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Chat: Jim Baker

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday January 22, 2008 7:00 PM ET chat session with Jim Baker.


Jim Baker writes "Prospectus Matchups" for Baseball Prospectus.

Jim Baker: On this, the fifth anniversary of David Ortiz signing with the Boston Red Sox, I bid you good evening and also add, welcome to the chat.

GBSimons (Georgia): 7:00 PM ET? There's that famous West Coast bias! Why couldn't you make it 1:00 PM ET so the whole country can goof off at work? And here I thought you were "fan friendly."

Jim Baker: These things would be a lot easier if we lived in one of those one time zone countries. You can't please everyone, try as we might. I also don't like being a party to lowered productivity in the workplace, although I understand that that is where most internet perusing takes place.

ajmorriso (Chicago): Rumormongers have the Cubs offering a 7 for 2 deal with Baltimore for Roberts and Bedard which would likely turn the Cubs farm system into more of a wasteland. Depending on the specifics, aren't the Cubs in the right position (vets signed long-term, weak NL, weaker NL Central)to overpay in a trade to win right now?

Jim Baker: The Cubs are a team that can definitely take advantage of not only their own weak division, but the entire weakened league. I'm not quite sure how much longer the NL will stay on skid row, but I'm convinced it's going to last at least another season. A team that loads up and goes for broke in '08 stands a good chance of getting into the playoffs. And what's our mantra? Right -- getting there gets you into the crapshoot. If I were the Cubs, I would go for it and damn the future.

TGisriel (Baltimore): As an Oriole fan, I am curious about what is known about the best way to rebuild a team. Traditionally there is the tear it down to build it up model. With the reluctance of teams to give up prospects these days, I wonder whether that is the best way to go. Do you have any thoughts?

Jim Baker: Coming right back with one from the other side of the proposed trade...The best way to rebuild a team is to have, at the very least, semi-competent ownership. An an Orioles fan, no amount of rooting or praying is going to change your ownership situation. That has got to be frustrating. (Wait, I know that feeling, having been a football Cardinals fan all my life...) There is really no "best way," I don't think. Well-spent money on free agents and intelligent re-signings can get a team where it wants to be. Mixing homegrown talent with imports works. The teardown and build-up you suggest has also worked. It's just a matter of having the right people making the decisions and being allowed to make those decisions. Some luck always helps, too. So, if you want to tear down and build up in Baltimore, start on the top floor.

gradyjerome (New Bern, NC): Can you suggest any free-agent outfielders the Orioles might go after who promise greater productivity than does Corey Patterson?

Jim Baker: Well, there's that Bonds fellow...I'm looking at the list and it's not promising. What are your thoughts on Shawn Green? How about Luis Gonzalez? Roger Cedeno? Richard Hidalgo? How about a return visit from Sammy Sosa? I'd take a pass on just about everyone, really. I'd invite some of them to camp, but I wouldn't be going out of my way to sign anyone on that list, except for Bonds who will still be more productive than most.

sean (jacksonville,fl): do you think the reds have a shot in the central?

Jim Baker: I haven't seen the Reds play much lately...oh, wait, it's January -- I don't have to make any JM-type excuses...

Yes, I do think they have a shot. I think everybody except Pittsburgh has a shot. It's not a good shot in Cincinnati's case, but they're not going into spring training in a hopeless situation. It would help if they could avoid the DL in '08. I'd like to see the Reds get through a season with no major injuries. That would be novel.

Hendo (Silver Spring, Md.): "A [NL] team that loads up and goes for broke in '08 stands a good chance of getting into the playoffs." This Nationals fan is glad that his team isn't going in that direction. But the question then becomes, are the Nats going in the *right* direction by concentrating on having good drafts and rebuilding the farm system? Granted that it may be hard to answer "no" to a question like that, what, if anything, do you think the Nats might have been doing better this offseason?

