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Chat: Sam Miller

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Monday September 08, 2014 1:00 PM ET chat session with Sam Miller.


Sam Miller has got a case of the Mondays and a balky "a" key on his keyboard.

Sam Miller: Hello! I'm Sam. If you're unfamiliar with my areas of expertise, you can review these 530 podcast episodes and join us midway through the chat. I will note a couple things before we go. One is that Ryan Howard is about to be the first player with 100 RBIs and a sub-.700 OPS since Joe Carter, and just the fifth ever. This isn't an okay but not a great fun fact, which is why I'm putting it here, where the bar is slightly lower. The other thing to note is that What You Need To Know today, by Daniel Rathman, had an amazing fun fact: The A's bullpen, in blowing a ninth-inning lead to the Astros, walked five batters, which is how many closer Sean Doolittle had allowed ALL YEAR before hitting the DL. That's a great fun fact. Activate Chat. Chatctivate.

Stephen (US): Tell me about your fantasy team

Sam Miller: Sure! Thanks for asking. The morning before I arrived in Zitacuaro, a beautiful hill town in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, the dismembered body of a young man was left in the middle of the main intersection. It was what people call corpse messaging. Usually it involves a mutilated body--or a pile of bodies, or just a head--and a handwritten sign. "Talked too much." "So that they learn to respect." "You get what you deserve." In the photograph in the Zitacuaro paper, the victim's arms and legs and torso all lay separately, impossibly, in the street. I didn't see a sign, but the message--terror--was clear enough, and everybody knew who left it: La Familia Michoacana, a crime syndicate whose depredations pervade the life of the region. I wanted to ask the police some questions, but I was advised not to let the police know I was in town. They might call los malosos--the bad guys--to tell them I was there asking questions.

Mexico's President, Felipe Calderon, declared war--his metaphor--on the country's drug traffickers when he took office, in December, 2006. It was a popular move. Although large-scale trafficking had been around for decades, the violence asocial... (Read more about my fantasy team here: nyr.kr/WGCzy0)

Scott (Carlsbad): How do you explain Ryan Howard?

Sam Miller:

The thing I love about Howard is that he truly genuinely does crush pitchers when runners are on base/in scoring position, just like the narrative goes. It's not BS -- he really does it! It's marvelous. This year, for instance, he has an OPS of something like .550 when the bases are empty, and something like .820 when runners are on base. Now, .820 isn't elite or anything, but it's pretty darned good, way above average. He does this every year. And so we get the clutch narrative, but really it's the shift narrative. When defenses can't shift him, he's good. When they can, he sucks. There might be slightly more to it than this, but that's mostly it, and it makes the distinction between clutch and indefendable in certain situations irrelevant. I wrote about this once, with pictures so you can see what I'm talking about: http://bit.ly/1oZ3FqQ

Steely Dan (The 70s): The Rangers were a trainwreck this year -- do you see this as a one year aberration, with them being back in the thick of the AL West race next year, or are they a few years away from contending again?

Sam Miller: PECOTA didn't see them as a great team entering the season, and I had them finishing third, barely ahead of Seattle, so while the train wreck can be attributed to injuries, the fact that they're not contending is a deeper problem. They were a great team with a great farm system a few years ago, and the farm system (as sometimes happen) didn't produce a lot of value. I think it's a smart, strong organization generally, but when a top-three system fails to produce big-time results it's hard to keep a winning cycle going indefinitely.

The other thing is that they're suffering from being a smart, strong org. A lot of the guys that made up the brain trust through 2011 are gone now, poached by other teams. With them go certain scouts and coaches. It's hard winning.

boatman44 (Liverpool): Surprised you didn't mention Mat Latos as the comeback player of 2015,watch that cowboy go,and Dallas will be comeback tweeter of the year too :)

Sam Miller: Half a season's worth of innings at a better-than-average ERA simply not bad enough to merit comeback discussion. Somebody mentioned Joey Votto as a candidate. I think that's more reasonable, especially if he comes back with a big power season.

Cal Guy (Cal): Hi Sam, Which non-closers should I pick up now on the chance they will close in 2015?

