In an all-mailbag episode, Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley answer listener emails about baseball with nine DH spots (and separate offensive and defensive units), baseball with eight lineup spots instead of a DH, a visual baseball rulebook, their favorite types of ballpark quirks, adjusting offensive stats for the behavior of the ball, an ethical question about preventing a Shohei Ohtani injury, anointing MLB’s biggest heel, bringing ultimate Frisbee’s self-officiating to baseball, posting the wrong lineup on the scoreboard to confuse an opposing team, a pitcher with one pitch but perfect (albeit limited) command, programming a robomanager, and more.
- Should baseball have 9 DHs, so offense and defense are completely separate?
- Should baseball have 8-person lineups and just delete the pitcher instead of replacing him with a DH?
- Should the rule book have links to videos that illustrate the scenarios?
- If all ballparks were identical except for one thing, what thing would you choose?
- Should we apply statistical adjustments due to changes in the baseball?
- Would you reveal a hidden superpower to save Shohei Ohtani's career?
- If Shohei Ohtani is the face of baseball, who is the heel?
- What if players made their own calls instead of using an umpire?
- What would happen if the scoreboard operator intentionally posted the wrong lineup?
- How valuable is a pitcher with perfect command, but only to the four corners of the strike zone?
- Would we be able to tell if a computer program were making all managerial decisions?
- What if teams could pay opponents to rest specific players when they meet?
- How much would it cost to pay another franchise's entire depth and prospects to quit baseball forever?
- Episode 1813: The Stanky Draft follow-up.
- Casey: I don’t think you’ve ever discussed this, but would baseball be better or worse with 9 DH spots? Offense and defense are totally separated in football, and the sport is probably better for it. How many two way players (meaning batter and fielder in this case) would there be? On the one hand, it may dilute a single superstar to put him on one side of the ball, but watching 8 stellar defenders would be more entertaining. Obviously, rosters would need to be expanded considerably.
- David: I was wondering with all this DH talk - if pitchers can't hit, why is the solution a DH? Isn't the straightforward solution an 8-man lineup? There's probably some creative managing that that would eliminate, but it seems like those options are never used and most would result in losing the DH and pitchers hitting after all later in the game. Has anyone ever considered this? It feels somehow more elegant to me.
- Meg recently commented that she wished MLB had more visual aids in the baseball rule book. That is a good idea and it got me to thinking: why not also put links in the rule book to videos that could help elaborate the rules? For example, obstruction was called on the Red Sox's Will Middlebrooks for preventing the Cardinals' Allen Craig from scoring in the 9th inning of Game 3 of the 2013 World Series. The result of the call was that the winning run was awarded to St. Louis in their 5-4 victory over Boston. The video clip from the Fox broadcast, in showing Middlebrooks lying on the ground and Craig sprawled over him, provides a dramatic demonstration (in a high leverage situation, no less) that it is still obstruction even if inadvertent (or, as in this case, even if there was nothing Middlebrooks could have done to get out of the way). By the way, last night I discovered that Star Trek already thought of it. In Season 7, Episode 4 of Deep Space Nine ("Take Me out to the Holosuite", originally aired in October, 1998), which Ben and Michael Baumann discussed with the writer on The Ringer MLB Show several years ago, several members of Captain Sisko's baseball-ignorant team are trying to learn the rules in preparation to take on the Vulcans. There is uncertainty about what a "fly ball" is, so the definition is called up on one of the tablets and the animation shows a baseball arcing out of the infield. The idea has been out there for almost 25 years. It's time for MLB to pick it up.
