Episode 21: TypewriterAug 15, 2012, 20:35

The Style:

This is a big day for Effectively Wild. For the first time in its history it will run longer than 20 minutes! The show opens with the sound of a typewriter (in perhaps a strangely appropriate manner, the typewriter would also be the last opening sound clip to be the basis for an episode title). Ben is in New York and Sam is in Long Beach.

There’s quite a bit of banter this episode. Ben mentions to Sam that occasionally he hears other podcasts tell listeners how great their show is going to be. He wonders if they should begin to proclaim their greatness at the start of the show. Sam is concerned about taking this approach because he believes they are two of the most “un-self-assured” people he’s ever met. This reminds Sam of the second episode, when he commented that EW was the #1 podcast on iTunes. Apparently this comment led to a congratulatory email from a relative to Sam, and Ben receiving similar congratulations from his girlfriend. Both the relative and girlfriend were ultimately disappointed to find it wasn’t true.

The Substance:

Sam’s topic for the day is Jeff Mathis. Ben chooses to talk about the Royals and team chemistry. We’re off and running.

Jeff Mathis had recently signed an extension with the Blue Jays. This leads Sam to wonder whether a general manager’s decision to sign or extend a player is a data point about the player’s abilities. Because Mike Scioscia stood behind Mathis during his time in Anaheim, Sam was willing to allow for the possibility that Mathis had skills Sam had not yet seen. The Blue Jays had also just shown confidence in Mathis by giving him an extension. Is this confidence a data point regarding Mathis’ abilities?

Ben mentions that he has come to value the actions of general managers in regard to player signings. Who knows a player better than his current team? He mentioned a recent article by Matt Swartz in which he argued that players that go to other teams don’t offer as much value over the course of their contract as guys who stay in one place. If a team doesn’t re-sign a player, there’s probably a reason for that. Swartz found that this had the strongest effect on projecting pitchers, but it applied to position players as well.

Ben also noted a recent article written by Greg Zaun. In that article Zaun foretold a future in which Mathis would really develop his hitting. The idea was that in Anaheim, Scioscia emphasized defense to the detriment of offense. Now that Mathis was out of that culture he could focus on his bat. There might have been something to this as Mathis was having his best offensive season ever, but he was in the midst of a slump.

Ben wonders why teams would value Mathis. Is it because he’s a clubhouse guy? Is it only his defensive value? Is he the type of player that’s a natural leader?

Sam has had some opportunities to observe the Angels clubhouse up close and he never got the sense that Mathis was a leader. The pitchers like him. Position players didn’t have the same kind of esteem for him. Sam notes that he had heard directly that some players and writers wondered why Mathis got playing time over better alternatives.

Again, Ben wonders what Mathis’ value is. Why does he get more playing time than his stats deem worthy? Even his defense doesn’t rate as well as would be expected. This leads Sam to pinpoint the big question in this discussion: Is there evidence that Mathis has value? Does this teach us that we need to look harder at catchers because teams are seeing value in certain players that isn’t evident to everyone?

The discussion turns to Ben’s topic for the day. Rany Jazayerli had recently written an article entitled “The 2012 Royals and the Illusion of Chemistry.” The importance of team chemistry had been a sticking point between “stat guys” and those who tend to believe in intangibles. Jazayerli took issue with the concept of team chemistry. He thinks that if it exists, you should be able to test and predict which teams have good chemistry before the start of the season.

Ben read some from the article and noted that his point was that the Royals seemed like an excellent chemistry clubhouse before the season started. All of the starters had good reputations with no negatives against them. If good chemistry really could enhance team performance, then the Royals should have been a prime candidate to succeed in 2012. However, the Royals seemed to be moving backward in 2012. They had fired a coach. They weren’t exhibiting good chemistry. Jazayerli noted that if the Royals were an experiment in good chemistry, then the experiment failed.

Sam argues that there are likely only four guys in baseball who have demonstrated that they are “chemistry above replacement guys.” He notes that part of the reason that chemistry is so hard to assess is because the public only sees a sliver of a player’s role on a team. There’s an “underground world” where the players really hang out and the media doesn’t have the opportunity to observe this world.

Ben is trying to keep an open mind on this issue. He wonders if bad chemistry might make more of an impact on a team than good chemistry. Ben notes a few bad chemistry teams that succeeded, but Sam throws out the Red Sox as the counterpoint. This might be the first time in their lifetime that bad chemistry was recognized prior to a season and the team record suffered because of it.