Jim Baker: I liked the Lastings Milledge trade from their end of it. As a Mets fan I hate it, but I'm happy for the Nats and their fans that they made it. Even if Milledge doesn't pan out, the risk involved for DC was worth it, in that what they gave away was very replaceable. Since you quoted me, I'll take this opportunity to qualify my statement. I should have said "a National League CENTRAL team that loads up and goes for broke in '08...." The Nats have some stronger teams at the top to contend with than do the Central clubs. If they do manage to build a core of young talent, let's hope they manage to keep them around in a way that their predecessors in Montreal did not.

Tim Walker (Austin): Jim - How will the Mets recover from their end-of-season collapse last year? And what do you predict this year for Reyes and Wright?

Jim Baker: I honestly don't think the collapse matters one way or the other in terms of '08 impact. How different a team would they be if they'd won just two more games and taken the division? Wouldn't it be the same players? They would still have dumped Green and made some of the other same moves, like the unfortunate multi-year signing of Luis Castillo.

So, whatever they do, I don't see it as "recovering." As for Reyes, I'm thinking we'll see another like season. I don't know that he'll arrive at that conclusion in the same fashion: hot start/fade, but his numbers will be similar. I am still convinced that Wright is the best position player the Mets have ever conjured. By the time he's done, he will have posted the best couple of WARP3s in team history. Maybe one of those will be in '08.

Frank (Las Vegas): The Adam LaRoche for Mike Gonzalez trade seems to have worked out best for the Pirates, until you take into account the 3rd man in the deal (Brent Lillibridge). Does that make the trade "Advantage Braves", and another bone-headed move by Dave Littlefield?

Jim Baker: I've probably been overstating Lillibridge's case the past couple of years, but I think he should be a major league starter like yesterday. So, yes, I agree with you, although I'm not quite sure I would go so far as to classify this one as "boneheaded."

chaneyhey (st. louis): When are the Braves going to sign Texiara to a long term deal?

Jim Baker: It is about time, isn't it? I do wonder if 2005 was his high water mark, though...

Grimace25 (NYC): Not really a baseball question, but did you think the Giants had any chance of winning after Green Bay won the OT coin toss?

Jim Baker: No, I would say it's about as far removed from baseball as a question can be, but, I will take advantage of the fact that I watched the game and answer it. I was not surprised because the Packers had stopped moving the ball. How they won did surprise me, though. I have it to hand it to their kicker. Puttinig one through from that distance after getting scolded by his overbearing coach for missing a kick, that was pretty damn professional. Here's a question I have for all of you: how would you respond to that kind of management style?

buddaley (Clearwater): Do you think giving Shields a 5 year contract with 2 team option years is a good idea for the Rays at this time?

Jim Baker: While I like the idea of locking up young talent, I don't like long contracts for pitchers, period. I understand that they are a part of the game now and it must be done to land desirable entitites (a tip of the cap to Brian Sabean for raising the bar so stupidly high with the Barry Zito deal), but that doesn't mean I have to like it. With Shields, too, part of me wants to say, "give me another year like that and then we'll get the big pen out."

jamin67038 (Wichita, KS): Can the Yankees make the playoffs with a rotation featuring 3 near-rookies (Joba, Hughes, Kennedy)?

Jim Baker: Yes. Look at the Yankees starting pitching in 2005. That's proof positive that anything can happen, especially when you score over 900 runs, as the Yanks are sure to this year.

Tommy (Minneapolis): I still don't get what the Rolen-LaRussa hubbub was all about. Do you?

Jim Baker: It was a disagreement over what the Fed should do with interest rates. It started out as a friendly discussion and just got out of control...

flyingdutchman (Oakland, CA): Teixeira hit a combined .306/.400/.563, with an OPS+ 6 points higher than he posted in 2005. He's heading into his age-28 season, and he's a great fielder. Even if 2005 were his high water mark, what does that have to do with whether or not the Braves sign him to a long term deal?

Jim Baker: Nothing. I was just wondering if he peaked young. As for his OPS+ being higher, his WARP3 was 2.4 lower.

yourrolemodel80 (DeKalb): Regarding your trip through random Baseball Reference pages, do you think that the digitization of baseball history makes it easier for casual fans to become fanatics, or is it just feeding a certain, seldom-changing segment of the population?

Jim Baker: DeKalb is referring to my last column which I invite you -- no, which I insist you read if you haven't already.

