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Chat: Clay Davenport

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday January 03, 2006 7:00 PM ET chat session with Clay Davenport.


Clay Davenport is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Clay Davenport: Happy New Year, everybody, and welcome to BP's first chat of 2006. If I can manage to type over the cat that doesn't want to leave my lap, I'll try to answer as many questions as I can while reaching for the keyboard.

DrLivy (Charleston, WV): What do you think of the Ponson signing by the Cardinals. I think he's going to turn his life around, just based on the kinds of things he said at the press conference today (1/21/05). I think if he can throw his change-up more, he'll produce enough ground balls in that infield to win 15 games.

Clay Davenport: The cynic in me would note that there are lots of people who get into trouble like Ponson's who are able to say all the right words at the beginning, but are unable to live up to them once they get out of the rehab center. On the good side, Ponson has financial incentives to stay clean that are far beyond average, and his employer has a strong incentive to help him stay clean that is again unshared by most people facing similar problems. I'm not particularly worried about his arm; its his head and his gut that have always held him back, and I hope he can do it. I'd still consider him a very risky pick.

jschmeagol (new york, ny): Hey Clay, I have a WARP question. How exactly do you find replacement level for defense. The reason that I ask is that it seems to be really really low. For instance, over the course of Max Carey's career the difference between FRAA and FRAR is larger than the difference between BRAA and BRAR. This doesn't seem possible, but I would think that you have a godo reason for it. Can you elaborate? Thanks

Clay Davenport: Replacement level for defense primarily depends on how many balls get hit to a given position, and what happens to them when they get there. Generally speaking, more balls in play = more FRAR for all positions, which is a lot of what's going on for Max Carey and other deadball era players. There weren't many homers, there weren't many walks or striekouts, there were lots of errors, although not as many as a generation earlier. All of those tilt the share of total runs from the pitchers to the fielders, and it enhances the FRAR.

The reason it so low ties in with this question -

pkw (Indy, IN): With a new book out this spring, I presume we'll have to wait until at least Fall '06 for the WARP Encyclopedia to come to bookshelves. Barring that, would it be possible for a series of "basics" articles showing how WARP is calculated, the whys and whynots all explained, Win Shares-style? Why FRAR is used instead of FRAA is one question I like to see discussed. Thanks for all the great work.

Clay Davenport: If you used FRAA, then an average SS and an average 1B would have an equal rating, zero. You would need to introduce a positional adjustment, which most people calculate by using the average batting performance at a position.

I really, really don't like the idea of using batting performance to measure a fielding performance. However, assuming reasonably intelligent management, the difference in offensive level between positions should be roughly equal to the defensive difference between positions. If it wasn't - if everybody overstated the fielding value of a shortstop, for instance - the a team who used a better-hitting, poor-fielding SS would gain an advantage. Assuming the advanatge led to wins, everybody would copy them (because even an assumption of reasonable intelligence leaves us at the monkey-see monkey-do level) and the difference in fielding would decline. Anyway, FRAR essentially mimics using FRAA + fielding adjustment, but only uses fielding stats to do it.

I think it is reasonable to treat each position on the field as being roughly equal in importance, and FRAR is the vehicle I use to make it so.

Joe (joeville): Schilling's career G/F is 1.17, Clement is a GB pitcher, Arroyo's is .98, Wakefield's is .97, Papelbon's last year was 0.87. With that in mind would it be that bad for the Sox to sign a decent SS, and play Marte at SS 3-4 days a week, b/c of the FB tendencies of the staff?

Clay Davenport: Sounds like Davey Johnson's approach to the Mets in the late 80s, at least when Sid Fernandez was pitching.

Yes, the Sox could get away with using a non-traditional SS, thanks to the makeup of their team. If Marte is really going to play half the games, you don't need to find a "decent" SS; half-decent will do, if that's all you can find. (Of course, if you can get a better one without giving up anything you value besides cold hard cash, you should probably do it).

bd (N.California): Clay, What do you see Bonds doing in '06? Did the late season cameo tell you anything that can help predict this upcoming year? Thanks as always.

