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Summary[]

Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller banter about Johnny Vander Meer’s ear boils and the surprisingly ancient origins of the phrase, “A walk is as good as a hit,” then answer listener emails about why some players prove to be flashes in the pan, whether a home run derby would work under current conditions, whether the pandemic makes MLB expansion more or less likely, what one would learn from watching every game from an MLB season (and how one would do it), why some prospects skip Triple-A, and why we don’t talk more about the brief baseball career of Chris Saenz, plus a Stat Blast about the highest Championship Leverage Index.

Topics[]

  • Yasiel Puig and players with similar career arcs
  • Late-night games to avoid the Arizona heat
  • Condensed games
  • Home Run Derby as replacement for full games during coronavirus pandemic
  • Effect of coronavirus pandemic on likelihood of contraction/expansion
  • Highest ever Championship Leverage Index
  • Watching every game of an entire season
  • Going from AA straight to MLB
  • Is Chris Saenz underappreciated?

Banter[]

  • Johnny Vander Meer’s ear boils
  • The origin of the phrase "A walk is as good as a hit"
  • Contradictory historical advice
  • Tea and mint tea

Email Questions[]

  • Ryan (Toronto): With rumours of Puig's potential deal with the Giants in the works, I have been wondering about players with similar career arcs to Puig's. There have been a few instances over the past decade where position players have burst onto the scene and produced at Hall of Fame levels early, only to regress mightily following the first year or two due possibly to an exposed weakness or long term injury. Puig started his career with the Dodgers looking like a Bo Jackson-esqe athlete and accumulated 9.6 fWAR over the course of his first few seasons, only to accumulate 9.3 fWAR over the next five seasons. Brett Lawrie had a similar path with 7.8 fWAR over his first 168 games and, despite favourable comparisons to George Brett only 7.8 fWAR over the last 420 games of his career. What causes a career path of this nature? With the changing aging curve, are we bound to see more careers like this? Who are some other players that have had similar career paths (maybe average fWAR by year over first two years vs remainder of career)? Excluding pitchers because I assume most of those examples would be injury related.
  • Jeremy: I remember last year Sam making a comment speculating on the future of baseball in which he said, who knows, in 100 years, baseball might look more like home run derby? If that may be the only kind of baseball available to us early this summer, why not give it a try, at least in the earlier phase of restrictions being lifted? I am not much older than you all, but when I was a kid I used to watch reruns of the old black and white Home Run Derby show that was filmed back in 1960, and that included two players competing against each other in nine-inning home run hitting contests while a host interviewed each contestant and broadcast the action. It was dated, but I still loved it. My question is this: If the NBA can give HORSE a try, why can't MLB try Home Run Derby: not the modern version with lots of contestants and thousands of fans, but the old kind of one player against another for nine inning in an empty stadium? Each derby episode could be held with a minimum of people, all socially distanced: a pitcher and two hitters (perhaps all from the same team who live near their home ballpark), and some camera operators. You could use a robot ump and some kind of net for a catcher. A host could interview each player remotely. (I guess you could even use a pitching machine.) Which of us wouldn't watch this?
  • Andrew (Patreon): What are your thoughts on the likelihood of contraction, expansion, and/or relocation of teams stemming from the crisis? I feel like teams being sold is the most likely which always brings the possibility of relocation. But I've heard a few journalists suggest MLB may look to rich investors willing to pay the expansion fee to offset lost revenue. This and contraction of teams strikes me as unlikely, but curious as to what you all think.
  • Louis: You mentioned a baseball completist on today's podcast, which makes me wonder about someone sitting down and watching every game from a baseball season. By my estimation it would require watching 2,467 games (with 2019 postseason), 3 hours long, if you watched 3 games a day that would take 823 days or two and a quarter years. If a writer did this, and wrote a column on the experience, what would the takeaways from that column be? Please don't write this column, for your own sake.
  • Yitz: Why do the most minor league players usually skip triple A and go straight from double A to MLB?
  • Curt: Why isn’t Chris Saenz more of a modern folk hero? Is there anyone who has produced more WAR by appearing in only one game of "real baseball"?

Stat Blast[]

  • Today's Stat Blast cover is by Theodor Bierhoff's imaginary band Gabriel-Earnest, a power-pop cover in the style of Sloan.
    • Sam is very impressed. "This is the good stuff!" He asks for the mp3. Sam is however bothered by lead singers who are harmonizing with themselves, because it is clearly artificial.
  • Sam looks for the highest Championship Leverage Index play in history. (Hal Smith had the highest Championship Win Probability Added, as discussed in Episode 1436.) Results are linked below.
  • Championship Leverage index measures how much the championship hinges on the outcome of a single play. It measures how tense the game situation is.
  • Ben guesses the Édgar Rentería walk-off in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, which is sixth-highest. Bases loaded, two outs, tie game, bottom of the 11th.
  • Ben guesses the José Mesa blown save earlier in the same game, which is fourth-highest.
  • Sam is impressed that Ben guessed #4 and #6.
  • The highest is Eddie Murray's plate appearance in Game 7 of the 1979 World Series: Bottom of the eight, two outs, the bases loaded, down one run. He flied out. Sam says the entire series was incredible. "If I was going to write a book about a play, I would write a book about that play."
  • Sam can't believe this beats Willie McCovey's plate appearance of Game 7 of the 1962 World Series: Bottom of the ninth, two outs, runners on second and third, down one run. A hit wins the championship, and an out loses it. He lined out.
  • Sam is confused because Murray's fly out was in the eighth inning, so the result of his plate appearance doesn't end the game.
  • Sam concludes that McCovey's leverage index is lower because the roughly 10% chance of a walk has huge consequences for Murray (ties the game) but has little consequence for McCovey (loads the bases, passing leverage to the next batter).
  • If McCovey had walked, that would have created an even higher Championship Leverage Index for the the next batter, and Sam thinks McCovey should get credit for that.

