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Summary[]

Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley follow up on an earlier Clayton Kershaw commercial conversation and banter about Tom Seaver and the benefits of being a late bloomer, then answer listener emails about catchers sharing secrets about their old teams, the value of game-calling, Manny Ramirez signing with the Sydney Blue Sox and the experience of watching old players in lower-level leagues, how stadiums designed for games without fans would be different, whether a pitcher could tattoo his hand to look like a baseball, whether a person from the past could infer the occurrence of a pandemic from MLB's schedule alone, and what would happen if it were revealed that baseballs are alive, plus Stat Blasts about teams with the most one-run games and batters who always hit in the same spot in the lineup.

Topics[]

  • Intelligence value of acquiring another team's catcher.
  • Tracking catcher's sequencing and pitch location.
  • Reaction to old players joining low-level leagues.
  • How would stadiums be redesigned if they knew they were be no fans in them?
  • Could a pitcher tattoo a baseball onto his hand to deceive the batter?
  • If someone from last year were teleported to today and saw only the unusual baseball schedule and results, would they be able to guess we were in a pandemic?
  • What if it were discovered that MLB were hiding the fact that baseballs are sentient beings, and that the changes in the ball were due to the natural evolution of those creatures?
  • Teams with the highest percentage of one-run games.
  • Players who had the same position in the batting order for an entire season.

Banter[]

  • Is Clayton Kershaw's second tire commercial (linked below) a long con?
  • There are 20 games today, including 9 doubleheaders. This is one short of the record 21 (September 7, 1970), and the most since 1974.
  • White Sox announcer Jason Benetti explained Pokémon to fellow announcer Steve Stone. (Linked below.)
  • Tom Seaver's pre-professional career and the benefits of being a late bloomer.
  • Willians Astudillo has been called from the alternate site to be the 29th man on the Twins roster.

End of episode banter

  • Disturbing hot dog advertisement.
  • Russell Carleton's new research on the shift.

Stat Blast[]

  • The Stat Blast theme is performed by Sean Rudman. (Linked below.)

One-run games

  • Ben answers listener RB's question by looking up the teams that had the most one-run games in a season. (I.e., games where the margin of victory is one run. Not games where the team scored only one run.)
  • The 1971 Astros hold the record with 75 one-run games, over 46%. They were 32–43 in those games.
  • The full spreadsheet is linked below of games where the run differential was between −1 and +1. Note that for old-timey games, there are some ties mixed in.
  • Meg says she would be a nervous wreck.

Players in the same position in the batting order for an entire season

  • Listener Adam Ott looked this up. The spreadsheet is linked below.
  • It is not rare for a player to bat in the same spot for all of their games (93 this century). It is rare for that player to play all 162 games.
  • The last player to bat 162 games in the same spot was Joey Votto in 2017, who batted third.
  • Previous to that were Freddie Freeman (2014, batting third), Prince Fielder three times (2009, 2011, and 2012, all batting cleanup), and Ichiro Suzuki (2010, leadoff).
  • The last time two teammates batted in the same spot in every game was 1984, when Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray batted 3 and 4 for the Orioles in every game.
  • No team has had three players bat in the same spot in every game, so we may have a new record this season. Editor's Note: Jose Ramirez dropped out of contention by missing the September 8 game. Francisco Lindor dropped out on September 11 when he switched to the leadoff spot. Carlos Santana held the streak to the end of the 2020 regular season.
  • Meg notes that the hard part is playing every day, especially given the current tendency to keep players healthy by giving them occasional days off.

Email Questions[]

