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Chat: Jonah Keri

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday May 18, 2006 7:30 PM ET chat session with Jonah Keri.


Jonah Keri is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Jonah Keri: A happy Thursday to y'all. Nothing beats a sunny spring day in Seattle--I may leave this chat at any second to go running around the neighborhood. Until then, I'll give shout-outs to some great additions to Baseball Prospectus: Dan Fox and Kevin Goldstein. Check out their latest columns here and here. Always exciting to add top-tier talent to the Sheehans, Carrolls, Kahrls, Silvers, Woolners, Goldmans, Jazayerlis, Davenports and Bakers of the BP realm. Also, if you haven't bought "Baseball Between the Numbers" yet, you're missing out. Pick it up here and you can write your own Bob Ryan-style Sunday column about it. Let's get chatting.

Mario66 (Toronto): At a Toronto Pizza Feed, you told me that Sizemore would end up being the most valuable part of the Colon trade. How did you know?

Jonah Keri: Hey Mario,

I remember that feed, had to be at least 2-3 years ago, when it was very much up in the air as to who who would fare best among Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee. Phillips has quickly come back to Earth after a quick start this year, and I'm still skeptical of his long-term prospects. His pitch selection is lacking, and we're still waiting on the power potential he hinted at as a prospect. Lee's solid (I loved him as far back as Double-A in Harrisburg), but I don't think he'll ever be star.

A BP reader (and lifelong Expos fan) who goes by the handle bobbailey had a good point about Sizemore in Joe Sheehan's recent chat. He wondered how Sizemore would fare long-term if he continues to struggle as much as has vs. LHP. Now Sizemore doens't turn 24 until August, so it's early to write him off in that respect--Hank Blalock and Eric Chavez are two good young hitters who come to mind who've at least improved somewhat vs. lefties after struggling early. That could be your inflection point--if Sizemore develops into a decent hitter against lefties, he's a star. If he doesn't, he'll "only" be a very good player for the next several years.

Evan (Vancouver): The Mariners closed their clubhouse after their loss to the A's this afternoon. Are they firing Grover?

Jonah Keri: I sure hope so, Evan. The handling of the Jeremy Reed situation alone has been awful. It was interesting to read in the Tacoma News-Tribune how Bill Bavasi not only stood in for Hargrove during yesterday's press conference but also wondered aloud to the press why Reed was getting jerked around, being platooned with Willie Bloomquist and losing time to Matt Lawton. The M's aren't going anywhere this season, anyone can see that. If you're not going to play your young players, just admit it and send them to Triple-A for seasoning.

It's sad what's happened to the M's here in Seattle. Attendance is way down, and Beltre and Sexson are both among the 10 worst regulars in MLB so far this year. Assuming Sexson's nagging injuries blow over, he'll recover, and Beltre's at least good enough to be a league-average player, if not the $64 million man the M's thought he was. I'd be more concerned about fan support, though. Few outings anywhere beat Pioneer Square followed by an M's game. But if your team stinks for long enough, fan interest will eventually evaporate, no matter where you are. It's a tough situation--management's unhappy, Hargrove won't last long, and Bavasi--who's done a number of positive things for the organization, but has also misfired at times--is left hanging on whether to tear down, rebuild on the fly, or pray for assistance from Jobu.

Jiang (Zimin): Do you guys do these Pezza Feeds in NYC? And do you really serve Pizza? Free?

Jonah Keri: We do indeed hold Pizza Feeds in multiple cities around the country, and New York City is always one of our favorite stops. People usually buy their own pizza, but the lively discussion always makes it a fun, worthwhile event.

The good news is that we've got at least one event coming up in the New York area, and maybe more. Jay Jaffe will hold court at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Public Library on Baseball for Freethinkers tomorrow night at 7 PM. It's a free event, and here are the details:

999 Old Country Road
Plainview (Nassau County) NY
For info: 516 742 1662

There's another NYC-area event we're planning as we speak which we hope to announce soon.

Darin (Houston, TX): Here's a tough question, and you can't answer "neither one." Who's going to have the better ML career: Oliver Perez or Matt Cain?

Jonah Keri: Cain. I have my doubts as to whether Perez can ever overcome his control problems. I've also heard rumblings that his mechanics/delivery are somewhat wonky and that he's an injury risk. Cain is just a few months into his major league career. The guy's 21 years old! Be patient, not everyone pitches like Justin Verlander out of the gate.

Speaking of the anchor of my LABR team...

Ed (NY): How's the LABR team doing? So far drafting the Tiger's rotation (Maroth, Bonderman, and Verlander) is paying off.

