Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about the Astros re-signing Justin Verlander and MLB’s plan to house minor leaguers, then (19:53) bring on listener and top-tier Patreon supporter John Choe to discuss the single game he played in indy ball, the Moonlight Graham Society he co-founded to recognize minor league cups of coffee, how his love of baseball stats helped guide him to his current career, how he and his kids have spread the gospel of sabermetrics, his daughter’s on-field experience with Baseball For All, and more. After that (42:29), Ben, Meg, and John answer listener emails about why popular pitcher stats don’t mirror popular hitting stats, how different baseball would be if players were removed from games after making outs and if players and teams could copyright tactics, whether umps should intervene in an unforced walk-off, and whether players could opt not to wear caps. Lastly (1:24:17), Ben talks to another listener/Patreon supporter, Michael Mountain, about the most efficient itinerary for a trip to every affiliated ballpark in 2022.
- John Choe introduction
- John's single plate appearance in a professional baseball game
- John co-created the Moonlight Graham Society, honoring one-game minor league careers
- How John's fascination with baseball led to his career managing stocks
- Baseball For All and girls baseball
- Introducing kids to advanced statistics
- Should pitcher stats and batter stats align better?
- What if a player who was out had to leave the game?
- What if teams or players could claim intellectual property rights over their strategies or skills?
- Should an umpire prevent a manager from accidentally issuing a game-losing intentional walk?
- Do players have to wear hats?
- What's the shortest route to visit all major and minor league ballparks and watch a game?
- Justin Verlander signed a 1-year $25 million contract with the Astros, with a player option to add a second year for $25 million. He threw a single game in 2020 and missed all of 2021 for Tommy John surgery.
- Meg calls out the risk that Verlander "becomes a pumpkin" and fails to meet expectations.
- Ben and Meg assume that he performed well during evaluation, but he will be 39 years old, which is an advanced age for Tommy John surgery.
- Ben discusses how Verlander will fit into the Astros pitching roster.
- Ben wonders what would happen if Verlander focused on concentrating his efforts into fewer innings per game, which is a more modern pitcher usage. Verlander has very little second-time-through-the-order drop-off.
- MLB proudly announced their decision to provide housing to minor league players.
- Meg is hopefully optimistic. Ben calls out the research that shows the psychological effects of housing uncertainty.
- Players had to worry about breaking leases when they were reassigned, whereas teams know exactly how many players they will roster. (Even as the roster changes, the number remains the same.)
- Ben ridicules the press release, which makes it sound like a magnanimous decision.
- Ben reminds listeners that a discussion of the show Stove League is coming. He recommends the subtitles on Viki, which he finds superior to those on Kocowa, though others tell him that the Kocowa subtitles improve as the series progresses.
- Ronald Acuña said, "If I was giving 500% before, I'm about to start giving 1000%." This recalls a series of episodes starting in Episode 1295 of players giving more than 100%.
- Xander: Why do you think that we don't have more statistics that are directly equivalent between batters and pitchers? It seems to me that almost every statistic for a hitter could also be applied to a pitcher. For example, why is it not commonplace to know what Max Scherzer's wRC+ allowed or even OPS allowed is? Instead of WHIP, why do we not talk about OBP allowed? This would also allow us to more directly compare hitters to pitchers. How much better is Jacob deGrom at preventing run creation is than Mike Trout is at creating runs? Do you think that these types of statistics would be easier for most fans to understand in the long term or make things more confusing?
- Andrew: I was watching a highlight from a cricket match and they mentioned when you make an out you're out for good. This got me thinking about what baseball would be like if this rule were adopted. What happens when you run out of hitters? Would lineup construction change? Would this actually make the angels a playoff team since Trout and Ohtani would take pretty much every late game at bat? Could you imagine how upset a base runner thrown out at home would be at the third base coach?
- Alastair: I’ve been reading the book Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives and a large part of one of the early chapters discusses Intellectual Property and the differences between some things we deem worthy of protection and other we don’t. One of the reasons we might not provide copyright/patent protection is because the first mover advantage provides its own reward. The example given is NFL coaches develop new tactics/plays every year because the first mover advantage can make you a successful football team. The innovators get the reward of the playoffs and possible job promotions for their work and its a big enough reward they don’t usually seek protections. I don’t think it applies to baseball as nicely, but it got me thinking, what if it was allowed to protect your intellectual property? Off hand, I could think maybe pitchers might protect a new pitch, teams might protect certain shift formations, or maybe batters would even protect a stance. Is there anything else you think might fit this scenario? If things were protected, how do you think players would handle it? Like, if you could sign a player and get his patents, how much extra value would that be worth? How many players do you think would license their IP to other teams or players?