  • Ian: What are the off-the-field benefits to acquiring another team's catcher assuming said catcher is a willing participant? This occurred to me when the Padres traded for two catchers from their own super-West division - catchers whose old teams make up 30% of the Padres remaining games. Since you can't nab a team's analyst or coach mid-stream, is snagging a team's catcher the next best thing to their network password? Presumably, you would be getting A) a glimpse at a team's "book" on mutual opponents, B) information that team has on how to pitch your own hitters and C) an understanding of the team they came from, at least the pitching side. Is this valuable? I feel like I've heard this, but is it quantifiable? I've also heard that rubbing cut potato on your face makes your mustache grow in faster, but you can't confirm that on Baseball Reference, either.
  • Andrew: While teams and institutions like FanGraphs track pitcher's selection and sequencing, I was wondering if any effort is made to track catchers' desired sequencing and pitch location? Unless pitchers shake off enough signs to nullify their influence, it seems to me that catchers would fall into habits of calling for pitches in the same location, preferring a high fastball instead of a low breaking ball on a 1–2 count, for example, that are common from pitcher to pitcher on a staff. In addition, one could note how a pitcher's pitch selection changes from each member of a catching platoon, that is, if there is a difference worth noting.
  • Nick: Recently, 48 year old Manny Ramirez signed with the Sydney Blue Sox. Does this news make you happy or sad? How do you feel in general when an old player signs a deal with a very low level league?
  • Aaron: I am sitting in a physical meeting with others but the meeting is actually online. Some people in the room have headphones, some do not. So there is a ton of echo. This got me thinking about baseball stadiums. What if there were an all virtual baseball league and there were never going to be fans in the stands? How would a stadium designed specifically to enhance the experience at home be different than current stadium design? One thought I had was that you would design it to sound great for microphones around the stadium. So fans would really hear the crack of the bat and the snap of a glove when a ball is caught.
  • Brian (Patreon): After watching a few games without fans, I began to wonder how differently stadiums would be designed if fans weren't part of the experience (as sad as that would be) and baseball games were only consumed from home. How small could a stadium footprint get (and would that allow them to fit in more places)? Would walls or netting extend as high as stadiums do now just to keep the ball inside it? Would fields be surrounded by sculptures or art installations? Maybe bullpens would be right behind the dugouts because they wouldn't interfere with prime seating. Would more camera angles be possible if blocking views weren't an issue? How cheaply could one be built without concourses, food service, hundreds of restrooms, suites and giant parking lots? I'm curious what other possibilities come to your minds!
  • Mike: The ability of pitchers to hide the ball from hitters until the last possible moment is often discussed as a reason that certain pitches may "Play up" compared to their underlying metrics. I am wondering two things. 1) Would there be a style of hand tattoo that would make it harder for hitters to pick up the baseball from a pitcher's hand? Like if a pitcher dyed his fingers white and got red stitches tattooed on his fingers do you think this would improve said pitcher's deception? 2) Would this be legal?
  • Tomo: Suppose all of a sudden someone came to the present from a year ago by time machine. If they were only allowed to see current game schedules and results, tuning out all the media like TV or internet news, and then noticed weirdness of the season (shortened season, a couple of teams suddenly stopping playing games...), do you think they could speculate that a pandemic is happening?
  • Zeke: "Let's get weird." What if it is discovered that the baseballs used by MLB are not manufactured but in fact sentient beings that have been harvested/farmed for use in the game and the changes in the ball composition are in fact evolutionary changes to their species. The balls cannot communicate with us in any way so we don't know their thoughts on being used for the sport but MLB admits to having covered up the origins of the balls for years. It is universally agreed that moving to a manufactured ball will produce dramatically different effects and that the only way the sport remains similar to what we know today is to continue to use the living balls. How would you react to such a revelation? Where does this fall on the spectrum of sports scandals? Would the sport die off? Does PETA prevent games from being played?
  • RB: As of tonight, Tuesday night, the Blue Jay's have played 34 games, 16 of which have been decided by one run. I have a bet on their total wins so every game has been heart stopping. What is the highest percentage of one-run games a team has had in a season. I have to imagine that nearly 50% blows away the record. (Last year in 162 games, the Giants had 54, which was by far the most in the majors and still only 33%.) Just wondering if anyone has had that percentage ever and I know you all know how to look it up.
  • Russell: At the time of writing three players for Cleveland have batted in the same sport of the lineup for all of the 2020 season (Ramirez, Lindor and Santana in the 2-4 spots.) I thought this was quite remarkable and a cursory glance at the other 29 teams found just a further 3 individuals (Goldschmidt, Merrifield and Miguel Cabrera). This leads me to the question of how many players have done this over a complete season and has any team had more than one person do it?