Sam Miller: Wade Davis, Ken Giles, Kevin Jepsen, Bruce Rondon... though not necessarily closing in April 2005. Trying to figure out who is going to close for the Giants next year. Who's going to close for the Giants next year? I'll say Jason Motte is going to close for the Giants next year. Enjoy this prediction, Giants fans and fantasy owners, I wrote it just for you!

Byron Buxton (Hospital): Will I start the 2015 regular season with the Twins, or will I flub around in the Minor Leagues most of the year?

Sam Miller: I'd be shocked if you start the season w/ the Twins; only way I could see it is that the Twins, like Marlins, just don't do things like everybody else does, so there's some unpredictability there. But my guess is that this is a little of an Oscar Taveras situation; mid-season at the earliest, not so much for service time shenanigans but player development reasons. Also: Flub is never the verb to use for Buxton.

Liver RAW D (Cali): Jon Singleton: Waste of 10 million or just a overmatched rookie?

Sam Miller: I think he'll be a bit worse than average big-league regular through his arb years, which makes this at most a waste of $1 million or $2 million. Mike Moustakas has produced 5.6 WARP in his career, if you can believe it.

Dave (Rochester): Just the next 3 years: Brantley or Harper?

Sam Miller: Harper. You probably ask that with the idea that taking the question longer into the future would help the younger Harper, but I think it might be the opposite. Harper the much riskier long-term bet. I'll take him in the short term.

Me (Here): What should we expect from Chris Carter next year? over/under on .240/.320/.500?

Sam Miller: under under and... uhhhhhhhnder, by a little. .217/.302/.494

Cory (Atlanta): Are you editing the BP annual again?

Sam Miller: Yes! So is Jason Wojciechowski, and in fact the process is well under way. Comments are all assigned, as are most of the essays. The roster is incredible--new essay writers for all 30 teams--and I expect the writers will require almost no editing, freeing Jason and me up to check every five minutes that Henderson Alvarez's entry is still on the page.

Matt (Chicago): Of Lester, Scherzer, Shields who , in your opinion, will provide the most value over the next 5-6 yrs?

Sam Miller: Scherzer, wouldn't expect it to be that close, at least as far as these things go

Phil (Pennsylvania): Who will have the most SB this year? Hamilton or Gordon?

Sam Miller: Hamilton will go stat-chasing in the final few games and take it. But boy, hasn't that been the most anticlimactic part of this season? Dude's going to end up with like 65 steals. That's so unhistoric. Once I had this idea for an article that was going to look at the most promising potential "events" of the year, like... okay, like Justin Verlander when he seemed likely to throw a no-hitter every game, and he was going up against the league-worst offense (the Padres or something), so what are the odds he'd throw a no-hitter, what actually happened, etc. Or if Chris Davis was facing Bronson Arroyo, four-homer potential, whatever. But I didn't write it because the outcomes were so boring. They just looked like normal games. Davis hit a double. Verlander gave up five hits and one run. Performances that were neither interesting because of how extremely good or because of extremely, counterintuitively, bad--just banal, unexceptional, games like any other game. Anyway, that's sort of how I feel about Hamilton this year. I wish he has 11 stolen bases and 65 CS, or 110 stolen bases and 4 CSs, but instead he's just a normal fast guy with normal fast-guy baserunning numbers. There's just NEVER that much space between the outliers and the rest in this stupid sport. (Except Bonds and Pedro.)

Pharrell (Virginia ): So which active player makes you most happy?

Sam Miller: Ben Paulsen. Among star-types: Sal Perez, Sean Doolittle, Dellin Betances.

Scott (New York): Pick one-half of the estate of the following players: Soler, Buxton, Taveras, and Billy Hamilton.

Sam Miller: Buxton, Solar, Taveras, Hamilton, though Hamilton's estate is probably the safest bet (practically impossible to imagine he won't make $20M), so given my lifestyle needs I'd probably just choose the security of that.

Al A. Bama (Georgia): What's with the Blue Jays? Like why did they call their top prospects up? Couldn't that harm their development?

Sam Miller: Anything could hurt a prospect's development. As far as what is going to hurt a *specific player's* development, I defer to the people who know them, spend hundreds of hours thinking about their development, and have the most incentive to not hurt the player's development.