Clay Davenport: I think all the late-season cameo told us was that his knee was now healthy enough for him to sort of play on. I think it will continue to be a problem for him; he'll miss a lot of day-game after night game types, he'll leave in the 7th inning a lot, and he's lucky he's not playing 10 years ago when every other team had artificial turf. He should continue to get a lot of walks and hit for serious power, but the average has got to to come down.

Kind of like what Ted Williams' seasons after 1955 looked like, if you shaved off some batting average.

td3865 (Delaware): I noticed that Ryan Zimmerman went to Virginia, but he'll be just 21 this coming season. Did he graduate early or did he quit (or get booted out of) school? It makes all the difference to me. Guys like Mark Prior finish their degree and forsake the AFL. Headcases quit school early.

Clay Davenport: I strongly disagree with your assessment. I don't really want to advocate dropping out of school as a carrer move, but in some cases it is entirely justified. Zimmerman was drafted fourth overall; that means there was next to no chance that he could improve his draft position, a common reason for staying in school. It meant that he had negotiating leverage with the major league team by threatening to go back to school (not that he used it) - an advantage that would be lost by finishing. He was drafted by Washington, the closest team to his Virginia Beach home - that was important to him, and there's no telling where he might have wound up if he waited for next year's draft. Throw in the possibility of getting hurt, and there's really no reason for him to stay. His draft position guaranteed a salary far beyond the benefits of a normal college degree - and that is spoken by someone who graduated from the same institution 20 years ago.

Larry (Philadelphia): Does Manny Ramirez really give back as much with his fielding as he gains with the bat? There's been a pretty spirited debate over his UZR/FRAA/FRAR at Baseball Primer, with one side saying it isn't possible he's that bad in LF, one side saying Fenway distorts all LF data points, and still another side saying it IS possible Manny's that bad, and, if so, the Red Sox would be wise to unload him on some sucker who will see he'd be a disaster in a "normal" ballpark's LF. Any thoughts?

Clay Davenport: You hit a lot of different things there. I do think Manny is a very bad defensive player, and I do think Fenway distorts everything in LF. If Manny was really as bad as the extreme UZR numbers I've seen, he would be far and away the worst fielder in ML history, and I don't think he's nearly that bad. He is trending worse, however (not at all unusual for someone his age), and even if I don't think he's beyond horrible now he may soon be. He should go where he can DH, a statement that doesn't describe Boston as long as Ortiz is around.

akrieger (Austin, TX): Clay, do you think the Cardinals have done enough with their corner outfielders and 2b to be the kind of team they have been over the last couple years? As a fan, it seems to me that they are banking a whole lot on Edmonds not getting old, Rolen playing like '04 etc. Is the window closing or am I just paranoid?

Clay Davenport: Edmonds and Rolen are keys, since they are incredibly valuable defensive assets as well as offensive threats. Guys like that, and Pujols, are pretty close to irreplaceable in the normal sense, and the moves they have made are clearly not enough to counter disaster. You can't really plan for every contingency, though, unless you have unlimited resources. They will continue to bank on Edmonds until he proves he isn't that good anymore, because they have to; they are committed to him, for better or worse.

I'd say the window is closing, but it still ain't shut.

JW (SoCal): The Padres are obviously hoping that Josh Barfield is ready to be the everyday 2B. Looking at his minor league numbers, do you think he's going to be RoY, acceptable, or are we looking at Bobby Hill and Geoff Blum?

Clay Davenport: I lean more towards acceptable. He had a monster year in the California League two years ago, and lots of people (including us) jumped on his bandwagon pretty hard.

Aside from that Cal season, all of his other minor leaguers point to a .260ish EQA, not to the .290 suggested in 2002. That's about average for a second baseman. The Cal League does funny things to numbers, things the DTs don't always seem to wipe out, and I'm really curious to see how Brandon Wood goes from here.

Bob Rittner (Spring Valley, NY 10977): I do not know if this is appropriate for your chat session, but I am seeking some forum to get a response. Can you think of any reason apart from prejudice that keeps Marvin Miller from election to the Hall of Fame? Even if you think his influence is baleful (and I think it is almost entirely positive), he is certainly among the 2 or 3 most influential non-player figures in the history of the game.

