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Summary[]

Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about 2020 season predictions, picking (and pricing) blueberries, and a cardboard cutout of Meg at T-Mobile Park, then open up the pre-pandemic mailbag and answer old but evergreen listener emails about the best type of game for a first-time baseball viewer to attend, whether the Cubs' 2016 title came too soon, whether hitters should have to finish plate appearances with broken bats, how managers should handle players who are having good or bad days, which players would benefit most from a third arm, where to place a boost zone on the field, comparing the careers of Carlos Peña and Paul Konerko, whether Mike Trout could make the Hall of Fame twice, a parable about rooting for personal success versus rooting for a rival's failure, and more.

Topics[]

  • Pre-pandemic email questions.
  • The perfect baseball game for a first-time baseball viewer.
  • Did the Cubs break their World Series drought too soon?
  • Would you rather be Carlos Peña or Paul Konerko?
  • Whether hitters should have to finish plate appearances with broken bats.
  • How baseball would be different if humans had three arms.
  • How managers should handle players having good or bad days.
  • Where to place a "boost zone" on the field.
  • Could Mike Trout split his career in two and make the Hall of Fame twice?
  • A wish for your team, but your team rival gets twice as much.

Banter[]

  • Picking blueberries and blueberry prices.
  • Meg purchased a cardboard cut-out of herself to be placed at T-Mobile Park.

Email Questions[]

All of the email questions are pre-pandemic, so they are several months old at a minimum. Some are years old.

  • Mark (Patreon): I attended an Angels game in June and my wife and I met a family from New Zealand attending their first baseball game. They asked great questions like "Who is the best player?" which was great because Mike Trout was playing right in front of them. Then they asked what made him the best player so I just pulled up leaderboards on my phone and showed them how many different categories he was near the top of. This particular game included the following events: an inside-the-park-homerun, ejections, Mike Trout, and a home team victory. This all left me thinking that this family from New Zealand picked a great game to attend in that they saw some fairly unique elements. So the question I would pose is this: If you were to craft the contents of a baseball game someone were to attend, what would you include? I haven't decided what circumstance you should draft for. The only baseball game someone will ever see? Your perfect ballpark experience? A first-time baseball viewer you are hoping to make into a fan? I thought it made for an interesting thought experiment if nothing else.
  • Alex: I know this is a fairly ridiculous question given that they already hadn't won a World Series in over 100 years, but did baseball actually miss out on a great narrative opportunity by the Cubs winning a World Series so quickly into this Epstein-Maddon run? Obviously, Cubs fans waited forever for the team to win one, but they hardly had to wait at all in the context of this group. There was never any question whether this elaborately built core, their best chance at a title in a generation, would actually result in a championship; they won before the impact of their win-now trades became so evident, and before their big contracts to veterans really went south. Wouldn't their late-season collapse this year have been an even more captivating story if it's yet another year of [Anthony] Rizzo and [Kris] Bryant not breaking the curse.
  • William: I really enjoyed listening to Episode 1487 where you recounted some guys and would like to suggest a random Effectively Wild "Player of the Episode" podcast segment. It was really interesting to hear you and Sam recount Paul Konerko right after Carlos Pena, and after I reflected on each of their careers, I was gobsmacked by the statistical comparison of the long-time fan favorite veteran stalwart, versus the guy who kind of had the "failed top prospect" label and just became a generally professional hitter. To wit:
Peña Konerko
OPS+ 117 118
bWAR 25.1 27.7
fWAR 18.9 24
wOBA 0.350 0.361
Games 1493 2268
At Bats 4949 8393

I know it is becoming gross to define players by their contracts, but Konerko made nearly $130 million over his career, while Peña did not break $50 million for similar production over nearly five fewer full seasons. Most interestingly, perhaps, Peña was worth a whopping −1 fWAR over his final two seasons in the big leagues, while Konerko totaled −4.1 fWAR with five different seasons coming in the negative. Granted, two of those were as he was getting his feet in the bigs and two of them at the end, but even still... It just had me wondering: If you could choose the career of Paul Konerko spread over that number of games versus the career of Carlos Peña (presuming it is all with your team), do you take Peña? Would Peña be remembered more fondly if he did play his whole career with one team? Would people remember that he is worth more bWAR and fWAR per game that he played than Konerko?

