By In Stuff

Yo Joe!

Big fan of Bill James’ “Hey Bill” feature on his website where he engages readers, answers questions, posts responses and so on. I asked Bill about it not long ago, and he told me that he (mostly) likes doing it because it keeps his mind sharp about things.

My mind is not sharp about things at the moment. I’m in full-fledged writing mode on my book about Tom Watson and his rivalry and friendship with Jack Nicklaus. At NBC, we are getting close to unveiling what I think will be a very cool new thing. With fatherhood and husbandhood and my goal to ascend the tennis rankings, no, I’m not sharp about things at all and while I know that writing here has slowed to crawl, it will now slow down to a halt.

So, I thought, why not do a little “Yo Joe!” segment where I answer a couple of emails as often as I can. Could be fun and not too time consuming. Might be a nice way to keep the blog somewhat active during a thoroughly inactive time.

Let’s give it try. You can email me with comments, questions, or whatever.

Here are a coupe of Yo Joes! to start.

From Brilliant Reader Al:

Debate going on a friend’s facebook post about a completely unrealistic, theoretical situation.  What is the highest possible number of errors in one inning without allowing a team to score runs.  We have answers ranging from 4 (way too low) all the way to infinity.  The only caveat we have added is that the error must occur on a ball in play, so no pick-off errors and no mishandling pop flies in foul territory.  A little help would be appreciated.
My answer, by the way, is 15.


Well the technical answer is infinity since, just as a starting point, a foul pop-up dropped can be considered an error. So you can hit an infinite number of those and never score a run.

But I think the kind you are referring to involve errors gaining bases. So my thinking is this is the most you can do without scoring a run:

Error 1: Error allowing batter to reach first.
Error 2: Error allowing runner to reach second.
Error 3: Error allowing runner to reach third.
Runner picked off.
Error 4: Error allowing batter to reach first.
Error 5: Error allowing runner to reach second.
Error 6: Error allowing runner reach third.
Runner picked off.
Error 7: Error allowing runner to reach first.
Error 8: Error allowing runner to reach second.
Error 9: Error allowing runner to reach third.
Error 10: Error allowing batter to reach first (bur not first runner to score)
Error 11: Error allowing runner to reach second (but not first runner to score)
Error 12: Error allowing batter to reach first (loading bases)

I don’t see how you can get any more errors without giving up bases, not counting all the errors you could have in foul territory. But I could be missing something — I’m sure our brilliant readers will offer something more.

From Brilliant Reader Michael:

I see that there were back to back days with 19 inning games, and what with the World Cup still fresh in my mind, I wondered what would baseball use as a ‘tiebreaker’ if they wanted to decide their ‘overtime’ games similarly to soccer’s penalty kicks or hockey’s shootout. I understand that there is NO WAY that Major League Baseball will ever adopt any such rule, but I thought it would be an interesting exercise, and an idea for a blog column. Or maybe not.
The most obvious answer would be some kind of mini-home run derby, which would be great fun, but you’d have to use your own pitcher like in the all-star contest, and i’m looking for something more confrontational, like in hockey or soccer. Maybe each team sends up any 4 batters and whoever hits it the longest? Or a regulation inning, and whoever advances the farthest.
Maybe baseball doesn’t lend itself to such a finish?


I actually think baseball SHOULD consider some sort of fun tiebreaker like that because fewer and fewer people get excited about extra innings. Fans — even good fants — tend to leave the games. But I think your point is right — the game is too resistant to change and would never try something wild like this.

That said, this is EXACTLY the topic I’ve been exchanging emails with the magnificent Tom Tango about. I’ll have to bring out those emails for a future installment of Yo Joe! but off the top of my head I remember that one of Tom’s ideas was an action pitch inning (where every batter starts with a 3-2 count) and another involved a situational inning (maybe something like runner on second, nobody out, if the batting team scores they win, if not the team in field wins — and home team would get to decide whether to play at bat or in field).


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35 Responses to Yo Joe!

  1. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Question: what do the stats suggest may be the cool weather factor on the Orioles continuing to hit so many home runs? Is there a clear correlation between warm humid air and their dingers and in cooler air (say in April-May) they did significantly fewer?

    • chlsmith says:

      I think this is actually discussed in Adair’s Physics of Baseball. If I remember (I should just go get it off the shelf,) humid air is lighter, due to the water vapor content, and the ball flies farther. His example, showing the age of the book, was that young whipper snapper team down there in Atlanta.