This is an excellent question. I do think it makes it easier since they don't have to buy a book to look at the numbers of yore. I also think fantasy baseball has increased the fan base and the intensity of how people follow the game.

Paul (Undisclosed): I haven't read the whole chat, but I assume you should apologize for what you said about Jim Rice.

Jim Baker: I haven't mentioned Mr. Rice yet, so I'll apologize in advance for what I'm about to say for those easily offended. I was a big Red Sox fan for the entire duration of Rice's career. I pulled for him to succeed as hard as anybody. I believe I am beinig objective when I say that he does not belong in the Hall of Fame. In fact, he is not even close to being a Hall of Famer. In further fact, his long-time teammate, Dwight Evans, has a MUCH stronger case for Cooperstown than he does. I'm as surprised to be writing that as you might be reading it, but take a look at the numbers.

Josh (San Jose, IL): Which team has gotten the most screwed over in the Hall of Fame vote? That is, which team has the most deserving guys who never made it? I think the list begins with the Cubs, who have two third basemen who are probably better than half of the guys currently enshrined at their position.

Jim Baker: I don't know if this is a team-by-team issue. The two most deserving men who are not in the Hall who should be are, in my opinion, Ron Santo and Bert Blyleven. One is a Cub, the other was many things. They might land themselves a HoFer who doesn't belong, too, in the person of Andre Dawson. Let's not forget that of Tinkers to Evers to Chance, only Chance has a truly legit case for inclusion. That probably balances the Santo slighting on the eternal Cubs ledger.

Jim Clancy (Exhibition Stadium): Is Rice more deserving than Joe Carter? Substantially if yes?

Jim Baker: Yes, he is. I was very proud of the voters when they dismissed Carter's candidacy early on in the process. They didn't fall for the RBI illusion. Rice's career EqA is 21 points higher than Carter's.

JJ Malone (Texas): In basketball, we can see a player clearly dogging it: watching Vince Carter is great exercise. Raiders fans clearly saw a slack-assed version of Randy Moss. Hockey players clearly coast around--at least some do. Can we tell that sort of thing in baseball? I've been watching for decades, and I can't think of a guy who really looked slack on the field.

Jim Baker: I can think of a couple. Rickey Henderson -- who I mostly love as a player -- was criminally disinterested with the Mets his last time there as a player. I'm assuming he's more focused now that he's a coach. I've seen countless players dog it to first base on groundballs. It's sometimes hard to notice on TV because the camera follows the ball. You don't get to see the runner trotting to first.

R.J. (Beyond the Boxscore): Do you consider Fred McGriff Hall worthy?

Jim Baker: I think he is worth a close look. By that I mean, I wouldn't dismiss him out of hand. I have not memorized the thresholds established by Jay Jaffe in his very telling JAWS, but I think McGriff is slightly below grade for first basemen. He's better than some of the complete wastes of space they put in there, though, which isn't a good argument.

Lou (Skokie, IL): Who's got the inside track on succeeding Bud Selig when he retires? My money's on someone who hasn't been born yet.

Jim Baker: LOL. Yeah. How about Peter Gammons? If this were fifty years ago, that wouldn't be such a crazy suggestion.

Taylor (Toronto): When Robby Alomar gets into the Hall does he go in as the first Blue Jay?

Jim Baker: Alomar played for eight teams. His stint with the Jays was only five years (I know, it seems longer), but that is the longest tenure with any one team. It also represents five of his best eight seasons (by WARP3), so I would say that Toronto would be the correct choice.

Ken (Southampton, PA): Just days after appearing before Congress in connection with the steroid scandal, Bud Selig was given a contract extension after a unanimous vote by the owners. Isn't this a sign that the owners really don't care about the steroid issue and that the Mitchell Report, which characterized baseball management's response as slow and ineffective, was nothing more than a dog and pony show to provide cover for the owners and major league baseball itself from the ire of Congress, the media, and fans?

Jim Baker: Exactly, the owners don't care about the steroids situation because they have yet to see it impact their bottom line. If they woke up on Opening Day and found crowds of 10,000 fans with 50,000 outside picketing the stadium with placards that read "Unclean!" and "Cheaters don't get my ticket $$$," then they'd start caring in a hurry.