Notes[]

Clayton Kershaw commercial

  • Episode 1585 follow-up on the second Clayton Kershaw tire commercial. In it, Kershaw throws a change-up to a left-handed batter, not something he does in real life. Why did he do that?
  • Ben figures that Kershaw didn't bother correcting the script. He's getting paid the same either way.
  • Listener Joe recalls that Greg Maddux would allow a batter to get a good hit during spring training, in order to set him up for the regular season. Joe wonders if Kershaw is doing the same thing: If Juan Soto is watching the commercial, he'll think that maybe Kershaw will throw him a change-up, and then he'll get locked up on a fastball.
  • Meg: "I maintain that that is a ridiculous theory, but it is a delightful ridiculous theory."
  • Juan Soto is likely not watching the game on MLB.tv, so the target audience would really be a minor leaguer watching the game at home.
  • Meg is horrified when Ben points out that she referred to the the commercial as a "vehicle" for Kershaw, and that repeated watching "drives it home". "God, I'm a monster."
  • Meg notes that Kershaw is a bright spot in a bad 2020. His performance this year has been great.

Lots of games

  • Meg wonders why the first game doesn't start until 2:10 Eastern time, given that there are a lot of games to be played. She was hoping for some breakfast baseball.

Tom Seaver's pre-professional career

  • Only three teams were interested in Seaver, in part because he was a late bloomer.
  • Ben reads from Pages from Baseball's Past, linked below. Seaver did not have an athletic build, relied mostly on control rather than power, didn't make the high school varsity team until senior year, and received no scholarship offers. He grew two inches in high school and added 30 pounds. When he joined the Fresno City College team, he found he was the hardest thrower. He combined his newfound power with his prior experience as a finesse pitcher.
  • People talked about how Seaver was such a cerebral pitcher, and in his later years, even though his power had faded, he was still effective. Unlike most dominating pitchers, he started as a "mere mortal" and was able to combine both his mortal and superhuman powers.
  • Ben was a late bloomer, as was his dad. While it was rough going being the smallest kid in class, he feels it was ultimately an advantage because he learned how to interact with people without being able to intimidate them.
  • Meg notes that teens nowadays are much more fashionable and put-together than she remembers being. She fears for the next generation of stand-up comedians because they won't have gone through a painfully awkward phase. "They are pulled-together in a way that I find very intimidating, and so I think they will be less funny." Meg fears that the teens will now make fun of her on TikTok, and she will never know because she can't figure how to get it to work.
  • Meg declares that low-cut jeans must not make a comeback.

Intelligence value of acquiring catchers

  • In 2018, Ben looked into whether catchers hit better against former battery-mates. (Linked below.) There is a small effect, but it applies only to individual pitchers.
  • Meg notes that teams already have lots of other information on their opponents. Ben agrees that it matters less nowadays than it might in earlier eras.
  • Ben imagines it must be a difficult mental shift for the catcher to switch from helping a pitcher overcome their weaknesses to trying to exploit those weaknesses. He wonders if there is an unwritten rule about this.
  • Meg notes that the intelligence the catcher brings that is the most actionable also has the shortest shelf life. The pitcher will quickly stop tipping his pitches, the former team will change up their signs, and players with hidden injuries will recover.
  • There is also a "new catcher penalty" because the new catcher has to get to know an entire new pitching staff. Greg Wright (author of the Tom Seaver article from Pages from Baseball's Past) found that a mid-season team catcher change has an initial negative effect on the team.
  • Meg wonders if the rate of cross-ups goes up after a catcher changes teams.

Catcher effect of pitch sequencing

  • It's hard to isolate the effect of the catcher, since there are lots of other factors, like the team's scouting reports.
  • On Grantland, Ben looked at the effect of Yadier Molina's game-calling. (Linked below.)
  • Meg notes that even if the effect is small, it adds up over the large number pitches. She notes that players now carry scouting cards in their pockets, which takes another decision out of the catcher's hands.
  • Ben notes the psychological effect that trying to avoid patterns only causes you to fall into them.
  • Ben and Meg both hope more information on this subject comes to light. In Episode 686, they talked with BP Director of Technology Harry Pavlidi about game-calling.