  2. bl says:

    Well, on the errors question, couldn’t you actually have 4 errors for each of the first two batters?

    Fielding error allowing runner to reach first
    Throwing error allowing runner to reach second
    Throwing error allowing runner to reach third
    Say that throw went into the outfield, and the outfield then overthrows the third baseman allowing the runner to try to score, but he gets thrown out at the plate.

    I guess I’m not sure if that overthrow of third would be considered an error.

    • owenpoin says:

      Right, to be called an error, there has to be an outcome of some kind, which I think is always a runner reaching a base/scoring. That said, can base runners go backwards these days? I seem to recall some nutty old baseball tale about Ty Cobb or someone stealing second, but not getting a good throw, so he stole first, then stole second again. I don’t know if that actually happened, but it’s possible in a way that it wouldn’t be today.

      • David in NYC says:

        Herman “Germany” Schaefer, 8/4/1911, vs. Cleveland (Schaefer played for the Washington Senators), is the only documented occurrence. Legend has it he did it at least one more time, but details are fuzzy, including contradictory, at best. End result was of the Eddie Gaedel type: the rules were changed to outlaw it.

        Schaefer was quite a character — played 1901 to 1918, and the stories about him are legendary. Here’s a couple of short bios highlighting his, um, unusual style.

      • buddaley says:

        It was Germany Shaefer. Apparently he was on 1B and with a runner at third stole second expecting the catcher to throw through and let the runner on third score. But the catcher just held the ball, so on the next pitch, he stole 1B, hoping to draw a throw there. Again nothing, so he then stole 2B again and this time the catcher did throw, and the run scored.

        There is also a story that he pinch hit in a game and coming out of the dugout announced to the crowd that he was Herman the Great, the greatest pinch hitter in the world, and that he would now hit a home run. (He was not a power hitter.) He then did hit one and as he reached each base he slid in and announced “Schaefer leads at the quarter” and then “at the half” at second base. At home plate, he announced “Schaefer wins by a nose.” Then he turned to the crowd and cried, “Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your kind attention.”

        The storis are from Ritter’s book, “The Glory of their Times”. I don’t know if they are true, but am pretty sure the story of him stealing second and then first is, although that may be apocryphal also.

        • The Germany Schaefer story is true. MLB passed a rule making it illegal to “steal bases backwards” – a player is no longer allowed to be safe on a backwards base.

          • owenpoin says:

            This thread turned out so much more satisfying than I could have hoped. Germany Schaefer had a career .257/.319./.320 slash, good for a 97 wRC+ in 1901-18, when he played, though after ’15 he only had a game for the Yankees and a game for the Indians. Before that he played for the Orphans, Tigers, Senators and the Newark Pepper (!). He stole 201 bases in his career, though it’s unclear if he got credit for stealing first. (Also, that Jean Segura gif below is amazing. Did he stay on first for the next batter?)

  3. xlynwoodx says:

    Yup, these are Joe’s readers.

  4. prophet says:

    Since errors are the discretion of individual scorers, the theoretical limit is really high – the scorer could choose to give fielders errors on balls they didn’t have anything to do with, for example, even if it would later be reversed and they’d get fired.

    As a practical matter, if we restrict to balls in play, and adhere to reasonable scoring practices, I think we can get up to 20 or so.

    You can have more than one error on a play even if only one base is gained, right? For example, B1 hits a grounder to the SS, who kicks it off the mound, picks it up and airmails it off the wall well wide of 1B. B1 chooses not to take second because the catcher was backing up the throw and fielded it clearly. The SS gets two errors, one for the boot and one for the throw.

    Now B2 hits a grounder to 3B, who boots it and airmails the throw to second to the CF, who also backed up the play. B1 gets second, B2 gets first, and 3B gets two errors on a FC.

    Lather, rinse, repeat to load them up, and we’re at six errors.

    You could then have a Keystone Cops routine where everyone on the field drops the ball or throws it away trying to catch someone in a pickle, but the runners are called out for passing people on the bases. Give all nine fielders two errors along the same logic, and record three outs when all the runners are seized with narcoleptic fits and fall asleep at the bases, only to be woken as the batter passes them and wakes them up to pass the guy in front. No runs, three outs on the base paths, and 24 errors.

  5. Dark Side of the Mood says:

    Used to play a lot of fast pitch and in extra innings we went to international rules, runner at second to start the inning. Changes the entire dynamic.

