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Welcome to Banished to the Pen’s Best of 2015 Awards! It was a terrific year of corner-turning, cooler-punching, switch-pitching and the most psychologically devastating batflip in history, so we thought we’d mark it with a couple of polls. The first is for your favourite MLB moment or storyline of the year, and the second is for the best Effectively Wild moment or recurring topic. We asked BttP’s crack team of baseball and podcast consumers to select some of their best moments for each from the past year, and a selection of each is included below.

(Voting ended Saturday, Jan 9. We asked readers to rank five options for each question, as we will feature the top 5 in our results. The results will first be announced on the BttP Podcast.)

Below is a listing of the choices, with handy video clips and links to each podcast concerned included.

 

The Best of MLB

A-Rod’s comeback

After his full-season suspension, Alex Rodriguez had a remarkably successful comeback season by a) actually being pretty valuable with the bat and b) managing to avoid doing anything that would draw further ire from his detractors (unless you are of the opinion that A-Rod playing baseball is itself grounds for complaint). He also passed a couple of milestones, notching his 3000th hit, and passing Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time home run leaderboard.

Bartolo Colon

At 42, Colon continues to be a productive major leaguer, exhibiting pinpoint control, some remarkably slick fielding skills, and even rapping out eight hits. It was too difficult to select just one moment from his season to show, so here’s a selection from the 18-year veteran.

Bryce Harper turns the corner

After Harper so unreasonably kept us waiting through his first three big-league seasons by merely being a significantly above-average hitter rather than a phenomenal one, year four looked like it might be much of the same when his OPS fell to a still very good .862 on May 5th. Over his next three games, he hit six home runs in a devastating spree (featured below) that Sam declared corner-turning: the rest of the way Harper would hit .349/.473/.691 on his way to becoming unanimous NL MVP.

Bumgarner homers off Kershaw

The legend of Bumgarner’s hitting ability keeps growing: the big lefty has now hit nine home runs since the start of 2014, a period in which he has not only been the best hitting pitcher in the game, but above league-average for all batters. The highlight of 2015 was this first-pitch blast against the best pitcher in the game.

Empty stadium game in Baltimore

The troubling situation in Baltimore in late April led to perhaps the most surreal moment of the season, as the Orioles and White Sox played a full game in an empty Camden Yards.

Jon Lester’s pick-off attempts

Lester’s inability to throw over to first base initially came to light late in the 2014 season, as the Royals exploited it to great effect in the Wild Card game. 2015 was when it became truly apparent that Lester has no idea how to fix this problem, as opposing baserunners swiped an incredible 44 bases against him, while the rare attempts he did make to throw over did not end well:

Josh Donaldson’s catch in the stands

Eat your heart out, Derek Jeter.

Kansas City Royals vs everyone

The reigning AL champions seemed to antagonise almost every team they came into contact with early in the season, with a series of plunkings, slides and bench-clearing incidents followed up by plenty of off-field smack talk. They also provided Ben and Sam with plentiful material for unwritten rules discussions. Much of the trouble revolved around the slide below, and whether Brett Lawrie did or did not apologise to Alcides Escobar for it.


Kevin Kiermaier’s incredible defense

Kiermaier’s absurd 42 Defensive Runs Saved was the best single-season total in the history of the fielding metric (yes, even better than Andrelton Simmons in 2013), and whether you think the Rays center fielder is really that good a defender or not, it’s hard to argue with when you watch catches like those below.

Max Scherzer’s three almost-perfect games

Scherzer somehow didn’t pitch a perfect game in 2015, but he did have a one-hitter with 16 strikeouts and a Game Score of 100, a no-hitter with 17 whiffs that ranks as the second-best game of all time by Game Score at 104, and the below no-hitter that was only denied perfection by Jose Tabata’s elbow.

Papelbon vs Harper

Despite Scherzer’s brilliance and Harper’s breakout, it was a season in which almost nothing else went right for the Washington Nationals, and perhaps nothing epitomised the meltdown better than Jonathan Papelbon assaulting Harper in the dugout after what the veteran closer perceived to be a lack of hustle, and Harper’s previous comments disapproving of Papelbon’s plunking of Manny Machado.

Pat Venditte’s big-league debut

In the event most likely to have been hypothesised in an Effectively Wild email question, the A’s finally gave the switch-pitcher a shot after years stuck in the Yankees system, and he didn’t disappoint.

Sean Rodriguez vs the Gatorade cooler

The Pirates may have been baffled by Jake Arrieta in yet another Wild Card loss, but Sean Rodriguez took care of business when this cooler looked at him funny in the dugout.