  • Richard: I've always felt that breaking a bat should bear a greater penalty to the hitter. If the pitcher breaks your bat, I think you should have to finish the at bat with your broken bat as a penalty for your bad swing. If this were the rule, would this change baseball? Alternatively, if Mike Trout always had to use a bat with a hairline fracture, what percent of Mike Trout would be be?
  • John (Patreon): What if humans evolved to have three arms instead of two, but baseball still existed as it does today with all of the same rules. What would hitters, pitchers, and fielders do with the extra arm? Which position would benefit the most?
  • Tom: I am wondering if managers should think about players having good days or bad days. I would not want my favorite team's manager to bench a superior player because he is having a bad month so long as there was not a casual story to accompany the downturn in performance. But for some reason, I feel differently about bad games. It just seems intuitive to me that games are an organizing unit that actually contributes to how events cluster. And you hear pitcher's say stuff like "I just couldn't get a feel for my curveball today." But you don't hear them say "I couldn't get a feel for my curveball this week." If a team brings in its best reliever and he throws four straight balls, should that change how the manager believes he will perform the rest of the day, more than a bad outing did in a previous game? Should a manager be worried about wasting pitcher's stamina when they are having a bad day?
  • Justin: I've just learned about Formula E racing in the UK. Basically electric Formula One. Anyway, take a look at this. Apparently, boost zones are going to be installed around the race track like some sort of real life Mario Kart. My question is obviously: what if these were installed around a baseball diamond? Where would they be placed for maximum impact? Would the end result simply be more face first collisions with the field? 20 foot diving catches?
  • Keaton: I enjoyed Sam's coverage of Mike Trout's rise through Hall of Fame WAR rankings. It is obvious that once Mike Trout hits his ten years of service time he will be a lock for the Hall of Fame even if he never plays another game. My question is, what if Mike Trout, for whatever bizarre reason, seriously wanted to enter the Hall of Fame twice as a player, what would he need to do? Do you think he could fake his death, adopt a new identity, re-enter the sport at 30, and complete a second stint with enough ability to earn himself another spot in the Hall of Fame?
  • Ben: For some reason, a parable I once heard popped into my head the other day. There were two businessmen who hated each other and one day a genie offered one of them a wish of his choice. There was a catch though: anything that he got for himself his hated rival would get twice as much. Filled with petty anger, the businessman wished for half of his business to be destroyed. The point of the story is about the destructive nature of hatred, but I'm curious how this would apply in a baseball context. If the average baseball fan was allowed to wish anything they wanted for their team, but their most hated team would get twice the wish, how would most fans react? Would the majority wish for a World Series and accept watching their bitter rivals win two rings? What percentage of fans would make a negative wish, knowing that the team they hate will suffer even more? Do most fans even have a hated team? If one fan of each team were granted this wish at random (I'm assuming the wishes are granted sequentially in the order of wishing), what would the next 30 years of baseball look like? Would there be more parity or less? Would baseball be a happier or less happy place? I have to wake up for work in 5 hours and I haven't been able to stop thinking about this. Hope you can shed some light.

Notes[]

  • Ben misinterpreted Meg's tweet about picking blueberries as being about Meg's picks for the FanGraphs staff predictions post for the 2020 season. Meg's prediction was that she would turn into a blueberry due to over-consumption.
  • Ben notes that blueberry prices are highly volatile at the grocery.
  • Meg's answer to "How many blueberry bushes should I plant?" is "One." One blueberry bush produces plenty of fruit.
  • Ben usually makes very conservative predictions, but acknowledges that odd things are highly likely this season due to its brevity.
  • For the cardboard cut-out, Meg submitted her Twitter photo of her wearing a catcher's mask and looks forward to having her cardboard counterpart scowl disapprovingly at whatever happens on the field. She feels it is "$30 of fun" well-spent (although also "objectively ridiculous") and looks forward to scouring the crowd looking for herself.
  • In Episode 1543, Meg noted how uncomfortable it makes her when she is recognized at games. Ben notes that now, it is her cardboard cutout that is recognized.
  • Ben wonders how much work it is for the staff to set up all the cut-outs so they stand up properly. It is not clear whether the cut-outs will be in place for a single game or will be left there for the entire season.
  • Meg wonders how well the cut-outs will hold up to being hit by a foul ball. Ben thinks you should be able to keep the foul ball that hit your cardboard cut-out. Meg believes that the Oakland A's will be doing this for their cardboard cut-outs.

