect is negligible, but he would love for a pitcher to adopt it as a quirk. It would be most effective on weekend games when there's a larger crowd.
  • Ben notes that if a pitcher became known for this, it would be a case for the fans to band together to do it.

Advanced stats in barroom arguments

  • Jeff has no way to answer this since he never talks to people about baseball in this way, particularly as an argument.
  • Ben says, "There's no way to answer this that doesn't make me sound like a soulless robot." Ben says that barroom arguments never go anywhere anyway.
  • Ben says that WAR is more of an argument-settler than old-school stats. "If I have WAR, I'm not really going to get bogged down in the RBI debate." He's likely to use OPS+, ERA+, and wRC+ since they are relatively easy to explain.
  • Listener Anthony asked if "100 WAR" will be a milestone we will ever celebrate. Ben doesn't think it's as satisfying as a counting stat, since you don't know exactly when it happens. Jeff notes that WAR can go down, and you can't "unpop the [champagne] bottle."

WAR expectations not realized

  • Jeff guesses 10 WAR over 5 years (or 12 WAR over 6 years, to cover the years a team has control over a player), that's roughly a 60th or 70th overall prospect.
  • Ben looks up on ThePointOfPittsburgh.com expected WAR for top prospects.
Rank Average expected WAR
Hitters Pitchers
 1 – 10 15.9 WAR 14.4 WAR
11 – 25 12.9 WAR  9.1 WAR
26 – 50  7.5 WAR  6.5 WAR
  • Ben notes that these are low expectations.
  • Jeff doesn't think that fans will ever understand this. For a player like Sirotka, "It would take a long time for people to reflect on that in a positive way, even if it's ultimately fine or about normal for that level of prospect."

Johnny "Can't-Close" Jenkins

  • Ben and Jeff agree that you can't evaluate players hypothetically. It's too bad for Johnny that he falls apart after 250 pitches. Jeff notes that if you consider that Johnny is hypothetically pulled after seven innings, then you have to consider hypotheticals like "What if Mike Trout had been drafted by the Mariners and he busted?" Mike Trout had no control over the quality of player development offered by the team that signed him, but "at the end of the day, you have to go with the performance."
  • Ben adds, "What if Johnny had to pitch against non-white-American-born players?" or "What if any washed-out starter could have been a lights-out Hall-of-Fame closers if they had closers back then." "I wouldn't put a guy in the Hall of Fame based on an alternate history." It's interesting to think about, for example, whether Andre Dawson or Jim Rice would have walked more if that had been more valued at the time. On the other hand, there were other players in that era who were indeed more patient and got those walks.
  • Jeff adds, "This is the sort of barroom conversation that's worth having," rather than "my first baseman is better than your first baseman."

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