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Chat: Dan Fox

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday January 25, 2008 1:30 PM ET chat session with Dan Fox.


Dan Fox writes "Schrodinger's Bat" for Baseball Prospectus.

Dan Fox: Thanks everyone for stopping by while you're supposed to be working (or here in the mountains or in the west coast enjoying your lunch hour). Over the last couple of months I've been writing about defense with SFR and throwing arms, completing baserunning back to 1956, and taking a diversion into shifts. I'm happy to discuss any of these topics and even some that you might be interested in :)

Frank (Las Vegas): Steve Pearce, MiLB's Player of the Year: did he waste his career year in the minor's, or is their more upside for a team that sorely needs it.

Dan Fox: See, a topic I hadn't thought about right off the bat...

My last name's not PECOTA but he also progressed in 2006 when he hit 26 homeruns at two new levels (just his second professional season) and he's certainly not so old at 24 that you would automatically think of his meteoric rise through four levels in 2007 as a fluke. If I were a Pirates fan I'd be inclined to be cautiously optimistic about his upside. That said, unless the plan is to dangle Adam LaRoche out there at the trading deadline (not a bad idea) he seems destined to get a full year at AAA to prove 2007 was for real.

And since I'm sitting here with the SFR data I might as well thrown in that in 2007 Pearce was +8 at first base over his three minor league stops, which is excellent, following up a +8.5 in 2006 and +3 in 2005. So it appears he's an above average defender at first base.

Brian (Ontario CA): I saw Hainley Statia in 50 or so games last season and I'm happy you've confirmed my suspicion that he was about the best fielding shortstop in the minors. Do you have any plans to update these minor league fielding numbers from time to time during the season or is this strictly a post-season report? Great work.

Dan Fox: Glad I could oblige you. Right now I don't have any firm plans on when or how the numbers will be used or distributed in the future. If it's interesting to people (and from the volume of email it certainly appears it is) I'd like to make them more widely available but again, that hasn't been discussed internally.

Adam (Everett, MA): Great job on Simple Fielding Runs 1.0. Do you plan on releasing a spreadsheet of your minor league fielding ratings as well? (You somewhat lost me on how the system was used for minor leaguers.) Glad to see Hainley Statia came out well after being named the most outstanding defensive player at the World Cup in November.

Dan Fox: I'm getting barraged in email and here on the chat with this question and so it appears the people have spoken. I will prep a spreadsheet for the minor leaguers and make it available within the next week. If I don't, you can all email again and harangue me.

As far as losing you on how the system was applied to minor leaguers, the same code was executed for the minor leaguers as for the major leaguers. That is, the methodology as described in the previous columns and in last week's column applies directly.

When I create the baseline I do so for the league in question and so it is important to note two things. First, for short season leagues that means the sample sizes are smaller and so can be more greatly skewed by single player performances. And of course, given that the system is based on probabilities, smaller samples means a greater likelihood of SFR values with larger magnitudes that may not be as reflective as the underlying skill of the player. This will be offset to some degree when comparing with other leagues because fewer games will generally result in a smaller range of values.

Second, since the baseline is created for each league, players are always compared against their peers in that league. So when I show Statia as +21 in the California League, that's relative to how other shortstops (including himself) performed in that league.

Rob (Andover, CT): Is Simple Fielding Runs going to become available on BP just like, say, VORP?

Dan Fox: As I mentioned in response to a previous question, there really is no direction for SFR right now and so there are no firm plans to incorpoate it anywhere. I'm sure we'll talk about those issues going forward however.

joe (n.y.): Whats your take on the Brandon Inge soap opera in Detroit.

Dan Fox: Well, given his three straight years of offensive decline, his age (he'll be 31 in May), and what he's owed ($6.2M, $6.3, $6.6 for a total of $19.1M) it's not so surprising that the Tigers have found few takers and with his defensive prowess seem to be looking at him in a super-sub kind of role. The question will really be whether he'll accept that role or turn into a clubhouse cancer that forces them to eat much of the remaining salary.

