Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
Joe Sheehan: Good afternoon! Do you know we're just 34 days away from the first pitch of the 2005 season? It's almost enough to make you forget that February is 132 days long...
jdbranno (Boston): Hey, Joe. Who will have the better '05, Posada or Varitek? And what do you think Smoltz will do?
Joe Sheehan: Posada has been more consistent at a high level, and his OBP is a bit less dependent on his batting average, so I'd say he'll have the better year. Both are at an age where you'd expect a decline; the question is how steep will it be.
I'm not optimistic about Smoltz. He hasn't made 30 starts in a year since 1997, and I can't get the picture of him grimacing through the 2003 NL Division Series out of my head. I'd like to see the Braves send him to Tahiti until the All-Star break, and treat him like a midseason acquisition.
Bryan (MD): How much does Mike Stanton have left to offer?
Joe Sheehan: He's durable, still has a pretty good strikeout rate, and his adjusted ERAs have been above average in all but one year since 1998. He'd be more effective outside of the specialist role, but that's been the case since 1993 or so, and no one's listening any longer.
He's an upgrade on the Yankees' options from last year.
neilage (Atlanta): Hey Joe,
Previous Sheehan social causes have included:
FREE ERUBIAL DURAZO
FREE JUNIOR SPIVEY (in his career year)
FREE RAMON CASTRO
Who should be freed in 2005?
Joe Sheehan: Yeah, that last one took on an unfortunate tinge, didn't it?
I'd lean towards "Free Jason Lane!" He has a career line of .280/.351/.526, yet hasn't been able to get a regular gig in Houston. There is nothing Craig Biggio does better than him except run, and even at that Lane is the better outfielder.
TGisriel (Baltimore): Does the Orioles' plan to develop their young starting pitchers, and rely on their development to take them to contention, make sense, or is it only a rationale for their inability to acquire a veteran pitcher in the off-season? In light of their anticipated reliance on a young starting staff, was acquiring Reed and Kline, and retaining Julio to bolster their bullpen a prudent move, or merely spinning their wheels?
Joe Sheehan: I'm more optimistic about the Orioles than I should be. If Larry Bigbie can handle center field, they could have an offense that goes 1-9 with no one under a .265 EqA. You can win a lot of games with that offense.
Given where the market went for starting pitchers this winter, I'd argue that patching the bullpen and hoping for development from Erik Bedard, Matt Riley, Eric DuBose, et al was the only rationale decision, especially when you consider that they are chasing the Red Sox and Yankees. What was adding Derek Lowe or Carl Pavano really going to change?
I do think the O's should look to draft a quick-to-the-majors starter this June, someone who could be in the rotation in the second half of '06.
dbimberg (Watertown MN): What do you see as Carlos Silva's upside as a starter?
Joe Sheehan: You just saw it. He's not going to miss more bats, so he'll live on his ability to get keep runners on first base and get double plays. It could work, but the problem is that when it goes bad for a guy like this, it goes very bad.
I wouldn't have given him two years.
tcfatone (New York): Howdy,
What are the odds of Eric Duncan and Robinson Cano manning the right side of the yanks infield in 2006?
Joe Sheehan: Slim and none. Cano isn't good enough to keep the Yankees from chasing whatever free agent/veteran is available, and that's assuming they don't just ride Womack again.
That's way too quick a rise for Duncan, too. I doubt he'll be ready before '07, and given recent history, he'll make his major-league debut elsewhere. He's not the Yankees' only prospect, but he's their most tradable one, and this team will need something in July.
Evan (Vancouver): With both Wells and Schilling in Boston, can the Sox break the record for fewest walks allowed in a season?
Joe Sheehan: No, because records like that were set back in the early part of the last century. Looks like the post-WWII, non-strike record is 344, set by the 1968 Giants. The DH-league low is 375, set by the 2003 Yankees. Last year, the Sox walked 447 men, so there's work to be done.
zephyrboy64 (Fayetteville NC): Hi Joe! Do the Red Sox have a chance to score 1,000 runs this year? Cliff
Joe Sheehan: I don't see it. Their offense peaked a couple of years ago. Renteria < Garciaparra, they still don't have a great first baseman, and Varitek is declining.
denny187 (WI): Last year Keith Ginter was one of your "guys". Will he be more valuable than Junior Spivey this year? PECOTA sees them very comparable: .264/.343/.432 for Spivey and .260/.341/.442 for Ginter. What's your feeling?