Dallas (Oregon): Next three years who would you take: Iwakuma or Paxton?

Sam Miller: Iwakuma

Ken (The Island ): So is Iannetta/Conger turning into Napoli/Mathis II?

Sam Miller: Oddly, people used to think that Conger wasn't playing enough because he was the NAPOLI in a Napoli/Mathis II.
I'll admit I haven't followed Scioscia's quotes this year, so forgive me if there are a lot of inflammatory quotes about something or other. But barring that, no. For one thing, Conger and Iannetta work as a platoon. For another, this year's performances aside, there's not a massive difference in their offensive capabilities. Before this year, I'd have projected them to be about equal as hitters, and if Iannetta has put some space between them, it's not a HUGE different, true-talent wise (especially accounting for platoon advantages). Finally, there's the fact that Conger's defense is verifiably good. We have more, better data than we had in the Napoli/Mathis years.

Henry Rowengartner (Chicago): How many years of data will the collective sabermetric we need to create worthy defensive metrics from MLBAM's tool of awesomeness (or whatever it's named)?

Sam Miller: I think... this is a weird answer, but I think the question is how much data will we need to see and use before we can determine how munch data we will need to create worth defensive metrics. It's entirely possible that the answer is literally something like "two weeks." That's on the optimistic end, but it's possible. You know how Russell is always showing the stabilization rates for various measures, and how we can say with confidence what a guy's swing rate or strike zone control is with just a couple weeks of ABs? Statcast might do that with all the important defensive components. How many plays do you need to see to get a good read on a guy's breaks? Or routes? Or positioning? Or arm strength? Or arm accuracy? We won't know until we get to play with the stuff, so in that sense it'll take a couple months at least, maybe a half-decade at the far end. But once we know, I would guess the answers to those five questions I just asked will be something like 30.

Faulkner (Williamsville ): Is it time to think the Marlins are good at fixing pitchers? First Morris now Cosart. Seems like they ripped both teams off.

Sam Miller: Plus Turner, and Eovaldi, and before him Miller, and all the other guys they didn't fix. I don't think it's time.

R.A. Wagman (Toronto): Sam, what has been the most difficult transition for you in your new role with BP?

Sam Miller: There are so many more emails that I have to read and reply to, instead of (as I used to be able to do) ignore. I like to reply to emails in bunches, on a Friday morning/afternoon, and now I can't do that. And fewer blocks of uninterrupted time to write. Also Jason Parks no longer has any obligation to reply to my emails :(

Matt (Chicago): Despite being somewhat less heralded than some of his fellow Cub prospects, why do I get the sense that Soler may turn out to the best of the lot?

Sam Miller: I'm not sure, because something you read about him, some emotional response you had to his name or his face or his backstory or the way he swings a bat triggered in you a memory or a feeling, something abstract, something illogical but nevertheless something too pleasant to ignore, so that when your brain (as it does) began its nightly sort of all the world's stimuli, it place Soler in a bucket of things that you wanted to be associated with? It's hard to say. It's always hard to say why you get any of the senses you do, but it's especially hard for ME to say why you get the senses you do. But I'll note this: Less heralded, but not by all that much. When we're projecting the next 15 years of players who are all top 50 prospects, the amount of space between those guys is really probably within the margin of error.

Matt (Chicago): Is Brandon Morrow going to attract a lot of interest this offseason, assuming his option is declined?

Sam Miller: No. He'll sign very quietly, probably with one of the bad NL West teams. Perhaps one of the projection systems will be unexpectedly bullish on him and there will be a few pieces written calling him a bargain. Maybe he'll be a bargain. But no, not much interest.

Felicia (Miami): I will fly you to anybody's final game and pay for your seat behind home plate. Where do you want to go?

Sam Miller: Final game. Hm. Final game almost guarantees that the player's skills won't actually be that good anymore, so it'll only be worth going for the spectacle. And after the spectacle, the play on the field could be not just not that good, but brutally painful, especially for a 42-year-old starting pitcher. I'll say Ichiro, assuming he signs a one-year deal to finish his career in Seattle, and praying that he goes into the final game of the season hitting .299.

boatman44 (Liverpool): Is Mickey Calloway the best pitching coach in the world ?

