Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller banter about how Albert Pujols has remained an RBI man without being a good hitter and the historic slimness of Cleveland rookie pitcher Triston McKenzie, then answer a listener email about whether all innings would be better with the extra-innings automatic-runner rule, followed by Stat Blasts about what would happen if all GMs traded as much as the most frequent trader, the record for the most identical final scores on the same day, and hitters who’ve struck out four times on 12 pitches in the same game, plus another listener email about how much shorter the average game has been this season because of seven-inning games and fewer extra innings, and closing banter about the bottom of the ninth’s history.
- Why not start every inning with a runner on second?
- What if every general manager traded as much as the most frequent trader?
- The most games to end with the same final score on the same day.
- The most games played in a single day.
- Hitters who struck out four times on 12 pitches in one game.
- Effect of this year's rule changes on game length.
- Albert Pujols is now third in all-time RBIs (behind Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth), despite not being particularly good.
- Triston McKenzie's strong debut and his unusual body type.
End of episode
- The history of playing out the bottom of the ninth even after the winner has been determined.
- Mike Trout tweeted that he is afraid of flying, recalling a Mike Trout hypothetical from Episode 1187: What if Mike Trout were not allowed to fly on a plane?
- Dan Hirsch has moved his "Game Changer" tool to Baseball Reference. It changes MLB.tv channels based on criteria you set. (Linked below.)
- Tyler Stafford adapts and extends the Stat Blast lyrics to the music of All Star by Smash Mouth. Ben says, "I can't believe it took this long for somebody to do this."
- Jerry DiPoto is known for making lots of trades (68 in the last 3 years), but he's not the leader. That title goes to Erik Neander of the Rays (73). Pro-rated by service time, the leader is Farhan Zaidi of the Giants who made 25 trades in 2019 (projects to 75 over 3 years). The average GM made 13 trades per year.
- Sam notes that every trade requires a willing partner, so increasing the willingness to trade has a magnifying effect.
- Sam calculates the base rate of "trades per week per potential trading partner" for each GM and imagines that every week, each GM calls every other GM and says "Wanna trade?" He then uses Bill James's Log5 algorithm to see what would happen.
- First, Sam holds one specific GM's trade rate steady and assumes the other GM was always Erik Neander. For example, the Rockies's Jeff Bridich would have gone up from 14 to 26 trades, a bit more than double.
- Next, Sam gives every GM Erik Neander's trade rate. This quadruples the number of trades overall, averaging 26 trades per week.
- Sam realizes that he double-counted, because every trade requires two teams, so his revised projection is that the number of trades would double (instead of quadruple).
- Ben jokes that Sam's Stat Blast involves huge spreadsheets and lots of complicated math. Ben's Stat Blasts consist of emailing somebody to say, "Hey, could you look this up for me?"
- Sam wonders if the high-frequency traders are trading because they have an ideal roster in mind and are trying to inch closer to it? Or do they simply enjoy the thrill of trading? He notes that Jerry DiPoto traded away players he had earlier traded for.
Most games ending with the same final score
- Listener Adam Ott looked up the days where the most games ended with the same final score.
- This is the fourth time that a record six games ended with the same final score. (Spreadsheet below.)
- The most common final score is 3–2, then 4–3, 2–1, and then 5–4.
- There was a 5–3 game on August 23, so we were one run away from breaking the record.
Most games played on a single day
- Listener Mike asked what is the most games played on a single day, a topic that was discussed earlier on Episode 1356.
- The answer is 21 games, on September 7, 1970, including nine doubleheaders.
Immaculate Golden Sombrero
- Luis Robert struck out four times on 13 pitches. If the 12th pitch had been a strike, he would have achieved an immaculate golden sombrero.
- Since 1988 (the first season with pitch data), there have been 299 occurrences of striking out three times on 9 pitches, around 9 per season. It happens more often nowadays.
- There have been only three times that a player struck out four times on 12 pitches, once in 1988 and twice in 2015. (Spreadsheet below.)
- Brett Lawrie's was notable in that every pitch except one was a breaking ball. (Grant Brisbee article linked below.)
- Ben and Sam wonder what you could do to prevent an immaculate golden sombrero. Ben thinks you take three pitches hoping one of them is a ball. Sam thinks you should swing at everything to put a ball into play, or at least foul off a two-strike pitch.
- Justin: If putting a runner on second is a good rule for extra innings then is it a good rule for all the innings? This is obviously mostly facetious. But I’ve been wondering if the extra innings are—at least in part—more interesting because teams are more aggressive. If you know the bad guys are starting with a runner on second, it becomes more imperative to get your own guy home. Extend that to every inning and you have built-in tension all the time. Scoring would go up without increasing game time. Every routine play suddenly becomes interesting. We would lose a lot of things: shutouts for sure, and a pitcher could throw a no-hitter and take the loss. People who like baseball would hate it. But it would be fun.
- Ryan (Patreon): [Shortly after the season was shut down.] I was just thinking about how antsy people are going to be getting sitting at home with not much to do, naturally including MLB’s general managers. People can get up to some weird business when bored for very long, so how long is it going to take before the general managers start making trades just for something to do? Worded another way, how different would baseball be if all general managers acted like Jerry DiPoto, constantly making roster moves?
- Richard: I noticed that on Saturday, August 23, six of the 14 games finished at a score of 5-4 (or 4-5) - this seems unusual. What are the highest number of games that have finished with matching scores on the same day? Is six even that unlikely? [Question also asked by Kyle and Dan (Patreon).]