Jonah Keri: ...Team BP sits in 2nd place, 1.5 points out of 1st, as we speak Ed. I drafted *eight* Tigers, and the assembled roto experts there thought I was mad. I liked the Tigers a lot heading into this season (I had them 4th in the BP Preseason Predictions for some reason, but I picked them second, behind Cleveland, elsewhere...mea cupla, White Sox fans). I didn't think they'd be this good this fast, necessarily, but you had to like the minor league track records of guys like Verlander, Granderson and Shelton, all of whom have been big for them this year.

Anyway, I think Team BP has a real chance to win it all, with Milton Bradley a couple weeks from returning to an already strong offense, and guys like Randy Johnson and Bobby Crosby with nowhere to go but up. One of my fellow LABRites, Steve Gardener of USA Today, has a good writeup of the league up at USAToday.com. Those who've ever played in a roto league with me won't be the least surprised to hear that I've been the most active trader in LABR, picking up guys like Nick Swisher and Freddy Garcia, fortunately bpth just before they got hot.

carlosrubi (Mexico): Biggest PECOTA outperformer so far?

Jonah Keri: Probably Chris Shelton, but I think he's for real, if not quite a .650 SLG guy. Check out his minor league track record--there are some very strong performances in there. And if you doubt the pedigree of Rule 5 guys, there's this pitcher in Minnesota who'd take umbrage with you. Some guy named Johan.

Kyle (Boston. MA): I read Baseball Between the Numbers and was really intrigued by the concept of the Davenport Translation. Has anyone tried to create a DT for college baseball as a draft tool? Are there enough stats available to do this?

Jonah Keri: Hey Kyle,

Good question, and one beyond my ability to answer. Fortunately Clay Davenport is always just an e-mail away. he had this to say about your question:

"I sort of tried to create college DTs once, but gave up after a short
while. The data is a lot harder to find, but even beyond that, I think
the use of metal bats makes the game so different that a translation
isn't possible, and from one of Kevin's columns a couple of weeks ago
I _think_ (at the danger of putting words in his mouth) that he

A translation only works because stats are a reflection of skills
(plus environment). We strip out the environment to get a read on the
skills, but if the relationship between stats and skills changes - if,
say, metal bats and wood bats reward different skills - then the
translation will be inappropriate."

This is as good a time as any to note that people like Clay, and Keith Woolner and Ben Murphy and Dave Pease and Dave Metz and Tom Fontaine and Bil Burke don't have a ton of bylined articles on the BP Web site. But without their incredible contributions in building databases, running Web operations and answering data queries for less statistically inclined authors like myself (and even some of the more savvy authors) we'd be deep doo-doo. Check out our new and improved Statistics menu, which includes the ability to do custom stat reports. You have these guys to thank for all that great stuff.

Joe (TR): With the Yankees havin injury trouble in the corner OF, and having to play 4 players who probably shouldnt be starters, an alternative came to my mind. Val Pascucci, the guy could probly post a .250/.350/.440 type line. Even though I'm 200% sure the Yankees wont explore it, is it possible to get a Japanese player mid season by flashing the cash, and if so would he be a good alternative

Jonah Keri: Wow, there's an ex-Expo blast from the past. Too bad the Yankees had to give up Fernando Seguignol to get John Wetteland from the 'Spos in 1995 or he could have been an option too.

Anyway, Joe, I hear what you're saying about Pascucci--he's shown some good power and plenty of walks in the minors. But he's an awful defensive player, such that the Yankees would pretty much be forced to DH him. They have too many guys in that lineup who already should be DHing, and it's not clear that Pascucci would be better than Andy Phillips or Bernie Williams. He might be a decent 25th man as long as Matsui and Sheffield are out, and especially if Bubba Crosby's recent hammy injury turns out to be more serious than first described. But otherwise he can only hope the Royals trade for him, as he could instantly become their cleanup hitter.

Grant (Iowa City): Hey Jonah - There have been several examples of late in the NL of catcher decisions based mainly on defence. 1) Willingham made the fulltime LF with essentially no time at C, 2) Doumit being shuffled into the Pirates 1B/OF mess, 3) Russ Martin possibly staying in LA not because he's a stud but because Grady likes his defence. Are these really that bad behind the plate, or have Girardi/Tracy/Little overvalued catcher defence? Wasn't there some guy who used to play for the Mets that sucked on defence but was still a net plus for his team? :)

Jonah Keri: Good question, Grant.

The short answer to your question is that the managers you mentioned have overvalued catcher defense. Managers hate to be embarassed, and something like an occasional passed ball or an opposing runner stealing on their catcher can cause them to overreact. That's a shame, because there aren't that many good offensive catchers around, and the batting value provided by some of these guys behind the plate would be huge, certainly a lot more so than their value relative to the first basemen and left fielders lying around those rosters.

