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Summary[]

Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller banter about their minor league free agent draft results so far and whether this season has helped or hurt minor league free agents gain playing time, the continued watchability of revamped extra innings and the possibility of bringing back traditional extra innings for one week a year, and whether this season’s early big BABIP dip indicates that players are fielding better without fans, then answer listener emails about whether players should retain their rookie eligibility in the event of a shortened season, whether giving up in-person attendance forever would be worth guaranteeing a winning team, how the 2021 amateur draft order should be determined, and whether the lineup should reset in extra innings, plus a Stat Blast about quasi-walk-off hits in rain-delayed games.

Topics[]

  • Theories for why BABIP is down.
  • Should rookies who debut this year also be be eligible next year?
  • Quasi-walk-off hits in rain-shortened games.
  • Would you give up attending games in person if it guaranteed a winning team?
  • How the 2021 amateur draft should be structured.
  • Should extra innings start at the top of the lineup?

Banter[]

  • Checkpoint on the 2020 Minor League Free Agent Draft from Episode 1474.
  • Is this year a good year or a bad year for minor league free agents getting called up?
  • New extra innings rule makes for exciting baseball.
  • Bringing back classic-style extra innings once in a while.

Email Questions[]

  • Hiroshi: If this season comes to an end early, say 25 games for most teams, can Luis Robert or any other rookie win multiple Rookie of the Year awards? In such case, no one loses their rookie status in 2020 for they can't have enough ABs, IP, or rostered days. I assume that MLB would implement a prorated eligibility. But if such a shorter rookie season would happen, then can we regard those 2020 rookies as proven big leaguers?
  • Michael: As I write this email, the Colorado Rockies are 7-2. Allow me to take you into my newly created hypothetical world where the Rockies become the 2019 Dodgers, but only if no fans are present. When fans are present, the Rockies go back to being the team they have been for their whole history (.473 winning percentage). If you were a season ticket holder for the Rockies, would you commit to never attending a home Rockies game if it meant they instantly became a 91-win team every year and would win a guaranteed World Series in the next 15 years?
  • Ben: I was wondering how you think the draft should be organized for next year? If 60 games are played, I imagine the draft order will be determined the way it always is, but where do they draw the line? Surely if the season is cancelled on Monday the 2-1 Marlins wouldn't have the 28th pick. Should they just add the 2020 totals to 2019? What do you think?
  • David: One aspect of the new extra-innings rule that I don't recall anyone discussing is whether or not it is fair or makes sense for the teams to continue their batting orders where they left off at the end of the ninth. As you have discussed, the reason the rule works to shorten games is that even though each team (ostensibly) has equal odds of scoring, the odds of both teams scoring the same number of runs in a given inning are reduced. In reality, it seems like a team which happens to end the ninth at the top of their order would have an advantage over a team which ends the ninth near the bottom of their order. Maybe it's just a philosophical thing, but to me, starting with the runner on second seems to be intended to reset the situation, even everything up, and try again from an equitable but more offensively advantageous state. Instead, the system can "blindly" place one team in a much better situation independent of merit. I get that in the old/standard/playoff rules, teams simply continue their batting orders as normal, but adding the runner on second seems to break the continuity of the game significantly. The base/out state no longer correlates to the hitters' outcomes in the normal way, but the location in the lineup still does. Would it be more fair to let each team start the 10th wherever in the lineup they so choose? Would it be more fun? In this alternate scenario, I think it would make sense for the chosen batter to hit (Batter N), with Batter N-1 starting on second base.

Stat Blast[]

  • Lucas Apostoleris from Baseball Reference performed this week's Stat Blast theme.
  • Sam is initially surprised that Lucas performed the theme, until he remembers that Lucas is an accomplished jazz musician.
  • Aaron Judge came to bat in the bottom of the fifth with the Yankees down by one run and the game under imminent threat of being called due to rain.
  • Sam observes that this situation is even more dramatic than the bottom of the ninth:
    1. Home team fails to score and game is called: Game is official, visitors win.
    2. Home team ties the score and game is called: Game is official and will be resumed at a later date.
    3. Home team takes the lead and game is called: Game is official, home team wins.
    4. Game called before inning ends: Game is cancelled, statistics do not count, will be replayed at a later date. (New!)
  • This suspenseful scenario doesn't exist this year because all games will be resumed regardless of the inning.
  • Sam looks at games that were called in the fifth inning immediately after the home team comes from behind, creating a quasi-walk-off situation.
  • Sam considers only games after lights became prevalent, to rule out games called due to darkness rather than rain. He found three games:
    • 1984: Wayne Tolliver (Rangers) drives in the game-winner, and the game is immediately called.
    • 1948: Augie Galan (Reds) drives in the game-winner, and the game is immediately called.
    • 1942: Billy Herman (Dodgers) drives in Augie Galan (!), and the game is immediately called.
  • These games weren't exactly the scenario Sam was looking for because the game was tied going into what became the final plate appearance.
  • Sam found a game where the final plate appearance made the game official. In 1956, Al Kaline came to bat with the bases loaded, down by one. He hit a double-play ball but beat the throw to first, tying the game. The Senators argued the call. This delayed the game enough to cause it to be called due to rain. The game was suspended but was never resumed, making Al Kaline the last player to make a walk-off game-tying hit.
  • Sam notes that this quasi-walk-off is unusual because you don't realize that you hit a walk-off until hours later when the umpire officially ends the game due to inclement weather.
  • Al Kaline's quasi-walk-off was most unusual because the final disposition of the game wasn't determined until months later. Ben jokes that Kaline's teammates subsequently swarmed his house and tore off his jersey.