- Anthony (Patreon): I have an almost incredible fun fact that I think is still a solid fun fact and might be Statblast-worthy. On Sunday against the Cubs, Luis Robert struck out three times on nine pitches in his first three plate appearances followed by a four pitch strikeout in plate appearance number four. Has anyone ever gotten an immaculate golden sombrero in one game (4 strikeouts on 12 pitches)?
- Sean (Patreon): Between the 7-inning double-headers and the baserunner starting on second base in extra innings, is the length of the average game appreciably lower than in previous years? If it is, does this have an impact on the amount of wins that are estimated for individual player contributions in WAR models?
- Ben argues that Albert Pujols's high RBI total shows that RBI is not a useful statistic, since he is a bad hitter overall. Since 2017, his wRC+ is 85 and his fWAR is −2.8. At one point in 2017, he had the lowest WAR in baseball, but his manager supported him. (See article linked below.)
- Ben explains that Pujols hits for power, and he doesn't strike out or walk much, which means lots of balls in play. He also is 26th in clutch-ness (according to FanGraphs), and when there are runners in scoring position, his wRC+ is 111.
- Sam compares keeping Pujols in the lineup to having a child who is disrespectful, but you can't initiate discipline until they do something to deserve it.
- Triston McKenzie had such a strong debut (replacing Mike Clevinger) that they left him in the rotation even after Clevinger's return.
- Sam notes that McKenzie in civilian clothes looks even skinnier than when in uniform.
- McKenzie is 6 foot 5, listed as 165 pounds. Kenny Jackelen from Baseball Reference found the players with the lowest and highest body mass index (BMI), linked below. The thinnest players were from the early 1900's. Among post-WW2 players, McKenzie is the second-thinnest behind Rusty Meacham. Ben notes that the weights listed in Baseball Reference are typically those at the end of the player's career, when players tend to be heavier. McKenzie is the third-lightest pitcher this year.
Starting every inning with a runner on second
- Sam recounts recent games in which the extra runner made normally-routine plays exciting because everyone plays more aggressively, resulting in mistakes or unusual plays.
- Ben cites Joe Sheehan explaining that while it's true that the extra runner makes the game more exciting, so too would allowing only six fielders or giving the losing team an extra runner. But entertainment value needs to be balanced against the integrity of the game.
- Ben feels that it's exciting in part because it's not normal. If every inning started with a runner, then the novelty would wear off. He compares it to eating cotton candy: The first few bites are delightful, but you quickly get sick of it.
- People send tweets to Sam saying, "Well, if you like it so much, they should do it in the first inning!" and sit back satisfied that they got off a zinger. Sam has a number of responses:
- You have to strike the right balance between excitement and the spirit of the game. Sam gives as an example proposing that the basketball rim be raised to 11 feet. "Oh, you can't do that, that's too high." Well in that case, since lower is better, why not lower it to 6 feet? Every sport adjusts its rules to create the desired number of scoring chances per game.
- While it's true that the extra runner makes baseball more exciting, would it make baseball better? Rule changes should be made cautiously, because it might ruin a perfectly good thing.
- Doing it in extra innings solves a specific problem: Games that go deep into extra innings. Adding a runner in every inning doesn't address that.
- The extra runner makes more aggressive play because the game is on the line. That urgency doesn't apply in early innings.
- Ben feels it is important that you "earn" a run by advancing a runner through the bases. The progress around the bases builds suspense. A free runner takes an important step out of the recipe.
Game length in 2020
- Average game length is down from 8.94 innings to 8.73 innings.
- Ben doesn't think the extra fraction is going to affect stats significantly. It may make it harder to qualify for the batting title.
- Sam notes that without a home field crowd advantage, more home teams are batting in the bottom of the ninth, which props up the average.
- Pre-1900, games were 8.6 to 8.7 innings long on average, in part due to games called on account of darkness, and in part because there weren't a lot of people watching, so nobody really cared to finish suspended games.
- In the late 1930's to mid 1940's (introduction of lights), games averaged in the high 8.8 innings. Sam suspects they resumed fewer games.
The history of the bottom of the ninth
- During the discussion of game length, Ben asks when they stopped playing the bottom of the ninth if the winner is already decided. Sam suspends the podcast while he goes and looks it up.
- Sam reads from Peter Morris's book A Game of Inches: The Stories Behind the Innovations That Shaped Baseball.
- In early baseball, it was considered unsporting for the losing team to simply stop playing. In many cases, the team that already won continued to pile up runs against demoralized opponents.
- In the final game of a tournament in 1879, a team won the game in the bottom of the ninth, and their opponents dejectedly walked off the field. The umpire ruled it a forfeit.
- Baseball realized that it was now more unsporting to make a team suffer through an already-lost game, and the rule was changed after that season.
- Episode 1584: The Immaculate Golden Sombrero
- 2017 Pujols article
- Sheet of lowest and highest BMIs
- Scouts on McKenzie
- Video of McKenzie’s debut
- Story about McKenzie’s debut
- Lucas on McKenzie’s stuff
- Travis Sawchik on Cleveland’s pitcher development
- Tyler Stafford’s Stat Blast Song cover
- Spreadsheet of days with most identical scores
- Most common baseball scores
- Three-pitch strikeouts spreadsheet
- Grant Brisbee on Lawrie’s sombrero
- Will Leitch on Lawrie’s sombrero
- A Game of Inches
- Episode with discussion about Trout not flying: Episode 1187
- Baseball-Reference Game Changer