Notes[]

  • Similar to Ski Melillo and his unusual diet (Episode 1525), Johnny Vander Meer underwent an old-timey medial treatment. Ben guesses it was getting intentionally stung by bees, as he and Meg discussed in Episode 1517. Sam had not heard of the the bee treatment and thought it was neat.
  • In the same season he threw two consecutive no-hitters, Johnny Vander Meer had ear boils, seven in one ear and six in the other. He spent a month of the season in the hospital and lost 15 pounds. The treatment consisted of heat lamps, antibiotics not having been available at the time.
  • Baseball Digest has temporarily made their content free during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Ben found the phrase "A walk is as good as a hit" in Arnold Hano's 1954 book A Day in the Bleachers. He found a blog post that covered the history of the phrase: Even in the 1910's the phrase was already well-known. In the 1890's it took the form "a base on balls is as good as a hit" and even then was considered old wisdom.
  • Despite the phrase being very old, the belief that a walk really is as valuable as a hit is relatively modern, taking hold only in the early 2000's when OBP became a statistic people paid attention to.
  • Sam struggles to discuss the matter without making it sound like he's just saying that people were stupid back then.
  • Sam understands why the ability to draw walks was not appreciated, since a walk looks more like a pitcher failure than a batter success. Drawing a walk looks passive and lucky.
  • Ben wonders whether crowds cheer for walks today more than they did in the past.
  • Sam notes that if a pitcher gives up a walk, people are immediately concerned. But if he gives up a hit, people aren't too worried (yet).
  • Ben notes that pitchers were encouraged to induce ground balls, and batters were also encouraged to hit ground balls. How can ground balls be good for both?
  • Sam notes that today, we have a similar paradox with respect to strikeouts.
  • Sam has a note in his tickler file to talk to Arnold Hano, who doesn't live far away from him. The book is one of the early examples of "focus on a single game of baseball" narratives. Hano and other authors of that niche genre would appear as guests in Episode 1536, an episode Sam missed.
  • When Sam reads a book, he copies favorite passages to an index card that he uses as a bookmark. When he finishes reading the book, he saves the index card.
  • Sam and Ben discover that they have the same favorite passage: "Maglie stopped running halfway to first. I said, 'Atta boy, Sal! That's saving the old wind!' Had Maglie chosen to run like all get-out down the first base line, I would have undoubtedly yelled, 'Atta boy, Sal! That's the old spirit!'"
  • At the end of the episode, Sam notes that he's become partial to juniper mint tea, especially the mint. Ben agrees that mint is great in anything.

Careers similar to Puig

  • Sam says that Ryan was very kind not to mention the ESPN franchise player draft of 2014, in which Ben chose Yasiel Puig.
  • Brent Lawrie earned high WAR due to high defensive numbers. He was a third baseman who played in the second baseman's location due to defensive shifts, which gave him "bonkers defensive credit". Ben says that the hype for Lawrie came from his sole good offensive season in which had only 150 at-bats.
  • Sam calls out Gordon Beckham as another player who arrived to great prospect fanfare and had a good rookie year, leading people to extrapolate wildly.
  • Yasiel Puig is different: Sam feels that he had good performance with a large sample size. He also defied expectations: People initially thought he was overrated, but he proved them wrong by dominating all through the minors. "Puig's career arc is unanswerably mysterious."
  • Ben was encouraged by Puig's apparently improving discipline when he chose him in 2014.
  • Sam looks at players since 2006 with the highest WAR in their first two seasons. Aside from Puig, there were Austin Jackson (who also tailed off) and Odúbel Herrera (who wasn't hyped much).
  • Ben lists various possible reasons for players to have this trajectory: Overhyped rookies, an exposed hidden weakness, an injury that that isn't readily apparent, loss of motivation, or simply peaking early.

