Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller banter about a possible banter shortage, a mysterious sack of flour from 1971, the kinds of baseball stories being published in the absence of baseball, the greatness (and eye-popping pitcher usage) of the 2001 World Series, the October travails of Charlie Leibrandt, and how MLB should approach planning for the start of the season, then answer listener emails about how to reward true talent in a shortened season, whether the Mendoza Line needs a new name, whether the White Sox are the most cursed team, and whether rules changes should be agreed to far in advance, plus a Stat Blast about the most lopsided WAR league leaders, a team of unlikely MVP vote-getters, and the odd diet of Ski Melillo.
- Experimental rules for a short season: Should we fight the chaos or revel in it?
- Renaming the Mendoza Line
- Most lopsided WAR league leaders
- Mediocre St. Louis Browns 1926 MVP vote recipients
- Ski Melillo spinach diet
- Are the White Sox the most cursed team?
- Introducing rule changes with long lead time
- Running out of banter
- Things that would have gone viral had social media existed at the time
- Sack of flour falling from the sky onto a Dodgers game
- Free rein to write weird stories
- Pitchers returning with no rest in the 2001 World Series
- The tragedy of Charlie Leibrandt in the World Series
- The plan to play baseball in Arizona
- The Stat Blast theme is a barbershop quartet version performed by Michael Mountain, who previously appeared on the podcast for visiting all the ballparks in a short time.
- Sam looks at seasons where one league's best player was far worse than the best player from the other league.
- In 2018, Christian Yelich was the NL WAR leader, tied with Alex Bregman, who was 7th in the AL, so this happened quite recently.
- 1926 rookie Paul Waner led the NL with 5.4 WAR, which is easily the lowest WAR ever to lead a league, even including the strike-shortened seasons. Next closest are Brooks Robinson (1962, 6.1 WAR) and Giancarlo Stanton (2014, 6.5 WAR).
- 1926 Paul Waner's record low WAR is also worst by comparison, since his AL counterpart was Babe Ruth, whose 11.4 WAR was more than double Waner's. This wasn't even Ruth's best year, but he had an OPS of 1.253. Waner had the eight highest WAR overall.
- 1962 Brooks Robinson's NL counterpart was Willie Mays (10.5 WAR) and was fourth overall.
- 2014 Giancarlo Stanton's AL counterpart was Mike Trout (7.7 WAR) and was fourth overall.
- Honorable mention goes to 1923, which was Babe Ruth's best year (14.1 WAR). His NL counterpart was Frankie Frisch (7.0 WAR), sixth overall.
- Waner and Frisch took advantage of the two years Rogers Hornsby was sick or injured. Normally, Hornsby posted fantastic WAR numbers opposite Ruth. He has the seven highest NL WARs in the 1920s, and also has ninth.
At this point, Sam abandons the original question and starts his own topic.
- In the AL in 1926, 23 hitters got MVP votes. Five played for the St. Louis Browns:
- Harry Rice (RF, 3.1 WAR, OPS+ 112), plausible
- Marty McManus (3B, 2.4 WAR, OPS+ 98), dubious
- Baby Doll Jacobson (CF, 1.2 WAR, OPS+ 102)
- Wally Gerber (SS, −0.4 WAR, SLG .290, OPS+ 62)
- Ski Melillo (2B, −0.1 WAR, OPS+ 67, 99 games), injured for part of the season, more on that later.
- The Browns weren't even good, coming in seventh of eight teams.
- Ski Melillo's SABR bio begins "It sounds like a parody of Popeye, but the doctor was deadly serious when he told Oscar Melillo in 1926 that if he wanted to live he could eat nothing but spinach." Sam thinks this may be his favorite opening sentence of a SABR bio.
- Melillo was put on the unusual diet as the result of a kidney disease, from which he recovered.
- Melillo's spinach diet predated Popeye by three years and may have been the inspiration for the character.