Seventh inning in Toronto (feat. Bautista’s batflip)

It’s impossible to do this inning justice without simply replaying the entire sequence of events, so I’ll just leave you with Ben’s brilliant recap of the ’53 Minutes of Madness’ and the moment that has been replayed more than any other.

Wilmer Flores cries

A tearful Flores ultimately didn’t have to go to Milwaukee as the trade that brought about this moment fell through, but it remains one of the most memorable and poignant moments of the season.

 

The Best of Effectively Wild

Origin episodes provided where available:

 

Ben doesn’t like Weezer (episode 730)

After 729 episodes of keeping this terrible secret, Ben confessed to Sam, and the audience, that he didn’t really like Weezer and their ‘chugging’ guitars.

Ben in The Force Awakens

Ben’s resemblance to the non-Sith bad guy in the latest Star Wars was noted by a Facebook member, and appreciated by many more.

Ben interviews Webb and Albers (717, end)

The notoriety of these two relievers in Effectively Wild circles came to a head when Ben actually interviewed the duo about their somewhat unusual distinction of finishing the most games in MLB history without ever recording a save.

“The Best Barry Bonds Facts” episode (762)

To mark recording the same total number of episodes as Bonds home runs, Ben and Sam invited Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman of Cespedes Family BBQ to draft their favourite Barry fun facts. The result was almost an hour of marveling at the extent to which Bonds broke baseball.

Billy Beane fan fiction (598)

Ben joking that the A’s acquiring Ben Zobrist seemed like something out of bad Beane fan fiction led to Sam’s on-air discovery that not only was this a popular genre of fan fiction, but it was much more “steamy” and “filthy” than simply a series of well-crafted trades.

Burning the ships (704 – 12 min in)

The Best Team Money Can Buy author Molly Knight started this meme by revealing Ned Colletti’s misunderstanding of the ‘burn the ships’ anecdote often attributed to Hernan Cortes in said book – and the resulting amusement/t-shirt production – but this went way beyond one Dodgers story and extended into tales from other clubhouses, motivational posters and even a trawl through the New York Public Library archives.

Cold-calling Ned Garver (722, ~39 min in)

A Play Index query about using nine different pitchers in one game turned into a wonderful insight into baseball’s past with a pronounced EW slant, as Ben and Sam made an impromptu call to former MLB pitcher Ned Garver to ask him about appearing in such a game, and ended up with so much more.

Future episode in the year 2017 (1184)

Baseball Prospectus fast-forwarded to 2017 for the Futures Game in July, and Ben and Sam seamlessly went with them, imagining that we had experienced two more years of baseball and podcast episodes, before embarking on an episode that should prove timeless, debating the optimal distribution of three World Series titles from a fan perspective.

Gonny Jomes email question (720, ~39 min in)

What if a player offered nothing to a team on the field, but their mere presence guaranteed that they would win every game? Ben and Sam went down the rabbit hole with this outstanding email question

The Market Diner saga

Ben’s favourite New York eatery (or at the very least the most convenient) sadly closed in 2015. Its frequent presence in his life was the catalyst for multiple discussions of his eating habits, with Sam at one point stating that Ben simply bought all his food for the entire day from the diner and took most of it home to eat later.

Mike Trout Twitter punctuation !!! (655, ~13 min in)

Why does Mike Trout leave spaces between his final word and punctuation marks? Maybe it’s just his phone, but until Trout himself answers this one, Ben and Sam will keep digging for evidence in his tweets.

Sam’s Dark Analogy (744, ~30 min in)

“It’s like you have this happily married couple that everyone loves…”  Sam’s certainly not averse to making dark comments in the midst of a perfectly innocuous baseball conversation, but this particular analogy was so dark that even he didn’t want to talk about it at first.

Sam meets Ben in California for the Stompers, tells Russell about burrito-eating techniques (635)

The Lindbergh Burrito Method sounds impossible, and yet apparently at the end of this bizarre middle-out technique, all that’s left is a small piece of tortilla. Sam related Ben’s logic-defying method to Russell Carleton after seeing it for the first time when the two met in California.

Tree in the Infield (675)

What if there was a tree on a baseball infield? Sometimes you don’t have to wonder, as a high school prank made this a reality, prompting much banter between our hosts about this actually being present during a game. Sadly they didn’t try to play a game with the tree still on the field.

“Triple Shy of the Cycle” At Bat notifications (as seen in the Facebook group)

MLB saw an average of one player per day falling a triple shy of the cycle. MLB’s At Bat app helpfully sent out cycle notifications to fans, even if a player needed an unlikely triple. It became such a common occurrence that amused/irritated EW Facebook group members took to posting screenshots so others could share in their misery.

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