- Dan (Patreon): Suppose the following situation: It’s a tie game in the bottom of the ninth or later, and the manager loses track of the runners on base. Thinking there are two on, he puts up 4 fingers and orders the intentional walk. But, it turns out that that the bases were actually loaded. Does the umpire have a moral, legal, or ethical obligation to say something, confirm the request, or just do as he is told? Without doing any further investigation, it might seem as if the manager is trying to throw the game. It would seem like the umpire would have a duty to the integrity of the game to refuse the intentional walk. What say you?
- Paul (Patreon): Why do players wear hats? What would happen if a player refused to wear a hat?
- Kevin (Patreon): Watching a lot of the Women's College World Series this month, a few players don't wear hats in the field (such as Florida State's shortstop right now). The internet is ambiguous on the question of whether hats are mandatory or not, but they aren't specifically in the rulebook, and the arguments that it's part of the uniform and therefore has to be ... uniform ... aren't convincing to me (you're allowed to not wear sunglasses, or long sleeves, or high socks, or a certain type of cleats, so why are hats different?) The question is, what would be the response if someone started playing without a hat? Would they get treated as a showoff or attention-seeker for some reason, or would people be cool with it and more follow their lead? (Surely there wouldn't be a real impact on performance, at least in night games?) Or if you strongly disagree with the premise above that it's okay, then what if a whole team decided to stop wearing hats, which seems clearly allowed by the rulebook?
- Inspired by a Reddit thread (linked below), Michael Mountain takes up the challenge of finding the most efficient schedule to see a game in every major league and minor league stadium.
- In Episode 1169, he shared his plan to see a game in every major league stadium during the summer of 2018 and reported the results in Episode 1263.
- The grand tour of major league parks had a number of travel days with no game, in part due to the All Star Break, and in part because of the sparseness of stadiums in the West.
- Michael found a schedule (linked below) that visits all 153 stadiums in 153 days, with no more than 10 hours of daytime driving each day. Due to the large number of stadiums and games, he cannot prove its optimality, but it's clearly very close since there are no travel-only days.
- The trip involves 33,000 miles of driving, about double the previous trip, but you're seeing five times as many games.
- There is one minor league stadium that is home to two teams: Both the Jupiter Hammerheads and the Palm Beach Cardinals play at Roger Dean Stadium. Michael visited it only once, since the exercise was to see each stadium, not to see each team at home.
- The most isolated major league stadium was Seattle. He's not sure about which was the most isolated stadium on this trip, but he thinks it's Colorado.
- Minor league game times were not available, so Michael assumed that every game was a night game except for the getaway game of each series.
- Michael does not intend to carry out this schedule. It was just an exercise.
- Ben guarantees a guest appearance to anyone who actually does it. He doesn't expect any takers.
John Choe introduction
- John and his 12-year-old daughter listen to the podcast together. She wants to run a baseball team's operations division when she grows up.
- He and his kids go to games early to catch batting practice home runs. They have gotten 70 so far, and give the balls away. They use spray charts to position themselves optimally. He compares it to fishing, where you sit and wait with quiet anticipation.
One game in indy ball
- John played in exactly one professional baseball game: The Normal CornBelters auctioned off a one-day contract in a 2011 exhibition game as a charity fundraiser.
- For his solitary plate appearance, John had little time to prepare, and batting practice was rained out, so he came to the plate cold. He intended to swing at the first pitch, but the ball came in so fast he couldn't even get the bat around. On the second pitch, he cheated and started swinging early, but even then his swing was late and fouled it off. Now down 0-2, he figured the pitcher would throw another fastball (since it is clearly working), and he was late and fouled it over the dugout. He swung early at the next pitch, a fastball, and "the ball hit the bat" and went down the first base line. The first baseman knocked it down, for a 3-1 putout. "I was probably out by like 30 feet."
- He barely had time to rest before he was sent to right field for one inning. The ball found him twice. The first time, the ball went into the right field gap, and he graciously let the center fielder throw the ball in. Later, with a runner on second, John was prepared for a possible play at the plate. He threw the ball as hard as he could and reached the cutoff man in two bounces. The runner scored, but he looked fairly legit: The ball didn't get past him, he hit the cutoff man, "nobody said anything afterward."