- Josh: The question is in response to the recent conversations about a possibly shortened season, and how that would make the outcomes even more noisy than usual, relative to true talent. If there were temporary rule changes put in place in a much-abbreviated season to try and better reward the good teams, what would they be? (This is assuming that anyone would want to reduce the chaos. I don't think I would, but back to the question.) I think you all recently discussed a question about restarting the batting order every inning, but wouldn't that just reward star players more than talent throughout the roster? It seems like most rule changes would disproportionately benefit certain segments of a roster (top three hitters, starting pitchers, relief pitchers), so that instead of rewarding the better all-around teams it would just benefit teams strong in that particular area. Would we then need to put in a suite of rules to reward the best teams, or are there some rules you all could think of that would have a broader impact? In general, I'm a fan of chaos in baseball, and wouldn't even mind a little more of it, but I thought it was an interesting thought experiment.
- Marty: During this pandemic my son (13) and I decided to go old school and make our own team names (the Minnesota Duplicates, for example) and draft rosters based on the baseball cards of my youth (70s mostly). This led to some interesting conversations and laughs. I mean, we found guys named Boots and Bombo, for example. There were guys with horrible stats and goofy looking pictures. One we ran across was the infamous Mario Mendoza who I promptly told Parker, "That's the guy! It was named after him! The Mendoza line!" Parker was immediately interested and promptly flipped the card over to be disappointed that Mario actually was a .215 lifetime hitter. It seemed to be all a lie. I mean, it's not .201 or .202... he actually hit 15 points higher than the thing he is known for. I tried to reassure him when a few cards later I found Luis Gomez, who at the time the card was printed was a .199 lifetime hitter. I immediately told Parker from this point forward it shall be known as the Gomez Line in this household. That lasted 3 minutes until I found out Gomez actually batted .210 by the end of his career, closer than Mendoza to the Mendoza Line, but still significantly ahead of the alleged number. I really have 2 questions, of the utmost importance: (1) Should the Mendoza Line be officially moved to .215? After all, that was the average of the guy the thing was named for. The Gettysburg address is not called the Philadelphia address, because they were relatively close. You get my drift. (2) How many players hit exactly .200 (with some minimum requirements, maybe 500 PAs for example) and should this honor be renamed after one of those players?
- C.J. (Patreon): Something that crosses my mind once every in a while is how the MLB is unique from the other Big 4 sports in that there are 2 winners of each award (one for the AL and one for the NL) while the others award one winner for the entire league. So if the same thing happened in the NBA, they'd have one winner for the Eastern Conference and one for the Western. This notably crossed my mind midway through last season when there was such a talented crop of rookies in the National League, but no one really standing out in the AL -- before Yordan Alvarez burst on to the scene. At a certain point, there were probably three or four rookies in the NL who were better than the AL's best. It got me thinking about the greatest discrepancies in WAR between the award winners in each league. I understand that this could maybe cause some difficulties since the WAR leader doesn't necessarily win the award, but I guess I'm mostly wondering if there was a year when one league's top players were far more valuable than the other's. Such as, how many players in one league had a WAR that was higher than the other league's top total.
- Kory: Given that two of the three maybe most promising White Sox seasons in my lifetime (the last 30 years) were cancelled / delayed for some reason (1994, 2005, 2020), are the White Sox the most cursed team in Major League Baseball? Extra points: Never made a wild card, haven't been in the postseason in consecutive seasons, are owned by Jerry Reinsdorf.
- Dario in Canberra, Australia: With major rule changes, should they be agreed-to but not be implemented in the majors for eight years or so in advance? The idea being that you implement them in the low minors immediately and then gradually at higher levels. I know we always want reform to happen instantly but this would allow young players to get used to the rules, older players would not need to worry about them and we can work out the kinks along the way. It also helps bring along the sceptics, like me!
- Sam forgot to take off his vest and is afraid that doing so during the recording will be audible.
- Ben can still interview people and answer emails, but he's "running on fumes" for banter topics since there's nothing going on that he can react to.