- Nathan: As my mind was drifting earlier this week, I got to thinking about the growing uniformity of ballpark dimensions, with Camden Yards' left field wall as a recent example, and Busch Stadium as the next one up, potentially. That led me to the question of what's the best kind of uniqueness in a park? If you could only pick one variable, which would it be? A few ideas I've had for uniqueness types:
- wall height
- wall distance
- wall corners/jaggedness
- total outfield area
- total foul territory area
- ground rules (e.g., Trop catwalks, Wrigley ivy)
- unique seating (e.g., fans at field level behind the outfield wall, hot tub)
- in-park water features
- ability for balls to leave the park entirely
- Anonymous: Since we already adjust some metrics for park factors - in the future, do you think we'll similarly add an adjustment for the properties of the baseball as well - most likely to represent the performance of the average baseball used over the course of a season? I need to think more about how this would be calculated, but it seems like a natural progression.
- Beau: Forgive me for what I'm about to say. You have a super secret skill that allows you to see briefly (but with great clarity) into the near future. One day you're enjoying an Angels game in right field and a fly ball is hit to deep right. As Ohtani is racing back to the fence, your secret skills kicks in and you get a vision of Ohtani crashing into the wall and suffering a career-ending leg injury. Luckily, you're carrying a ball with you and you're close enough that you could confidently hit Ohanti, distracting him enough to give up on the play. You won't seriously injure him and he can now play out his glorious career. So you have one of three decisions to make:
- Not throw the ball, watch the gruesome injury up close, and lose Ohtani's career forever
- Throw the ball, keep quiet about your special skills, and your reputation in baseball is ruined. Your closest family and friends will believe you and you can still find a job. It just won't be in baseball.
- Throw the ball, and subsequently prove to the world that you have this skill. Otherworldly attention will rain down on you and all the pressures that come with it. On the other hand, you will likely become rich. More importantly, Ohtani will be forever grateful to you and you'll probably get to hang out with him a lot.
- Andrew: With Ohtani as baseball's undisputed face - who should be the heel? Not an actual bad guy (because who wants to think about actual bad people) but a player that is beloved by his own fan base and enjoys riling up rival fans. I remember Bryce Harper miming tossing a ball into the stands at Dodger Stadium and taking delight in being vigorously booed. It was a move straight out of pro wrestling and as a Dodger fan I loved it.
- Sam: You all talked recently about AJ Pierzynski running to first after a not-actually-dropped third strike. Jeff's reaction was something like: "The burden isn't on Pierzynski to get it right. It's on the umpire." I play ultimate frisbee, which is a sport based on self-officiating. Even at the highest levels--national and world championships--the concept of "Spirit of the Game" means that players make their own calls. The basic idea is that the burden is on the player to get to the right outcome. If I was out-of-bounds when I caught the frisbee, I say that; I don't wait for anyone else to notice. If baseball operated on the same principle, where would the biggest differences be? Would there be many? Are there many times where an ump gets the call wrong and an honest player would speak up to say "actually..."?
- Richard: The home team’s scoreboard operator purposely posts the wrong lineup for the visiting team to get them to bat out of order, to get an out. This would have to be only a slight change maybe posting a more typical lineup when the manager has made a tweak. Would the team and/or manager be checking their written lineup or does everyone just look at the scoreboard? I assume the announcer is going by the scoreboard so could also be announcing wrong. Would the opposing team or umpire even notice?
- Myf (Patreon): Let’s say I am a young pitcher with a special talent - I can throw a good 94-96 mph fastball with decent spin and I have pinpoint accuracy, to the point where I can only throw a pitch to one of the four exact corners of the rulebook strike zone. With only one pitch and only four possible locations, albeit a good pitch with perfect command, do you think that I could be a Major League starter and/or reliever? How would a team potentially game-plan against me? How hard would I have to throw to make this a foolproof repertoire? And finally, would the coming of the robo-umps signal my demise or my career renaissance?
- Scott (2019): If a team used a program for all tactical on-field management, then fed that information to a human, and the human manager did everything he was told by the program, would we ever be able to tell? And would the robot be better? Assume all lineups are set by the program, as well as pitching decisions: steal signs, pitchouts—everything. I think you could write a Robo-manager program now that would maximize all percentages, or most anyway. Maybe some team is already using a RoboManager.