Yes to your second question, too. "We're policing the game! Look at us! We are self-correcting!"

Jim Clancy (Exhibition Stadium): With every team scouting in Asia and LA, every team valuing young players pre-arb, every team seemingly conscious of bad contracts, every team having at least a modicum of interest in stats, every team having access to the slew of info on the Interweb (think any front office doesn't subscribe to BPro somehow?) to find out what's working anywhere else, has it ever been harder to gain a sliver of a competitive edge? $50 follow up, does this make the $ the only current edge teams can have?

Jim Baker: This is a great question. I think there is another place to gain an advantage. By doing a better job of preventing injuries, teams can get extra games out of quality players and not have to expend time and resources looking for substandard replacements. As Will Carroll has written time and time again, we are just getting out of the dark ages of sports medicine. Off the top of my head, I don't know how to place a win or dollar value on a great trainer and/or medical staff, but they can make a difference.

clvclv (Marion, NC): Bill James' 2008 Handbook projections seem to have Jay Bruce "penciled in" in CF for the Reds his year. Not only that, but those projections are huge. The question is, was the move of Josh Hamilton made with the idea that it'll be much easier to return Ryan Freel to his super-sub role at midseason than it would've been to try to shoehorn Bruce in, or is management serious about giving him the job as long as he doesn't have a disappointing camp? The Braves arguably gave up a considerable amount (in Joey Devine) to buy Jordan Schafer a little more time at a higher level - would Bruce not benefit from at least a couple more months' development at a higher level?

Jim Baker: I'm a big fan of getting superior talent to the major leagues at an early age, especially in the case of position players (not so much with pitchers). What is Bruce going to do in Triple A in 2008 that he didn't already do? If he's going to sit on the bench most of the time, then, yes, send him back. I think he can play in the bigs now, albeit at a reduced rate for a year or so.

Amos Strunk (Under PA): "And, if you won’t take my word on it, here’s what the Poet Laureate of Baseball, Jim Baker has to say… “After only about 10 pages, I am already blown away by the research he did.” - John Shiffert on Norman Macht's “Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball.” How good is this book?

Jim Baker: Thanks for quoting me being quoted. It does my ego good! Yes, Macht's bio of Connie Mack is as good as all that. I learn several new things on every page -- not only about baseball but about life and business in the late 19th Century. Macht is a tireless researcher and it's all on the page. I had the privelege of seeing him speak on Saturday and he related three stories that didn't make the book because they turned out to be bogus. They were all from legit sources (TSN and daily papers) of the time, but they did not pass the scrutiny of further research. All stories and anecdotes in the book were double- and triple-checked, he said.

The information in the book carries quite a bit of integrity. As Norman said, "This is why it took 22 years to finish."

Murph (Syracuse): A friend and I have a bet: he says they called Ty Cobb "The Georgia Peach" because he was from Georgia, and that was considered clever back then. My theory is that it's an ironic nickname, like calling a bald guy "Curly." Who's right?

Jim Baker: He was right at first, you became right as time went on.

dangor (New York): With all of your great Matchup work, have you come to any conclusion as to whether or not betting on baseball is a profitable venture (hypothetically, of course!)? Doesn't picking 55% winners seem easy enough with all the trend and stats available today? How about just the Over/Under win totals?

Jim Baker: When I first started doing the Matchup thing in 2001, I paid a lot of attention to betting lines and I had a much better handle on it. For one thing, I was doing them every day and was really getting a feel for how lines were set -- especially in the big mismatchups. It's been years since I gave it that much scrutiny, so I will say this:

Picking 55 percent winners isn't the hard part, it's staying ahead of the oddsmakers who are setting the money lines to make a straight 55 percent success rate difficult. The one place you can beat the book, I think, is on season win totals. Keep your eye on the over/under for the most popular teams.

seydell (chicago): Any idea when the Pecota spreadsheet will be updated for 2008? Thanks, Steve

Jim Baker: Steve: I would log into Nate Silver's upcoming chat and ask him this same question. I hope that when they do come out, much of what I've written here tonight doesn't look too foolish!

oira61 (San Francisco): What's the best game you've ever watched? If it's an obvious one (ie, 1991 Series Game 7), is there a less-known regular-season game you remember just as well?