Notes[]

Banter

  • Six of Sam's ten picks in the Minor League Free Agent draft have made the majors. None of Ben's have. Meg has one.
  • Even though it's a short season, this year might be good for minor leaguers being called up because pitcher injuries are up, players become unavailable due to positive COVID tests, some have opted out, and there are expanded rosters. "It's a weird player pool this year," says Sam.
  • At the end of the segment, Sam mutters, "I wanted to taunt you about that..." as if going down a checklist of things to do.
  • The Rays and Orioles played an extra-inning game. In the two extra innings, they were two unusual double plays, a play at the plate, and many tense situations.
  • Sam remembers that the Washington Post has a policy which prohibits their reporters from voting. Sam thinks this is a stupid policy, but the rationale is that a study showed that if you come to a difficult decision, you end up an extremely strong advocate for the decision you ended up making. Sam was originally skeptical of the new extra innings rule, but he has now become a strong supporter of it.
  • Sam notes that nobody actually likes super-long games. Fans of the team don't like it. It wears out their players. They just want the game to end (with their team victorious).
  • The people who want a super-long game are people who want to see weird baseball. "What makes a 20-inning game delightful is that it's just barely possible, and sometimes it happens, and when you see it happen you feel like you're seeing something new, something novel, something totally unexpected, and we want that."
  • Sam offers a way to allow weird baseball to happen: Pick one day a week or one month during the season when we use the old rules. "There are still 20-inning games in baseball, but they're even rarer, and you enjoy them even more for their rarity." He feels that September would be a good month, because of expanded rosters. And Friday would be a good day, because most people can afford to stay up late on Friday nights.
  • Sam also suggests starting with the bases loaded, but that's a different story.
  • Ben notes that the new extra-inning rule changes strategy. Managers are more willing to burn up their bullpen because they know they won't get stuck with a pitcher having to go deep into extras.
  • Ben notes that the new extra-inning rule feels weird only because it's new. After a few years, it'll feel normal.
  • Sam dislikes super-long day games. It feels like you're squandering your daylight hours.
  • Sam foreshadows the listener email about resetting the batting order. He is strongly against it on the grounds of tradition. "There have been six of these games, and already we have a tradition and we can't change the tradition."
  • Sam finds the fake cheers (previously discussed in Episode 1573) frustrating because you count on the crowd noise to tell you about something interesting happening off-screen, like a runner taking an extra base. But the fake cheers don't do that. He hears a standard "ground ball single" cheer and assumes it's just a standard ground ball single.

BABIP is down

  • Ben observes that BABIP is .276 this season, significantly lower than the historical average for a statistic that "stubbornly refuses to move." It was .296 in 1994, .296 in 2019, and hasn't moved more than a few points either way in between, despite many changes in the game. Possible theories:
    • It's still early in the season and we are merely seeing a small sample size. (The episode was recorded on August 5.)
    • BABIP historically is in the low .290's at the start of the season, then goes up as the weather warms up, and then drops when autumn comes. This season started in the warm months, so it's not temperature. Maybe it's really an early-season effect?
    • It's hard to compare last year's StatCast data with this year's HawkEye. Exit velocities are down 1mph, but it's not clear whether that's real or just due to a different way of measuring. Similarly, TrackMan/HawkEye discrepancies may be part of why wOBA is .301 against expected wOBE of .324.
    • Is the ball slightly less lively this year? But even as the ball changed over the years, BABIP remained stable.
    • Other sports are experiencing changes when playing without fans. In basketball, free throws and corner three-point shots are more successful. In soccer, direct free kicks are more successful. It could be that the removal of distractions allows players to concentrate better. Fielders might be reading the ball better, say, because they can hear the crack of the bat more clearly, or because the stands provide a clearer background against which to see the ball.
  • Sam observes that AL BABIP is a few points lower than NL BABIP. (Pitchers tend to strike out a lot, which does not contribute to BABIP.) Everybody is an AL team this season.
  • Sam's potential factors: (1) The lack of fans in the stands, (2) the unusual start to the season, (3) the weird player pool, (4) rules changes. Sam feels it's the weird start to the season.
  • Sam interrupts Ben to ask if perhaps it's because the fielders are hearing the crack of the bat better. Ben notes that he already listed that as a possibility. Sam replies, "That was rude of me. Not only did I not listen to you say it, but I interrupted you."
  • Sam has a list of 27 factors that could contribute to changes in quality of play, and "different background for fielders" is now number 28.
  • Editor's note: 2020 ended with .292 BABIP, so the "small sample size" explanation appears to have been correct.