Joel (Washington, DC): Jonah, my understanding is that the analytical community has been unable to confirm the validity of "catcher's era." But what do you make of the Pirates catching situation, where eras when Ronnie Paulino is catching are literally half those of Humberto Cota and Ryan Doumit (approximately 3.30 vs. over 6.50)? The contrast is so stark, doesn't it have to be meaningful, or is this another small sample size problem?

Jonah Keri: Another catcher question from Joel (I miss DC, lived there for two fun years, underrated city).

Anyway, Joel, this is definitely an issue of small sample size. The season is 40 games old, and if you break down the Pirates' catchers that way, you're talking maybe 20-25 games for one guy vs. 5-10 for a couple others. That's a small enough sample that it could be influenced almost entirely by something like when Oliver Perez starts or who the opposing team is.

There is a great, great chapter on the catcher defense myth by Keith Woolner in...where else? Baseball Between the Numbers. Seriously, buy this book. I hear it changes flat tires and is an excellent child-care provider too.

Ed (NY): Hanley Ramirez: arriving fully formed, or anything can happen over 200 plate appearances? He has to cool down but he has a way to go just to get down to his 90% PECOTA: 283/343/416

Jonah Keri: The bigger concern now Ed is the shoulder injury he suffered earlier this week. The Fish are playing it down, but in today's Under The Knife column BP's Will Carroll warns that this could be similar to Richie Sexson's shoulder subluxation suffered a couple years ago that wiped out his season. Will was the guy who a couple years ago predicted a serious injury for Phil Nevin before it happened too--I consult my shaman before every time I see Will. You know, just in case.

Raz (NYC): Jonah, everyone says this is a poor draft, are there any Zach Duke type of guys, hard to sign guys who will fall low?

Jonah Keri: Another question that I'm not qualified enough to answer. Fortunately Kevin Goldstein is:

"There are always a few, but in a draft like this, you might see the opposite a little more, with guys like Lars Anderson, who wants a million dollars or so to keep him from going to college, maybe going in the first round and getting below slot money from a team that doesn't like the talent available, as opposed to getting drafted late and hoping somebody goes way over slot to sign him."

Tune in later in this chat, when I defer on a pottery question to John Erhardt, and ask Jay Jaffe how to make the perfect souffle.

Alternative (Minimum Tax): A Rod is at 3rd and Giambi at first, there's no room for Eric Duncan, why don't Yanks package him along with Huges for say Zito?

Jonah Keri: Because the Yankees can't just snap their fingers and acquire whoever they want. The AL West may be the worst division in baseball this year, and the A's are already in first place despite having a ton of pitchers out, Bradley injured, and Thomas, Johnson, Crosby and Ellis off to slow starts. If anything the A's are likely to add major league talent this year, not trade it away for prospects.

ssimon (Pelham, NY): Jonah, please help me get the word out: Lima Time (8.79 ERA in 14.1 IP over 3 starts) must end!

Jonah Keri: You're seeing the effects of the pointless Jae Seo and Kris Benson trades of the off-season kicking in, Scott. Give Omar Minaya credit for getting elite players like Pedro and Delgado to Queens, whether by free-agent signing or trade. But he decimated the back of that rotation by ditching Seo and Benson for pennies on the dollar.

I picked the Mets to finish 3rd this year, and I still think they're going to fall. They have some great top-tier talent, but Omar Minaya still hasn't mastered the art of filling out a roster with good secondary talent, and it's going to hurt them. I think this is the year the Phillies finally break through. They just added Cole Hamels to the rotation. The Mets added Jose Lima. I'm no math whiz, but that looks like Advantage Philly.

J (Ohio): Once again this year the White Sox are playing above their heads compared to 3rd order wins. When will their luck run out?

Jonah Keri: I think they will come back to the pack a bit, J. But Kenny Williams should be a candidate for Exec of the year for going out and getting Thome, and more broadly not being afraid to make significant changes to a championship club (something Joe Sheehan has noted many times in the last few months too by the way). This is a good team with enough depth to handle injuries and other forms of adversity (having Bradnon McCarthy available to replace Contreras, having a dominating 8th-inning guy like Cotts etc.).

I'd like to see the Indians pick it up a bit, because between Cle, CHW and Det, this could be an epic race down the stretch.

JimmyJack (Newcastle, WA): Though far from my Cubs, I go to a lot of Mariner games & prefer them to be relevant again. Loved Setting the Stage - King Felix's 2006 Journal. His season thus far has been less than pedestrian. What's up with that? I've even heard muttering about a return to the Minors. Your thoughts?

Jonah Keri: Lots of Felix Hernandez questions, many stemming from the fictitious Felix 2006 journal I wrote in March. Being here in Seattle, following the M's and reading great insight from people like the smart guys at USS Mariner, I've been able to keep pretty close tabs on King Felix. I think it's a combination of a few things right now:

--It's still early. Felix will straighten things out like any other slumping star player.

