December 17, 2016
Ben and Sam banter about Josh Harrison and old-timey pitch names, then answer listener emails about sabermetrics and fandom, baseball and birthdates, players’ phone numbers, managing bullpens, and more.
White Strips, "Black Math"
Spoon, "My Mathematical Mind"
- Ben and Sam discuss Sam's ESPN article, "The Pirates' John Harrison Is the King of the Pickle."
- Sam recalls the show once going through a "pickle phase," in reference to Ben making homemade pickles in the fall of 2013.
- Sam brings up Roger Bresnahan, a catcher who played from 1897 to 1915. Sam thinks he may have previously come up on the show because he invented catcher shin guards. He started out as a pitcher, and Sam notes that his repertoire is described in the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract as “a speedy shoot, an out-curve, an in-shoot, and a drop ball." Sam asks Ben to guess what pitches those terms referred to.
- Listener Aaron wrote in regarding a previous discussion on lower tickets prices, saying that it would benefit scalpers most, since a ticket reduced to $20 could be resold for $50 since that's what the market will bear.
- Listener Steve wrote in about how 2016 may have been the last season in which Albert Pujols led Mike Trout in career OPS, given his yearly decrease since 2008 (except after his injury-shortened 2013). Sam adds that Pujols has still been above average during that decline, and the discussion turns to Ken Griffey Jr. and Willie Mays, and how their twilight years weren't as bad as they're often remembered. Sam reads part of Roger Angell's account of Mays' 1971 season, when he turned 40.
- Ben quickly mentions a John Coppolella Twitter Q&A in which he comments that "it's a possibility" that there will be more two-way players, with Shohei Ohtani being a potential example, and that it "will happen in future."
Email Questions Edit
- Brent: "I love math, I love baseball. And baseball math is the best (I asked for the Bill James Abstract for my tenth birthday in '85). But is baseball any less fun for you both knowing what you know? I'm not a 'back in my day' guy but not knowing anything really meant that my team always had a chance next year. Now I know loosely what the standings should by April and root for health and luck. It's a different kind of fun, but feels far less suspenseful."
- Michael: "I'm watching a spring training broadcast and Ken Rosenthal mentioned a text he received from 'a former player' about the Utley suspension reduction. We hear similar humble brags/reports about texts from unnamed players often. Does the reporter initiate the conversation or does the player? If the reporter initiates, how does he decide who and when to ask? How many players do you imagine Rosenthal or the local beat writer have in their contacts?"
- Scott (with a "more than two-year-old question"): "How hard is it to manage a bullpen not in terms of who actually goes in the game when, but in regards to the time it takes to get each guy warm, what happens when you warm up a guy who isn't needed, etc. To me this is an underrated component when we judge managers for their use of relievers, though maybe it's fully delegated to pitching coaches. I also think it's a key part of pace of play initiatives because excessive pitching changes and real mound warmup tosses generally are an absolute buzzkill in regular season games. If MLB limits warmup pitch numbers even more stringently, is it going to be that much harder to get players ready on time?"
Play Index Edit
Sam's Play Index was inspired by a study referred to in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, regarding the birthdates of hockey players and how kids born in earlier months would have a maturity advantage in youth leagues.
Sam explains that Little League had a July 31st cutoff until a few years ago, and the Play Index confirms that more MLB players active in 2016 were born in August than expected by a normal distribution (28%). September was second-highest, and June and July were below average. Sam also used players from 1996 and 1997 and found that the hypothesis still held up. He then limited the field to American-born players but expanded the year range to 2010-2016. Finally, he looked to see if other studies had already been done, and cited one by Baseball America from 2005 which yielded similar results.