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Sunday Sports: Baseball Season Stats



Can you feel it? There's a little snap in the air in the morning now - here in D.C. anyway, which means fall has officially begun. And as some of us celebrate since football is finally back, sports fans devoted to our national pastime know it is the beginning of the end. But the end of the baseball season is a great time to talk stats. Who better to do that with than Mike Pesca, host of "The Gist" podcast on Slate?

Hi, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Agreed. Agreed, yes.

MARTIN: I have known you now for many years. I won't count them all now, but stats is kind of your jam. It's kind of the thing that you - I mean, you love many things. But you really love stats.

PESCA: I do. People act in the world, and I say, oh, soon that will be a number.


PESCA: But for baseball, it's action, and it leads to numbers. And so what I did is, I tapped this baseball brain trust of writers and stats guys like Rob Neyer and Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer and Tristan Cockroft. And I said - of ESPN - give me, you know, the best baseball stats or the weirdest, quirky things that are happening this year. And they came back to me with a couple gems.

MARTIN: All right. Hit me the first.

PESCA: OK. So Caleb Joseph - catcher, Baltimore Orioles - threatens to end the season without an RBI, the most at-bats by a player ever not to get an RBI.

MARTIN: OK. That's crazy. How do you manage that? How do you not get an RBI without any at-bats?

PESCA: You be a not-very-good hitter, though in the past he has been. But here's the wrinkle. Yeah. So this indicates Caleb Joseph, not a hitter - why is he on a major league roster? - 'cause he's such a good defensive catcher. And there's a new way of thinking about defense for catchers. It used to just be a catcher's who threw out base-runners. But there's something called pitch framing, which is to make the pitcher's pitch look like a strike. And Caleb Joseph's really good at it. They'd love to have the guy have an RBI eventually, but he's so good at defense...

MARTIN: They don't care.

PESCA: ...And this pitch framing aspect, they keep him on the team.

MARTIN: (Laughter) OK. So that - but that's still kind of, like, a sad stat. Like, he's like...


MARTIN: ...Not very good at something. Did you bring us any stat that's, like, a bona fide achievement?

PESCA: How about this one? Brian Dozier of the Twins set the American League record for most home runs by a second baseman. And in the minor leagues, this guy only had 15 home runs in his entire minor league career. He came up, and they were like oh, he's a good player. But he's really got no pop in the bat. Wrong

MARTIN: Wow. Good for you, Brian.

PESCA: Exactly.


MARTIN: OK. So we've got time for one more quick stat.

PESCA: All right.

MARTIN: Give me something super obscure.

PESCA: This year, the Texas Rangers are going to set the record for most wins or best winning percentage in one-run games, games decided by one run.

MARTIN: OK. This, I find interesting because, what does that mean? Does it mean they're good because at least they win the games? Or does it mean they're not that good because they're just barely holding on?

PESCA: You are asking all the right questions, and this is what stat heads tried to determine. The fans of the team will say it shows they're scrappy. It shows they get it done in the clutch. But I think an empiricist would say, well, if they were really good, they'd win by more.

A few years ago, the Orioles actually set this record. And it was said, oh, their manager is so good at managing close games. And then the next year, same manager - they had a very average record in one-run games. I'll tell you what this and many stats mean. It's total luck. That's what it means.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Mike Pesca - he hosts "The Gist" podcast. I've learned so much here. Thank you so much, Mike.

PESCA: Yeah, so much that you can, I hope, dispense with immediately.

MARTIN: Immediately...

PESCA: Unclog that mind.

MARTIN: ...It's going right out of my mind, in and out. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.