- Sam wrote an article (linked below) on each team's most social media-friendly event before the advent of social media.
- Sam wasn't sure if he should pick the sack of flour incident, but Pedro Moura's article sealed it with its plot twist: People in the stadium missed the event, distracted by a chicken on the field, but with the passage of time, everybody remembers the flour, but nobody remembers the chicken. "The chicken is the opposite of the Sinbad genie movie": Something that actually occurred but nobody remembers. (Sam acknowledges the podcast Hang Up and Listen, which did an Afterball about the sack of flour incident several years back.)
- Editors will take articles about anything. Baseball writers are digging into their tickler files, writing stories on topics no matter how weird.
- Ben notes that mysteries are harder to generate nowadays because somebody would have captured it on a cell phone.
- Sam's family has been baking during quarantine and ran out of flour. He recently acquired a 50-pound bag of flour.
- Ben understands why the chicken faded from memory. Wildlife on the field does occur occasionally, so it's not as notable, and adding a chicken to the story would take it from weird to farce.
- Sam has an artificial metric he needs to hit with his article, so he asks everybody to read it.
- In the 2001 World Series, Byung-hyun Kim gave up a game-winning home run on his 61st pitch of the outing. Despite that, he threw the very next day and gave up a game-winning home run on his 15th pitch.
- In the same series Randy Johnson started Game 6 and threw 104 pitches over seven innings, then returned in Game 7 to throw two more innings for the win and the MVP. What Sam finds remarkable about this is that the Diamondbacks were winning Game 6 12–0 after three innings and 15–0 after four innings, but he stayed in the game and threw "70 entirely unnecessary pitches". Sam figures that the Diamondbacks were utterly sure they wouldn't need him in Game 7, but they did!
- Ben notes that Randy Johnson from 1999 to 2002 outpitched anyone else by 111 innings, not even counting his 56 postseason innings. "He was just a machine."
- Sam has been reviewing old World Series, and he is always struck by the phenomenon of the pitcher who was doing well, but was left in too long, does poorly, and becomes the goat. Sam calls out Charlie Leibrandt as an examplar.
- In the 1985 World Series, Charlie Leibrandt takes a shutout into the ninth inning of Game 2. The team's ace closer is ready in the bullpen, but the manager leaves him in. He gives up four runs for the loss. In his next start (Game 6), he takes a scoreless tie through seven innings, the manager lets him bat in a high leverage situation (he strikes out), and then he gives up the go-ahead run.
- In the 1991 World Series, Leibrandt starts Game 1 and does well until he gives up a 3-run home run in the fifth and earns the loss. In Game 6, he enters in relief to face Kirby Puckett, who hits a walk-off home run. This particular loss follows him.
- In the 1992 World Series, Leibrandt enters Game 6 in the 10th inning and pitches a clean inning. In the 11th inning, he allows the winning run and takes the loss.
- Leibrandt had a 3.77 career postseason ERA. By comparison, Jack Morris's postseason ERA is 3.80, yet Morris is in the Hall of Fame. Leibrandt has the 14th worst championship WPA ever (fifth worst among pitchers). Leibrandt pitched consistently and well, but circumstances conspired against him.
- Ben doesn't want to talk about the idea of playing baseball in Arizona (which was mocked by most observers), but he is glad that baseball is exploring its options, even if some of them sound dumb. (Though perhaps they shouldn't have leaked the dumb ones.) Sam compares this to Bill Gates's plan to develop seven different coronavirus vaccines even if six of them turn out to be duds.
- Sam says that if your goal was to counteract the increased effect of luck in a short season, then he proposes using run differential instead of win/loss record to establish the winner, since run differential is a stronger indicator of true talent. The side effect is that teams would have incentive to run up the score, which would be exhausting: Teams would still be playing hard in blowout games, either to prevent it from blowing out even more, or to pad the lead.