They conclude by agreeing that it’s hard to come to conclusions on this topic. However, Sam concludes that the chemistry between the hosts of EW is strong. We all agree.

The Supplement:

Jeff Mathis continues to struggle at the plate. He finished 2012 slashing .218/.249/.393 in 71 games for the Blue Jays. The confidence the Jays displayed in Mathis was short-lived as he was traded that November to the Marlins. As a hitter he continues to struggle. Since 2012 he’s posted oWAR totals of 0.4, -0.6, and -0.5 (according to Baseball Reference). However, in those same years he’s continued to have some defensive value with dWAR totals of 0.9, 1.0, and 0.8. I don’t think Mathis is too worried about losing his job anytime soon though. In 2013 he was Jose Fernandez’s personal catcher.

The 2012 Royals finished the season 72-90. This was good enough for third place in the AL Central (so much for the benefits of good team chemistry). However, they did host the All-Start Game in 2012, so that’s something.

Whatever the reason (bad chemistry, Bobby Valentine) the Red Sox also had a terrible 2012. They finished the season 69-93. This was their first 90-loss season since 1966. Valentine would be fired at the end of the season. They would be okay though. They won the World Series the very next year.


Episode 22: Why BP Didn’t Break the Melky Cabrera SuspensionAug 16, 2012, 21:04

The Style:

The show opens with… no audio clip. Things just got serious. Once again we’re blowing past the twenty-minute mark.

Sam welcomes everyone, and things aren’t quite serious yet (Ben even seems to suppress a chuckle here), as he lets them know that they have a GREAT show planned. It’s a show so spectacular that he hopes the listeners get their hopes, “way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way (yep 21)” up. Ben is drinking green tea tonight.

The Substance:

We’re off and running. Ben wants to talk about Melky Cabrera. Sam also wants to talk Melky. After a quick note that Felix Hernandez had recently thrown a perfect game, the show turns into an all-Melky affair.

Ben opens the discussion on their Woodward & Bernstein moment. For the past week he had been in the unfamiliar position of being aware of big news before it broke. This is the first time he’s ever known news days in advance. Eight days before Melky’s suspension for PED use was announced, Ben had been told by a source that Cabrera tested positive. Ben spent the week trying to decide whether to “break” the news or not.

Sam wonders why Ben chose not to break the news.

While Ben had confidence in his source, he ultimately determined that the risk of being wrong was too great for BP and himself. Sam mentioned that when Ben asked him what he should do he also said not to publish it. This was an instance where this news was going to come out regardless. It wasn’t a secret that would have been hidden forever if Ben didn’t speak up. Waiting to release the news gave Melky a fair chance to defend himself (he lost his appeal).

However, Ben wasn’t the only person with this information and they were both surprised that no one broke the story early. This was a rare instance where MLB was actually the one to break this news. This might be because MLB had “sealed up the leaks” following the Ryan Braun positive test leaking early.

The conversation turned toward the impact of the positive test on Melky and the Giants. Sam has an issue with the fact that Melky will be ineligible for the first five postseason games if the Giants survive. It’s unfair that timing of a test determines whether or not a team will be at full strength during the post-season. He argues that any player with a positive test should either miss the entire post-season, or serve the rest of their suspension at the start of the next season.

Ben wonders if this will actually be an issue. Melky would have to jump into the playoffs completely cold. Would the Giants actually want that? Sam expects Melky will play in the post-season. The team has plenty of opportunities to keep his bat “game ready.”

They conclude the discussion by returning to the decision not to break the story. BP isn’t known for breaking news, and unless they wanted BP to become that kind of an organization, reporting this news had little long-term benefit. The payoff wasn’t high, but the backlash if they were wrong could have been great. Ben wonders if the next time someone has a breakout season like Melky was having, if they would immediately attribute it to PED use.

What’s Sam’s response to this? “That cat has long been out of the bag, or whatever metaphor is out of whatever metaphorical container.”

The Supplement:

Melky Cabrera was eligible to return to the Giants in the postseason, but the Giants chose to keep him at home. Gregor Blanco, Xavier Nady, and Brandon Belt were all given the task of filling in. It wouldn’t hurt them too much as they went on to win the World Series. Cabrera actually wouldn’t play for the Giants again. That off-season, he signed a two-year deal with the Blue Jays. His breakout season doesn’t appear to have been a PED-induced aberration. This past season he hit .301/.351/.458 as compared to .346/.390/.516 in 2012. Melky will open the 2015 season as a member of the White Sox.

Meanwhile, Ben and Sam continue to entertain and instruct us while not breaking any news.


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