Joe Sheehan: I have serious concerns about Ginter, whose strikeout-to-walk ratio was just shy of 3/1 last season, and whose walk rate keeps slipping backwards. He could be Jeff Kent Lite, but he could also hit .220 and end up in Sacramento.
Outside of '02, Spivey hasn't been anything special. Between them, I'd take Ginter, but it's not an exciting choice.
Cardinal991 (New York): How do you see the NL East shaking out this year? I saw you included Atlanta on your short list of candidates for regression. I think the Phillies are the best team at the moment; they just gave up waaay too many HR last year (cough, Milton, cough). Lieber's G/F numbers should fare better in Citizens.
I know the Mets aren't favorites, but what's their over-under on wins this year?
Joe Sheehan: I think I said last year that I'm just going to start picking the Braves every year until they don't win. That's not analysis, but it is what happens when you keep touching the hot stove...
Honestly, though, I don't see the Braves' roster stacking up to the Mets' or Phillies'. The outfield corners are pretty bad, and the pitching staff is thin.
I think the Phillies are better just for the management change, although their lineup has suddenly become quite old--only Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley are pre-prime--and their rotation could do almost anything.
The Mets added so many wins this offseason, and I love their chance to have a no-name bullpen that just shuts people down. (Heath Bell is a big sleeper for me.)
I think it could be a great three- or even four-team race, if the Marlins' pitching all comes together at once. Ask me in four weeks who I think will win.
AnniePerez (Houston): What are you thoughts on how having Carlos Delgado at cleanup will affect the Marlins offense? Can we expect more RBI or hits from the players, like Cabrera and Lowell, who bat around him? Fewer stolen base attempts by Pierre and Castillo?
Joe Sheehan: I don't see the Marlins changing their basic approach, so Pierre and Castillo will run about as often as they did before. Assuming they go Cabrera/Delgado/Lowell through the middle of the lineup, Lowell stands to see his RBI count jump thanks to Delgado's OBP. Whoever bats sixth--Lo Duca, I guess--will get a boost, too.
I can't say enough about this signing. The Marlins filled a desperate need with the perfect player, one who may actally have been undervalued due to his injury-marred first half of '04.
dbimberg (Watertown MN): Will Jake Westbrook continue to improve, or did we just see his best season?
Joe Sheehan: That was as good as it gets, I think. He's a perfectly good innings guy, especially while he's inexpensive, but his ERA won't be in the low 3.00s again.
Jeff (Milwaukee): Do you see anyone in MLB taking the track of some minor league teams of "piggyback pitching", espically with young starters? i.e. Pitcher A and B swap starting every five days with the other pitching in releif of him on the same five day rotation? It seems like that could allow an extra day of bullpen rest while using young starters only twice or three times around the order, limit pitch counts...or is it too radical and would get killed by the media in a "closer by committee" fashion?
Joe Sheehan: Going to a four-man rotation is a relatively "non-radical" idea, and the teams that have tried it have combined for something like six turns through the rotation in the past decade.
So, no, I'm not optimistic about the chance of a team trying a radical approach to pitching. I'd be happy just to see teams bring back swingmen who share the #5 starter slot and throw long relief, and move away from multiple specialists and 12-man staffs.
The only team that needs to think way, way outside the box is the Rockies.
pieman1121 (China, Maine): Joe - is there anything that the Royals could do to make themselves contenders either this year or next?
Joe Sheehan: Trade leagues with Omaha.
Russ (Silvertania, Atlanta): If possible, I'd like you to expand on the thoughts you shared regarding Jeff Francis in the roundtable. For instance, how would you suggest maximizing his value if you were the Rockies? Because you think it will tough for him to be both "healthy and effective" across consecutive seasons, would their best bet be to move him to another team before one of the two occurs?
Joe Sheehan: I should note that I'm very much in the minority on this point: most people, even within BP, are bullish on Francis, who is a very talented pitcher. He may well be the breakout pitching star the Rockies have never had.
I just don't think it's the way to bet. We know pitching half your games in Denver is hard, and it appears to take its toll over time.
Were it me, I'd put him in the rotation and hope that he got through '05 and '06, then make him the centerpiece of a trade. Quite frankly, if I'm Jeff Francis, I'm hoping like hell for that scenario.