- Anonymous: In reference to the Carlos Correa Billionaire Buyout question: I've had this dystopian hypothetical in my mind for a while, and the Soto extension also made this relevant. What if teams could straight up pay other teams to not face certain players under their control? What would Steve Cohen pay the Nats to never field Juan Soto against the Mets in a full season, for example? Do you think some cheap franchises like the Athletics or Rays would switch their baseball business model to collecting these "bounties" instead of trying to win games with an optimized roster?
- Dan (Patreon): A thought occurred to me while listening to the discussion at the end of the last episode (1812) about how much you would need to pay a player to leave. Imagine my name was Cheve Sohen and I was a huge and very wealthy Mets fan. Say I was concerned that my Mets might not make the playoffs even with the free agent signings and also that I was not above some underhand dealing. (I have no reason for suggesting this, this is purely hypothetical.) I'm wondering if rather than buying out Acuna and Albies (these players might actually be a bad example here because they got jobbed), it might be cheaper and more impactful to buyout all depth and prospects. How much would it take make the entire Atlanta minor league system retire? What about all of the role players on the team? Do you think this would be the most efficient way to get the result? How long lasting would the result be?
- The title of the episode is a pun on the movie Angels in the Outfield. It is a reference to the email about saving Shohei Ohtani: Not only is Ohtani an outfielder for the Anaheim Angels in the listener hypothetical, but the fan with the superpower could become Ohtani's guardian angel by saving his career.
- Ben acknowledges that the answer to this question will cover the DH more broadly, not focusing just on the scenario proposed by Casey.
- Ben does not buy the slippery slope argument against the DH. It took baseball 90 years to add the DH to one league, and another 50 years for it to reach the NL. The slope is far from slippery: "There's a lot of traction on this slope."
- Having 9 DHs would require rosters to be expanded significantly, and that on its own spells death for the proposal.
- Ben argues that the batting gap between pitchers and the worst position player is far greater than that within position players. It's only pitchers that need a DH.
- Ben and Meg like the fact that positions players have to be good at both offense and defense. Meg marvels at how a single person can be good at two unrelated skills. Ben would rather see players who are good at two things instead of great at one thing and terrible at the other. It's hard to be a superstar if you're participating in only half of the game.
- Meg likes the strategy in deciding how to hide player weaknesses, which is more interesting than the NL strategies about things like double-switches, which are well understood.
- Meg points out a disturbing trend in listener email: In the face of something spectacular, we like to undo the spectacular thing. The prime example of this is taking the glory that is Mike Trout and saddling him with all sorts of handicaps.
- Meg does like the idea of expanding the roster to allow room for greater specialization, such as Vroom Vroom Guy.
- Ben accepts the argument against the DH that it puts more emphasis on roster depth.
- Ben says that if two-way players were more common, then he would put up with bad hitting from some pitchers in exchange for great hitting from others. But there's only one great-hitting pitcher right now, so it's not worth it. Even the pitchers heralded as being good hitters, like Zach Greinke, are good hitters only by pitcher standards.
- Ben notes that teams don't care how good a pitcher is at hitting. They invest no effort in improving it because it is not valued at all.
- There would be strong resistance to reducing the lineup to eight batters from a tradition standpoint.
- It would also change statistics, because hitters would now get 12% more plate appearances. All sorts of records would be broken, but they would all have "invisible asterisks" next to them.
- The DH provides a place for a player who can still hit but has lost the ability to place defense. Ben admits that this contradicts his previous answer that he wants players to be well-rounded, but he likes that there's just the one spot to put the "hitting specialist". Ben also admits that modern usage often treats the DH as a place to give players a partial rest day rather than as a dedicated role.
- The players union would be opposed to the loss of a starting roster spot. (Meg notes that teams would just use the spot for yet another reliever.)
- Meg says that we shouldn't resist change to the detriment of the game, but we should also be really sure what we're doing if we're going to change recordkeeping.
- Ben notes that an upside of giving hitters 12% more plate appearances is that you'll see your favorite player more often. Meg thinks that it's outweighed by messing up historical statistical comparisons.