The perfect baseball game

  • Ben and Meg decide to craft the perfect baseball game for a first-time viewer, like the New Zealand family in the question.
  • Ben and Meg agree that there should be a good amount of scoring, because the subtleties of a 1-0 game are not accessible to newcomers.
  • Ben and Meg agree that the game should not involve any obscure rules (infield fly, two runners on the same base, or heaven forfend a balk) or a replay review (boring).
  • Meg's choices: A power pitcher so you can see "100mph" on the scoreboard. A home run, a stolen base, some baserunning trickery. Good offense, but not a blowout, and not so much that it takes the game over three hours. No extra innings. A relief pitcher with a good fastball.
  • Ben's choices: A variety of players, like Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge. A flamethrower pitcher against a sidearmer, to show the variety of pitching styles. A good crowd. A decent amount of scoring. An inside-the-park home run or some triples. Exciting baserunning and exciting fielding plays. A home team comeback with a walk-off.
  • Meg thinks that an ejection might or might not be good, depending on who you are taking to the game.
  • Ben thinks something memorable should happen ("Player X hit three home runs that day"), so you can go back and look up the game years later. Be careful that you don't create false expectations that every game will be memorable.
  • Meg doesn't think it's bad if the first game is somewhat abberant. That's how she ended up a Mariners fan. Ben grew up watching one of the great Yankees teams. He wonders which produces more loyal fans: A great team or a team of lovable losers? He thinks you should hook people with a good team, and they will stick with you through the bad times.

Cubs narrative

  • Meg disagrees with Alex. There was already a sense that the Cubs had arrived a little bit early, with a playoff run the previous season. "Once you're World Series drought is past the century mark, it's fine." And the 2016 World Series ended so dramatically, anyway. Take your championships when you can.
  • Ben recalls the Cubs's disappointing post-World Series trajectory, and guesses that if you could reverse the order, "maybe that would have been even better", but on the other hand, delaying the Cubs World Series win would be terrible for long-suffering Cubs fans who died in the intervening years.
  • Meg doesn't feel that fans show any regret for having won a World Series "too soon".

Paul Konerko or Carlos Peña

  • Meg feels that you want to avoid the label "failed top prospect" as much as possible. It's unfair to expect players to live up to the expectations heaped upon them, yet "there are very few things baseball fans dislike more than failed top prospects."
  • Ben would rather be overrated than underrated.

Completing at-bats with a broken bat

  • Meg thinks it's very dangerous and a terrible idea. "I still think that Mike Trout could still hit a home run with a broken bat."
  • Meg recalls that this topic was discussed earlier, and Ben finds it in Episode 1424.
  • Ben thinks it would be fun to watch, but Meg thinks the danger make it unfun. She also doesn't feel that breaking a bat is something that needs to be penalized. Ben agrees that the broken bat is its own punishment: You got a foul ball and a strike charged against you. He also agrees that nothing interesting is likely to happen for the rest of the at-bat anyway.
  • Ben thinks there's one stat company that tracks broken bats, but given the lack of information, it's not clear if broken bats happen often enough that it would incentivize pitchers to throw inside more or otherwise change their approach.
  • Ben and Meg conclude that they are both against the proposal.

Third arm

  • Meg's initial impression is that fielding would be most improved by the extra arm.
  • Ben and Meg note that the location of the third arm plays a major role in the discussion.
  • Am arm growing out the top of the head would extend fielder range dramatically, and it would give pitchers a whole new angle from which to throw the ball. Would you wear a glove on the head-arm? Or would you use the extra arm as a throwing arm?
  • A pitcher with a second arm adjacent to the throwing arm could disguise which hand the ball is coming from.
  • Meg worries that a muscular third arm would make players unbalanced and liable to tip over.
  • Ben thinks pitchers would benefit the most (new angles), then fielders (extended range), and hitters would benefit little.
  • Meg gets giddy wondering whether a head-arm would have head-length hair growing on it. "I slept very little last night..., and given that, I'm pretty pleased with my podcast performance so far."
  • Ben invites John to write back with information on where the third arm goes.
  • Sam's original answer on Patreon was just two words: "Huh? Flummoxing!"
  • Ben thinks that if you could put your third arm at the end of an existing arm, then the most benefit goes to fielders. Meg wonders how many players would be nicknamed "Stretch."
  • The idea of a third arm becomes a running joke for the remainder of the episode.