As far as the soap opera around his asking to be traded and not speaking to a reporter recently, I certainly don't blame him. He's in a pretty tough spot and any competitor at that level wants playing time

As an aside, defensively (using SFR) I have him at -6, +4, +20, +9 since 2004 at third base which pretty much parallels FRAA (+6,+15,+25,+14). Miguel Cabrera, on the other hand, I had at +0, -1, -5, -10 in 2003, and 2005-2007 at third base.

Geoff (Chicago): How much more trade activity do you see coming from Oakland before the season starts? Does it make sense, in your mind, to hold onto any of Blanton, Street, Ellis, and Chavez until the trading deadline and then deal them?

Dan Fox: Billy Beane has said the stated direction is to get back to the point the team was at just prior to their 2000-2004 run with a stable of prospects that can position them for the next 5 to 7 years.

Given that direction (and since Beane accumulated 9 prospects in the Swisher and Haren deals and so it looks to be working) it would seem that all of those in your list except Huston Street, who at 23 is several years younger than the rest of the bunch, would be candidates for turning over for prospects. That said, since they're not planning on being competitive this year it doesn't seem that would need to deal any of these guys before the season starts and could wait to see if something better comes along.

The value of Chavez, unfortunately, is probably at an all-time low (three off-season surgeries and they're not sure he'll be ready by spring training) but Ellis (SFR loves him) and particularly Blanton would certainly be attractive to a lot of teams right now. So for Chavez I would assume that they would be hoping he gets off to a hot start and then find a taker (like the Phils?).

TheRedsMan (Chicago): Any insight in to why Brandon Phillips scored so poorly in SFR? I'm no scout, but he consistently gets good jumps, moves well, and has very good hands. I just can't accept that Rich Aurilia played a better 2B than Phillips...

Dan Fox: Great question. Well, SFR liked him back in 2003 when I had him at +5 :)

So in 2006 I had him at -16 and 2007 he was -9. UZR has him at +3 in 2003 and -5 in 2006 and +3 (half season) in 2007.

Simply put, I don't have any good answers at this point but it's not like UZR sees him as a super defender either.

It's important to keep in mind that SFR for each infielder is affected by the guy(s) playing next to him. This is the case because it partitions ball that make it into the outfield. If Phillips has very poor defenders at first and (less so) at shortstop his numbers will be affected. There are also perhaps positioning issues that come into play that SFR can't address at a detailed level. Still, his numbers for me have been pretty consistently low and so it's kind of a mystery.

jromero (seattle): What's the likely defensive difference between Juan Pierre and Matt Kemp in CF this year? Offensively, it's obvious, and even defensively, it seems clear that Kemp would be an upgrade, but how much? Could Kemp hold his own in CF, or is he destined to play a corner? Thanks!

Dan Fox: So did I miss something or is Andruw Jones not playing CF in Los Angeles this summer?

But to your question, while everyone knows that Pierre has a poor arm I was a little surprised in center field (where the magnitude of the difference a player can make with his arm is constrained) that he rated so poorly at -7 runs to go along with his -8 runs in the beta version of SFR for outfielders.

Simply by replacing Pierre with anyone the difference is likely to be a win or two on the defensive side.

In CF Kem played very sparingly there in 2007 so there are no numbers that I have that would reflect his skill there. In right field, however, he was below average both in SFR and throwing so my guess is that he's not in CF for a reason.

danagonistes (CS): Has there been any type of in depth analysis of Khalil Greene's defensive prowess? In San Diego he is considered a defensive whiz...even most of the national media refer to him as a plus defender, but the stats seem to suggest otherwise. I guess, like Jeter, it pays to have a flashy move.

Dan Fox: This is a question submitted over on my blog by "Bogart in P Towne" but thought I would address it here. ----- That's also a bit of an interesting topic. For the record I have Greene at: 2003 +0 (very small sample) 2004 +9 2005 +1 2006 +10 2007 +16 ...which compares pretty favorably with UZR 2003 -1 (very small sample) 2004 +10 2005 +3 2006 +7 2007 +6 (half season) And so based on these I would consider him a "plus defender" (I don't have the Plus/Minus numbers handy but certainly that system rates him lower than SFR and UZR). FRAA, however, has him at... 2003 -1 2004 -7 2005 -12 2006 +5 2007 -8 I'm not sure what's going on here but given that SFR and UZR are largely in agreement and my own observation I would consider him a plus defender. I'd be interested in what others think however.