Clay Davenport: Politics and money, which I think all leads back to what you mean by prejudice. I can't think of a better way for the Hall of Fame to get themselves cut off from major league baseball than to vote Marvin Miller in. I agree he is fully deserving, far more so than most of the executives enshrined, but MLB management is, shall we say, vindictive. If you want to work with MLB, you do it the way they want or they go elsewhere. And in all honesty, the value to the musuem of being in good graces with MLB management is worth more, in dollars, cents, access, publicity, you name it - than the integrity of voting in a worthy man. Integrity is good, but it doesn't pay the heating bill.

jcaruso (Boston): Ballpark factors are calculated based on their influence on run scoring compared to a neutral park. It would probably be too complicated, but has there ever been any consideration of breaking down ballpark factors into components such as LHB or RHB? NYA and BOS are good examples of extreme dimension differences from left to right field. I've also read (here I believe) that Dodger Stadium while a pitchers park is actual neutral when it comes to HRs. Long story short....can the ballpark components be reliably used to predict production for players changing teams.

Clay Davenport: Its been more than considered, its been done, and there is clearly value in using that approach. The danger is that every time you divide the data you reduce the size of the dataset, which is already kind of marginal for park effects. Your error bars go way up.

Now I haven't always been supportive of them, because 1) the data is harder to obtain, especially in the minors, and 2) I don't like putting out info based on one set of data for the majors and another set for the minors - I like to package everything the same way, even if that means giving up a little knowledge on the major league side. I think we're getting to the point where we will be able to get that info just as readily for the minors as we can for the majors, which wll make that problem go away.

brianjamesoak (Alameda, CA): Thanks for the chat. I'm wondering how the White Sox defense has been affected by their offseason, particularly the Rowand trade. Also, Houston acquired Prston Wilson today. What does that OF shape up like and how will it be affected?

Clay Davenport: Way down, IMO. Podsednik was not that good a center fielder, but was great as a left fielder, so 2/3 of the OF is going to drop from well above average down to average - 20 runs worth, I'm pretty sure.

As for Hoston's OF, no one knows at this point. It probably means Jason Lane continues to get nothing, but it also makes Chris Burke less likely to play, but it does provide cover if Bagweel can't come back. See how Bags does in spring training.

nothingfalls (Boston): Clay, Where do see Dustin Pedroia this year? How bad was the wrist injury last year? If i may. Any updates on the status of Jason Kubel? Thanks

Clay Davenport: A lot of BP people love Pedroia,and want to see him punch through to Boston right away. Of course, we always see to want to promote the prospects quickly, so use your salt shaker liberally.

Last time I heard anything about Kubel, it didn't sound good at all. Really bad.

jacksonreams (Washington, DC): Andy Tracy mashed this year. Is he really equivalent to Glaus or not?

Clay Davenport: Andy tracy had a lousy year in the Japanese League. Do you mean LaRoche, by any chance? He did mash, but his numbers (projected DT EQA of .284, 34 HR/650 PA) don't come close to what Glaus did at the same age (.301 projected EQA, 43 HR/650 PA).

Vargh (leonia, nj): Can you explain how a player's obp fluctuates depending on the ballpark? In all of the Johnny Damon coverage much is made of the fact that Damon's avg/obp/slg were worse on the road then fenway. While the batting average and slugging percentage differences make sense on an intuitive level, I don't see how a player's on base percentage should vary beyond the corresponding drop in batting average, irrespective of environment. I mean, don't walks involve virtually no aspect of the ballpark? It seems that a walk is almost entirely an environment-nuetral stat. Are batter's eyes that important?

Clay Davenport: Batters eyes are that important, but they are a lot more standardized than they used to be. Lighting is also a pretty big variable; bad lighting in night games, bad shadows in twilight games. Still, walks do have a lot less variation between parks than other stats.

Hap Goyter (Krispy, NC): With the new MLB licensing requirements (for use of minor league stats) this year is there any possibility of Future DTs from the 2005 minor league seasons?

Clay Davenport: Yes, there is, and I'm optimistic about us getting that straightened out for the coming year.

jacksonreams (Washington, DC): sorry - chad tracy!