Videos in the rule book
- Meg thinks it's a great idea.
- Meg surmises that one reason it hasn't happened is that the primary audience for the rule book is not the casual fan, but rather umpires and others who have the specialized knowledge required to understand it.
- Meg jokes that the reason they haven't done it is that the "balk" entry would be too long.
- Ben likes the idea as well and suggests that Meg do it. Meg sighs. "I'm going to spend too much time doing something that only seven people read. It's like the good old days, Ben!"
A single axis of ballpark variability
- Ben notes that ballpark variability has decreased over time. Originally, ballparks had to squeeze into whatever space they had, which led to quirky dimensions.
- Ben would choose outfield dimensions. Whether you are short down the line or have a power alley or a deep center field, each shape favors a different kind of hitter.
- Meg likes quirky ground rules, like the catwalk. They give each ballpark a distinctive sense of place.
- Meg isn't swayed by unique seating arrangements, but she makes an exception for Chase Field "because having a hot tub in your outfield is the most Arizona (bleep) thing I've ever experienced."
- Ben likes the view of the surroundings from the park. He calls out PNC park as having a great view of the river and the Pittsburgh skyline. He also likes home runs that leave the park and land in the water (PNC Park and Oracle Park).
Statistical adjustments for the baseball itself
- Meg notes that statistics are already adjusted for the overall offensive environment, which implicitly captures changes to the ball, so it would be double-counting.
- While it's true that there were two types of baseballs used in the 2021 season (previously discussed in Episode 1781), we don't know which games used which type, so we have no way to adjust for it.
- Meg thinks it's wild that (labor issues notwithstanding) we are not talking more about the fact that the ball keeps changing. She predicts that in 20 years, we will look back and ask, "Why didn't we cover that more?"
Divulging a hidden superpower to save Shohei Ohtani's career
- Meg initially calls this a no-brainer: Save Ohtani! Ben points out that once your powers are exposed, you could be shunned as a witch (such as the X-Men), sent to an insane asylum, or forced to become a full-time superhero, saving people from getting hit by cars. You might even be required by the military to go into dangerous situations. At any rate, your life would change forever.
- Ben and Meg discuss how you could prove to the world that your supernatural powers were real. You'd have to submit to rigorous testing, and intentionally allow someone to come to harm to prove that you predicted it. "You have a really weird trolley problem," adds Meg.
- Ben observes that hypotheticals involving supernatural powers (such as Gonny Jomes) tend to leave the realm of baseball rather quickly.
- Meg wonders if there's a way to throw the ball onto the field but in a way that preserves your anonymity.
- Ben notes that if it were him or Meg specifically, any type of intervention would spell the end of their baseball-writing careers. Ben calls out the irony that his public image would instantly flip from being an Ohtani-booster to an Ohtani-hater. Ben wonders how many people would sacrifice their careers and reputations to save a ballplayer.
- Meg considers jumping onto the field to create a distraction but realizes that it's a nearly 20-foot drop from the right field bleachers of Angel Stadium.
- In response to Ben's firm belief that those with superpowers would be mistreated by society, Meg says, "I'm worried that you think that witchcraft is more illegal than it actually is." Ben blames his consumption of superhero stories for his pessimistic outlook.
Who is the heel of baseball?
- Meg names pre-scandal Alex Bregman as the clear heel of baseball. Bregman would stare into the dugout camera after hitting a home run and even created a Twitter hashtag for it. The 2019 sign-stealing scandal changed the optics.
- Meg notes that a lot of players who fit the mold "actually ended up sucking" which takes them out of contention.
- Ben suggests Josh Donaldson, and Amir Garrett. Meg thinks A.J. Pierzynski goes too far.
- Meg doesn't feel that bat flipping counts as a "heel" action, because the bat flip comes from celebrating their own success rather than showing up the opponent.
- Meg suggests Joe Kelly but realizes it may just be the pouty-face incident that brought him to mind.