Jim Baker: This is a hard question to answer in that sometimes, the games we remember as "best" actually only have one or two moments in them that make them memorable. With that in mind, I'm going to go with Game Six of the 1986 NLCS. For pure tension over an extended period of time, that game was tough to top.

I am very mindful, too of the fact that I had a strong rooting interest in the outcome. That is definitely influencing my decision. Game Five of the ALCS that same year was above and beyond as well.

Chris (Chicago): Despite all the White Sox moves this offseason I still think they are the third best team in the AL Central and would need some luck to contend for the Wild Card. What is your take?

Jim Baker: I agree with you. Although their way back is probably not as long as it would seem considering they won only 72 games last year. I'm sure that even a 15-game improvement would be nowhere near enough to get them into the postseason. Looking at the American League over the last decade, I'm not even sure a 20-game improvement would get them into the playoffs.

R.J. (Beyond the Boxscore): More valuable to a team: a good set-up man or a good #3 starter?

Jim Baker: I'm going with the guy who throws 190 innings over the one who throws 70. Here's a follow-up question: which is harder to come by?

Ryan (Santa Barbara): Do you think that as the younger generation of fans, which is likely more familiar with stats via fantasy baseball and more exposure, ages that they'll eventually be replacing many of the more stubborn "old guard" of the traditional ways of baseball, leading to more reasonable HOF choices/MVP voting etc.?

Jim Baker: I don't want to say that the "Old Guard" has always made bad choices. They've made some very good ones and, if they are going to err, I would rather have them erring on the side of exclusion rather than inclusion. I do see your scenario taking place, though. I'm not sure when Generation X times Y will take the helm, but I do think they'll do more to take numbers into account.

jlarsen (Chicagoland, IL): When did Jamie Shields become James Shields? Do you think that he's going to be known as Jim or Jimmy Shields anytime soon?

Jim Baker: I think he should use a different variant of James every season for the rest of his career:

2007: Jamie
2008: James
2009: Jimi
2010: Jaime
2011: Shamus
2012: Jimbo
2013: Xaume
2014: Hemi (That's Maori)
2015: Jim
2016: Jimmie

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Will the '08 Yankees match their '07 run total?

Jim Baker: I think they're more likely to match their 2006 total, which was still a very healthy 930 runs. (968 was the total in '07.)

Mike (NY): Superbowl pick and score?

Jim Baker: Giants 27 Patriots 23

What do I have to lose? I write for BP, nobody expects a baseball guy to get it right.

Mark T. (Boston): since it is David Ortiz day-What about Dallas MacPherson as a low budget singing? Can he pull a Carlos Pena/Travis Hafner/David Ortiz on the leauge this year?

Jim Baker: Yes. When he's played, he's actually been better than Ortiz was at a similar age. Hafner had hardly been in the majors yet at his age. (2007 was McPherson's age 25 season.) He showed much better than Pena through a similar age, too.

One more and then it's time to fall over sideways in the traditional manner...

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Do you expect that Football Outsiders (or someone like-minded) will ever catch up to BP in terms of analytics, or is baseball just too much of a dream subject for statistical analysis?

Jim Baker: I do think they'll get close. The statistical information is there for those who want to autopsy it. Plus, with only 256 regular season games per year (if I did the math right), football analysts can watch every single game and track the movements of every single player on every single play. You can figure out a lot doing that.

Baseball will always have the coolest stuff, though. For instance, at the same SABR meeting where I saw Norman Macht speak, a member named Jan Larson did a presentation on walk-off steals of home. According to his exhaustive research, there have only been 35 since 1901. One of them was by Vic Power of the '58 Indians. It was his second steal of home of the game. Those were the only two steals he had during his Indians stint in '58.

Stuff like that is why I love this game and why no other game can touch it as a source of endless discussion.

Jim Baker: Thanks for the great questions. It's nice having informed readers firing 'em in there. I wish I could have answered them all. Enjoy the rest of your offseason.

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