Sam Miller: I'm going to take Russell's advice and let time, time, time be on our side before saying anything like this. http://bit.ly/1qAvMBX

I think there's probably a new genius pitching coach every season. I might go back and compile them, now that you mention it. Most of those guys quit being geniuses in short order. Not to say you're necessarily wrong about the Mick.

Ken (The Island ): I greatly enjoyed your blog at the OC Register prior to your BP tenure (especially the faux Leno monologue about Jeff Mathis, and the Pujols cake collage). Do you have any particular favorites from that time, and were you ever surprised they let you publish some of the more offbeat stuff?

Sam Miller: They almost totally ignored what I did, so wasn't surprised. I don't mean ignored in a bad way. They just gave me a little corner of the site, never looked at it, didn't really get it when they did, but appreciated that a bunch of otherwise non-newspaper readers did. A favorite... I liked this a lot: http://bit.ly/1qHzJ6y.

My favorite thing I did there no longer works, because they migrated all the blog content over to another part of the site or something so none of the photos load anymore. It was about players wearing gloves on their head. It was, yeah, that was a really good day, when that ran. Sigh.

Dan (Bloomington): Bold predictions for the free agent season?

Sam Miller: Brandon Morrow will sign for six years and $175 million.

Omarion (Hardly, On., Canada): Give me your top-five fiction recommendations.

Sam Miller: Fiction. I don't have strong opinion about fiction like I have strong opinions about non-fiction. Fiction fades from my memory after about four or six years. But To Kill A Mockingbird, Lonesome Dove, Brothers Karamazov, Count of Monte Cristo, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.

Mama Lindbergh (New York ): Bring back the ABS! Pleaaaaaaase Sammy No Whammy?

Sam Miller: Yeah, there's nothing smarter that putting four articles into one so that search engines can't pick them up, so that you can't describe them in a succinctly appealing way on Twitter, so that you only get one view instead of four, and so that by the time you package them all together they're already out of date. That was a real great idea I had. I'm a real idea man.

redlegben (New York, NY): What do you think of Jeff Passan's critique of WAR and when do you think we'll be able to fully account for defensive ability?

Sam Miller: I don't think there's a better alternative to WAR(P); if you want to know something about a player, it's a great/the best thing to look at; I think there's a ton of amazing research baked into WAR(P) that, because it's baked in instead of on display at the top, we tend to forget about and think WAR(P) is "simple", when it's not; I think the lack of exactness is a feature, not a bug; I think there's a big margin of error, or at least big relative to the numbers we're talking about, which makes it silly to say "6 WAR guy was definitely better than 5.2 WAR guy" or necessarily even "better than 4.2 WAR guy"; that, again, there's not a better alternative; that the stakes are fairly low; but that if you ever find yourself saying something definitive based on WAR(P) or based on really anything else, you're probably at least part wrong and I'm much less interested in what you have to say. Baseball's all doubt at this stage. WAR(P) is great for the doubt era, unless you use it thinking we're in the certainty era.

I wrote about this stuff once: es.pn/ZePUPU

boatman44 (Liverpool): It would be nice to see the WAR of all pitcher's coached by Mick compared to ALL others , but I'll that to you as I am lazy haha.

Sam Miller: You're even too lazy to type all the words out that this sentence required!

We actually did the "Indians' staff compared to PECOTA" table for the BP Annual last year. Indians pitchers clearly doing better than expected. No major research needed to show that. It's just too soon to draw conclusions about credit, that's all.

Charles (Santa Rosa): What are the updated rankings of our five favorite players?

Sam Miller: A reference to this bit.ly/1lNNZLX and this follow-up to that bit.ly/1q8abBO.

At the moment it goes

5. Santos
4. Colabello
3. Peralta
2. Gomes
1. Freiman

Santos was such a heartbreaker this year.

Sam Miller: Okay, I have to end it here. Lotta hyphens to delete, and still other hyphens to add. The war for and against hyphens never ends for us editors. Thanks for chatting.

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