Clay Davenport: OK. Chad Tracy. You went with the last name, I went with the first - anyway, he's definitely not Glaus, and I think his HR total is more likely to drop than it is to rise. He's not as good a HR hitter as he looked like last year, and he's not as bad a one as he looked in 2004. A plus player overall.

lakesuperior (Duluth, MN): What is Alex Gordon's ETA to the majors and what type of numbers do you see him putting up in his prime? Thanks for taking my quaetion.

Clay Davenport: Soon. From a pure talent standpoint, he could probably make the majors this year - I don't think he'll get more than a cup of coffee this year, but that's because of contractual issues, not talent. KC, from their perdpective, should keep him in the minors all year - it may not be the best thing for Gordon or for MLB as a whole, but it is in KC's best interests to do it that way. Everything I've seen says that he's basically Scott Rolen - everything except a not-so-hot AFL outing.

Amos (New York): Is Eric Duncan half as good as his exposure, or is it just a result of his being the Yankees' only prospect for half a decade? Won't he be too old for prospectdom while A-Rod's still ably manning the hot corner? Thanks, and Happy New Year.

Clay Davenport: He's the Yankees' best prospect, which is the only reason he gets notoriety; there aren't many other teams where he'd be the #1 guy, so, yeah, I'm pretty sure he's overrated. There's a move to first in his future, which gets him out from behind ARod, but puts an even bigger premium on his bat...which makes him even a little more marginal.

Tom (Fort Worth, TX): Are you going to be continuing your "Objective Hall of Fame" series? I was really enjoying it, but it's disappeared for a while.

Clay Davenport: I have a new installment almost ready - ready if I just decide to cut it a year shorter. Sorry for the disappearance; it was meant to be a layoff for a month, not the entire fall season.

jacksonreams (Washington, DC): Everyone seems to agree that BJ Upton is ready to hit now. Given that he has spent several years working on being serviceable at SS, what are the chances of a sudden breakthrough occuring this year? Is there a typical timeframe on a move from SS to 3B?

Clay Davenport: Getting out of minor league ballparks and being a year older generally help a player cut down on error numbers, but Upton's are likely to still be unacceptably high. He can hit enough to make up for it, but he'll never get a moment's peace about it.

Phillips Hughes (Tampa): duncan is the #1 prospect? I believe TINSTAAPP, but I had huge numbers despite not being able to throw my slider, and Duncan didnt OPS .800.

Clay Davenport: Should have used the word "position" before the word "prospect". Or claim that I was still thinking in terms of how players were ranked going into 2005. You've clearly passed him to my satisfaction, TINSTAAPP notwithstanding.

Anthony (Long Island): We know that some pitchers have a slight skill in preventing hits on balls in play (Mariano Rivera, for instance, has a negative Delta-H on his DT card every year except his rookie year). In looking at Whitey Ford's DT card, I noticed he had a negative Delta-R in 15 of his 16 seasons and a -134 overall. That's a lot of runs. Do pitchers have an innate skill in preventing runs in this sense? Might Whitey Ford have possessed the ability to consistently strand runners at a significantly-better-than-average level?

Clay Davenport: If a pitcher really did save something for when he was in a tight spot, a "pinch" as Christy Mathewson would have said, then this is exactly what you would expect to see happening. Of course, it will only show up like this if you are just about the only pitcher saving something for a pinch - like a sharp-edged ring on your finger. We know Ford threw a (literally) cut fastball; I'm assuming he was smart enough to save it for maximum effect.

Even beyond that, though, we know that pitcher's skills vary from one to the next; it is not hard to believe that there is a difference between them on the stretch and windup. Most pitchers are a little bit worse from the stretch (or get worse results, possibly because the first baseman is out of position). All you need to posit is that Ford didn't lose as much from the stretch as a typical pitcher.

K. Williams (Chicago): Did I do the right thing signing Jon Garland to 3 yrs and 30 million?

Clay Davenport: Believe it or not, his demonstrated ability to eat innings (even if he reverts to previous performance levels) means that this isn't really out if line. Pitching is very very valuable this year.

Clay Davenport: Sorry folks - I know I've left some questions on the board, but I really do need to go. I do have that Objective Hall piece to finish, and I wish I could say that was the only thing I'm still trying to finish. Thank you all, and here's hoping the New Year finds you and your team are still basking in the hope that comes with any new season. From Oriole country, Clay

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