Old players on low-level teams

  • Meg doesn't have a problem with it. Just being on a field at all is an accomplishment. Meg doesn't like to see people embarrass themselves, so if the player's ability is not up to it, then it makes her uncomfortable.
  • Ben does distinguish this from stunts (like Jose Canseco playing one minor-league game), or players who are in denial about their fading skills. Ben finds that it improves his opinion of a player who continues playing for the love of the game. He doesn't feel that it tarnishes their legacy, because it doesn't change their stats.
  • Few players control their retirement to the point where they can have a "farewell tour".
  • There is the concern that the player is taking a spot from a more deserving young player, but very few players at these low-level leagues are going to progress far anyway.

Stadiums designed without fans

  • Meg notes that there would still need to be seating behind home plate for scouts. The absence of fans opens up new camera opportunities since you don't need to worry about blocking fan seating. The area beyond the outfield fence would need to be kept aesthetically pleasing for the home audience.
  • Ben points out that the stadium no longer needs to be close to a population center. You can put it somewhere picturesque.
  • New camera and microphone technologies are being introduced which take advantage of the absence of fans. (Articles linked below.)
  • Occasionally, listeners wonder if the fences could be moved back or removed entirely. Fans were one obstacle to moving the fences because they would be put further away from the action, but if there were no fans, you could do it. Ben doesn't think it would create a more entertaining game, though.
  • Ben notes that the absence of fans means you could add more things beyond the outfield fence like the Marlins home run sculpture, since there are no fan views to obstruct.

Deceptive tattoos

  • Meg predicts that if a pitcher did that, a rule would be created to ban it. Other deceptive images are already banned, like deceptive colors on gloves and uniforms.
  • Managers will occasionally call attention to something distracting on a pitcher's uniform, like a loose bit of cloth, and the pitcher usually has to address it.
  • Meg wonders if the league would allow a pitcher to wear a batting glove to cover the tattoo. Both she and Ben recommend not trying to find out.

Inferring that a pandemic has hit

  • Meg isn't sure that "pandemic" would be the time traveler's first guess, but it would be among the first five.
  • Meg figures that the late start to the season would hint at some nationwide tragedy. The fact that the Marlins shut down but the Rays kept playing would be evidence against a hurricane or other natural disaster. But the fact that it hit isolated teams scattered around the country would suggest a disease.
  • Ben thinks the late start would suggest a work stoppage, but that wouldn't make sense because the CBA was not due to expire. When the Marlins sat out, that would hint at a localized natural disaster like a flood or earthquake. But he thinks that you would eventually figure out it was some sort of disease after a few wrong guesses.

Balls as living creatures

  • Meg and Ben agree that it would be the biggest scandal in sports history.
  • Meg wonders how we know that they're sentient if we cannot communicate with them.
  • Meg: "Let's apply some logic to this completely wild question."
  • Meg asks whether the balls, as sentient beings, can control how far they go after being hit. Why would a ball choose to reward Aaron Judge for his cruelty? Are only MLB balls sentient? What about minor leagues? College? Little league? Ben counters that maybe the balls enjoy being hit. The discussion gets more and more hypothetically absurd.
  • Ben had just watched the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Evolution in which microscopic robots (nanites) gain sentience. The episode guest-stars Ken Jenkins, better known as Dr. Kelso on Scrubs. In the episode, Jenkins's character says that baseball died out because fans were too impatient and found it boring, but he plays seasons in his head using statistics. He would have enjoyed FanGraphs. If Captain Picard were in charge, he would force baseball to stop using the balls until the balls could grant informed consent.

End of episode banter

  • Meg asks Ben if he'd rather be a baseball or a salamander (the hyper-evolved humans from the Star Trek: Voyager episode Threshold). Ben picks salamander because they have locomotion.
  • Meg notes an advertisement behind home plate at many Midwest stadiums showing a hot dog with a bite taken out of it, and a thought bubble that says "Hey, biter biter." This disturbs her greatly.
  • Ben notes that this subject adds a disturbing angle to the previous episode's Stat Blast about players who hit the most foul balls. "Did we misunderstand what the dead-ball era meant?"
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a baseball show. Ben and Ira Steven Behr discussed the episode Take Me Out to the Holosuite on The Ringer MLB Show. (Linked below.)
  • Russell Carleton did additional research on the shift: The effect on BABIP is about the same for left-handed and right-handed batters, as is the increase in walks. However, left-handed batters strike out more, whereas right-handed batters put the ball into play more and get extra bases. So the shift is a net win for lefties and a net loss for righties.

Links[]

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