Dave (South Bend): Rich Harden pitches ____ innings for Oakland this season and only spends _____ games on the DL.

Dan Fox: An almost random answer:

151.3 and 15 with a delayed start to the season.

Dan (Oakland, CA): Inge? I blame him. Look, when you don't hit, you can't expect all that playing time. Inge was able to break in because he came up at a historically bad time for the Tigers, and now he'll draw a pension because of it. If he doesn't want to play a lesser (albeit still important) role for the team that forked over $24 million to a career .241 hitter, you better believe I blame him. How many runs do you see the Tigers scoring this year?

Dan Fox: Another party heard from :)

Oh, I agree that his production is not commensurate with his salary but I was speaking more to the natural drive to play.

They score 887 runs last season and although Magglio Ordonez will certainly regress to the mean, the addition of Cabrera and Renteria should offset the drop. I'm going to say 903...

DB (New York): Which teams do you see running more in 2008 based on managerial, coaching, or philosophical changes to game management?

Dan Fox: It's interesting that it doesn't seem as if many teams other than the Angels and Mariners (in the Mike Hargrove era anyway) talk about a baserunning philosophy.

But given the fact that in the end it means something on the order of a swing of 3 wins from top to bottom, perhaps teams inheretly do give it the appropriate emphasis.

That said, success on the bases seems to be driven entirely by personnel and not coaching. The Angels typically do well (and they may be an excpetion) but they also have had personnel (Chone Figgins and Orlando Cabrera are two notable examples) that could contribute.

A fellow SABR member, Neal Williams, and I did a study on the effect of third base coaches that was published as two articles on the Baseball Analysts site and will come out in a few weeks in The Baseball Research Journal volume 36. There, using a subset of EqHAR, we could detect no statistically significant skill for third base coaches from year to year.

That is likely the case becase the skill of the personnel swamp the little bit of help or non-help they get from their coaches (even "Waving Wendell" Kim in the long run). It could also be the case that most coaches are at the same skill level and the metric, coupled with the influence mentioned above, is too course-grained to capture it.

Thanks for the question.

Tim (DC): How stretched would Jed Lowrie be at SS for the Sox?

Dan Fox: Not having read much about him or seen him play I can only offer that in 2007 I had him at -2 during his time in the Eastern League and +6 when he moved to Pawtucket.

He's really been all over the board with a +3 in 2005 and -5 in 2006 at shortstop.

But this does bring up an interesting question and topic for future research. With SFR numbers for minor leaguers we can now try and create translations (like Clay does) for positions as players move between levels.

twayda (Chicago): Love the defense numbers you've been running. Defensive analysis sure has come a long way in just the last couple years. My question is how effective would it be to sub in amazing fielders, regardless of hitting ability, at SS and 2b when you have an extreme groundball pitcher on the mound? I.E. What if the Indians had signed Adam Everett and started a middle infield of Everett and Cabrera when Westbrook and Carmona were on the mound? How much would this increase the DEF EFF?

Dan Fox: I haven't looked into that question but keep in mind that Everett is really in a class by himself.

My guess is that it could pay off at one of the two positions with an elite defender but perhaps not both at the same time. If both middle infielders were lost causes (and obviously it really depends on what their production level is) offensively you'd really be taking runs off the board, especially in the NL.

Rob (Bloomington, IL): How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Followup question: Would you rather have Rich Hill for the next four years, or Erik Bedard for the next two?

Dan Fox: Depends on what else you have and at what part of cycle your team is on, but generally speaking I'd take Hill for 4.

Jack (Chicago): Say the Cubs do get Brian Roberts for 2B, how much worse is DeRosa than Theriot at SS?

Dan Fox: Generally, SFR thinks De Rosa is an average second baseman and shortstop and a sub-par third baseman.

I had Theriot at +5 at shortstop in 2007 but in watching him you get the feeling that he's average as well.

So in my mind, not much to choose from there.