Players calling their own outs
- Baseball has a history of cheating. Sometimes players who cheat are reviled. Other times, they are perceived as lovable and get voted into the Hall of Fame.
- Ben and Meg both observe that players may misjudge their own actions. Fans would lose confidence that the game was called correctly.
- Meg predicts it would be a disaster but thinks they should do it for just one game, just so we can see the disaster for ourselves.
- Ben reminds us of a similar question from Episode 1729 in which the umpire kept the count secret, and the players had to decide for themselves whether a pitch was a ball or strike.
- Ben notes that batters will sometimes make the "safe" sign as they reach first base, indicating that they believe they were safe. But how can they tell? Even if everybody was doing their honest best, there would still be disagreements, and you'd need an umpire to resolve them.
Intentionally incorrect lineup on the scoreboard
- Meg notes that the rule book calls out "batting out of order" as something that must be appealed, to force teams to pay attention.
- Ben thinks it would work occasionally, but if you tried it too much, people would catch on and no longer be fooled. "Save it for a big game."
Perfect command, but only to the corners of the strike zone
- Ben notes a similar question from Episode 270 asking how much velocity you would need to have if you had perfect command.
- Meg thinks that this hypothetical pitcher is definitely not starting-pitcher quality. You would not be brought in for high-leverage situations, but that's okay. "We didn't think that Logan Webb would work either. Kevin Gausman has a career and has had a pretty good one."
- Ben thinks it'd be okay for a reliever who never faces a hitter more than once per game.
- Ben doesn't think the robo-zone will have any effect on your career. Eventually, the book on you will be revealed.
Would we be able to detect a robo-manager?
- Nowadays, managers are in closer agreement with baseball operations. It was different, say, 20 years ago.
- Managers often know things that aren't visible in the statistics, like players who are hiding an injury or dealing with personal problems. Or he could observe something in a pitcher's delivery or notice something in how a reliever is warming up. But maybe we could teach the computer that too, even on the fly during a game.
- Teams are not allowed to use electronic devices in the dugout, so there would need to be a rule change. Ben suspects some teams are already breaking this rule.
Episode 1812 follow-up: Buying out a player
- If a team did pay another team to bench a player or buy out all their prospects, the league would certainly pass a rule against it. Fans would be upset that they are not seeing the game's best players perform.
- Ben thinks a team would be better off spending their money to hire better players they can use all year, rather than paying to avoid facing a particular player a dozen times a year.
- Listener Peter Chen pointed out that a player buy-out sort of did happen: Jackie Robinson quit baseball to become an executive at the Chock Full o'Nuts coffee shop chain. Part of his motivation was that he was on the decline and didn't want to move with the Dodgers to Los Angeles. His post-baseball salary was around 25% higher than his peak baseball salary, which is roughly in line with Ben's prediction.
Episode 1813 follow-up: Rules inspired by a single person
- In the 1983 Pine Tar Incident, league president Lee MacPhail lowered the penalty for using too much pine tar from "batter is out" to "the play stands, but the bat must be removed from the game." Ben agrees that this meets the letter of the draft, but not its spirit, because this weakened a rule rather than closing a loophole.
- Listener Bobby suggested the Pete Incaviglia rule (linked below), which prohibited teams from trading recently-drafted players. Teams skirted the rule by incorporating the players into trades as a "player to be named later." That second loophole was closed in 2015, possibly driven by a Trea Turner trade, so maybe it should be called the Trea Turner Rule.
- Effectively Wild Episode 1814: The Angel in the Outfield
- Link to Ben on pitcher hitting
- Link to BtBS on the universal DH
- Link to Star Trek Ringer MLB Show
- Link to ballpark homogeneity study
- Link to BP on LeMahieu
- Link to FanGraphs on LeMahieu
- Link to Gonny Jomes EW wiki page
- Link to Michael Baumann on Bregman
- Link to Incaviglia rule story
- Link to Robinson retirement story