Home Run Derby

  • Sam came up with another idea. Instead of playing in the Arizona heat, could teams play games all through the night? The first game starts at Chase Field (home of the Arizona Diamondbacks) at 8pm, the second game at 11pm, the third at 2am, and the last game at 5am. Embargo the results until the games are broadcast on tape delay during daytime, so it would be quasi-live. You get four games a day instead of just one.
  • Ben notes that the players would have to shift their schedules to be nocturnal, which would be hard on their families, assuming their families are even with them at all. On the other hand, players already have to deal with awkward schedules, playing jet-lagged night games, etc. The main issue is whether fans would accept quasi-live games.
  • Sam wonders whether a brand new baseball fan might prefer to watch the game the way events like the World Series of Poker are covered: An entire day's activity edited down to a few hours, produced in a way to bring the story out and remove all the downtime and boring parts. (Existing fans would clearly recoil at this concept.) There could be two versions of the daily broadcast, a one-hour condensed game and an unedited full game, with both ending at the same time.
  • Returning to Jeremy's question: Sam notes that Home Run Derby isn't possible under current restrictions. The broadcast crew would require too many people. "The Home Run Derby that they did in the 1960's is really bad to watch," because there were only two cameras which failed to capture the majesty of the dingers. Though Home Run Derby would be something you could do sooner than full games, since it requires fewer people, but not yet.
  • Ben notes that you could do a purely virtual Home Run Derby, with players hitting into nets with sensors, but would it be watchable?
  • Ben reads from Joel Sherman's article (linked below) on MLB's consideration of Hume Run Derby as an interim step.
  • Ben and Sam agree that they would watch it, regardless.
  • Sam proposes that the computer simulation show a ball "soaring algorithmically" out of, say, Fenway Park, or even into the Grand Canyon. Your rational brain knows that it's fake, but "let your dog-brain enjoy it."

Contraction / Expansion

  • Sam thinks the value of an expansion team is much lower given the current uncertainty over the future. Baseball is a game that relies on a good economy because it's expensive to attend a game.
  • Ben notes that there is precedent for owners in financial difficulty looking make money from expansion fees, as happened in 1993. Since expanding to 32 teams is probably already under consideration, why not do it now? On the other hand, earlier expansions were in a strong economic environment. Ben concludes that expansion is unlikely.

Watching an entire MLB season

  • Sam notes that taking the average game length as 3 hours instead of the more accurate 3 hours 9 minutes, Louis saved 17 days from his exercise if they games were watched consecutively without a break.
  • Even neglecting the time commitment, Sam finds this impractical because there is no good order in which to watch the games.
  • If you watch the games strictly chronologically, it would take you a week to watch all the ball games from a single day. This would make it difficult to follow the storylines, such as which pitchers are tired and who is injured. Furthermore, broadcasts reveal the scores of other games that same day, and that would spoil the other games.
  • If you choose three teams and watch their games day-by-day, you get to follow their stories, but the season is now spoiled. When you go back and watch another three teams, you already know how the season ends. Do you rewatch the games you've already seen, but from the other team's point of view?
  • Sam concludes that it's impossible.
  • Ben says that the exercise would give him a greater appreciation for the broadcasters.
  • Ben: "This would be literal torture."
  • Ben says that the main takeaway would be that there's simply too much baseball. Pace of play issues come to the fore because every wasted minute turns into days of watching. You would want to shorten the season and implement other changes to make games shorter (7-inning games, mercy rule, etc.). "You'd have to watch so much meaningless baseball."
  • Sam asks Ben if the option of seeing all the ninth innings (and only the ninth innings, even for extra-inning games) is appealing. Ben says that it's sort-of-but-not-quite like the NFL Red Zone, and the dramatic ninth inning may be out of context, but he'd take it.

Skipping triple-A

  • Ben says that while most minor leaguers don't skip triple-A, it's becoming more common.
  • The talent gap between AA and AAA has narrowed.
  • Environment: AAA has some bitter veterans (guys who never made it to the majors, or who were sent down and are bitter about it), and some parks aren't conducive to player development. Skipping AAA lets you bypass this.
  • Geography: If your AA team is close to your MLB team, you may want to avoid bouncing a player around the country if you need him quickly.
  • Circumstance: The guy you need right now happens to be in AA.
  • On the other hand, the MLB ball is used in AAA but not AA, so teams may want to have players spend some time in AAA to adjust to the ball.

Chris Saenz

  • Chris Saenz debuted for the Brewers in 2004 and threw six scoreless innings for the win. His game score was a very good 72. He then suffered an arm injury and underwent Tommy John surgery. He never played in the majors again. Ben notes that the success rate for Tommy John surgery is around 80%. "It's not automatic."
  • Meg answered this one via email: Saenz predates the more recent appreciation for baseball statistical oddities.
  • The Brewers didn't do well that year, so the win didn't help much, and fans aren't keen on remembering bad seasons.
  • Saenz is tied with four other pitchers for most WAR in a single career appearance at 0.5 bWAR. (For position players, the highest single-appearance career WAR is 0.2.) Furthermore, the other four pitched complete games.
  • Ben notes that the other four pitchers are from the 19th century, so Saenz shouldn't be quite so overlooked. At least Saenz got to pitch, not like Larry Yount, who entered a game but hurt himself warming up on the mound and came out before facing a batter.
  • Ben is excited to read that Shohei Ohtani is throwing two bullpen sessions per week and may be ready to pitch when play resumes.

Links[]

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