--Teams have better scouting reports on the guy after last year, so they have a better idea what to expect and have been able to adjust accordingly.

--Felix hasn't adjusted back, or at last not in the right way. One of the things that really impressed me most about Hernandez last year was that he'd throw amazing pitches when you'd least expect. Knee-buckling curves on 2-1 counts, change-ups that fall off the table in three-ball counts, that kind of stuff. It seems to me (and I'm sure there are scouts that have spotted this better than I have) that Felix is doing less of that this year, going more by the book as he struggles.

I never really got around to articulating this in print. Fortunately the genial Dave Cameron of USS Mariner has a great synopsis of this trend up at their site.

I don't quite agree on Dave's point about fastballs, since that's not an abnormally high number as major league averages go. But the broader point about pitching patterns makes some sense to me.

If you're in a roto league, I'd buy low here.

roger (Portland OR): Hey Jonah, For all the Yankee failures of the Erickson (instead of Bean) and Bernie (instead of Thompson) type, they are now playing Melky Cabrera daily. It seems like the common line is "he'll be good, someday". Any chance that someday arrives sooner rather than later?

Jonah Keri: I think Melky's underrated, Roger, and spec'd on him in most every league I'm in, especially simulation/Scoresheet/Strat-type leagues. I don't think he'll be great right away, but I think he can hit for a pretty high average, lace a few doubles and play enough defense to be useful, at least enough to help the Yanks hold the fort for a while. I do agree that he's a few years from his prime, though.

rawdon (Silicon Valley): In the "biggest PECOTA outperformer so far" category, sure Chris Shelton's been great, but I think the winner here would have to be Casey Blake. I think he's the only player (or pitcher) currently with 20+ VORP whose weighted mean PECOTA had single-digit VORP for the whole season. Okay, here's a question: What happened to Ryan Madson? Statistically (and results-wise), everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. But why?

Jonah Keri: Yup, Blake's a better one, Michael.

As for Madson, relief pitchign and starting pitching are different animals. We've seen that again and again, whether it's an Eric Gagne, Ugueth Urbina, Mariano Rivera or countless other guys who broke in as starters, then became very good relievers. You can let loose a lot more, stick with 2 pitches instead of 3 or 4, and not have to worry about conserving yourself for 6+ innings. Madson may very well work out best as a guy who relies primarily on two pitches and eats righties for lunch in the late innings. I don't think he's a lost cause as a SP this early in his career certainly, but something to consider.

Lightning round...

Jessica (Kansas City, KS): Hi Jonah! I know this is a lot like asking, "how many monkies does it take to screw in a light bulb" but what in the world can be done to fix the Royals? Thanks!

Jonah Keri: Hey Jessica,

Whole changes across the board, starting with ownership. Of course the problem is that the "best interests of the game" clause doesn't apply to cheapskate owners who are also indecisive and whose sons meddle to the point of being destructive. Allard Baird gets a lot of guff in KC, but I'd take Baird over Buddy Bell as manager or David Glass as owner any day.

This team needs new leadership and a new philosophy. They have the most underrated ballpark in the bigs and a fan base that *will* support a winner. I'm going to stop typing now, because this is reminding me of some time I used to care about back in the day, and I'm getting a little veklempt.

carlosrubi (Mexico): It's not only Minaya's incompetence. It's also Randolph's. He said last week that he'd rather keep his 8-9 inning combo intact than move Heilman to the rotation! What to make of that? I mean, I'm not a Mathematics whiz either, but Heilman x 5-7 innings > Heilman for one.

Jonah Keri: It's hard to know until we see it tried, for sure. But I will say that Heilman never had monster numbers as a SP in the minors. Decent, but not overwhelming. He could be another Madson type who's dominant in short bursts but only average in the rotation. It's tough for a manager to change a guy's role when he's doing so well at it.

Sanchez (Los Angeles): Have Seattle fans accepted the fact that Beltre isnt and will never be anything close to the hitter he was in 2004? Coming into the season it seemed like many thought he'd rebound somewhere between his consistent .260/.320/.450 line and his 2004 stats. He's basically Vinny Castilla.

Jonah Keri: They've definitely accepted it. I don't think Beltre's mom thinks he's all that good anymore.

maynard (chico): Who'll be better after the season's done, Cole Hamels or Francisco Liriano?

Jonah Keri: Liriano. He's more polished, and Hamels is less than a year removed from being the immature bonehead as likely to headbutt himself into unconsciousness as pitch a gem. I like them both as prospects, but Liriano's the safer bet here.

Jonah Keri: Thanks much for stopping by, all, and sorry I couldn't get to the dozens of questions still left in the queue. Drop me a line anytime at jkeri@baseballprospectus.com and I'd be happy to chat about any and all baseball topics. Cheers!

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