Winning Rookie of the Year two years in a row

  • Ben thinks that maybe the person who wins in 2020 is ineligible for 2021. Sam asks, "What if you finish second?"
  • Sam says that the point of the award is to "reward the newcomer". It applies to young players or experienced players coming from a foreign league.
  • Sam feels that if the season were cancelled after 25 games, they would simply not award the Rookie of the Year award.
  • Sam feels the qualifying for rookie status next year would be prorated. So if you played 20 full games games, with say 70 ABs, then you lose rookie status for next year. Ben finds that reasonable.
  • Sam declares that the cutoff is 62 at-bats or 20 innings.

A team that is good only if the stands are empty

  • Ben and Sam discuss how the other ticket-holders end up obligated to follow your lead. To relieve the burden of deciding for everyone, Sam rephrases it as a vote, and the question is which way you would vote.
  • Sam: "Definitely you would vote to not go." Ben agrees.
  • Ben wonders why Michael specifically notes that you are a season ticket holder. Are season ticket holders more committed to the team? Editor's note: Ben and Sam never discuss the financial impact of buying season tickets you never get to use.
  • Sam says, "They're only going to be a 91-win team." The decision is a no-brainer if they became a 100-win team. You'd go to road games to get your Rockies fix.
  • Sam notes that the Rockies organization would not do this. They need the ticket and concessions revenue.
  • Ben notes that you wouldn't be able to be in the stadium to see your team celebrate their World Series win.
  • Sam notes that the question is more satisfying if something about playing in empty stadiums raises their true talent, so they win more games, but not exactly 91 games every year, which would feel supernatural.
  • Sam points out that if you rephrase the question as "If you knew that your presence at the game caused your team to lose a dozen extra games, would you go?" then it would be "a fairly easy sacrifice to make."

What should the draft order be for 2021?

  • Sam notes that the reason for the bottom-up draft is that you don't want bad teams to get stuck in the basement, so you help them out a little.
  • Sam observes that this year's results are not likely to reflect true talent.
  • Sam isn't sure the rationale for the bottom-up draft is even a good one, because teams plan to be bad. "You're basically rewarding a team three years from now who's already going to be good in three years."
  • Sam feels that you shouldn't encourage teams to not spend, but perhaps after the fact say, "Surprise! We're doing it by reverse order of payroll."
  • Ben doesn't feel that the rules should change just for one year. Maybe just accept that the draft will be weird this year, just like everything else.

Letting teams choose where to resume the batting order for extra innings

  • Sam thinks it might incentivize teams to add a speedy (but low OBP) hitter batting ninth.
  • But Sam doesn't think that the purpose of extra innings is to reset the game. (Ben: "The goal is to end the game.")
  • Sam notes that if the purpose was to reset the game, then they would make everybody who had been previously removed from the game eligible to return. The game should continue with the consequences of decisions you made during the game.
  • Where you are in your lineup is bad luck, but he doesn't feel that resetting the game is the solution.
  • Ben notes that purists who are opposed to the new extra-innings rule will be upset even more if you could also reset your batting order.
  • Ben finds it's one of the special qualities of baseball that you don't get to pick your match-ups. You have to bat whoever is next in the line-up, even if you'd prefer your best hitter to be up right now.
  • Sam says, "I am really open to whatever." Sam notes that David's point of view isn't that resetting the batting order would be more fun, but rather that it would be more fair. Sam likes the idea that the decisions from the first nine innings constrain what you can do in the tenth. Ben agrees.

End-of-episode news

  • Shohei Ohtani was confirmed to be done for the season as a pitcher. He nevertheless hit a home run in his first at-bat after his injury. Ben notes how special Ohtani is. When most players hurt their arm, they're done. But Ohtani can still play and hit dingers.
  • Mike Trout hit three home runs in his first two games after returning from paternity leave.
  • Nick Madrigal separated his shoulder and was placed on the injured list. He might be back before the end of August, but off-season surgery is also in play. "We just can't have nice things this year."

Links[]

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