    • Jack Spellman says:

      Yeah, I play in a softball league that handles a tie at the end of regulation similarly: the batter who made the final out of the previous inning starts the extra inning at second; one out; batters start with a 3-2 count.

  6. Brennan says:

    That outline isn’t correct because runners aren’t forbidden from going back bases. So, a runner from third could theoretically go back to first and start over again.

  7. Surly Duff says:

    International baseball does have a penalty-shootout-like tiebreaker, first used at the 2008 Olympics. Starting with the 11th inning, runners are placed on first and second to begin the inning. All other rules remain the same.

  8. Chris H says:

    Rule 7.08:
    “Any runner is out when…
    (i) After he has acquired legal possession of a base, he runs the bases in reverse order fo the purpose of confusing the defense or making a travesty of the game.”

  9. Chris H says:

    There’s a comment permitting a runner to go back to the previous base on a ball that he thinks was caught, but I don’t think there’s a scenario where that would enable more errors to be committed.

  10. VTmike says:

    For the tiebreaker, adding runners does seem like the purest way to increase likelihood of the game ending without creating a mockery of the game like soccer shootouts do. I’d support a version where starting with the 13th inning, you add a runner at first, 14th inning, first and second, 15th inning and later, start with bases loaded.

    Of course, in the playoffs, I’d much rather just see traditional baseball (the suspense is fantastic, I’m less concerned about shortening the game), and for the regular season, if it goes past 12 innings, just call it a tie. It is 0.6% of the season.

  11. Matt says:

    Tiebreaker…How about you do away with outs in the 10th. You count how many batters it takes to score a run. Then the home team has to score in fewer batters. There are some potential drawbacks. The biggest being what to do if they both score in the same number of batters. Could be some interesting scenarios, though. What if you are the home team and haven’t given up a run after 12 or 15 hitters. Then you might want to let the other team score so you don’t use up too much of your bullpen.

  12. Jim W says:

    The definitive answer to the errors question is infinity. From MLB rulebook:

    10.12 Errors
    An error is a statistic charged against a fielder whose action has assisted the team on offense, as set forth in this Rule 10.12.
    (a) The official scorer shall charge an error against any fielder:
    (1) whose misplay (fumble, muff or wild throw) prolongs the time at bat of a batter, prolongs the presence on the bases of a runner or permits a runner to advance one or more bases, unless, in the judgment of the official scorer, such fielder deliberately permits a foul fly to fall safe with a runner on third base before two are out in order that the runner on third shall not score after the catch;

    The key phrase is “prolongs the presence on the bases of a runner”. There needs to be an outcome for an error to be assigned, but the outcome doesn’t need to be the runner advancing a base. Consider this scenario:

    1) Batter reaches base via error
    2) Pitcher attempts pickoff and runner is in a pickle
    3) Bad throw allows runner to retreat safely to first; error is assigned.

    That could theoretically happen forever. Incidentally, there’s been some field work on this already; Professor Buchholz out of Boston has experimented extensively with just how many consecutive times a pitcher can throw over to first. The ceiling appears limitless.

  13. Paul P says:

    Joe said pick offs could not count in this theoretical situation. But I think the number is greater than Joe’s answer of 12 suggests though. An infielder could mishandle a grounder and get an E, the runner could attempt to go to second on the overthrow and in the ensuing pickle the first basemen could drop the tag and the runner safe back at first. Though not certain, I’m sure the original error on the fielder would still stand and the miscue by first basemen would also be ruled an E without the runner advancing an additional base. This could theoretically happen multiple times or at least with every batter so the number would be greater than 12.

  14. Gesge says:

    “I actually think baseball SHOULD consider some sort of fun tiebreaker like that”

    Holy cow, this is the worst idea I’ve ever heard. Shocked that someone of Joe’s intelligence would advocate it.

  15. MikeN says:

    Can there be an error on the runner that causes him to be out?

  16. MikeN says:

    How about a pickoff throw that gets dropped?

  17. Ed says:

    Baseball overtime: Each team starts their inning with a runner on second and two outs. Repeat until a winner is decided.

  18. cbutcher1547 says:

    I love the idea of each team getting to send up to four batters, and which ever team advances the farthest, or scores the most, wins. I think they should employ this, or some other tie-breaker, once a game goes 18 full innings.

    If they chose the right tie-breaker, something fun and interesting, it would almost become something you might hope to see. Assuming you have no real vested interest in the teams involved.

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