- John kept quiet in the locker room because he understood that for the other players, this was their career and their dream. Many thought he was a newly-signed player. They talked with him about his day job, because "everyone appreciated being there and was aware of their baseball mortality." His teammates gave him tips and were curious about how he got into investments, probably scoping out what they might do after they hang up their cleats.
- Ben and Sam considered inserting themselves into a game when they were running the Sonoma Stompers, get themselves a Baseball Reference page, but decided not to, "partly out of fear" and partly because they were afraid of overstaying their welcome.
Moonlight Graham Society
- At John's request, Kenny Jackelen from Baseball Reference created a list of everyone who appeared in a single minor league game (linked below).
- John and two other one-game wonders founded the organization to honor one-game minor league careers, and he'll use Kenny's list to find people to talk to and get their stories
How baseball led to John's career managing stocks
- John was fascinated with baseball cards, statistics, and numbers
- Stocks are like baseball players: You have to evaluate their value to determine whether you are getting a bargain or are overpaying
Baseball For All
- John's daughter plays for the Boston Slammers, a girls baseball team.
- Baseball For All is an organization that supports girls who play or coach baseball.
- Many members of the U.S. women's national baseball team (yes, we have one) played for the Slammers.
Introducing kids to advanced statistics
- He and his kids have taught an "introduction to baseball analytics" class at the local library, so "I think our youth baseball league is the most saber-friendly baseball organization around."
- John uses baseball as a way to sneak math lessons to kids. For example, he teaches them about run expectancy matrices.
- Parents enjoy it and sometimes learn as much as the kids do.
- John does adjust the lesson: He de-emphasizes walks as a way to improve OBP because he wants the kids to try to swing.
- He teaches kids Pythagorean win expectancy and has the kids use it to identify which teams are overperforming and watch whether they collapse later in the season.
Pitcher and batter directly-comparable statistics
- John thinks it's a great idea, but it needs to be communicated well. Perhaps reporting percentiles, like "This pitcher is in the 80th percentile for OBP allowed."
- Batters have much more control over BABIP than pitchers, since batters have more influence over where the ball is hit. A pitcher with high BABIP allowed is unlucky, but a hitter with high BABIP could be lucky, or it could be his skill. Therefore, pitchers should be evaluated more by things they have control over, like FIP.
- Pitchers historically throw innings, whereas batters have plate appearances. Many pitcher statistics are "per nine innings", but that wouldn't make sense for batters.
- Historically, were were focused on pitcher run prevention. A pitcher could give up a lot of hits, but if none of them came around to score, he was still a good pitcher.
- Meg notes that people nowadays study individual pitches and splits. It doesn't make sense to ask "What's his ERA against left-handed batters?"
- We sometimes talk about a pitcher's "slash line allowed" and say that he held the opponents to (insert mediocre player)-level performance. Meg interjects, "Evan White". Ben confesses that he has used White specifically to complete that sentence.
- A lot of "allowed" statistics are hard to find for pitchers. For example, FanGraphs OPS allowed is not on the main page. You have to go into the splits tool.
You're out for good
- Ben notes that Andrew may have misunderstood. In cricket you're only out for the rest of the innings. You can't bat for the rest of the innings, but you take the field for the opponent's innings, and you can bat in your team's next innings. But Ben accepts the premise of the question anyway and considers what would happen if an out forced you to be removed from the game.
- John quips that this will definitely make games shorter. He notes that it would make him sad if the Angels came to town, and their starter threw a 1-2-3 inning, taking Ohtani and Trout out of the game immediately.
- John apologizes for not being well-versed in cricket. Ben replies, "That never stopped us from talking about it." Later, when Ben makes a similar admission, Meg says, "Again, that's never stopped us."
- In crickets, runs are plentiful and outs are rare, whereas in baseball it's the reverse.
- Ben says that there's really no upside here, because we want good players to stay in the game.
- Ben says that teams would have to stock up on position players, leaving room for only a few pitchers, who will have to go deep into games. On the one hand, starters would be less effective because they would get tired, and the times-through-the-order effect would kick in. On the other hand, most batters wouldn't last to the third time through the order. So the late innings would be tired pitchers throwing to replacement-level hitters.
- Meg wonders whether this would make two-way players more desirable. "I ask that not really having any conviction in the answer."