DrLivy (Charleston): The Cardinals' team health report looks like a ketchup and mustard factory. If this team is so smart, why do they have so many health risks?
Joe Sheehan: I don't think smart has anything to with it. I'm sure they'd prefer to have a bunch of players with clean health records, but what they have are superstars who tend to miss three weeks a year. It's all part of the package.
That they have question marks on the pitching side reflects the amount of money they've spent on the lineup, of course. Last year, everyone stayed mostly healthy and it worked out.
prinaldi (newark): The current odds have the Red Sox at 3.5 to 1 to win the AL East. This means that the line is saying that they only have approximately a 22% chance of winning the East. I would put them at 50% or higher, agreed?
Joe Sheehan: Vegas odds are set to create action, and they will not add up to 100%. In an evenly-matched five-team division, every team would have a 20% chance to win. I think it's safe to assume the Sox have a better chance than that.
That said, one of the articles I want to write this month, aping my friend Peter Schoenke at Rotowire, is looking for the values in the team-wins lines.
Randy (Detroit): Joe! Support or oppose this statement: 2005 is the year the Twins get over the hump.
Full season of Morneau, bona fide ace in the front of the rotation, and power bullpen. I think they'd compete for a title even if they weren't playing in the AL CentrAAAl.
Joe Sheehan: What hump, exactly? They've won three straight division titles. I know some Brewers fans who would take that hump.
OK, I don't actually know any Brwewers fans, but you know what I mean...
If you're referring to October...hey, best-of-five or best-of-seven series are about playing well for a week and catching some breaks. The Twins could do that just as well as anyone. If not for some Ron Gardenhire mistakes, they would have done it last year.
Evan (Vancouver): Does the Mariners roster construction (4 1B/DH guys) give you the impression they're actually anticipating Sexson going down to a catastrophic injury?
Joe Sheehan: No, I think it's just the way the roster has played out, one of those confluences of contracts and younger players.
tcfatone (New York): I'd love to see a statistics-based analysis and listing of the top 10 "chokes" or "collapses" in baseball history. Many like to call the Yanks ALCS choke the biggest choke in baseball history, but I'm still quite convinced the 1986 Red Sox Game 6 choke owns the Title. What do you think?
Joe Sheehan: If we can move away from connecting "choke" to some kind of character flaw, and just consider which teams were closest to winning a series before subsequently losing it, I think the '04 Yankees are right there with the '86 Red Sox, the '86 Angels (ALCS) and the '02 Giants.
(Note: I saw this information on the SABR list, but can't for the life of me remember all the specifics or the contributor.)
Ed (Chicago): Hi Joe - in the pitchers edition of the prospect roundtable discussion, you seemed to feel pretty strongly that Colorado pitching prospects were doomed to failure. You stated:
"The Rockies have never had a pitcher be healthy and effective for three straight seasons. That's real, and if the argument against it is, 'well, Francis is different,' that's the same argument that gets made for every damn pitching prospect, and it's essentially meaningless. I seriously doubt Francis will be both healthy and effective across consecutive seasons in the short and medium term unless he ends up with another organization."
The general media and BP have talked before about how Colorado should (or shouldn't) build its team for success. If you really feel that they can't bring up pitchers through the system (e.g., Francis) and we know how tough a time they have attracting any above-average free agent pitchers (especially after the Hampton breakdown), is the Rockies' only hope for contention to build an OBP/SLG offensive machine to support a rubber-armed, high G/F, "we couldn't get jobs anywhere else" pitching staff?
Todd Helton deserves better!
Joe Sheehan: I usually don't answer questions this long, but I want to address this one.
That's pretty much what I think the Rockies should do: try and score 1250 runs and treat their pitchers as fungible. I have some ideas about the pitching staff--great fastballs, low-contact guys, and you sacrifice some control for it--but mostly, I think the Rockies have to build a ridiculous offense and win that way.
They think they tried that with the Blake Street Bombers, but in fact, those teams had decent offenses and underrated pitching staffs, especially in the bullpen.
If the Rockies aren't scoring a thousand runs, they can't win. That's their minimum buy-in. They should aim for 1150. Build that offense, and then worry about the pitching staff.
RCCook (Dallas TX): Do the Rangers have a realistic chance to win the West this season, or is there an area (besides the obvious starting pitching) where they still need to make a move or two?