Da Coach (Chicago): Can we talk about football for a second? There's talk that if the Patriots merely win the Super Bowl that they have to be considered the best team of all time. Yet there's all this talk that they could be beaten and they haven't exactly steamrolled thru the post season. I bring this up because as a Chicagoan we're notoriously known for backing the 85 Bears. Dan Patrick said he'd take the 85 Bears over the Patriots and some people have said that he's nuts because the Bears lost a game. Yet in the post season they outscored their opponents 91-10 and were about as intimidating as any team could be... Even of you don't think the Bears are the best team of all time, if the Patriots struggle and win, does just the fact of being undefeated make them the best? I hate New York and want the Patriots to win, but all of this talk about them is nauseating... I hope the game gets cancelled...

Dan Fox: I'm not much of a football guy but since you went to all the trouble to type this very long question, I wanted to give it some play.

That said, yes, being undefeated makes you the best of all time.

Franklin Stubbs (Los Angeles): What kind of year do you see Magglio having? For this upcoming year, how would you rank Ordonez, BJ Upton and Granderson?

Dan Fox: Hey Franklin,

I see Maggs have a I'm-regressing-to-the-mean kind of year. His performance in 2007 I ranked as the 33rd largest "boom" of all-time in a recent Unfiltered post. At his age it seems really remote that he approaches that 135 Normalized OPS. Something more like 103-110 is much more likely.

Not sure wat criteria you want but in offensive production I would order them for 2008 as:


with the space between Upton and Granderson being smaller than that between Granderson and Ordonez.

evan (nyc): Certainly you've done a lot of research on defensive metrics recently. What system would you say factors most into your decision making process? Personally, I doubt you care about this sort of issue, but what numbers would you cite to defend Tulowitzki over Braun for RoY, for example?

Dan Fox: On the defensive side of the ball I would take input from SFR, UZR, and Plus/Minus to make a case for one over the other. On the offensive side the metrics are much better and more equivalent but BaseRuns makes the most sense to me.

jlebeck66 (WI): I loved watching Yancarlos Ortiz play SS here in Beloit. Do your numbers support him being a good fielder or was I just dazzled by a few good plays?

Dan Fox: Yes they do. I had him at +9 in 2007 and +7 in two stops in 2006 and +6 in 2005. Pretty consistent and so based on SFR alone I'd have to agree.

Thanks for the question.

Stan (Chicago): Just wondering how this works, if you added up the SFRs for a team would the totals be ranked similarly to the rankings in team defensive efficiency? Just wondering if the individual components add up to whole.

Dan Fox: Good question. I haven't tried to do team totals against Def Eff primarily because the outfield system is not complete. But that will definitely be on the list of things to do.

Conceptually, I would think they would be very similar since both measure turning batted balls into outs.

Kevin (Fairfax VA): Who will have a better year offensively and defensively- Lastings Milledge or Ryan Church?

Dan Fox: I'll take the upside of Milledge.

Andrew (Chicago): What are your thoughts on the reconstituted left side of the Cardinals infield (and I suppose 2b as well)? Will Albert have to keep up his incredible play at 1b to keep this bunch remotely decent?

Dan Fox: Well, SFR didn't like Eckstein in 2007 and had him at -5 (UZR had -1 at mid-season) but of course Rolen was at +11 while Glaus was average. SFR thinks Izturis is average and so when you add it up the Cards will be losing a little for sure.

Neither Kennedy nor Miles was above average either and so that problem remains.

Can Pujols play the entire right side of the infield?

tim foli (parts unknown): Dan, I appreciate your work, thanks for the time to chat. You mentioned Magglio Ordonez as someone who should regress to the mean in '08. What players in particular do you see taking their game to a higher level in 2008?

Dan Fox: Ok, gotta rap this up and do some real work...

The answer to your question is the topic of a column in the very near future that will take the simple projection framework I developed for the booms and busts column and apply it going forward to 2008 (and beyond?). And then we'll see who makes the list.

Dan Fox: Thanks everyone for taking part today. Sorry I didn't get to all your question. As always I'll post the transcript on my blog and you can do follow-ups over there. Have a good weekend!

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