- John notes that team would have to carry a lot more catchers. That would increase stolen bases, which would also please MLB. "Maybe we shouldn't talk about this too much so Major League Baseball doesn't catch on and think this is a good idea."
- Ben calls this another question in the "Let's hope we don't do this" department.
- John snarkily wonders if a team would get a patent on banging on trash cans.
- John is fascinated by innovation in sports. He thinks IP protections would hurt the product. Would you not cut a player to keep his IP? What happens when a player retires?
- Meg wonders if a pitcher has a unique grip, and a coach suggests that he change it slightly. Who owns that? "This seems like we're just going to bog down the sport in litigation for the next 50 years, which is everyone's favorite thing."
- Ben compares this to video games, where you cannot copyright game mechanics, and he thinks that's a good thing.
- Having IP protection would promote variety, because teams would have to develop different strategies. But it also restricts competition because only one team gets to use each tactic.
- Meg wonders when ownership begins. People have been framing pitches forever, but only recently did we start appreciating it as a specific skill.
- Ben wonders if there will be patent trolls who just patent every conceivable strategy.
- Can you patent the opener? Bullpen games?
Accidental intentional walk
- Meg's interpretation of the rule book says that the umpire has discretion to reconfirm with the manager to prevent a game-losing intentional walk to preserve the integrity of the game, especially since gambling is now overtly involved.
- John thinks umpires should let it happen. Umpires don't correct players who bat out of order or leave a base too early.
- In practice, the manager would check with a coach before making the decision, and the coach would point out the error. Even if the manager did it unilaterally, the players and coaches would try to wave it off, and Ben thinks that some leeway is appropriate.
- Ben agrees that you should suffer your own mental lapses. Fielders who forget the number of outs are not forgiven, for example.
- On the other hand, this would be a terrible way to end a game, calling back to a listener question from Episode 1771.
The no-hat look
- John thinks this is a fantastic question because he loves sports uniforms. John is all for individuality, "but I kind of like the hats." One of his family's dinner-table conversations is "Things in sports uniforms that bother me." For example, the Yankees logo on the jersey doesn't match the cap or helmet. The "D" on the Tigers uniform was inconsistent until a few years ago. Teams with an even number of letters in their name do not distribute the letters evenly between the left and right halves of the jersey.
- John decides that you are allowed to forego a hat "but only if you have great hair. You have to earn it." He lists Bryce Harper, Noah Syndergaard, and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. as having earned the right to go hatless. John also reminds us of the Minnesota State High School Hockey All-Hair Team which celebrates awesome player hair.
- Meg wonders if wearing a hat accelerates the balding process. John says that his friends' doctors say that "hats hurt".
- Ben notes the various practical benefits of hats, even in indoor stadiums.
- Ben thinks that it is technically legal to got hatless.
- John Olerud wore a batting helmet instead of a hat when he played the field.
- Some catchers don't wear a hat under the mask, and even if they do, the hat is worn backwards.
- Meg thinks that if you're a ball player who makes the big leagues, you're going to wear the hat because it completes the outfit and makes you feel like you've made it.
- Meg thinks we should address Yankees and facial hair before we deal with caps.
- John Choe endorses Stove League. "I feel like it was made for me," as the son of Korean immigrants.
- Michael Mountain also runs the novelty Twitter account NoContextEWPod which tweets quotes from the podcast out of context. He has been listening to the back catalog and making notes of odd quotes.
- Effectively Wild Episode 1773: Hats Off
- Link to Brendan Gawlowski on Verlander
- Link to Baseball America on MiLB housing
- Link to MiLB.com on MiLB housing
- Link to the Moonlight Graham Society website
- Link to John’s page at the MGS site
- Link to John’s article about the MGS
- Link to NPR story on Evan Katz
- Link to Sam Miller on playing in a pro game
- Link to list of minor league one-game players
- Link to lists of major league one-game players
- Link to Baseball For All website
- Link to paper on protecting sports secrets
- Link to Ben on keeping secrets in MLB
- Link to Bryan Grosnick on openers
- Link to Sam on the history of bullpenning
- Link to story on copyrighting game mechanics
- Link to Michael’s previous pod appearance
- Link to Reddit thread on 2022 road trip
- Link to Michael’s ballpark grand tour
- Link to traveling salesperson problem
- Link to NoContextEWPod account
- Link to Acuña’s quote
- Link to Stove League teaser video
- Link to stream Stove League via Kocowa
- Link to stream Stove League via Viki