- Sam's compromise proposal is to stick with win/loss record, but a one-run or extra-inning victory counts for only half a win.
- When reading Marty's question, Ben misread the sentence "It was named after him" as "I was named after him," and Sam got excited thinking that Marty was named after Mario Mendoza.
- Sam recalls a line in Lords of the Realm, where one player says "Half the league's sons are going to have the middle name Marvin," in tribute to Marvin Miller. He wants to go back and see if anyone actually did that.
- Sam says that focusing on Mario Mendoza's final career batting average is missing the point. It'd be as if the town of Gettysburg changed its name, and you renamed the Gettysburg Address to match the new name. The town was named Gettysburg at the time of the address, and that's what you name it after. Mario Mendoza through 1978 was a .205 career hitter, but in 1979 he had a bad slump and struggled to make .200. It was Mendoza's 1979 fight to get back to .200 that the Mendoza line is named after. The nickname was invented by his teammates to tease him.
- Ben wonders if there was a player who batted consistently close to .200 for their entire career. Sam points out that Mendoza himself fits the bill: His batting averages for his first six seasons were .221, .180, .185, .198, .218, .198.
- Ben notes that Drew Butera is the current guardian of the Mendoza Line, with a to-date career batting average of .200.
- Sam finds that among position players batting between .195 and .205, Jeff Mathis (.195) has the most plate appearances (2938). Mike Zunino (.202) is 550 PA behind and could overtake him.
- Ben notes that Kory doesn't even mention the Black Sox scandal, which would have added points to the "cursed franchise" tally.
- Ben thinks Kory's onto something. The White Sox don't derive any of the sympathy or mythology of the Cubs or Red Sox droughts, even though theirs was longer than the Red Sox drought. Even if you are "the cursed team" you get some attention for being the cursed team, but the White Sox don't even get that! They may have been overshadowed by their crosstown Cubs.
- Sam thinks the reason is that the Cubs and Red Sox had legendary curses, but the White Sox drought didn't have a curse attached to it. Ben notes, "In a way, that's the worst curse of all!" You're just a bad team, and you can't even romanticize it.
- Ben thinks that White Sox fans are justifiable upset that their drought-breaking World Series is not seared into the collective baseball memory. Perhaps because it was a sweep and wasn't particularly exciting. The Red Sox 2004 win was also a sweep, but the ALCS was exciting. The White Sox weren't interesting when they were losing, and they weren't interesting when they were winning.
- Sam wonders whether Cubs and Red Sox fans are missing the feeling of being the cursed team and having everybody feeling bad for them.
- Ben reminds us that Dario was the listener in Episode 1344 who decided to abstain from baseball for the 2019 offseason.
- Sam says, "Imagine if he had [done this in 2020], he turns on the game on opening day, and it's Judge Judy."
- Ben thinks Dario's proposal is similar to how the players union sells out minor leaguers. In this case, Rob Manfred gets a rule change through without opposition from the players, because it won't affect them.
- Sam thinks it will go the opposite way. A rule introduced at the major league level is immediately credible, but a rule change at lower levels will be stigmatized as a "rule for kids" or a "gimmick", and minor leaguers might think "I can't wait to make the majors where they play by real rules."
- Ben counters that baseball is already following Dario's plan, introducing things like automated ball/strike calls and pitch clocks at lower levels. Then again, it's not like players, once they make the majors, say "Man, I miss that pitch clock," or sit on a plane and says, "Man, I miss riding the bus."
- Episode 1525: Hey All You Cool Sacks and Chickens
- The night a sack of flour fell from the sky at Dodger Stadium by Pedro Moura
- From MLB's wildest day to the Astros' scandal: The most meme-worthy moments ever for all 30 teams by Sam Miller
- MLB’s COVID-19 Plan Doesn’t Consider Everybody’s Safety by Zach Kram, on baseball in Arizona
- Baseball in Arizona: Could it Work? by Ben Clemens
- Stat Blast song covers thread on Facebook