Joe Sheehan: There's a very good chance that the Rangers will regress this season. I like Orel Hershiser, and he seemed to have an effect on their pitchers, getting them to throw more strikes and more ground balls. That said, it's just not a talented staff, and their offense continues to be overrated due to the park. They'll slip back under .500.
Pat (Toronto): How much of Ichiro's 2004 performance was caused by opposing infields always playing him in? I think a lot of players could add 50 points to their BA if they always faced drawn-in infields.
Joe Sheehan: I don't think that was a big factor. It was his fourth season; if there was a good way to defense Ichiro, I'm sure someone would have figured it out by now.
I do think his approach lent itself to an extreme performance in one area of the game. I'll be interested in seeing if he sustains his second-half extra-base-hit rate in 2005.
Rob in WI (Milwaukee): Joe,
Will Glendon Rusch/Ryan Dempster 2005 turn into Shawn Estes 2003?
Joe Sheehan: I really like Rusch this year; I think the Cubs did well to retain him, and he'll be a big asset in the back of the rotation. He's a much better pitcher than Estes was coming into '03.
I don't know what Ryan Dempster has to offer, but if he's going to succeed, it seems to me he would do so in Kyle Farnsworth's old role.
Jeff (Chicago): Hi Joe,
Thanks for the chat. And for the Tribe love.
My question is about the Padres. Did they somehow bypass their window of opportunity? Giles, Nevin, Klesko getting older, Burroughs not developing, and now Dave Roberts not slugging in CF. I'm skeptical about their offense.
Joe Sheehan: Of those issues, the one I'm least concerned with is Dave Roberts. The Padres desperately needed a flychaser in center field. He'll fill the role, and even if he hits .260/.320/.340, he'll be worth it.
But I agree with you that they may have missed their chance. All of their best hitters are past their primes, and it's not hard to see a scenario where their expensive hitters don't put enough runs on the board.
happyface (n.y.): kearns or wily mo pena?
Joe Sheehan: Kearns, every day and twice on Sunday.
That kicks off the lightning round, folks.
Anthony (Long Island): Mike Mussina: old and busted or Cy Young candidate?
Joe Sheehan: Not at either extreme...past his Cy Young days, still very effective. Think Greg Maddux post-1998.
Rik7366 (Cincy Nati): Better career,Marcus Giles or Scott Hairston?
Joe Sheehan: Similar career paths...I'll go with Giles because Hairston might not get 250 games at second base.
chris234 (ny): Encarnacion or Ian Stewart?
Joe Sheehan: Ian Stewart for the power, but I still love me some Edwin Encarnacion. If the Reds just got the right guys on the field...
dantroy (davis, ca): Care to preview your 2005 award predictions? Here are my big 4: Pujols and Chavez for MVP, Pedro and Santana for Cy Young.
Joe Sheehan: Save this one for next month!
Cris E (St Paul MN): Gammons device #1: Name three stories that'll be big by the end of 05 that no one is talking about now.
Joe Sheehan: 1) Labor drums are beating again.
2) The Nationals aren't a cash cow.
3) The collapse of the Yankees.
Brian (KW): First Manager to get axed this year will be....
Joe Sheehan: Tony Pena
lexomatic (toronto): In addition to Ed from Chicago's question & your reply re: the Rockies.
Where does defense, if at all, fit into the equation?
I don't think you can overcome the physics. Value hands over range, get range if you can, but offense plays.
I'm eventually going to respond to Rany's July '02 piece that addressed my essay in BP02. There's a great discussion here.
Ian (Princeton): Joe, which is most likely to happen, Wade Miller makes 20 starts or Matt Clement wins 20 games?
Joe Sheehan: Miller/20 starts.
Sully (Boston): Lower ERA, Derek Lowe or Carl Pavano?
Joe Sheehan: Lowe, but that's park effects. Adjusted...still Lowe, but both guys will be above 4.00, park-neutral.
matt1980 (Queens): brad wilkerson? better things to come?
Joe Sheehan: The strikeout rate probably keeps the overall numbers down. He'll have a high BABIP year that makes him an MVP candidate soon.
Joe Sheehan: Thanks for all the great questions! If you're in Las Vegas or New York, please come out and introduce yourselves at one of the book signings this month...I'd love to talk more baseball!