Good days and bad days

  • Meg believes that managers have a good sense of how players are feeling day-to-day. More traditional managers might over-estimate their ability to predict good days and bad days.
  • Ben agrees, but notes that a manager might overvalue some aspect of a player's state that turns out not to affect their performance that much. He recalls that some research suggests that a starter's early game performance is not predictive of how they finish. On the other hand, other research suggest that pitchers do have good and bad spin-rate days.

Boost zones

  • Meg and Ben independently thought of putting it between third base and home. Among other things, it would make steals of home more attractive. Ben is worried that it would create more dangerous plate collisions.
  • Defensively, Ben considers putting one in the gap to make exciting catches. But not in a way that it boosts them into the fence.
  • Meg suggests that you tune the boost so it works in only one direction, say from center field toward home plate, to help an outfielder throw out a runner at the plate.
  • Ben would most enjoy something that create spectacular catches. On the other hand, would the boost narrow the range of ability among outfielders?
  • Meg is surprised at herself that she wants more exciting plays at the plate, seeing as she is concerned about catcher safety.
  • A listener-submitted answer to this question appeared in Episode 1566.

Two Hall of Fame-caliber careers

  • Ben looked up hitters who accrued 60 WAR, which is roughly how much you need to make the Hall of Fame ballot. Only 9 hitters have earned 60 WAR starting at age 30: Bonds, Wagner, Mays, Ruth, Aaron, Cobb, Anson, Musial, and Speaker. Ben thinks Mike Trout is in the same class as these players, although the aging curve today is steeper than it was in the past.
  • Ben thinks Trout could do it, assuming he figured out how to assume a new identity.
  • Meg thinks it'd be hard for Trout to fake his own death, since his family would be very upset by it.
  • Even if Trout could assume a new identity, Meg thinks people would wonder, "Are you Mike Trout?" He could probably get away with it for a while since he is not a flashy player.
  • Ben thinks Trout could do it based purely on statistics, but disguising his identity may force him to change his mechanics in a way that damages his ability.
  • Ben looks forward to the Hall of Fame ceremony where the Mike Trout alter ego rips off his mask and announces, "See, I was Mike Trout the whole time!"
  • Meg notes that everybody would be in mourning when the first Mike Trout disappeares without a trace, and "I would hate him" when the ruse is revealed. Meg considers that perhaps he and his family go into the witness protection program after witnessing a mob crime. A 28-year-old Mike Trout-level talent coming out of nowhere would be suspicious. The mob might figure it out.

A wish for yourself and two for your enemy

  • Meg thinks we'd be surprised how many people would wish for a World Series. For many (say) Red Sox fans, the idea of giving the Yankees two World Series championships would be unthinkable. But some would enjoy the World Series championship for themselves, knowing that "Well, the only reason the Yankees have two is because I gave it to them." Ben notes that this makes the next two seasons unsuspenseful because you know your most-hated team will win it all.
  • If there was one wish for each team, Meg says, "I think we would see a lot of weird nonsense." Though if the wishes are for World Series titles, we may not notice that the distribution has changed.
  • Meg notes that small things may actually be more noticeable: If you wish for a triple, and your opponent gets two, that's three triples in one game which is very unusual.
  • Ben doesn't think he'd wish for a championship because he would know it was only because of his wish. "It's kind of cheating."
  • On the other hand, if he somehow forgot that it was due to his own wish, then he might wish for a championship, because he would enjoy his own team's victory more than he would be saddened by the rival's two wins.
  • Ben notes that in baseball, you don't want your rival to be destroyed, because you want your rival to exist so you can beat them.
  • Listener-submitted answers to this question appeared in Episode 1566.

End-of-episode banter

  • Dusty Baker tweeted about the fake crowd noise: "I thought someone left the water faucet on." Cincinnati sports reported Caleb Noe tweeted that MLB has mandated that every team use artificial crowd noise from the video game MLB The Show.
  • Spreadsheet of all previous listener email questions (linked below).
  • Ben has been watching the Korean drama "Stove League" (linked below), previously mentioned in Episode 1559.

Links[]

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